Title: Mobile Suit Gundam Movie I / Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 Recap Movie 1/3
Length: 1 x 140 minute movie
Genre: Action, war, drama
Year of release: 1981
There have been few revolutions in anime that went further than their medium and shook the entire nation, but it’s undeniable that Mobile Suit Gundam’s 1979 first anime run was one of them. Famed for its iconic mecha designs, and contributing to a larger shift from superhero mecha pilots to gritty war stories, Mobile Suit Gundam’s influence spurred on generations of clones – many of which under the same banner! Even today, in the genre’s ashes, the Gundam name lives on and lives strong. And, taking a trip back in time to the opening hours of Amuro Ray’s story, it’s clear why: it’s a fantastic war drama. As a sci-fi… not so much, but we, and the story itself, will get to that later. In the mean time, we can appreciate just why Gundam shook the world.
The world is at war over space citizenship, and the Federation, who meekly believe in equal rights, have finalised their weapon to shift their losing streak against the Zeon, who fascistically detest the Earthlings who made them lesser. Amuro Ray is the son of a big-wig scientist, and like his father, is quite the nerd, so when the Zeon’s guerrilla warfare strategy involves a sneak attack on Amuro’s colony – where this weapon is being produced – he watches the real pilot murdered in a brutal explosion, and takes it upon himself to fight back in the new mobile suit, The Gundam. Due to the overwhelming proficiency of the Gundam, he finds success, and protects the citizens who evacuate onto the spaceship, White Base, joining hand-in-hand and fighting the Zeon as they attempt to escape to Earth.
Gundam barely gives you a chance to breathe as the rag-tag group piloting White Base fight for their lives, and that’s Mobile Suit Gundam’s greatest strength. The rapid pace demands attention, but is just heavy enough to extract all the meaning in the White Base crew’s actions. An entire cast grows from the harsh induction of war, but Bright, the acting captain of White Base, has enough meaningful cracks in his ‘strong leader’ performance to sling home how inexperienced and nervous he is to carry the lives of so many citizens and children in his hands. Even scenes showing the Zeon ace, Char, communicating with higher-ups and asking for reinforcements, are filled with charisma. World-building is slick; exposition is graceful. Mobile Suit Gundam is a truly excellent anime in it opening stages, taking a modicum of time and extrapolating it into something grand. Meanwhile, the action is breakneck and genuinely exhilarating, and puts you into the heads of the stressed out noobs struggling for survival, layered thickly with geopolitcs, personal struggles and world-building.
As a first part in a movie trilogy summarising this war, one could view this movie as both a condensed version – and a definitive version. The original series was eventually cut-short, and many of its larger points were lacking in foreshadowing, seeming like they ‘made it up as they went along’, and this movie has a handful of scenes addressing the weakly setup finale. Writing is spruced up in more subtle ways too, also beginning to form the cliques that would become important in the later series. Likewise, the original TV run had some weak animation, and much of the movie is spruced up, though, sadly, not all – but I’m sure many will be glad that the series’ interesting lighting is as intriguing as ever. However, in a movie format, there’s a price for such non-stop intensity, and that’s that the credits and episode finales are forgone, which once reiterated the speed, but now move the pacing into exhausting territory, particularly towards the end where the final battle against Ramba Ral lacks clarity. I’m unsure whether the series or the movie is truly the ‘best’ option for first-timers as there are pro’s and con’s of both, but this first movie is certainly the more complete package of Gundam’s opening..
Still, one must only look beyond that to analyse the strength of scenes. Bright’s slaps against Amuro’s unwillingness to fight are a sticky situation, but handled with musty tension. The sacrifices of the many named enemy soldiers and general are given a levity that few enemy-mobs get, and the humanisation of the war is stunning. Skirmishes have a real meaning to them, tactically, preventing larger moves, and give the strategy of Gundam a genuine atmosphere. And, who didn’t shiver in the final scene, crushing the hope of blue, Earth skies with the chants of ‘Zieg Zeon!’ Mobile Suit Gundam comes out of the gates kicking, and never lets go until the end of its, slightly belated, but no less impactful two hour run.