Saturday, August 13, 2016

Video Backlog: “Gundam ZZ”

Publisher: Sunrise/Right Stuf (USA)
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 47 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 1986 - 1987
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Following directly on from the events of the final episode of “Zeta Gundam”, this series begins with the aftermath of the final battle against the Titans and Axis. The Argama and its crew are rather beat up and head to the nearest colony, Shangri-La at Side 1, in an effort to repair the ship and heal the crew. The colony is rather run down and poor and has large junk heaps down one end. Local teen Judau Ashta is forced to salvage scrap metal in order to pay large utility bills forced upon him and his younger sister. Often he works with a group of other teens into order to collect debris from battlefields outside the colony for money. However today he is only working with one of member of the group, Iino Abbav, in order to cut down on sharing money for the scrap metal he sells. The pair have just found an escape pod in excellent condition. However as they retrieve it and haul it inside the colony, the head of their salvage group, Beecha Oleg, spots it and wants in on the share of spoils. Judau relents and the group decide to check inside the pod. To their astonishment they discover that a Titan mobile suit pilot, Yazan Gable, is inside and still alive, having survived the final battle in the climatic last episode of “Zeta Gundam”.

At this point Yazan has nothing to lose and manages to convince the group of teens to steal the Zeta Gundam and attack AEUG members in the Argama battleship. However Judau argues that they should steal the Gundam in order to sell it. Kamile is still in a catatonic state and an ambulance is called to take him to hospital for treatment. As Fa Yuiry places Kamile in the back of the ambulance, Judau and Yazan take her hostage. The two children living on the battleship, Shinta and Qum, realise what is happening and attempt to alert the Argama's captain, Bright Noa, who ignores them. In the back of the ambulance, Judau touches Kamile’s hand by accident hand the pair share a Newtype experience awaking Judau’s powers. Using a stolen delivery truck filled with vegetables, the group infiltrate the port and in a ham-fisted manner try to steal the Zeta Gundam. After scuffles between the AEUG members and the ragtag bunch of teen scrap-dealers, Judau manages to somehow mauver the Zeta Gundam into the colony near it's junk-lots where Yazan fights him in a construction mobile suit. Eventually Judan manages to beat Yazan, mostly due the overwhelming power of the Zeta Gundam. Bright then manages to force the Zeta Gundam to the ground. However Judau manages to escape before Bright and his crew capture them.

Meanwhile Neo Zeon commander Mashymre Cello sends a suitcase full of gold bullion to the colony in order to bribe the government of Shangri-La to let his ship, the Endra, dock. Totally smitten with his commander in chief, Haman Karn, Mashymre plans to steal the Zeta Gundam and present it as a gift to her, much to the bemusement of his crew. Luckily one the colony’s executive warns Bright about Mashymre's plans and tells him that he can guide the Argama through the colony to escape. In the midst of this Judau and his group including Judau’s sister, Leina, make another attempt to steal the Zeta Gundam. Eventually caught, Judau somehow manages to convince Bright that he can be of use to him and later manages to defeat Mashymre’s mobile suit using the Zeta Gundam. After a number of battles inside the colony and due to the fact he has a depleted crew, eventually Bright decides to take on Judau and his friends as mobile suit pilots and fellow crewmen. The Argama leaves Shangri-La in order to rendezvous with the La Vie en Rose in order to take on a new AEUG weapon, Gundam ZZ (Double Zeta).

To be utterly honest, outside of the original TV series, its compilation movies and the concluding “Char’s Counterattack” film, I find it really hard to get into the core part of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Universal Century Gundam series. I found “Zeta Gundam” to be utterly pretentious. I do not understand the cult like status afforded to it by fans. Even in western fandom going back to the late 1980’s, it had this sense of being the ultimate robot show attached to it. The major problem I had with it was the lack of any real explanation of the events between the final episode of the original “Gundam” TV series and first episode of “Zeta Gundam”. Even the booklet which came with Bandai Entertainment’s 2004 DVD box set (which also came with bonus pencil sharpeners for some reason) didn’t really help all that much to fill in the gaps. I admit that the ideas and concepts in the show are quite interesting, but as with a lot of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s work, it’s done in really ham-fisted way with frustrating dialogue, bizarre character names and no attempt to explain anything to the audience.

Having heard that “Gundam ZZ” was much lighter in tone, I thought that this might be a better series. I was wrong. The tonal shift is quite bizarre. “Zeta Gundam” is quite grim in the end and bleak. Then all of a sudden we go into “Gundam ZZ” and it’s quite goofy. Bright Noa seems to have given up totally in terms of disciplining his crew apart from the rare instances he throws someone in the brig. Later he almost has an affair with La Vie en Rose officer Emary Ounce who is smitten with him. The Neo Zeons come off worse with various nutcases like the hilariously ostentatious Mashymre Cello and the bizarre breasty mobile suit pilot Chara Soon who seems to be sexuality excited by piloting mobile suits. We also have Glemy Toto, a commander who is smitten with AEUG recruit and pilot Roux Louka, but soon turns attentions towards Judau’s sister, Leina, after mistaking her for Roux and saving her in the midst of battle. For a good part of the series he seem hell bent on debuting her in Neo Zeon society goes about turning her into a “lady”.

Worse is the fact that mid-way through the series “Gundam ZZ” takes another turn, back to the heavy drama of it's preceding series. However by now we’ve had some really odd plot lines, the disappearance and re-emergence of several key characters and general confusion all-round. I really found it hard to take any of it seriously anymore. Add in the fact that a key character seems really unperturbed (even apathetic) about the death of two characters really close to him. At least when that happened in the two previous series, people got depressed. Actually the flippant nature of people’s death, especially in the first half of the TV series, is really odd after the way deaths were presented in the original “Gundam” series and “Zeta Gundam”.

However there is a lot to like in this show. A fair wack of the humour in the show hits it's mark. In particular I liked Mashymre Cello’s antics. Most of the mobile suit battles are very well choreographed and mecha designs are excellent too. I also thought for the most part the teenagers in the show were better written and far more realistically portrayed than the previous two Gundam series. They certainly act like dickheads a lot of the time (just like real teens). But I did get frustrated by how many times one the teen pilots would just run off with one of the Gundams (without consequence). And the recycling of ideas such as the lead character coming into contact and befriending the enemy’s enhanced Newtype pilot who alternates between childlike behaviour (usually wanting to be the lead's sibling) and homicidal bloodlust.

I think what won me over in the end was the flashes of great story telling (especially the last dozen or so episodes), some of the characters and the battles. Quite a fair chunk of it annoyed me. There are too many dead ends, story fragments which up and vanish without trace, the disappearance of characters for no real reason and the deaths of characters for no real advancement of the plot. And of course the baffling character motivations. Anime fans can defend it all they like, but it’s just poor writing in the end. Then you have Tomino getting rid of characters from “Zeta Gundam” just so he can install newer and (in my opinion) far less interesting and less developed ones. OK I’ve been really negative about this series. The flashes of brilliance were enough for me to give this show a 6 out of 10. I should really give it half a point less, but I’m feeling generous.

Remaining Backlog: Four movies, one OVA, eight TV series. In addition I am also waiting for second parts of for three TV series and one OVA to be released before viewing them.

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