One of the good things about releasing the original Gundam in two sets is that it creates a nice line between the two major stages of the story. We started with the Federation losing to Zeon and the White Base crew being a messy band of refugees forced into being soldiers. This second set marks a shift in both situations, with the Federation launching a true offensive to take back control right alongside our main cast emerging as a truly formidable fighting force.
For my own tastes, this makes the second half more a personal favourite. Sure, you can’t have this kind of growth without what comes beforehand, but it does mean the second half of the show has more force behind it and manages to avoid some of the more ridiculous moments of melodrama dotted liberally across the first half.
One of the best arcs is centred on Kai, the snarky Guncannon pilot. Kai has had little to bring to the table beyond bad attitude and catty remarks, so it’s very welcome that the show gives him a chance at personal growth and highlights the kind of growth that I’m talking about. We all know at least one person in our day to day lives who is an absolute pain to deal with, but Kai’s interactions with an in-over-her-head Zeon spy highlights that surely few people are as irredeemable as the annoyance they might provide. The ideas of tangible utopia that Sunrise evolved as the series’ endgame has never quite been presented with proper consideration to human nature, so arcs like this about getting your hands dirty and doing what you can to make a difference carry more weight. Especially as we meet here the ancestor of that tonal shift in Newtypes.
There have been implications across the series, but it isn’t until the White Base returns to space as part of the final campaign of the war that we’re introduced to Newtypes: human beings supposedly adapted to the rigors of space by the emergence of psychic powers and faster reflexes. Foretold by the namesake of Zeon as being the mark of humanity’s ascension to true unity, the war situation means both sides place more value on the Newtypes’ combat abilities, with the White Base suspected to be examples of them, leading to Zeon sending out their own Newtypes in advance weapons designed to take advantage of their abilities.
In some ways, this shifts the war between the two factions from the central plot into more of a backdrop, as the personal journeys of the likes of Amuro, Sayla and Char come to a head spurred by this emerging mutation. Char returns after serving penance for most of the middle of the show, and it’s clear the goals he displayed when he led Garma to his doom haven’t subsided. Perhaps more important is his reaction when his Newtype protégé Lalah forms a bond with Amuro. It leads to a rift that will last across three sequels and helps display the notion that although Newtypes are a new step for humanity, being human still means they can make mistakes and be victims of their own hubris.
It’s well known that the show was cancelled due to poor ratings, leading to some last minute rewrites. While five minutes with Google can reveal just what was lost in the shuffle, I think it actually benefited the show. The original ending sounded far too generic, while the replacement better suits the ideas of a war drama and that sometimes crazy things can happen in wartime. In particular, how the final battle plays out makes more sense to me than how later Gundam shows often require the lead Gundam pilot to do in the puppet master on the opposite side. I don’t want to give anything away for new viewers, but watching how the backstabbing and deceit of the toxic Zabi family bears consequences is oddly cathartic.
Various threads that go all the way back to the first episode come together in a way to make the cast feel like living individuals whose lives had direction both before and after this story. However, not everything is done perfectly. While I find the ending itself to be satisfactory (and certainly more so than recent modern anime known to have a troubled production), one of the most bizarre choices that still baffles me is the crew’s decision to keep the trio of young orphans on board despite being offered a placement for them somewhere safer. The orphans being on board during the initial journey made perfect sense, but dragging them into the final, most desperate battles is somewhere between insane and callous. This is the flipside of my previous criticism, as I feel later directors have actually done better rotating out superfluous characters. The return to space also sees the White Base gain the seasoned pilot Sleggar, a mostly forgettable character who only adds some unneeded drama to the developing romance between Bright and Mirai and displays an archaic interpretation of how a ‘true man’ acts.
I’ll also raise the issue that although I think the television show is well worth the time and money, the movie trilogy adaptation that followed it manages to tighten some things up and indeed even retcons some stuff that is taken as canon by later shows (such as Hayato swapping the clunky Guntank for a second Guncannon). As such, I’m disappointed that allegedly the UK won’t be seeing a new release, as I think it’s the rare case of a compilation movie series that actually compliments the longer version.
As before, a choice of the original Japanese recording and English dub are provided. By this time the Japanese actors really have settled into their roles and come off as much more comfortable. In the dubbed version, I genuinely think Ocean has some strong actors, but voice direction really did let this and other dubs down. There’s something more natural, albeit slightly amateur, about the original recording. Nine times out of ten in the dub, everyone just sounds really tense and angry, and not in a way that suits being in a warzone.
The sole on disc extra is an interview recorded for the 30th anniversary involving creative leads Tomino, Yasuhiko and Okawara. Each apparently recorded separately and offer some surprisingly harsh criticism of one another. In some ways it’s refreshing compared to the overly polite interviews you’ll find on other anime releases but does highlight how the three of them are bewildered and at times disappointed that this low budget show became a cultural phenomenon. If you pre-ordered/manage to obtain one of the first 1000 units, you’ll also receive a nice booklet containing lots of promotional and production artwork. As mentioned last time, this is designed to store with both sets within the limited art box that came with the previous volume. All releases will also have a reversible case cover, allowing you to display the sleeve minus the legal text.
Hearing that a show was cancelled can be off putting, and indeed lots of media often suffers when trying to generate a satisfying conclusion under such circumstances. But Mobile Suit Gundam shines through as achieving exactly that. In some ways it’s amazing that a show that inspired little hope even in its key staff could not only stand the test of time but be a furnace for further stories exploiting the rich lore and updated interpretations. Even if you don’t want to indulge the full franchise, this show stands on its own merits and is a classic for all the right reasons.
And now…in anticipation of your insight into the future.
Mobile Suit Gundam Part 2 is available to purchase on Blu-ray from Amazon UK.