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"Zeta Gundam" Pretty Good, But Not Perfect

After the Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy was such a big success, it was only natural to create a new series that would capitalize on the franchise, as well as to bring out new model kits for consumers to salivate over. Though it took a while, that series, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, finally arrived on our shores many years later.

The year is Universal Century 0087. To completely wipe out the last remnants of Zeon, the Earth Federation creates the Titans, a special group of soldiers able to use any means necessary to get what they want. With this unrestricted freedom, the Titans have gained strict control over outer space, bending the Spacenoids to their will. Opposing them is a rebel organization known as the AEUG, with its star pilot, Quattro Bajeena (secretly Char Aznable, the ace Zeon pilot from the One Year War). They make a plan to steal the Titans’ new Mobile Suit, the RX-178 Gundam Mk. II, but along the way they come across a young boy named Kamille Bidan, whom Quattro instantly senses is a Newtype. As Camille joins the AEUG in opposing the Titans, his life will change forever, as sorrow follows wherever he may go, whether it be in space or on Earth…

Before the series was released, Zeta had been hailed as the greatest Gundam series ever, a series of absolute perfection that has yet to be matched since. Knowing this, I was anxious to see just what all the hype was about, so when the series was finally released, I quickly snapped it up. Unfortunately, it’s not as awesome as I thought it would be. One of the biggest problems I had with Zeta was its unwavering focus on Kamille. I know it’s his story, but when you can’t introduce plot elements unless the main character’s in a 10-mile radius, the story’s going to suffer. So, we have characters that disappear without a trace (not even by communicating with Kamille or the Argama or whatever) for a large chunk of episodes because Kamille’s either on Earth or in space. I’m not saying that we needed to see an entire episode dedicated to the Argama crew while Kamille’s on Earth, but at least give us a few cutaways so that we know they’re still doing something. It gives off the feeling that once Kamille leaves someone’s sight, they don’t really care about him.

I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this if not for the fact that I was more interested in pretty much every other character in the show except for Kamille himself. It’s not that Kamille’s a bad character, I just didn’t connect with him, whether it was his stubbornness, his whininess, or whatever, I just didn’t really care what happened to him. In contrast, I wanted to see more of the other characters, from old favorites like Char and Amuro, to the newbies like Emma and Jerid. Yeah, the characters do develop as the series goes on (and Kamille gets a little more likable near the end of the series), but the constant gaps in what’s going on make everything hard to develop properly. And after a while, the characters seem to stagnate until the final few episodes (especially Jerid), where everything goes to hell (I mean that literally. It’s not a happy ending at all). Another problem seems to be that the series is just too long. At points it feels like the series is padding itself so that it can reach 50 episodes, and I feel that cutting about 10 episodes’ worth of content would make the series flow much more smoothly without any kind of drag.

But that’s not to say the series is bad. I enjoyed the various reunions of the original cast (though I do wish Amuro, Hayato, etc. joined the Argama since Kamille doesn’t go to Earth that often), and the Mobile Suit battles are wondrous melees that pull you right in. And, because this is still Universal Century, none of the Gundams are completely invincible, which is nice to see. Plus, excluding pretty much every bug-type Mobile Suit the Titans use, the designs of the various Mobile Suits and Gundams are really snazzy, especially the Super Gundam, Zeta Gundam, and the Hyaku Shiki, although due this being an 80’s series, the Gundams do tend to go off-model a lot and end up looking slightly goofy. But overall, the series is still highly enjoyable and still worth the watch, even if it does have some major problems with it. Then again, what Gundam series doesn’t?

For a 20-year-old series, the animation remarkably holds up. While, yes, it still looks like it came out of the 80’s, the animation is still pretty fluid and works well, and at times looks even better than its latter contemporaries G and Wing. This is all done without a whole lot of stock footage (the stock footage is mostly the various Gundams launching and that’s it). The human designs are pretty good, though it is weird to think that the vast majority of humanity will have such poofy hair when it moves to outer space (maybe I’m just too used to spiky hairdos). The restoration and transfer are overall pretty solid, but the show looks a bit too dark. I know Tomino’s feelings while making this series, but characters wear uniforms of black and navy blue, they tend to blend into the black and dark green backgrounds, or look like a black blob with a human head. I’m not saying it should’ve been uber-bright like the SEED series, but something other than dark colors everywhere would’ve been nice.

Ah, here we go. The part that got everyone’s feathers ruffled when the series finally came to the US, the audio. For starters, Blue Water was doing the dubbing instead of Ocean Group Westwood, so all the actors from the original series and Char’s Counterattack are gone now. What remains is a half-way decent, but still not all that great dub. Char’s VA sounds almost exactly like Michael Kospa (Char’s VA in the Westwood dub), while Matthew Erickson’s Amuro only sounds like Brad Swaile when he’s not excited. Many of the new voices are OK, but the acting is decent bordering on terrible. It gives the entire dub a rather drab feeling to it, compared to the more exciting dubs Westwood provides. The Japanese version, on the other hand, is pretty good. The music is pretty solid, though I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy the OST, and works when it needs to work. Unfortunately, Bandai couldn’t get the singers of the opening and ending themes to allow their songs to be on the DVD, so Bandai was forced to use some background music instead. While it works OK, I do wish the original singers had relented and allowed their music to be used. As a bonus, though, the first ending theme is used as the music on the menus, which is pretty cool.

If you go out and buy the 2-disc “Chapter” sets, the only extras you’ll get are a reversible cover and a slightly different subtitle track. However, if you shelled out $200 for the mega boxset during Christmas 2004, you got some nice extras to go along with it. First off, you got a nice artbox with some specialty art made specifically for this boxset release, as well as a cool poster displaying the awesome art. There’s also a handy little booklet where Gundam Guru Mark Simmons gives all the relevant info for every person, Mobile Suit, place, ship, and term used in Zeta Gundam. It’s a really cool extra that makes me wish they’d do it with some other Gundam titles. Finally, the boxset comes with 9 figurine pencil sharpeners, including the Gundam Mk. II, the Zeta Gundam, the Bound Doc, the Hyaku Shiki, The O, the Rick Dias, and more. Yeah, they’re ultimately useless, but they look so friggin cool that I don’t really care. Then again, if you’re not an avid collector, these figurines will likely be useless to you. Unfortunately, there are no extras on the discs themselves, not even trailers.

Overall, Zeta isn’t the perfect series it was hyped up to be, but it’s still a damn good war drama that any Gundam fan needs to see.

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