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  Mobile Suit Gundam mobile suits you sir!
Year: 1979
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Stars: Shuichi Ikeda, Toru Furuya, Fuyumi Shiraishi, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Yu Inoue, Toshio Furukawa, Rumiko Ukai, Kyonobu Suzuki, Mami Koyama, Shozo Izuka, Banjou Ginga, Daisuke Gouri, Ichiro Nagai, Kaneto Shiozawa, Katsuji Mori, Keiko Han, Keiko Toda, Masashi Hiro
Genre: Drama, Animated, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  10 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the Universal Century Year 0079, Earth and its space colonies are split between the democratic Federation and the Principality of Zeon, led by the fascistic Zabi family. When Zeon forces, commanded by charismatic anti-hero Char Aznable (voiced by Shuichi Ikeda) a.k.a. “The Red Comet”, attack the Side 7 research facility, fifteen year old Amuro Ray (Toru Furuya) takes control of his father’s experimental RX-78 Gundam mobile suit, a giant robot piloted by humans, and miraculously fights them off.

With every adult space officer slain in battle, nineteen year old Bright Noah (Hirotaka Suzuoki) takes charge of the spaceship White Base, piloted by sixteen year old Mirai Yashima (Fuyumi Shiraishi) and staffed by Amuro’s childhood friend, the warmly maternal Frau Bow (Rumiko Ukai). Amuro and his Gundam serve as their front line of defence, alongside blonde bombshell Sayla Mass (Yu Inoue), pilot of the Gunperry space-fighter, the self-serving Kai Shiden (Toshio Furukawa) who controls the Guncannon, and plucky kids Ryu Jose (Shozo Izuka) and Hayato Kobayashi (Kyonobu Suzuki), who operate the Mobile Suit Guntank.

As the Earth Federation callously use White Base as a decoy, the young heroes are pursued across Earth and the greater galaxy by the redoubtable Char, whom Sayla discovers is really her long-lost brother, Cassoval Rem, both being the true heirs to the throne of Zeon. To avenge the death of their father, Char has gone deep undercover, assassinating the Zabi family one by one, but is sidetracked by his burgeoning rivalry with the boy Amuro. Both men fall in love with Lahla Sun (Keiko Han), a beautiful outer-space flower child whose awesome psychic powers reveal they and Sayla are “Newtypes”, the next evolutionary step towards a link between man and machine. As the war rages on, there are tragedies and casualties on both sides, before an epic final battle inside the Zeon asteroid base of A Baoa Qu.

Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the cornerstones of anime, a truly epic space saga whose closest equivalents would be the likes of Star Wars (1977) or Star Trek. Like the former, Gundam spawned a veritable tidal wave of merchandise, from hobby kits to videogames and soundtrack albums, and like the latter the series produced a cycle of sequels and spin-offs that continue to this day. The initial setup, wherein a boy hero must pilot a giant robot to fight an alien menace, doesn’t sound any different from any other science fiction anime. But unlike the “super-robot” shows then-dominating the 1970s, the tone is far from comic book. What follows is poetic and profound drama, laced with politics and a wry commentary on the ugly nature of war.

It is impossible to watch images of families huddled while bombs fall, children conscripted to fight by heartless grownups, kamikaze pilots, drunken looters, and Zeon fascist rallies, without being reminded of the Second World War. All too often Amuro and friends find themselves forced to defend a selfish, manipulative Earth Federation, while Zeon has a host of honourable men and women dying to uphold a fascist regime. Yet writer-director/creator Yoshiyuki Tomino lightens the mood with sight gags, breathtaking space combat and samurai robot fights, and the amusing antics of space orphans Kikka, Katz and Letz (all voiced by Fuyumi Shiraishi), who get an exciting episode of their own when they have to diffuse an enemy bomb. Plus the character designs by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, later an acclaimed anime auteur in his own right, are among the genre’s most lively and engaging, drawing us into a story with incredible depth and scope.

Tomino also develops the “Newtype” (a name later appropriated for Japan’s most popular anime magazine) concept in a unique combination of Star Wars’ Jedi and the philosophical musings Stanley Kubrick indulged in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). This results in some incredibly trippy and beautiful sequences wherein Lalah and Amura float amidst the swirling stars as they reach some deeper, transcendental understanding. Already a cult figure among anime fans, Gundam made Tomino one of the genre’s most acclaimed filmmakers, even though he always professes to hate animation. A film school graduate who couldn’t find any live action work in the cash-strapped Seventies, Tomino was reluctantly drawn into anime but when on to produce scores of innovative robot shows, Gundam sequels and novels alongside the occasional oddity like his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince (1975) voiced by Christopher Plummer.

His mark as a dramatist is evident from the sheer emotional pummelling he doles out to his characters, particularly Amuro. Whereas most junior robot pilots look ready to reach for the stars, poor Amuro often looks as if he’s going to throw up. And with good reason, as over the course of the story he loses the love of his life, finds his father reduced to a basket case thanks to “oxygen deprivation”, and is scolded by his pacifist mother (“I didn’t raise you to be a murderer. I’m ashamed you’re my son!”). Ouch. Miraculously, this does not become a relentless downer, as the sprawling cast of plucky space orphans overcome their difficulties and eventually bond into a family unit, attaining a moment of transcendent bliss amidst the incredibly action-packed climax.

Aside from the robots, the series made anime icons out of Sayla Mass, one of the genre’s original pinup girls (but a dynamic, faceted and resourceful heroine at that), and especially the dashing Char Aznable, whose name actually derives from French singer/actor Charles Aznavour. His most famous line (“No-one likes to admit to mistakes caused by one’s youth”) became a much quoted catchphrase among anime fans and the character proved so popular, he was reformed as a good guy in the first sequel: Zeta Gundam (1985).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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