In 1985, Yoshiyuki Tomino released Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the direct sequel to the “Real Robot” anime genre pioneer Mobile Suit Gundam. Taking place seven years after the events of the “One Year War,” Tomino continues the story by focusing on a new young pilot and a brand new version of the mobile suit called “Gundam.” Over the years, Zeta has been called one of Tomino’s greatest works and possibly one of the greatest Gundam series ever. But is it?
Over the next month, we will examine Zeta and decide if this celebrated series is worth its hype. We will follow the example of the compilation series and break the series down into three cohesive chunks and then a final overall review. For this first article, we will look at episodes 1-14. Please be aware that there will be spoilers. Still, if you’d like to follow along, at the writing of this article, Zeta Gundam can be watched for free via the official GundamInfo YouTube channel and via a subscription to Funimation.
New… but similar…
This new series opens up (if you have the official version released in the states) with a beautiful orchestric theme song called Zeta no Kodo – Zeta Gundam (Ζの鼓動～Ζガンダム Zeta no Kodou). This song, mixed with the visuals, set the viewer up for what should be a proper space epic. It carries tones of adventure, mystery, and hope while presenting gorgeously animated visuals of the series to come.
This version is a drastic shift from its original theme song, Zeta – Toki wo Koete (Ζ・刻をこえて lit. Zeta – Transcending Times), which is more of an 80’s pop song. Due to copyright reasons, it was replaced with the orchestral track, which I believe was the correct choice. The epicness of the newer intro better reflects the series than the pop music. However, it’s interesting to note that the pop song mirrors the original series better.
This mirroring of the original series is a running theme throughout Zeta. The first few episodes feel like a type of copy-and-paste of tropes from the first series to this. Both have a talented young man who seems to have heightened abilities. These young men live in a colony and have a parental unit directly involved in creating a Gundam. Both series have a “White Base” that acts as a central hub for the protagonist to operate out. Even certain situations and story beats appear to be replicated.
There are several parallels between the two series that can be drawn. Some of this could be a sign of lazy writing. A very understandable argument. I believe, however, that it is an attempt to point out how humanity does operate in a type of cycle if they refuse to learn from their past mistakes and victories.
While there are many mirrored moments and story beats, there also appears to be a type of growth. If you were to go directly from First Gundam to this series, you’d see that things have taken a natural form of evolution considering the world that they’ve built. Since the end of the “One Year War” of First Gundam, a new military faction has arisen named Titan. This faction is power-hungry and ruthless. They appear to be less like the Federation they claim to be part of and more like the Zeon of old, whom they were created to destroy.
So with this tweek in the post-war rebuilding stage, it makes sense for a faction of colonists (AEUG – Anti-Earth United Government) would rise to fight. Likewise, it makes sense that this world that was new to the idea of “Newtypes” would be far more fascinated with the idea and even seek to create Newtypes artificially. It doesn’t take much effort to think through the scenarios and see that things make sense.
A Returning Cast
While the story itself centers around a young man named Kamille Bidan, the show has many returning characters. Seeing the return of so many characters is exciting for the original series fans because it almost gives you the sense of growing up with them. Hayato now leads an anti-Titan group called Karaba. Kai appears to have taken more of an espionage role among the Anti-Titan factions. Fraw and Hayato have adopted Letz, Katz, and Kikka. Finally, Amuro seems to be living in a type of luxury house arrest while simultaneously having the freedom to go where he wants. However, the Government is scared of him and his “Newtype abilities.” This fear has led them to keep him under close watch.
But what’s curious to me is the return of Char Aznable. In this series, he has taken up the name Lieutenant Quattro Bajeena. It’s not that he’s taken up a new name that surprises me. After all, Char is a false name to hide his identity as Casval Rem Deikun, the son of the original leader of Zeon. On top of that, it’s not surprising to see a known war criminal take on a false identity to hide from others. What’s strange is his stubbornness to hold to this identity, even when it’s evident that everyone in the room knows who he is. What’s even stranger is how so many people know who he is; yet seem okay with the fact that he is fighting alongside them. By the end of the first act, very crucial people know who he is, and I’m genuinely curious about what will happen moving forward.
At the beginning of the series, Tomino really works to build a new world for the viewer. Seven years have passed since the previous series, and Tomino has a lot of gaps to fill. Many characters must be introduced while catching viewers up with returning ones. Unfortunately, this process can sometimes drag the series as it fills in gaps between the newer story beats. Even with this juggling of responsibilities, the story telling is good enough that people new to the franchise can catch on pretty quickly
Long-time anime fans will be familiar with the three-episode rule. This rule states that you should at least give any anime three episodes to hook you. This series delivers on that rule. By the end of the third episode, drama and trauma have been laid out to pull you in. The pacing picks up considerably within the story from this point forward. There are moments when you must intentionally pay attention to what characters are saying and what’s going on.
There seems to be more despair in this series. Whereas first Gundam always has this under beat of levity, this series seems to take itself more seriously. There seem to be fewer moments for the characters to breathe and recoup. There’s always a next battle, a next existential crisis. This constant motion pulls you into the next episode.
Let’s look at some of the mechs found in these first 14 episodes. In these first 14 episodes, I’ve seen as many types of mobile suits as I saw in the entirety of First Gundam. I’m not going to bore you by going into detail about all of them. I do invite you, however, to check out the Gundam.fandom wiki page that goes into incredible detail about these machines.
I genuinely love the fact that many of the suits seen are simply upgraded versions of suits seen in the First Gundam. For example, the Hizack is a natural evolution of designers taking the reliable Zaku II build and upgrading it with Federation technology. The Rick Dias is a heavily Zeon-inspired machine but with other Federation advancements. Then, of course, you have the Gundam Mk-II. Again, this is a vastly upgraded version of the first Gundam. I am curious how Kamille intends to upgrade it to the series titled Zeta Gundam, but even without the upgrades, I’ve enjoyed seeing this particular suit in action.
The runaway star of the show, however, is the Hyaku Shiki. Quattro Bajeena pilots this golden mech, and it’s a sight to see when it battles. In the final minutes of episode 14, you see it and Gundam Mk-II battling an enemy mobile armor. The way they animated that fight is impressive enough, but seeing this machine zip around was absolutely fantastic to watch.
The only downside I have to some of the mechs I’ve seen in this first act is the appearance of two different mobile armors. To date, they’ve not been impressive to me. While they seem faster and more agile than the suits, their designs are simply unimpressive and bland.
Despite its slow beginning, I have found myself invested in this series. While I’m at the disadvantage of knowing who lives and dies, I am extremely curious how this series causes certain characters to change into who they become in later series. I will give episodes 1 through 14 of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam a solid 8 out of 10.
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