Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Anime review: Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
As the "Empire Strikes Back" to the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam takes place seven years after the end of the One Year War. In the wake of their victory over Zeon, the Earth Federation has reorganized into a much stricter infrastructure. Elite pilots join the Titans force in order to keep the colonies in order by use of excessive force and fear tactics. However, the Anti-Earth Union Group (commonly referred to as the AEUG) is mounting an opposition to the Titans. While the first few episodes detail teen Kamille Bidan's own personal views toward the Titans-AEUG conflict, his theft of the Gundam Mk. II draws him into the battle alongside Lt. Quattro Bajeena and Captain Bright Noa.
The setup is a very interesting contrast to the original Mobile Suit Gundam, as the story is told largely through Kamille and Lt. Quattro. Kamille is aware of the Titans' violent nature and is even more opposed to due them to his father's allegiance to the Titans. Kamille does not take to combat as naively as other lead protagonists in the Gundam metaseries, due to his familiarity with them. However, Kamille does tend to try and reason with pilots, most notably the Cyber-Newtypes Four Murasame and Rosamia. His attempts to reach a common understanding with the enemy often result in tragedy. However, Kamille recognizes certain characters as distinctly villainous, and does not hesitate to attack them, understanding it as necessary for the greater good.
Lt. Quattro is a veteran pilot aboard the flagship Argama, and frequently offers Kamille advice early on. Quattro recognizes Kamille's potential as a Newtype, but doesn't want to rush him into any difficult scenarios before he's prepared to face them. Despite his protective nature, Quattro does not come across as any sort of sage old man brimming with wisdom; rather, he is something of an older brother/father figure to Kamille. His advice stems from his own experiences with Newtypes during the One Year War. Though no one aboard the Argama wants to go out of their way to question Quattro, considering his unwavering loyalty to their cause, his own personal aims and history do not take center stage until after Kamille's role has been properly addressed.
There are a number of familiar faces that show up over the course of the series. Pilot of the original Gundam, Amuro Ray has a story arc that deals with his Newtype abilities post-One Year War, and the fact that he is constantly under surveillance by the Titans. Katz, now old enough to choose his path in the war, aids Amuro in escaping Titan observation and ultimately becomes a pilot among the Argama's crew. Hayato Kobayashi and Bright Noa both play significant roles as commanding figures on the Earth side and space side of the conflict respectively. Even Kai Shiden makes a few brief appearances, offering the AEUG with crucial intel.
In roles that are generally more prominent are the series' newcomers. Fa Yuiry is Kamille's childhood friend and is dragged into the conflict due to his actions. Eventually she joins the fight while having the dual responsibility of looking after orphans Shinta and Qum. Lt. Emma Sheen defected from the Titans, and is among the most serious characters, as well as the most skilled pilots the AEUG has to offer.
On the Titans' roster, Jerid Messa acts as a sort of rival to Kamille early on, but his repeated failures turn him into something of a goofball past the halfway point of the series. Paptimus Scirocco is the series' main villain, and it is clear from his earliest appearances that he is not content with his current role. However, he is shown to be equally patient and calculating. Though Scirocco does not come into the spotlight until the second half of Zeta Gundam, it presents a significant shift in the series' focus, and adds another engaging layer to the storytelling. Similarly, Haman Karn, leader of the Axis forces, does not strike up a prominent role until after the halfway point, but her story follows something of a similar pattern. While Scirocco is interested in his own personal gains, Haman Karn hopes to align as many sympathizers to her cause as possible, using the last heir to the Zabi family, Princess Mineva, as a sort of puppet. Haman Karn displays particular interest in Lt. Quattro, one small part of the larger story that unfolds in a most intriguing way.
