In Defense of Gundam 00
by Chris - January 4 2009

Like most anime fans who talk about how much they hate anime on the Internet, I didn’t go out of my way to see Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Not only was it not set in the fanboy-beloved Universal Century timeline, it looked like the Gundam Wing version of Gundam Seed, both of which are anathema to us anime elitists. So while Mobile Suit Gundam 00 was quite popular and appeared on all your favorite torrent sites, it was never a hit with people who call themselves hardcore anime fans, because they didn’t watch it. We lived through Gundam Wing, and, after years of therapy, have convinced ourselves that Gundam Seed didn’t happen. So avoiding something that seemed to think these two terrible tastes would taste great together was almost as high a priority for us nerds as continuing to avoid sunlight and the warm touch of a woman.

And this is a shame, because not only is Mobile Suit Gundam 00 actually pretty damn good, it has something that the Universal Century never had: balls.

...

The Holy Trinity of Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Char’s Counterattack might be leagues ahead in showing the horrors of war, or at least what the horrors of war would be like if everyone had a robot with a big ol’ laser gun, but beyond that human drama Gundam doesn’t take its message very far. The bad guys in the original were basically Space Nazis, espousing a new and exciting space racism to prop up their space fascism. Saying that “fascism is bad” just isn’t bold commentary. Other Gundams kept the human drama aspect and did a damn good job of it, but Gundam, and even mecha anime as a genre, has never taken the next step and tried to make an intellectual point, just an emotional one. Gundam 0080 War in the Pocket is one of those emotional pieces of cinematography that just sticks with you, but really, what am I supposed to take away from that in terms of concrete ideas? It’s a tragic story, but it’s not espousing any particular idea.

Looking at 00, the Wing/Seed comparisons are pretty easy to make. I watched the first episode, then the first three episodes, and then the first seven, with friends of mine telling me that it really WAS different, but me not really seeing it. To be fair, it starts out slow, and the first few episodes of the Gundams killing nameless grunts and nearly killing named characters (who have to leave at the last minute before they die) doesn’t help. But I think this is just done to make sure enough explosions happen per episode to fulfill some kind of marketing board’s Juvenile Excitement Quota. We start to see the real action happening in politics, as the world responds to the bizarre Gundam attacks and the shakeup in the world order they’re causing.

See, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 isn’t stupid like Gundam Wing, and definitely not infantile like Gundam Seed, but that’s not why it’s important. It’s one of those few anime shows that can marry complex and compelling plots to exciting action scenes, yet that’s still not the reason why the first Season of 00 has me so excited. No, I’m excited because 00 is the first time Gundam doesn’t pull any punches. We’re not talking about Space Nazis in the future who are the bad guys, but people, governments and ideas in the here and now as the targets of 00’s criticism. Gundam 00 takes place in the far-off future, but instead of being in a new calendar, it still uses the A.D. system, which is symbolic: 00 isn’t talking about some fictional setting, but the world we live in today. Humanity is building space elevators with solar electricity panels pasted onto them, but early in the first few episodes, it’s quickly reinforced that this isn’t some science fiction story with factionalism completely divorced from the present day.

No, instead all the countries get slightly different names, but we all know who they’re talking about (if you had watched the goddamn thing). America is still America, and they’re still technically doing the “right” thing, as long as it happens to also be something that helps them out politically. The Europeans are still grasping at their perceived loss of influence in world affairs and are trying to make a comeback. Asia and Russia are strong, rapidly developing contenders with values the rest of the world feels are completely alien. These three alliances are all trying to do the best things for themselves, enjoying a high standard of living while playing out a global game of proxy wars in underdeveloped countries, while the Middle East continues to go to hell in a hand basket. The state of the world in Gundam 00 is the state of the world at this exact moment, just with a bunch of space colonies flying about to make it look all science-fictiony.

So the Gundam pilots aren’t blowing up nameless mooks in response to teenage angst; they’re trying to take down the New World Order, which just happens to be the Current World Order of today. Just like in the real world, the situation in Gundam 00 involves some global wars a while back, and while things have settled down, there are still proxy wars going on, economic wars being fought, politcal pissing matches being staged and a whole bunch of countries caught in the middle and being torn apart. The world is similar enough to our own that we know it’s intentional, so the message comes off as interesting but not quite preachy. The first Season ends with a few big questions, so what the directors think is “right” is still up in the air.

The Gundam pilots themselves are a bit different. There’s four of them, and they’ve got Gundams that dropped onto Earth, and they’re kinda crazy, which is partly where all the Wing comparisons come from. But while the Gundam Wing characters have general teenage angst, we quickly find out that the Gundam pilots (and their Suspiciously White Base-like Crew) in 00 are all a tad crazy simply because of the current world situation. The main character of 00 might be totally mentally unbalanced, but hell, he was a child soldier who was ordered to kill his family and did it. He’s fucking nuts, but he’s got every reason in the world to want to change the world. We don’t like the Gundam pilots, but we can understand why they’re so upset at a world that we eventually have to agree isn’t perfect, and how they want to make it better.

