SATAN. This was a show with a very complex political plotline, characters who would often give very long and confusing speeches about a philosophical ideal, and a whole lot of a backstabbing. Hell, if it wasn't for the giant robots and the great cast, I doubt any of us would have given "Gundam Wing" any mind. But for whatever reason, ten years later and I still have the entire box set sitting in my closet. And I'm still searching through the back archives of the rest of the Gundam franchise to find a show as good as "Wing".
So far, there's really been no success. "G Gundam", also on Toonami, was silly and ridiculous to levels beyond most human conception. Domon turned into a Super Saiyan, for God's sake! The original "Mobile Suit Gundam" was too 70s, and had those three goddamn kids. Then there's "Gundam 00" which was awesome in the first season because it was a shameless "Wing" rip-off, then totally tanked once the main characters got Fairy Powers. I never gave "SEED" much of a chance, "After War Gundam X" was terrible in every way, "Gundam SD" was a joke, "8th MS Team" was actually pretty good, and... actually that's every series I know of right now. But so far we've only gone through the letters X, W, G, and SEED, so there's plenty more to choose from.
I've now turned to "Zeta Gundam", a classic of the franchise. Perhaps the single most beloved Gundam series ever. And now I can cross off the letter Z after I do this review.
First of all, is "Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam" any good. Short answer: no. Long answer: continue reading.
"Zeta Gundam" is the direct sequel to "Mobile Suit Gundam 1". After the Earth Federation defeated the evil Space Colony-based Zeon Empire, peace has returned to the Earth and its Colonies. Unfortunately this isn't going to last, or else there would be no TV show. The Earth Federation has stupidly decided to leave the job of governing occupied Space with a paramilitary group called the Titans. The Titans are a load of assorted evil characters that like to gas colonies and blow up Moon Cities to spread fear. Opposing the Titans is the AEUG, a splinter faction of the Earth Federation that want nothing at all to do with the Titans. Thus begins the second great war. The main hero is Kamille Bidan, a young teenager furious that his parents gave him a girl's name. Joining the AEUG forces is Char Anzable, the rival villain from the first series (and future Supervillain), Captain Bright from the first series, a couple of female pilots, and an annoying little robot ball.
The first thing you'll probably notice about "Zeta Gundam" is that all anime this old, the animation is terrible. Yeah, I know its old, and this was as good as they could ever hope to do under the circumstances. But this is like "GI Joe" bad. The characters' faces have a way of bleeding off model and going into weird shapes. The color is too gaudy. The stock is grainy. It just looks bad. Anime in general, unless it was a theatrical release, never looked anywhere close to decent until the early 90s - and even then half the time it was crap anyway. Emma Sheen, basically the most level-headed character in this, has the most incredibly bad 70s haircut. The animation is okay in space battles but when they're on Earth... oh God. Oh God. Okay, it isn't that bad, but it is something you need to deal with to enjoy this show.
The second thing you'll notice is that by and large the characters are really not all that good. Kamille and friends generally have only one way of dealing with their personal problems: hitting each other. There is a lot of hitting in this show. The Titans hit Kamille because they're jerks. Emma and Bright hit him because he's acting like a kid. Kamille hits the younger pilot Katz for being even more of an immature kid. Fa hits Kamille because he saw her naked by accident. There's more violence on the deck of the spaceships than with the giant robots. Everybody is so abusive to each other, its hilarious. Why does everybody hate each other?
The third thing you'll notice is that the English dub work is unbearably awful. If you must watch "Zeta", get that goddamn English cast out and put in the Japanese cast. The Japs fly circles around the American cast, because their actors can at least emote. I mean, the dub work isn't like PlayStation RPG bad, but its bad. Its a national shame to the United States that our actors fail so bad when compared to the originals.
