Tag: Gundam

Review: Gundam Build Fighters


Mobile Suit Gundam and its tie in line of model kits have always marched in lockstep. If the anime gets a cool new giant robot it wasn’t long before you were able to buy a kit and build the model of it. At this point Gundam has been around so long that the models, now being sold under the unified “Gunpla” brand, have taken on a fandom all their own independent from the anime franchise. Gundam Build Fighters is a transparent method to get kids and fans of Gundam anime into the culture of Gunpla and it certainly worked on me: after watching build fighters I’ve spent almost $300 on Gunpla.”

In the world of Gundam Build Fighters a new technology was created that reacts with the plastic in Gunpla and enables a person to control their plastic model with holographic controls. The Plavsky particle changes a flat service into one of a number of battlefields and gives power to the Gunpla’s weapons and propulsion systems. So when the Gunpla battle is occurring it’s no different from when mobile suits fight in the regular show… except in Build Fighters they are made of plastic and four inches tall. These particles have real effect on the world and Gunpla that loses in battle are physically destroyed.

The main protagonist is Sei Iori whose father took second place in the Gunpla Battle world championship five years earlier. Sei is an expert model builder but is horrible at battling. This is illustrated in the first episode when a punk kid who brings his own poorly made model into Sei’s store and is able to defeat Sei’s custom, beautifully built Strike Gundam. The kid wants to fight for Sei in the upcoming world tournament but Sei doesn’t believe that he will treat his Gunpla with enough respect. So there comes on final challenge, if Sei loses to, he has to let him fight for him in the tournament.

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Review: Char’s Counterattack

 After the horrors of Double Zeta Gundam I was excited to watch the final chapter of Tomino’s Universal Century Gundam franchise. Char’s Counterattack takes place three years after Double Zeta and about thirteen years after the original series. Char returns from hiding with a newly created Neo Zeon force carrying an asteroid with them. With the goal of rendering the Earth uninhabitable, Char sets to drop it on the planet but Amuro Ray, Captain Bright, and the elite Federation Forces team Londo-Bell are dead set against stopping them.

The movie doesn’t waste any time getting into the action. The first scene shows the unveiling of Nu Gundam, whose construction had to be accelerated because of the appearance of Char and his Neo Zeon army. Following that, Amuro Ray battles against Char’s forces while attempting to stop the astroid from falling on Earth. While the conflict rages just above the planet, the Federation Forces admit to being powerless against the oncoming asteroid. 

The set up of this movie contains most of its problems. That opening scene doesn’t quite make any sense. For starters, this is the first we’ve heard that Char is alive! He was assumed dead at the end of Zeta Gundam, killed in the final battle against the Titans. Second, Amuro Ray was retired from military service, which was covered in an arc of Zeta Gundam. If Amuro wanted to fight again why didn’t he just return to the Argama when Kamile was put out of commission, or even before, and pilot the Gundam? It feels like the movie begins twenty minutes after it should have because the audience is missing some important pieces of information.

The film disguises plot devices with some serious commentary on politics. The Earth Federation doesn’t want to get into another war after what Earth has been through during the Zeon conflict from the original series and the Neo Zeon conflict in Double Zeta Gundam. This blinds them and they completely believe and give in to Char’s demands after he drops the initial asteroid on Earth. However, the deal feels more like satire than desperation because in exchange for Char agreeing to disarm, Earth gives him the massive asteroid base Axis. They give a man who just dropped a giant rock on Earth an even bigger rock which he can drop onto the Earth! That’s exactly what he does, too. He barely hesitates! He sends a a handful of dummy ships to where the Federation was waiting to disarm Neo Zeon and then tosses Axis right into planet Earth. So while yes, Tomino is commenting on politics and how desperate the Federation was to stay out of the war it also works as a plot device to give Char the weapon he needs to destroy Earth. I’m not quite sure which way the scene favors.

The film goes on to introduce three new characters Chan Agi, a female pilot under Amuro who becomes the main love interesting in the film, Quees Panya, the daughter of a high ranking Federations Forces officer, and Hathaway Noa the son of Captain Bright Noa. Chan is a capable pilot who grounds Amuro emotionally and she is quite enjoyable to watch. However, the other two are plain annoying. Especially Quees, who quickly sympathies with Char’s goals and betrays the Federation Forces to join him. She is a Newtype prodigy, and Neo Zeon takes advantage of her to pilot a new Mobile Armor.