In contrast to Wing, 00 keeps the original Gundam’s “the enemies are probably just regular ol’ decent people who happen to work for a dictatorship” idea, except this time, these decent folks are working for the country you live in. We like that crazy European ace and his one-sided love for the strict military woman. We like Old Russian Dude who cares more about people’s lives than his country seems to, and we like those crazy Americans and their pimped-out robot team. They could have easily been the heroes of their own series, their goals are completely noble (protect their country) and I even found myself going “AMERICA: FUCK YEAH,” at a few points before I realized, hey, these are the bad guys (I always wanted Ramba Ral to win, too). But even if they’re more likable than the Gundam pilots are, we see how the nations use these pilots and their noble ideals for their own selfish reasons, which more or less proves the point the Gundam team is trying to make about warfare being wasteful.

So, it’s a surprisingly deep series, and I think that Gundam 00 might—just might—bring about a change in the way mecha anime, and really all anime, works. For at least a decade we’ve been on a trend towards the dumbing down of anime and their main characters so that they become accessible fill-ins, where Generic Fantasy/Sci-Fi World has a war going on, and Generic Milquetoast Self-Insert Male Character happens to find a robot, and also a girl who is mean to him at first (but only because she cares). Gundam 00 takes place in a thinly veiled present day with a guy who killed his own parents as the lead, and brings up some pertinent real-world issues along the way. Every time Gundam 00 Season 1 stumbles, it’s probably to bring people used to more generic fare back into the fold. Get them thinking long enough, maybe they’ll start to like this whole thinking thing, and until then: pretty anime girls! Robots! Amazing-looking explosions! It’s telling that an unexpected amount of older fans watched Gundam 00, when the producers thought they’d get more younger viewers: the Universal Century is mined out, and finally there’s something for us older anime fans to like aside from rererereinterpretations of the One Year War.

So will Bandai fuck all this up by Season 2? Yeah, probably. The first half of Season 2 doesn’t have the Genius-Per-Episode quotient that the first had, and I bet some expensive suit-wearing asshole with a pie chart put in some of Season 2’s more ridiculous elements (MISTAH BUSHIDO). But there’s enough still there that the directors could still get it all together by the end, and the first season itself didn’t start really rolling until at least episode 7, so there’s still hope. And even if Season 2 is a complete debacle there’s still Season 1, which not only stands alone as pretty damn good story, but Jesus Christ, it’s the reason for the first time in years that I’m not ashamed to call myself a Gundam fan.

17 comments

Comment from: wildarmsheero [Visitor] · http://mistakesofyouth.com

I guess this comment will have spoilers. I haven’t watched the show, but other commenters be warned, I guess.

You know, this sounds great. Except for my friend who also watched this show told me there is a character who has two very similar names, one for each of his multiple personalities, and you can tell what personality he’s on by which eye his hair is covering. Apparently in the end he pulls his hair back and says “I AM BOTH AT ONCE”

I also hear there is a character who dies right at the end, then his twin brother who looks EXACTLY LIKE HIM and has THE SAME GODDAMN voice pops in to replace him.

He then told me there’s this character who just sits on a couch for the whole series. At the end some random characters die, and I hear you’re supposed to feel for them, but they allegedly got 5 minutes of screentime across the entire show.

And let’s not forget fucking Tieria Erde. FUCK. There’s a whole tag on pixiv called “girl version” and about 90 percent of that tag is porn of him. As a girl.

So yeah, while you make it sound totally awesome, I can’t shake that other shit off. Sell it to me more. Convince me that this shit isn’t that bad. So far all I see is poor writing and fujoshi bait.

01/04/09 @ 15:39

Comment from: tollmaster [Member]

Gundam 00 stumbles a bit in a few areas, but so does every other anime, and if you pick out all the things that you don’t like and make a list, then of course it’s going to sound bad. You’re taking a few things out of context which makes them look worse than they should, as well.

The guy with two names (Allelujah/Hallelujah) does the whole split personality trope, but it’s a bit more realistic, since he’s a genetically-modified soldier, and presumably has those two personalities because making a soldier who doesn’t want to kill would be kind of pointless. The part where he uncovers both eyes and becomes “both at once” is a bit more symbolic of how he’s able to will himself to put thought behind his superior skills, while his opponent at the time (another super soldier) has better reflexes, but without the ability to think where and how to apply those skills. His “evil” personality more or less “dies", for lack of a better word, rather than the two fusing.

