I first watched Mobile Suit Gundam: Stardust Memory when I was in High School, a little after 9/11. The story worked for me at that time, when all the Gundam I’d seen had been the Gundam compilation films and Char’s Counterattack. Since then I’ve seen considerably more Gundam (including Zeta Gundam) since then.
Now, 18 years after the last time I watched it, and having watched both Zeta and Double Zeta, and having read Gundam: The Origin, I think it’s time to revisit the show and see how it holds up. Also, dear Lord, it’s been 18 years since the last time I watched this show, in High School. My God, I’m old.
Bridging the Gap
With that reminder of my mortality out of the way, Stardust Memory is set in between the original series and Zeta. It follows a group of the Zeon Remnant, the Delaz fleet, as they launch a series of terrorist attacks, first by stealing a prototype nuclear-armed Gundam and using it to launch an attack on the Federation fleet, followed by launching a colony drop on Earth. Through all of this, they’re pursued by our protagonists on the White Base class carrier Albion, equipped with the other prototype Gundam and a bunch of GM, all piloted by a bunch of test pilots who are kinda assholes.
This leads to the problem – the characterization. The members of the Federation Brass we see are fascist assholes who are trying to manipulate events so they can form the Titans. The Zeon soldiers are shown sympathetically, but they’re loyalists to Ghiren, who bailed from A Boa Qu immediately after they learned Scycillia shot the patricidal, homicidal, and genocidal sack of shit in the head. Consequently, making them sympathetic kinda rubs me the wrong way.
Really, Gundam 0083? Really?
And then there are the female characters. With the exception of mechanic Mora Bascht, they’re all terrible. The designer of the prototype Gundams – Nina Purpleton – is very passive and weepy, she’s written as a gifted engineer but rarely gets to do anything to show it. Otherwise, she spends the rest of the series getting upset about the menfolk fighting, and not for any stated ideological reasons.
On the Zeon side, the only other really prominent woman in the show (aside from the two I mentioned earlier), is Cima Garshau, who has chronic backstabbing disorder – in this case betraying Zeon forces for the Federation, and then Betraying them back when things go sour. Cima at least has a legitimate grievance against Zeon, but it’s not brought up in the show, which means for the sake of the narrative as presented, it doesn’t exist. In short, both characters Nina and Cima fall into the stereotype of women as being emotional, illogical, and irrational.
That said, there’s stuff about this show that does work, and in context of the show’s place in the timeline, has aged somewhat well. Fundamentally this is a story about extremists launching a massive terrorist attack in the hopes of driving supporters to their cause. Meanwhile, a group of fascists decides to take advantage of that attack to seize power and deprive people of their civil liberties, in order to start a paramilitary organization which is basically going to end up committing war crimes in the name of fighting terrorism – in this case, the Titans. I’m sure there is no real-world allegory that anyone can think of that came about around the time I watched this show the first time.
On top of all of that, the animation in this show is drop-dead gorgeous. This an OVA made in the ’90s during the bubble, meaning that we are in a period where animation in OVAs tended to be on par with feature film animation, even more so with Gundam series, since we’re also in peak Gunpla. The space battles are particularly gorgeous, with, frankly, some of the best animated explosions in the franchise. It’s just a bummer that the characterization and the story beats which accompany it are just garbage.
Mobile Suit Gundam Stardust Memory is available from Amazon.com and RightStuf on DVD and Blu-Ray. Considering the quality of the animation I’m going to recommend getting the Blu-Ray release and I’m only going to bother giving affiliate links for that.
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