I don’t have much to say abut Quees except that she doesn’t serve much in the film except to fulfill a theme of corruption. She sympathizes with Char using fuzzy logic. This line appears in the Bandai subtitled version:“I’m with him! People on Earth are so stubborn and conservative but don’t have a problem changing wives or husbands! And that’s why I think Char is trying to do what he can to bring out the potential of humanity.” Which shows that the character really doesn’t know what she is getting into or why exactly she was getting into it. Once that is established, the audience is treated to Char just taking advantage of this naive girl. Beyond that, it’s annoying that she enjoys being used by Char and gets away with whatever she wants. At one point in the film she steals a Mobile Suit and finds Char out in space, then opens the cockpit and rolls through open space while holding her nose with no space suit. At that point, I just declared Tomino was using this character to annoy the audience. In reality, she is supposed to be another Lalah Sune, a young girl corrupted by Char, but this time Char has no emotional attachment to the poor girl. 

Hathaway Noa had become attached to Quees during the fifteen minutes they spent together and makes it his goal to make her see reason. During the final battle above earth, he ends up getting in the way and causing far more damage than doing help. His actions end up killing allied pilots who would have survived otherwise and doesn’t help in saving Quees, who pays the ultimate price for her betrayal and naiveté. Hathaway Noa becomes the standard Gundam character. This film is filled with veteran pilots and soldiers where the themes of Gundam traditionally come from inexperienced soldiers going into battle. Hathaway goes into this war as a child and comes out having seen one of the most horrible battles in human history, seeing someone he cared about killed, and being responsible for the death of a comrade. He becomes the audience stand in and, even though he lacks much characterization, is relatable because of that.

The question why we needed to have the novice soldier in this film is what bugs me. This should be a film filled with people who have survived through the previous two wars and are ready to put everything to rest, or not in the case of Char. Instead Tomino uses Hathaway Noa as a tool to continue telling the one story he seems to recycle over and over again, that of a young man walking into the horrors of war. It isn’t needed in this film, and it distracts from the main point of the film, the final battle between Amuro and Char.

Char’s motivation is never really made solid to me. Most of the options given as to why he is attack Earth are speculation, and in terms of narrative consistency there are no details on how he produced an army of mobile suits or gained control over Neo Zeon after they were all but destroyed at the end of Double Zeta. He always had the “Space should rule over Earth” aspect of his character but I would have liked to see how exactly he became such a radical. A slight hint that Lalah’s death was eating away at him and driving him crazy isn’t enough. Amuro suffers from the same problems. He is simply Amuro. He pilots the Nu Gundam, which he also designed, he is legendary and awesome. I never got a sense of the man he became after all these years. Zeta Gundam did a good job of moving the character forward and now we see him again and it feels like even the development exposed in Zeta Gundam is ignored.The film presents Char’s motivationit matter-of-factly, I never really buy it considering the history with the characters. Char wants Amuro dead because of the death of Lalah Sune. Even after all these years he still loves her, and still resents her picking Amuro over him at the end. He also goes on about how human being’s souls are tied down by gravity and how Earth will always ignore the needs of people in space, and all of this justifies mass genocide, apparently, because once the Earth Government is moved to Space they won’t be bitter that their home and families were annihilated by a radical splinter group.

The best part of the film are the animation and action scenes. This movie was made in 1988 and the animation and mech battles rival anything made since. The mech designs are fantastic, the fights are breathtaking, and the one on one duel between Amuro and Char is worthy of going down in animation history. That final duel is almost perfect, except for one scene where they both get out of their mechs for no reason. The battle uses everything we love about Gundam and pushes it to an extreme without using any of the silliness that tainted some of the final battles from previous UC Gundam series. This is what the movie was made to showcase, it’s what Gundam fans have wanted since the original series. The rematch finally comes and it’s glorious in every respect. 

Then comes the end. Axis is blown apart but half of it is still falling towards Earth. Amuro moves to attempt to stop it’s descent using the Nu Gundam and its Psyco-Frame. Suddenly Federation reinforcement arrive and all help, then Zeon mobile suits join in to help. But that isn’t enough and all of them are forced to retreat. It’s then that Char realizes the warmth of the human heart, even in someone willing to destroy the Earth. That realization causes him to renew his faith in humanity and that combined with the Psyco-frame’s resonance, pushes Axis away from the Earth. Yet, Amuro and Char never reappear.

