2019 is a particularly excellent year for pop culture media, not just because of Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX is releasing this year, but because it also marks the 40th year of the Japanese animated series Gundam.
If you were an American youth growing up in the late 90s and 00s, you probably grew up watching Mobile Suit Gundam Wing or the American fan favorite Mobile Fighter G Gundam via Cartoon Network’s Toonami. Without realizing it, one of these series became the defacto Gundam series within your head. What some may not understand is that both of these popular series are retellings of the original Mobile Suit Gundam that aired in Japan 40 years ago.
To be specific today is the anniversary of the original series that started it all, Mobile Suit Gundam (0079) created, written, and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Released on Japanese television stations on April 7th, 1979 and ending on January 26th, 1980 with a total of 43 episodes, the space opera had an impact on Japan comparable to Star Wars impact on America. The series was later adapted into a series of compilation movies starting in 1981, with the last one released in 1982. These movies were later published in the United States in 1998 on VHS and then DVD.
Before Gundam, mecha in anime had a fantasy aspect to it, popular series at the time such as Planetary Robot Danguard Ace and Brave Raideen relied on their mechs being powered by mythical elements not based in our reality to fight demons and monsters. The drastic difference from fantasy to realistic war scenarios is what makes Mobile Suit Gundam revolutionary as it focused on realism, this is now labeled as the “Real Robot Genre”. The mechs in Gundam were used as weapons to fight a war, similar to how planes and tanks are used wars. These mechs dubbed “mobile suits” in the anime relied on grounded resources that could indeed run out overtime and during battle. Pilots of these mobile suits could only rely on their skill in fighting, and the power of the current model of the mobile suit they were in, no last-minute powerups, or will power of the pilot in this series.
The series begins with an opening narration similar to that of Star Wars, allowing the audience to understand the plot immediately, and jump into the episodes:
“It is the year 0079 of the Universal Century. A half-century has passed since Earth began moving its burgeoning population into gigantic orbiting space colonies. A new home for mankind, where people are born and raised. And die. 9 months ago, the cluster of colonies furthest from the Earth, called Side 3, proclaimed itself the Principality of Zeon and launched a war of independence against the Earth Federation. Initial fighting lasted over one month and saw both sides lose half their respective populations. People were horrified by the indescribable atrocities that had been committed in the name of independence. Eight months had passed since the rebellion began. They were at a stalemate.”
This, of course, all changes when the protagonist of the series Amuro Ray discovers a prototype mobile suit (RX-78-2 Gundam) developed by the Earth Federation, while his colony is being attacked by a squadron of Principality of Zeon troops in search of the mobile suit. Thus his life is forever changed as the young teen is forced to pilot the suit for not only his survival but that of his friends.
Over the course of 43 episodes, a space opera is told unlike any other as the themes are war, peace, and love are explored on both sides of the conflict through its memorable characters and action scenes. There are often parallels and commentary based on real-life wars that would shape the basis of Gundam including an event similar to the nuclear bombing in Japan.
40 years later and Gundam is still going strong as it is currently in the top 15 highest-grossing media franchises of all time, with a successful plastic model series known as gunpla, and successful toy line.
For those looking to celebrate, and explore the rich history of Gundam, and its influences you can visit Gundam. Info and stay tuned for an official guide on where to start watching guide based on what is available on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and more.