Anime Review: Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ is one of the Universal Century Gundam series that had yet to receive a US release. Bandai Entertainment USA had announced a US release prior to them shutting their doors several years ago, but now that RightStuf has been working to bring out various Gundam series to the US, which means that fans here can finally take a look at the show legally.

As a head’s up, there are some spoilers for the show here, but I’m going to work to keep them to a minimum. There will be some heavy spoilers for Gundam Zeta, which are somewhat essential due to how the show starts.

Double Zeta had something of a mixed reputation, even going back to its original ending, in part due to the tone of the series. Double Zeta aired not long after Zeta concluded, and picks up mere days after the conclusion of Gundam Zeta.  So, I do need to get into the events of Gundam Zeta.

Following the One Year War (the original Gundam Series), the Earth Union started up the Titans – a paramilitary organization tasked to hunt down remnants of Zeon throughout the system. However, the Titans are granted way too much power and end up being corrupted, committing various atrocities, and labeling anyone who pushes back as Zeonic sympathizers – leading to the formation of the AEUG, the Anti-Earth Union Group, who sets out to oppose the Titans – backed by Anaheim Electronics, the company who developed the original Gundam, and with one of their military commanders being Quattro Bagina, who is secretly Char Aznable/Casval Deikun.

Ultimately, the AEUG is joined by Noah Bright, who joins after being unable to challenge the Titans from inside the system, and Kamille Bidan, a young man (about Amuro Rey’s age in the first Gundam series), who ends up in over his head after an act of juvenile rebellion pisses of the Titans and leads them to murder his parents.

The AEUG overcomes the Titans, but at great cost – many members of the AEUG are killed, and Kamille himself is left comatose by the psychic enemy of the series villain. Additionally, the Titans joined forces with the Neo Zeon – the remnants of Zeon (which they were formed to fight), lead by Zeon’s regent, Haman Karn, providing Zeon with an influx of men and material with which to become active again.

This leads to Gundam ZZ. The Agarma, the surviving ship from the events of the last series, has pulled into the space colony of Shangri-La in Side 1, to repair and resupply, and to get medical attention for Kamille. And then, coming right at the heels of the very heavy conclusion of Gundam Zeta, it turns into something of a slapstick comedy for about 6-8 episodes. The show introduces new protagonist Judau Ashita, and a group of his friends from the colony who are all junk dealers, who end up getting caught up with the Argama and her crew.

This is probably the point where people bounced from the show – hard. Most of the story arcs with these characters for a significant chunk of the series side towards the comedic. Judeau and company have something of a mercenary attitude, which they eventually grow out of, with them wanting to steal the Zeta Gundam to sell for parts. It’s later made out that this is a front, but it’s a pretty dumb front.

On top of this, two of Judau’s friends have a rather annoying ongoing plot, involving trying to betray the Argama to Neo-Zeon, then disliking how they are treated with Neo Zeon, and trying to get back. It’s rather frustrating, and with these two plot threads combined, it turns the series opening into something of a rough start.

After the first quarter to third of the series, things picks up, in terms of action and quality, with a big moment in the show’s halfway point where things start to get more serious. However, I can completely understand why this is too large of a barrier of entry for viewers, in terms of having to wait that long for that for the show to get good.

I did enjoy the show once I got past that earlier, excessively jokey section, and it helped that I knew going in that the series wasn’t going to retain that tone and style for the entirety of the show, and that it was going to get some of the same weight and gravitas of Gundam Zeta.

The character designs, animation, and robot designs for the new series, especially the design of the Gundam Double Zeta also helped, along with the fact that Judeau did not have some of the more obnoxious elements Kamille or Amuro had in their series, with Amuro in particular being the previous target of mecha fans screaming “Get in the goddamn robot!” at their TVs, well before Evangelion came out and everyone decided that they hated Shinji Ikari more.

If I was going to give a pitch for why you should push past Gundam ZZ’s awkward, jokey opening portion and to give it a chance to find its footing, is that this show really gets across the themes of Gundam that Tomino is going for much better than the earlier works, and it also makes for a much more satisfying conclusion to the original Universal Century Arc than Char’s Counterattack does.

It’s not that Char’s Counterattack isn’t good – it’s that it sacrifices characterization for spectacle, having Char posturing as a Spacenoid Supremacist Demagogue like Gihren Zabi, for what turns out to be the sole purpose of having one last showdown with Amuro for all the marbles, in spite of having seemingly buried that beef during Gundam Zeta, and it loses the thrust of the main series.

Specifically that thrust is that Newtypes, humans who have grown up entirely in space colonies and who have developed psychic abilities, are better not because they’re psychic, but because those abilities make them more in touch with their fellow humans, and in turn have as stronger sense of empathy. It’s not that they’re better at fighting (the thrust behind the Cyber-Newtype project), but because they can look past their differences with other people and thus there will be no need to fight.

This comes to a head at a midpoint of the series, when Haman Karn drops a colony on Dublin, Ireland. Tomino has been accused of cribbing the concepts of Newtypes from Star Wars and the Jedi, and it fits here because many of the Newtypes among the protagonists, particularly Judeau and Kamille, take a psychic beating from this event. It’s not just emotionally traumatic, it’s psychically traumatic as well.

Gundam Zeta is regarded as the best of Tomino’s Universal Century Gundam series, but I’d say that Gundam ZZ is more satisfying

Gundam ZZ is currently available in two parts from (DVD Part 1, Part 2; Blu-Ray Part 1, Part 2) and RightStuf (DVD Part 1, Part 2; Blu-Ray Part 1, Part 2). Sunrise is currently uploading episodes of the HD remaster on their Youtube channel, so if you want to check the show out before you buy, that’s the way to go.