Two characters that hit home more closely with Kamille are the Cyber-Newtypes Four Murasame and Rosamia. Four is the pilot of the gigantic Psycho Gundam, and acts as Kamille's main love interest, despite being on the opposite side of the conflict. As part of her transformation into a Cyber-Newtype, the Titans tampered with her memories, leading her to have terrible fits of outrage. The same goes for Rosamia, except her memories seem to have been altered. She believes Kamille is her brother, and ends up doing as much damage to herself as she does to her enemies.
Though there are many characters that are explored over the course of the series, each feels quite rounded out thanks to the fifty episodes allotted. There are a few major characters, most notably Ensign Reccoa Londe, Jerid Messa, and Rosamia who come across as rather flat in comparison to the rest. There are even entire episodes that see their inclusion for seemingly no discernable reason. Meanwhile, the likes of Amuro and Hayato only show up when necessary to the plot and their inclusions, however infrequent they may be, are far more welcome.
The pacing for the series as a whole is quite strong, and the direction the main narrative takes is well planned and quite entertaining. Every story arc sees fitting conclusion, though some take longer to finish than others. Certain events occur regularly, like Katz's childish defiance of orders and Shinta and Qum getting themselves into trouble, to the point where they become easily predictable. Though the final episode sort of just wraps up and ends, the four or so episodes that precede it do well to indicate that the series is nearing its conclusion.
This is an nineteen-eighties series, and as such it does fall victim to clichés of the era. The melodrama frequented in older anime series prevails in a number of episodes, such as when Katz fall for Titans pilot Sarah Zabiarov and Reccoa Londe's feelings toward Quattro. Still, it isn't as obnoxious as with many other anime. There are goofy instances that really don't make a whole lot of sense. For example, the fact that Katz repeatedly defies orders and takes off into battle without permission, but is never once reprimanded for his actions. Or the fact that Jerid's missions constantly end with him getting his butt handed to him by Kamille and the Zeta Gundam, yet somehow every superior officer in the Titans force thinks so highly of him as a pilot. It's little things like this that stack on top of one another enough to stick out like a sore thumb.
Zeta Gundam is pretty action-packed, as is only befitting any mecha anime. From transforming mobile suits, to the gargantuan Psycho Gundam, to the psychic-driven battles that come into play late in the series, there's plenty of variation to keep things interesting. Aside from the traditional mobile suit combat, there are a few treacherous tricks the Titans try and pull, prompting the AEUG to respond in hopes of saving innocent civilians. A few battles even feature shootouts in zero gravity, testing characters beyond their piloting skills.
The soundtrack is not particularly outstanding, as it plays host to a number of tunes that fit the typical eighties sci-fi fanfare. That said, there's enough variety presented to keep if from getting too repetitive. The action-oriented tunes are among the best of the bunch, as they do well to convey the tense, uncertain atmosphere of battle. The animation, on the other hand, is pretty outstanding for its time. It's all hand-drawn and there are a very few weird animation slip-ups. But for the duration of the series, characters display dynamic and highly animated forms while environments are as highly detailed as they are varied and colorful. The animation quality only increases as the series progresses, with the final few episodes containing segments that could pass as having been drawn for stand-alone films. Some of the mobile suit designs look a tad more ridiculous than others, but by and large they prove fitting successors to those most prominent in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, as Hi-Zacks replace the Zeon grunt Zakus while the Gundam Mk II and Zeta Gundam both branch off from the RX-78-2 Gundam.
Zeta Gundam is the second oldest series in Sunrise and Bandai's long-running franchise, and a viewing of just a few episodes signifies just how far Gundam has come since. Zeta Gundam falls victim to a number of clichés and logical gaps that simply aren't always as common in its contemporaries. But it is also a series from the eighties and with that in mind, these sorts of instances are common to shows from that era. Taking all of that into account, Zeta Gundam certainly isn't the worst offender out there, and really is plenty enjoyable to watch. The dynamic that Kamille Bidan and Lt. Quattro Bajeena present is certainly unique in the metaseries, and the two are among the most likeable and entertaining leads in any Gundam series to date. To put it bluntly, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is an oldie-but-a-goodie.
My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)