A reappraisal! ‘Gundam’ as a robot anime (Animage, June 1981)

The following article was originally printed in the June 1981 issue of Animage that was included at the premiere of the film in theaters. The interview has been translated by Twitter user @karice67  © 2016 Wave Motion Cannon

TL Note: The following article was published in 1981, in the early days of Gundam’s fandom. As such, some of the terminology may be antiquated when compared with today’s usage (SF instead of science fiction, multiple Gundam being plural with an added ‘s’). We felt that this added a vintaged understanding of Gundum circa 1981.

gundam transform.jpg

First, please look at the images above. The mid-air assembly of the Gundam—how is this different from the so-called combining robots (of the robot genre)? Gundam II is slated for release on July 11. Here, we analysis the relevant parts of the TV series through the lens of robot anime!

The Combining Robot, Gundam!

Since Gundam are depicted as weapons known as mobile suits, there are many points of difference between the work known as Gundam and mere super robot action shows. This can be seen clearly in the presentation of the human drama surrounding these Gundam.However, it is also true that Gundam has not completely freed itself from the patterns of this so-called robot genre.

For example, the mid-air assembly and the docking with the G-Parts are surely what we mean by “combine.” And you can say that the Gundam themselves are super robot-like entities. The advent of the G-Armor and the magnetic coating are, to some extent, also new weapons from the long line of robots that have come before. They fall under the category of retrofits/upgrades.

Additionally, you can’t say that the Guncannons and the Guntanks are just there to support the protagonist’s own unit. But if you compare the Gundam with the Guncannon, they aren’t all that different in terms of performance. The effectiveness of a mobile suit depends largely on the skill of its operator. Because of all the above points, the Gundam cannot be considered a super robot. However, this is also one important factor that allows it to break away from the genre of robot action.

A five-person team: the White Base battle squad 

Amidst the numerous characters in Gundam, if we look at the five core members that were the fighting power of the White Base, there is one pattern that comes to mind. That is to say, they are typical of the ‘5-person team’ that appears in the so-called robot genre.

gundam-amuroFirst off, we have the protagonist, Amuro. In contrast with conventional main characters, he anguishes over many things—to the point that he has a nervous breakdown and deserts. You could say that he’s a rather different type of protagonist.

gundam-saylaNext, there’s the sole woman of the squad, Sayla. At first, her place was on the bridge, but because she ended up piloting the Gundam, she later becomes the pilot for the G-Fighter. Char being her brother also complicates her relationships with others.

gundam-kaiKai is often denounced as a weakling. However, after he meets Miharu, he grows and becomes more heroic. Personality wise, he’s a bit of a sourpuss.

gundam-hayatoHayato has always tried to compete with Amuro, but sad though it is, he’s just an ordinary person in the end. He’s a short, stocky character.

gundam-ryuAnd finally, we have Ryu, who gave up his life to save the White Base and the Gundam. A giant of a man, he was quick to acknowledge Amuro’s abilities.

This five-person grouping might be considered an easily recognizable pattern, one that is used to bring out those different personalities. If we’re just talking about Gundam, then you might not consider this 5-person team to be a particularly memorable bunch compared to other groups that have come before. In Gundam, the unique relationships between the many characters helped weave a world of great depth. The way in which these people were depicted is not something that you can say is typical of the robot genre.

The Enemy Robots: Mobile Suits and Mobile Armors

The Zeon mobile suits and mobile armors that appear in the episodes that will be covered in Gundam II are comprised of 8 different typesThe Zaku, the Gouf, the Dom, the Gogg, the Z’Gok, the Zock, the Acguy, and the Grublo.

The Zaku is Zeon’s basic mobile suit, so it appears in many episodes in the series. The way it is depicted really gives you the sense that it is a weapon. The Gouf, the Dom, the Gogg and the Z’Gok are similar, but only on the first time they appear, they give off the feeling that “those are enemy robots.”

The Zock, the Acguy and the mobile armor Grublo appear in just one episode each. In other words, they’re the standard ‘cannon fodder’ units that appear in a typical robot series. In this area, then, you can say that Gundam is drawing on elements of the robot genre.

Another interesting thing about mobile suits is how they use a flight control system that isn’t so different from the typical robot. The Psycommu system that Newtypes use didn’t actually appear until the end… But in bringing the concept of the mobile suit into the genre of robot SF, the Gundam franchise has shown us a glimpse of a possible future.

The mobile fortress, White Base, vs. Zeon’s Mobile Forts

The White Base, as its name implies, is the base from which the Gundam operates. It is a mobile fortress that is able to operate and fight in space, in the air, and on the ground. On the other hand, Zeon’s Gallop, Mad-Angler and Gaw-class battleships are mobile forts that operate on the ground, in the sea and in the air.

The Zanzibar and Musai-class spaceships are not active in the episodes that will be covered in Gundam II, but they are arguably a type of mobile fort that is utilized for operations in space. However, whether it’s the White Base, or the Gallop and Gaw units, their small size is a problem. In terms of the Gaw, over 10 of them appear in Gundam. That kind of mass production gives it an image of an extra-large airplane, rather than a mobile fort.

In conclusion, if you watched Gundam as a robot anime, you might rate it quite poorly. But if you looked at this work with a broader perspective/outlook, then you might consider it to be something that surpasses the typical SF series centered robot action, an anime in which you can sense reality.

Interview with Director Yoshiyuki Tomino

Animage (AM): What’s the progress on Gundam II?gundam tomino.jpg

Tomino: We’ve finally at the point where we’re splicing together the rushes from the TV series—the first lot was completed yesterday (April 12).

AM: Aside from episodes 15 and 18, are there any others that you’ve completely cut out?

Tomino: Other than those two, they’re included, by-and-large. At the very least, we’ve tried to include one scene from each episode.

AM: How is Gundam II structured?

Tomino: We’ve rearranged it quite a lot. I doubt you’d be able to guess what the opening scene is. We begin in media res, and then return to earlier events. And we’ve done it so that even if animation remains from a particular scene, the dialogue is gone. But the course that the White Base takes, and the time lag as well, is the same as in the TV series. We’re making sure that Gundam II isn’t just a string of battles. I think that, for those familiar with the TV sequence of events, the second movie will prove to be a more difficult watch than the first.

AM: What’s the theme of the second part?

Tomino: It might be a bit spiritualistic. The birth of Newtypes. Moving away from the foundation of the earth, the climax of the opportunity of having to strike out into space. Something like that, perhaps.

AM: Ultimately, what would you say Gundam is a robot series?

Tomino: It’s not orthodox, that’s for sure. It’s one way of doing things…but it’s heresy. Generally speaking, the robots aren’t portrayed as being all that strong, and we’re not aiming to sell toys. But if there were a development in terms of plamodels, it’d be different again. At the moment, I’ve heard that the plamodels are selling, so I think we can see a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

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