So after all that, Char simply changes his mind and that’s enough to reverse everything that he put into motion. Sure, he had the aid of a magical Mobile Suit system but …it’s still a little disappointing. Maybe if I had more of a sense of Char’s character before this realization made the difference in the fate of planet Earth it would have been more believable. It’s presented as epic and rational, but it feels cheap because of my lack of truly understanding these characters.

I wanted to love this movie. But the annoying side characters and subplots just dragged it down, as well as a lack of a cohesive narrative and characters who had proper motivation. However this film is a must see for fans of mecha combat and anyone who has ever enjoyed a Gundam series. In the end, it’s visuals and action are stunning to behold and it’s the that final battle between the original protagonist and antagonist of the Gundam franchise that has made this film a classic. For all its flaws it wasn’t a bad watch and I kind of look forward to seeing the film again not only for the action sequences but to further deconstruct how the themes reflect post-war Japan and Tomino’s ultimate message about war. Through my watching of UC Gundam there has been a duality to the various parts of the franchise. The first is great action and a compelling world on the brink of destruction. The second is incomprehensible character decisions, poor plotting, and Newtype “magic” as a solution to problems. Yes, the second one seems to out weight the first overall, but that is just one of the elements you’re signing up for when approaching Gundam.

The failure of Double Zeta Gundam

I was warned. Cautioned. Told, specifically, that Double Zeta Gundam was not something that I wanted to experience. But I made a pact with myself. A sworn vow. I was going to watch all the Universal Century Gundam! As an anime fan, as someone who has used the screenname “Gundampilotspaz” for the last ten years, I need to at least have seen all of the shows in the original Gundam universe, right? Well, even Bandai must have had better sense than I did going into this series. Double Zeta Gundam is the only chapter of the original UC Gundam that has not been released in the United States. Maybe I should have taken the hint?

After the success of the reedited Gundam trilogy movies the new 50 episode Zeta Gundam series was massively successful. Ending on a cliffhanger, the show needed a sequel in order to conclude narrative threads started at the end of the series. So enter Double Zeta Gundam! However, from the first episode the series takes on an obvious tonal shift. By the end of Zeta Gundam, the show had become exceptionally bleak. In fact, the show ended with Kamile, the main protagonist and Gundam pilot, mentally damaged after his final battle with Haman Karn. While the Titans are defeated in the final battle the return of Zeon promises that the work of the Argama crew is no where near complete. 

Double Zeta begins by quickly having Kamile rolled off to a hospital, leaving the Argama without a main pilot. The damage to the ship and crew looks bleak but we are introduced to an entire new group of young men who have mobile suit experience! Unfortunately for the Argama crew, they are more interested in stealing the Gundams and scraping them for profit than fighting the forces of Zeon. The first six episodes or so follow this pattern: Judau and his friends manage to steal Zeta Gundam and scrap it, Zeon appears and attacks, Judau defeats the enemy, the Argama somehow gets the Gundam back. That is the pattern for the first six episodes! The most puzzling aspect is in most of the battles they keep coming up with reasons to leave the cockpit doors open. Sometimes it’s because Judau isn’t sure how to close to hatch, other times the Zeon officers take mobile suits that don’t have doors installed. For some reason, Tomino decided that for the first few Gundam battles the hatches had to be open. Humor? It might be humor?

Those first few episodes are also filled with the poorest slapstick humor I’ve ever seen. The Zeon commander’s incompetence is supposed to be funny, the fact that Judau is constantly able to steal the Gundam is supposed to be funny, and there are scenes where the Gundam’s themselves are the subject of slapstick humor including one horrible scene where Zeta Gundam gets it’s head stuck in the ceiling of the hanger deck while the audience is treated to a shot of it’s flailing legs. Even after the first ten or so episodes the comedy stays around and seems to be the driving force behind the narrative.

When the more serious piece of Double Zeta begins we’re introduced to a character named Chara Soon who is a high ranking officer in Haman’s new Zeon army. She seems to be a rational, obedient officer… until she gets in the cockpit of a mobile suit. Once piloting a mobile suit she looses her mind with battle lust, caring only about fighting and winning. This, to say the least, destroys any credibility the character had. I’m convinced that it was some kind of meta joke Tomino snuck into the series. Outside a Mobile Suit, Chara Soon hates violence and wishes the war is over quickly. Once inside all she cares about is personal victory. Is Tomino providing commentary on on his own characterization? It’s possible, but the audience has to dig deep in order to come to that conclusion.