As for the general structure of the series, really not all that much happens throughout the fifty episodes that make up this series. The plot only begins to truly move in the last ten episodes when the Neo-Zeon army arrives. For most of the time its just skirmishes between the good pilots and the bad pilots, usually the same people every week. A lot of robots get blown up, but its almost never characters. I also suspect that the entire AEUG is made up of only two ships and like fourteen people. The Titans are hardly better, having one more ship and lot more expendable characters. The fight scenes are okay and it always seems like there's a crisis to overcome, but nothing ever seems to really be happening. "Oh now we're fighting on the Moon. Now we're fighting on Earth. Now we're in a Colony." "Gundam Wing" in comparison has a wildly complex plot where every character is constantly moving to different factions and the very nature of the war changes up like five times. In "Zeta Gundam" three things are going to happen: somebody is going to get slapped, the pilots will stupidly step out of their robots to parlay, and somebody is going to steal a giant robot. Its amazing how often giant robots get stolen in this show. Why don't they have keys or passcodes or something?
I really didn't like many of the characters either. Now for some character breakdowns for you all:
Kamille Bidan is a teenage hero** with a serious chip on his shoulder. He's just pissed off for a lot of reasons: he has a girl's name, the Titans are jerks, his parents got killed off really early, Fa treats him like a child, etc. Later on in the series he starts to cool off a bit, but I think he's just bottling in his emotions. By the end the guy is pretty close to going insane, turning into a serious pessimist, and nearly killing himself at one point. I think Kamille later comes back as Char's evil henchman in the later movie, but I could be wrong. All serious realism that might have existed in this series died a very painful death when Kamille gains ridiculous magic powers in the last few episode, including turning his robot into a Purple Super Saiyan. Then he attacks the last bad guy with a robot powered by the ghosts of all the dead people. I like to pretend that Kamille is just hallucinated and is actually completely banana kaka nuts.
Char was the crazy cool badguy in the original, and he's totally awesome in the movie "Char's Counterattack" where he becomes the leader of Zeon. But here, he's boring. Disguises under the name of "Quattro Bageena", Char is working with the AEUG even though everybody knows who he really is. He had to be a mentor for Kamille, so that turns him into an all-around good guy that really doesn't make any sense with his future self. Just ten years from now this guy is going to try to blow up the Earth to speed up human evolution while being one of the most stylish dictators ever. Here he's such a goodie-two-shoes he won't even sleep with one of his subordinates when she's literally begging for his penis. Yeah, the sunglasses are cool, but does it matter?
Ensign Reccoa is that chick who wanted Char's penis, but never could get it. So halfway through the series she betrays all of the AEUG while babbling about something about "womanhood" and not wanting to be used. So she joins up with the Titan division run by the main villain - perhaps the most disgusting womanizer character to ever exist. I can't help but get creeped out by the implication that women can be so easy to manipulate that they'll betray all their friends, everything they ever fought for, and then willingly die just because one man happens to be sexy enough. But she was a really bland character before her betrayal, so I don't know.
Emma Sheen is just the blandest character ever made. She's Reccoa's foil in that she doesn't betray the good guys. Nothing to say here. Actually scratch that, Captain Bright is blander.
Fa is Kamille's girlfriend. Also really bland. They have bland sexual tension arguments. Fa doesn't have much to do in this plot so they created two annoying little children for her to look after. I don't know why they brought children onto a battleship, but I don't know why anime writers think that little children can ever be interesting in a giant robot war anime*.
Katz is one of the three annoying little kids from the first show, now grown up. He's a pilot and still just as annoying. Routinely Katz gets fooled by the enemy and acts like a total load to the entire good guy army. Just when Kamille stops being a whiny teenager, Katz takes over that awful thankless role. I hate this character, and his death could not be more enjoyable. Technically I shouldn't judge Katz since there's no good reason at all for him to be on the battlefield. It makes you wonder how "good" the good guys actually are if they're going to rely on emotionally immature children to fight for them. But that's the thing, he doesn't belong on any battlefield - its amazing he lived as long as he did.
