A TV show in the Gundam franchise by Sunrise
It’s honestly pretty interesting to me that 1985’s Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam has stood the test of time mostly due to the fact that its themes and overall plot seem to work just as well in a modern sense as they probably did when the show originally aired in the 80s. In fact, I personally think they may work better now than before. Every Gundam show dabbles in contemporary issues, but the perils of political extremism are turning out to be VERY synonymous with the 2020s, nearly 40 years after this aired. One doesn’t have to spend more than a couple minutes watching the news to see that politics (pretty much anywhere) are dominated by polarized rhetoric created to divide the populace. “Strong man” characters that bloviate about so-called “culture wars” are now celebrities, and we edge further and further towards sectarian conflict.
This isn’t a new thing, and it’s no surprise that Tomino took this theme and ran with it as this sort of conflict comes in waves throughout history. One has to look no further than pretty much any historical popular far-right government to see that installing yourselves as the supposed “only path towards living a better life” in the face of supposed absolute ruin is how you get figures like Adolf Hitler, Just to name the most obvious example. In America, one could argue that The 9/11 Attacks were used as a pretext to move the country more towards being some sort of police state, the COVID-19 global pandemic was used as a pretext to shore up corporate profits and drive us closer to being a Corporate Government, and I’m sure it doesn’t stop there. We’ve seen attempted coups and possible insurrections within the past couple of years, all it takes is the right mix of lunacy and desperation for people to give away all of their freedoms.
In Zeta Gundam, These are the exact conditions that led to the rise of The Titans within the Earth Federation. Created initially to seek out any Zeon remnants that might be leftover after The One Year War and to restore order after Operation Stardust, their leadership got a taste for power and moved to closer towards becoming the de facto government of the entire Earth Federation. It turns out the general populace are generally not a fan of overt “Fash” like The Titans, and that distaste would lead to many hardships.
“The story of Zeta Gundam is told through the viewpoint of Kamille Bidan, a civilian teenager and amateur mobile suit pilot whose parents are engineers working for the Earth Federation and the Titans. While traveling to the Green Noa colony to meet his parents, Kamille is insulted by and strikes a Titans officer named Jerid Messa. Following an AEUG attack led by Quattro Bajeena on the colony to capture a trio of Gundam Mk-II mobile suits undergoing field tests, Kamille takes the opportunity to steal Messa’s Mk-II to repel the attack and follows Quattro back to the AEUG mothership Argama. The Titans, under the order of Bask Om, take Kamille’s parents in an attempt to force the return of the stolen Gundam Mk-II’s. Jerid, unaware of the hostage plot, mistakenly kills Kamille’s mother. Because of this, and many other reasons, Kamille eventually joins the AEUG.”
- Episode 6 – To Earth – The Titans’ ship Alexandria continues to follow the AEUG ships Argama and Mont Blanc. The AEUG hold off an attack by Jerid and Lila Milla Rira while AEUG member Reccoa Londe leaves on a classified mission to Earth.
- Episode 7 – Escape From Side One – AEUG leader Blex Forer offers Kamille a chance to join as an AEUG member. The ship heads for Colony 30 where 3,000,000 protesters were gassed to death. Lila chases Kamille into the colony.
- Episode 8 – The Dark Side of the Moon – The AEUG’s Argama and the Titans’ Alexandria both arrive at the Moon. Jerid and Kamille battle in their Mobile Suits. Quattro meets with Wong Lee, the financial supporter of AEUG and owner of the Mobile Suit manufacturing company, Anaheim Electronics.
- Episode 9 – A New Bond – Reccoa attempts to infiltrate the Federation base at Jaburo and meets Kai Shiden. On the Moon, Anaheim gives new Mobile Suits to both the AEUG and the Titans. Quattro, Apolly, Roberto and Kamille attempt to steal the Titans’ new suits at Granada but Kacricon is ready to defend them.
- Episode 10 – Reunion – The Alexandria destroys the AEUG’s moon base, but the Argama and the new AEUG ship Radish escape and head to Earth. The AEUG ships pick up a distress call from Bright Noa’s shuttle, currently under attack from a pilot named Paptimus Scirocco.
This grouping of episodes perhaps has one of the most powerful (and upsetting) segments in the entire show fairly early on. While the entire start of the One Year War was a reaction to a shocking terrorist attack (dropping a space colony on Australia) courtesy of the Principality of Zeon to announce their independence from the Earth Federation, The start of the Gryps War is the pendulum swinging the other direction. In Gundam lore, citizens of space colonies in the Universal Century timeline generally hold sympathies for the Zeon separatists and supported independence of the spacenoids from the earth and advocated for autonomy and self governance. It would be silly not to think that there were people with Zeonic sympathies still living on the colony system despite such a crushing loss in UC 0079.