Once the series crosses episode fifteen it improves by a good measure by actually returning to the main antagonist of the show, Haman Karn, and working on a huge subplot where Judau’s only goal becomes the return of her kidnapped sister from Zeon Officer Glemy who is using her for …something? Honestly, I never quite understood why he kidnapped her. He seemed to be preparing her for live in the Zeon court but why he would pick a random orphan girl from a backwater colony to be a member of the Zeon court is beyond me. It seemed like Glemy’s obsession with the girl was an excuse to give Judau a reason to continue fighting with the Argama, and nothing more.

Hands down the most frustrating part of the show is that no one learns from their mistakes. Early, the Argama allow a group of kids to steal their highly advanced combat ready Mobile Suits effortlessly …several times! Once Judau joins the Argama crew this doesn’t stop. People seem to just take off in a Mobile Suit whenever they feel like, disobeying orders in the process. Captain Bright’s answer to this is to shrug and have a “boys will be boys” attitude. Does anyone remember what Captain Bright did to Amuro Ray when he took the Gundam without orders? He tossed him in the brig! Yet he allows any member of the Argama Crew to just launch in any Mobile Suit they want while he sits in his Captain’s chair mumbling, “No, stop. Please don’t do that. Hey, be a friend.”

There is so much not to like about this series, but those come from the characters and the narrative. I found the majority of the battle scenes in Zeta Gundam to be paint by numbers and repetitive while in Double Zeta they were more consistently exciting. The animation is also a step up with the Mobile Suit designs taking another wide step forward. Granted, I would have preferred the Double Zeta Gundam not separating into it’s three components quite so often because, at times, it just didn’t make tactical sense and harmed Judau’s chances of winning the battles when it was employed. 

The last twenty episodes have a lot to like in them. The small side stories on the earth are well written and entertaining. They also give the audience a good slice of how much the on going war has affected the Earth as well as what the remains of the original Zeon occupation have been doing since Amuro Ray’s oringal victory. The episodes that are great step away from the crew and do character studies on people who have been affected by some aspect of the war. One such stories follows a woman who lost her boyfriend in the last war and has been outcast from her community for being associated with the Zeon.

The second half of the series comes to a glorious climax at episode 35 when it’s learned the Haman Karn will drop a colony on the Federation base in Dublin. It’s a two part episode which covers characters preparing for the event, trying to evacuate Dublin while an unhelpful Federation celebrates the population decrease the attack will cause and Zeon forces try to prevent refugee ships from escaping. After the colony drop the desolate waste of Dublin becomes the battle ground for an epic fight between Double Zeta and a Zaku 3, then the Double Zeta and an allied Qubeley fight the tremendously powerful Physco Gundam around the crumbling remains of the fallen colony. The battle was exceptionally choreographed, the animation was stunning, and it held some of the few genuine emotional moments of the series. They are perhaps two of the best episodes in all of UC Gundam.

The series then destroys that momentum by inserting some filler where Haman Karn sneaks aboard the Argama for no reason, as well as the return of the Moon-Moon priestesses which appeared in an awful two part episode during the first half of the series. By the time the last shoe was dropped, Glemy attacks Haman Karn and begins a Zeon civil war, the event falls flat. What should be an epic moment and an epic battle is weighted down by bad pacing, poor character construction, and a lack of stake for the outcome of the battle. While the action was fun and exciting, it felt like Mobile Suit battles for the sake of Mobile Suit battles at that point in the series.

So, is Double Zeta an attempt by Tomino to sabotage the Gundam franchise as some fans suspect? Well, I don’t think that’s true. It certainly is an attempt to create a different type of story in the Gundam Universe, to insert some comedy instead of being consistently dark and foreboding. But it just didn’t work because the audience is expecting the series to pick up right where Zeta Gundam ends and conclude that narrative. Much of the series, especially the early part, is filler that was created to fulfill Tomino’s contract so he can move on to what he really wanted to create: Char’s Counterattack. Char is obviously Tomino’s favorite character and without him in this series, it felt like he just doesn’t care. The main story is still as good as Gundam will ever be but it’s hidden behind bad characters and poor pacing.

Should it be watched? Probably not. Maybe the final fifteen or so episodes are worth watching or if one wished to be a Gundam completest for the sake of being a Gundam completest. There is just too much wrong with the series to make the few moments they get right be worth the time investment.