Season Two replaces a character with their younger brother, who looks and sounds exactly like him, which is too convenient for us to possibly believe. However, we also find out that it IS too convenient, and he’s a spy of some sort. Stupid, but not quite as stupid as you make it seem.

Tieria Erde might have a pretty good explanation for his effeminate looks, but that would spoil a few things later on in Season 2 and I don’t want to spoil too far ahead.

As for the Guy on the Couch, well, he’s a stereotypical “I’m the guy who did everything behind the scenes” villain, except that both we and he find out at the last minute that he doesn’t have the influence we thought he did, so it’s kind of a subversion. He’s there mostly to convey to the viewer that there’s more to Aeolia Schenburg’s plan than just Celestial Being, with at least three different factions with different interpretations of that plan, which becomes important in Season Two.

As for the random people dying in the latter episodes, well, a few important characters start dying off too, and it’s really just part of conveying how desperate the situation is for Celestial Being at the end. The rest of the world has technological parity with the Gundam team along with greater numbers, and instead of idealistic missions, Celestial Being is just trying to survive what the entire world is throwing at them. Season One ends on a bizarre note for a Gundam series: the last episode isn’t about killing off the enemy, but about half of the good guys being able to escape the conflict.

01/04/09 @ 19:08

Comment from: wildarmsheero [Visitor] · http://www.mistakesofyouth.com

Well I’ll be. Your post coupled with that comment is the most convincing argument for 00 I’ve ever seen. I’ll give it another go.

01/05/09 @ 00:24

Comment from: roastbeefy [Visitor] · http://porkcutlets.wordpress.com

But…but, I like Space Nazis.

01/10/09 @ 01:23

Comment from: Alex1611 [Visitor]

This is really off the subject of Gundam, but I was searching for this anime that I used to watch as a kid. I don’t remember the name of it so I’m going to try and describe the general story line as best as I can, warning: this could be a bit long winded.

So the story goes something like this, A family goes into space and gets abducted by some sort of aliens who implant a crystal or something within them which turns them evil and gives them the ability to turn into some sort of super robot things, which most have some sort of unique bladed weapon.

Anyway one of them doesn’t become evil and has to fight the rest of his family members to save the earth. He gets more powerful and powerful and eventually defeats them all in the end to become basically brain dead and ends up in a wheel chair.

The only other thing I remember from was that the the “good guy” goes on cutting rampages through some sort of green alien crab things alot and the aliens can turn the earths surface into more alien like vegetation.

This is such a big plea to find out the name of this anime, been searching for a long time, any help would be fantastic.

Sorry again for being off the subject but this seems like the only web site i’ve found that legitemately knows what they are talking about.

01/16/09 @ 05:25

Comment from: Sarafan [Visitor]

Way to completely miss the point of UC Zeon. One character with 10 minutes of screen-time in a 43 episode series makes a Hitler reference and suddenly they’re space-Nazis.

Universal Century super-powers/factions alluded to the East-West dichotomy of the day for the 70’s and 80’s, and made it pretty clear that neither side was particular just or humane. to simplify one side as “space Nazis” because they we’re opposing space-NATO and had a penchant for maniacal laughter is reading too much into the uniforms.

01/17/09 @ 23:49

Comment from: sean [Member]

> Alex1611
That sounds pretty cool, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to ring a bell with any of the guys on staff here. Might want to ask Dave Merrill (here’s his blog: http://letsanime.blogspot.com/) as he’s a pretty knowledgeable guy, and his experience goes back way farther than the staff here at CD.

> Sarafan
Unfortunately, you seem to be missing some key points. Namely the numerous similarities between Zeon and Germany in WW2. Superior technology and weapons at the outset of the war, new tactics, a very fast expansion that ultimately lead to it’s demise as it was too much land to hold effectively. The Federation fits the bill of the Allies as well, as they was initially taken by surprise but once they were able to ramp up the production and technological development, Germany/Zeon no longer held the same advantages. So it goes a bit farther than just the “Hitler’s tail” comment or the costumes.

I’m not sure where you’re getting the NATO-Soviet analogy, as there’s a big difference between a political standoff a la the Cold War and an out and out direct conflict like the One Year War.

01/18/09 @ 00:35

Comment from: dotdash [Visitor] · http://plotshield.blogspot.com

I see Zeon as being influenced a lot by German history, with Gihren doing his Nazi thing and Degwin being a kind of von Hindenburg figure. Char is more of a throwback to Germany’s Prussian aristocratic past. Prussian imagery in anime is a fetish that isn’t going away any time soon.

Classic literature like King Lear, Hamlet and The Count of Monte Cristo all seem like big influences on the relationship between Degwin, his children and Char as well.

That said, I don’t see the Soviet thing at all.