Lt. Jared is a Titan jackass who tries to be Kamille's rival throughout the entire series. Early on Kamille kills one of his girlfriends, then he kills another one of his girlfriends later. Jared goes a little insane after this and is obsessed with killing Kamille. Somehow or another he manages to live for a long time, even though he never is much of a threat.
Master Paptimus Scirroco is a man from Jupiter that joins the Titans in order to move forward in his plans of world domination. He's named after a Volkswagen model that was discontinued in the 80s, and for some reason he wears a hair band, which is very fruity. Scirroco is all around evil, and his main power is to turn all the women around him into fanatical soldiers ready to die for him. Reccoa betrays the AEUG just because she finds him teh sexy. Just a really slimy character, really.
Haman Kahn is the leader of Neo-Zeon. She used to go out with Char, but he dumped her and now she's ready for world domination. She's got a great haircut, is utterly ruthless, and is by far my favorite character in the show. Char refuses to join her side though because now he's a bland good guy, so he can't do anything interesting. Haman is just as evil as Paptimus, but considerably less repulsive and sexier. And somehow, she lives. She'll be back as the main villain in "Gundam ZZ" (more like "Gundam ZZZ") but I don't think I'll watch that. Kahn is one of the only characters that aren't bland in any way.
Yazan Gable is a Titan ace who routinely murders major characters. Despite having no superpowers and just being a regular human, Yazan decimates all the Newtypes. He likes to molest random younger men for some reason. Yazan is all right in my book because he seems to be enjoying himself, unlike everybody else here. Being utterly without a redeeming feature of any kind, he's like a lesser version of Ali-Al Saachez. Somehow or another he manages to live, which is awesome.
Haro is a tiny little robot ball made by Jar Jar Binks Enterprises. This annoying piece of garbage was in "Gundam 00" (anybody remember "Lockon, Lockon, Lockon, Lockon, Lockon"?). If you put Jar Jar Binks into a hamster ball, he'd become Haro.
Now that I've demostarted that all the characters are terrible, you might ask, "why am I watching this show if I hate everybody?" That's a great question, you're a great reader. Well, "Zeta Gundam" is not only a beloved series, but its also an infamous one. Because it was directed by a man called "Kill Em All" Tomino, an anime director renowned for his utterly brutality when it comes to killing off nearly every character. And "Zeta Gundam" happens to be one of those shows. Not as bad as "Space Runaway Ideon" where Tomino blew up the universe but still about 90% of the characters here die. So if you're sick of blandy-mcblandipants, they're probably going to die. Katz for one dies very gloriously by flying into an asteroid. The last five episodes of this show are incredible because of how wonderfully dark they become. Characters drop like flies, the brutality is amazing. And somehow, in between laughing at the sight of Katz being pulverized by a hunk of space rock, I can't help but feel bad at the horror of it all. This is what a war is supposed to be. Death, dying, and killing.
At the end, Kamille has completely lost his shit, most of the AEUG is dead, the Titans are destroyed, and Haman Kahn is about to conquer the world. I couldn't think of a better ending to a terrible show. Some bad shows end happily, this one does it right by torturing all of these terrible people. Still not worth seeing, but at least I got the satisfaction of seeing them all die.
"Gundam Wing" is still the king.
* With a notable exception to the children in "Eureka Seven". They actually had a point and were real characters, not just things to be cute.
** Every anime series ever has a teenager protagonist. In every giant robot anime, there's always a 17-year-old or younger kid thrown onto the battlefield. Which leads me to ask this burning question: why haven't they ever made an "Ender's Game" anime? Seems like a match made in heaven. Wacky space opera, teenagers at war, Petra - the Japanese will eat this up, and will the anime fans worldwide. What's the most iconic SciFi story about child-soldiers? "Ender's Game". What's the greatest SciFi novel to never be made into a movie? "Ender's Game". This is brilliance right here.