A little while ago I reviewed Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team for this very site. In that review, I expressed my concern that jumping into the Gundam franchise in the wrong way was likely to drive someone into a Lovecraftian madness. Luckily, my mind survived (there is some debate on whether it was broken from the start, if you talk to family and friends) for me to share my thoughts on Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the follow-up series to the original Mobile Suit Gundam.
The year is 0083 in the Universal Century timeline (the main timeline for a lot of the Gundam series) and it has been eight years since the events of Mobile Suit Gundam (and MSG: the MS 08th Team). A group known as the Titans — a special services branch of the regular Earth Federation forces — have built prototypes for a new Gundam mobile suit. The Anti Earth Union Group (or AEUG as they are called through most of the series) are very interested in stealing one for their own uses from the cylindrical space station where they are being kept.
During the AUEG’s daring raid on the station, which also houses a large civilian population, a young boy with the (somewhat girly) name Kamille Bidan finds his way into the cockpit of one of the prototypes, hoping to use it for his own petty vengeance against members of the Titans that have been bullying him.
Kamille gets swept up into the AEUG’s cause — the independence of space stations from Earth Forces control — with fuel for his fire coming from the death of his mother at the hands of Lieutenant Jerid Messa, a recurring antagonist for most of the series. It’s difficult to actually care about any of it, though, as no character really engenders sympathy. Kamille is a whinging brat, and if you couldn’t guess the secret identity of Quattro Bajeena after episode five, even if you haven’t seen MSG, then I weep for you. Speaking of the original series, Zeta Gundam makes absolutely no attempt to fill you in on any of the backstory. This is a problem for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, as at the current time the original MSG isn’t available on DVD locally, although I have heard a rumour that Madman were going to be giving the original series a release at some point in the future.
Because it was made in the middle of the eighties a lot of the show is very dated — key indicators include the hair styles (a few mullets), clothing designs, including a lot of bare arms to show flexed muscles and the like, and the music, which while often good does tend to be synthesiser heavy. There’s also the way many plot elements play out: while they probably weren’t clichés at the time, they do seem terribly simple (or just plain odd!) now. How awful is your security that a teenager can (1) sneak into your secret military base, (2) steal your most advanced prototype unit and (3) make off with it?
The animation, though, is top notch for its time period, looking leaps and bounds better than its contemporary Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, which was later adapted into Robotech.
While many call Zeta Gundam the best of the original Gundam series works, I found it to be a bit of a mess of a show, with only enough plot to give us Mobile Suit combat in EVERY episode and a strange fascination with slapping people around for the slightest of reasons.