So imagine if a extreme militaristic far-right group has basically taken over the Earth’s government, and started relatinating against people in the colonies as if they are, in fact, evil. It would be pretty much self-explanatory that there would be protesting, right? In the year UC 0085 one such protest happened on Side One, Colony 30 to protest the actions of The Titans. Upwards of three million citizens of the colony rose up and tried to push for the government to pull back from their policies. The protests soon turned into chaos, with riots breaking out throughout the colony, and after repeated failed attempts by the Earth Federation Colonial Forces to calm the riots, they called in The Titans as a last ditch effort to quell the rioting. In perhaps one of the greatest blunders in history, they basically told The Titans that they could “do whatever they want to stop the protests” to which they responded by shutting off the air supply and pumping the whole colony with lethal G3 nerve gas literally massacring every single person there.
When the characters arrive on said colony, it is a post post-apocalyptic hellscape that few could imagine. At one point it is asked why none of the bodies were buried, to which Quattro (Char) replies that there’s too many bodies to bury anywhere – a terrifyingly grizzly thought. Every person lay where they were when the gas attack happened, now rendered mummified due to the lack of air and direct sunlight beating down onto the colony for upwards of a year. These desiccated husks of humanity waft around in the breeze in a truly terrifying scene that I can’t say I’ve really come across in any other kind of horror program.
One thing that this segment did remind me of slightly was an older anime called Galaxy Express 999 wherein the characters traveled on a galactic railway of sorts, to different planets usually containing some kind of philosophical conundrum that they have to work out. Most of these were destitute near post-apocalyptic desert planets with similar conditions as to what we see here. That’s not really me comparing the two saying that they’re in any way related, it’s just kind of struck me as somewhat similar.
Aside from the above, the main plot we see in this group of episodes is the escalation of the Jared vs Kamille feud. Jerid’s rivalry goes from a general distaste with Kamille and matures to a bitter hatred as his comrades die one by one. He blames Kamille’s very existence for his losses, and actively seeks his destruction by his own hands. While I still think Jerid is an insufferably terrible person, he does suffer some pretty heavy trauma as a result of the war. There is even a moment when Jerid is fairly close to potentially “turning over a new leaf” as his romance with Lila seems to be getting more serious as long as he starts “acting like a real man”. Any semblance of that happening are crushed when Jerid is forced to watch the outcome of the battle outside of Colony 30 from the bridge of the Alexandria, a skirmish that resulted in Lila’s death at the hands of Kamille.
We also see the trope of everyone beating up Kamille at basically all times. Yes, Kamille can be a whiny brat at times, but it’s amazing how quickly many resort to just straight up beating the crap out of a teenager. At one point, one of the financiers of the A.E.U.G., Wong Lee from Anaheim Electronics, witnesses Kamille roll in late for a meeting and absolutely snaps. He slaps and kicks Kamille, deeming him a spoiled brat. Kamille’s attempts to fight back are all proven futile, and he’s beaten up even more for refusing to apologize for being in the wrong. When he tries to call out Quattro, the general mood from the military is that he needs to “suck it up” and people are tired of him being a selfish kid all the time. I’m not saying Mr. Wong is in the wrong here, as Kamille literally is playing with people’s lives and Wong’s money seeing that he is risking serious jail time for funding the A.E.U.G., but damn has culture changed in forty years!
While Zeta Gundam has been pretty amazing looking up to this point, this is the period when one can definitely notice the absurd jump in both animation quality and battle scenes from the original show seven years prior. The way battles are presented here, is largely the way that the entire rest of the franchise has done things from then on, so one has to really appreciate how far everything has come.
Like most Gundam shows, Zeta Gundam is a bit slow moving at first, but I feel like these five episodes are really the point when everything starts to click and come together pretty well. Character motivations become more clear, a well designed cast of side characters is being developed, and Kamille is starting to get out of his terrible whiny anime main character starting point to eventually be a real character. Sadly it has taken far more than the required Bright Noa slap to arrive, but he’s almost there. It’s been well over a decade since I watched this originally, and I can definitely see why I enjoyed it the first time – seeing that it’s been so long, it’s almost like that for me anyway since I have forgotten a lot of the plot points up to this point! More of these reviews will be incoming, so keep an eye out for more!