01/18/09 @ 04:09

Comment from: TORUMASUTA [Visitor]

The point I was making had less to do with whether or not the Principality of Zeon were Space Nazis or not, and more to do with the fact that Zeon doesn’t represent anything in the world of today that we could compare it to. There’s a lot of German/Prussian imagery to Zeon, but no one worries about German expansionists today. It’s a historical reference, and gives the Zeonic side a lot of color, but it’s safely abstract from current issues. Meanwhile Gundam 00 deals with terrorism and three large alliances which just happen to coincide with current major powers of the world, playing games for influence around the world, with undeveloped countries caught in the middle. It’s an exciting sci-fi mecha anime, sure, but Gundam 00 is also experimenting with a discussion about the current situation of the world, while the original Gundam made allusions to a war that its viewers weren’t around to see.

01/18/09 @ 15:01

Comment from: dotdash [Visitor] · http://plotshield.blogspot.com

Fair point, although I’d hazard a guess that the Second World War hung rather more heavily over the Japanese audience of the late 70s than it does over us today. By connecting the villains with the Nazis, Tomino obliquely confronts Japan’s role in the war and recasts the Japanese as the good guys. This is an issue that still rumbles on under the surface of Japanese society.

The way 00 deals with current world issues is interesting though, and I think it’s part of an emerging trend.

01/18/09 @ 19:20

Comment from: IKnight [Visitor] · http://animanachronism.wordpress.com

I wouldn’t dispute the presence of a connection between the Republic of Zeon and Nazy Germany in the original MSG, or the possibility that the story manages to recast the Japanese as the good guys, but Zeon also resembles WW2 Japan: it’s a small state which launches a surprise attack against a big one, across a great distance. The paucity of natural resources at home applies to both Germany and Japan (more to Japan), as does the very fast expansion.

Then there’s Meugniot’s comment [which was going to have a nice clean link, but apparently this comment form doesn’t like the tag, so here’s the URL: http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.anime/msg/34beb481026001eb], too, though I’ve never been sure how much weight to give to it.

Anyway, I spend a lot of time worrying about German expansionists, but that’s because I was brought up on Biggles.

01/19/09 @ 15:37

Comment from: sinjin [Visitor]

you are dead on about how surprisingly good 00 is. for a while i was actually sad it was a “gundam” show because it tried to be so different in such thoughtful ways. then i was afraid it would spectacularly derail w/ newtype pseudoscience psychic baloney or cosmic telepathic love stuff. but so far, SO GOOD. surprisingly well -balanced and -thought out show.

the only thing that bothers me is anime robots in a world of zero g space combat. after CG and transformers movie, these stiff samurai robots that ALWAYS pose, hanging by some invisible thread or posing on invisible staircase, gets tiring…

GREAT POST!!

01/23/09 @ 13:33

Comment from: JOEL PEREZ [Visitor] · http://WWW.COLONYDROP.COM

GUNDAM 00 4 GUNDAM MEISTERS THAT SOUNDS LIKE MAI OTOME VERY GOOD 4 COLOR EYES LIKE MAI OTOME OK.VERY GOOD GUNDAM MEISTERS CALL ME MAI OTOME TO STOP GUNDAM SEED. NO MORE GUNDAM SEED BUT GUNDAM MEISTERS IS BETTER LIKE MAI OTOME THANKS YOU PUT IN SHOW VERY GOOD THANKS YOU GUNDAM 00 THANKS YOU!

02/13/09 @ 17:33

Comment from: IKnight [Visitor] · http://animanachronism.wordpress.com

Just noticed that I spelt ‘Nazi’ with a ‘y’, and presumably have now failed English forever . . .

02/15/09 @ 15:59

Comment from: Stupid Anon [Visitor]

>>>Alex1611

That anime is well-known.

It’s the goddamn Tekkaman/Teknoman Blade. He’s no super robot. He’s a super hero. The alien crab is the Radam.

Go buy the DVDs, and watch it again, dood. If you ever hear me.

02/26/09 @ 04:17

Comment from: thewastedyouth [Visitor]

Season 1 was amazing, I love how the antagonist(Graham, Sergi, Soma) are just good people like you say. They even say how the Gundams have started wars and killing and they will stop them

Season 2 SUCKED ASS, big time I do not know how the people in Bandai fucked this up

11/14/10 @ 13:52

Comment from: Anon [Visitor]

I never watched Universal Century Gundam, and certainly not a Gundam fanboy. But I love anime and this series suck big time even for me after watching all both seasons.

The premise is a huge screw up. Celestial Beings are the very trolls of the world itself yet the story portrays them as heroes. The world was doing fine until they showed up. They gave rise to A-Laws and the subsequent years of wars and misery to the people. Then they start talking shit about peace and freedom. The irony.

The animation is beautiful, but unfortunately, the story is just plain horrible to the point I find NTR genre even more tolerable to watch.

That’s just my take on that series. Too much hypocrisy.

08/27/11 @ 13:58

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