On April 7 1979, Sunrise launched the franchise by acclaimed animator Yoshiyuki Tomino, together with a rotating group of artists and writers who were collectively known as “Hajime Yatate“. With a planned 52 episode arc about content that was a filled with never before seen realism in the portrayal of the technology behind robots, political overtones and war, the series was ambitious to say the least.
The initial run was cut to just 43 episodes and canceled due to low ratings but that didn’t stop the franchise from birthing numerous spin offs both in manga and anime in the years to come. To date, there have been no less than 35 different TV, movie and even more game titles released derived from the original.
As we mark the 38th anniversary of the Gundam Franchise let’s a quick look at how far the series has come, and discuss a few things that have drawn fans of all ages it.
|Mobile Suit Gundam||TV series||1979–1980|
|Mobile Suit Gundam||Compilation movies||1981–1982|
|Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam||TV series||1985–1986|
|Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ||TV series||1986–1987|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack||Movie||1988|
|Mobile Suit SD Gundam||Movies||1988, 1989, 1991, 1993|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket||OVA||1989|
|Mobile Suit SD Gundam||OVA||1989–1991|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory||OVA||1991|
|Mobile Suit Gundam F91||Movie||1991|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory||Compilation movie||1992|
|Mobile Suit SD Gundam||Compilation TV series||1993|
|Mobile Suit Victory Gundam||TV series||1993–1994|
|Mobile Fighter G Gundam||TV series||1994–1995|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Wing||TV series||1995–1996|
|After War Gundam X||TV series||1996|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Wing||Compilation specials||1996|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team||OVA||1996-1999|
|Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz||OVA||1997|
|Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz||Compilation movie||1998|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team||Compilation movie||1998|
|Turn A Gundam||TV series||1999–2000|
|Gundam Neo Experience 0087: Green Diver||Specialty format movie||2001|
|Gundam Evolve||Animated shorts||2001–2005|
|Turn A Gundam||Compilation movies||2002|
|Mobile Suit Gundam SEED||TV series||2002–2003|
|Superior Defender Gundam Force||TV series||2003–2004|
|Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO: The Hidden One Year War||OVA||2004|
|Mobile Suit Gundam SEED||Compilation specials||2004|
|Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny||TV series||2004–2005|
|Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam||Compilation movies||2005–2006|
|Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO: Apocalypse 0079||OVA||2006|
|Mobile Suit Gundam SEED C.E. 73: Stargazer||ONA||2006|
|Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny||Compilation specials||2006|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00||TV series||2007–2009|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00||Compilation specials||2009|
|Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO 2: Gravity Front||OVA||2009|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie: A Wakening of the Trailblazer||Movie||2010|
|Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G||OVA||2010|
|SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors||Movie||2010|
|SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors||TV series||2010|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn||OVA||2010–2014|
|Mobile Suit Gundam AGE||TV Series||2011–2012|
|Mobile Suit Gundam AGE||Compilation specials||2013|
|Gundam Build Fighters||TV series||2013–2014|
|Mobile Suit Gundam-san||TV series||2014|
|Gundam Reconguista in G||TV series||2014–2015|
|Gundam Build Fighters Try||TV series||2014–2015|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans||TV series||2015–2017|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt||ONA||2015–present|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin||OVA||2015–present|
|Gundam Build Fighters Try||Special Episode||2016|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt||Compilation movie||2016|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn||Compilation TV series||2016|
|Mobile Suit Gundam: Twilight Axis||Ongoing||2017–present|
The initial series is known to be one of the pioneers of the real robot sub-genre of mecha-anime. If you are not sure what that is, please refer to an earlier post where we discuss it and compare it to super robot anime.
Tomino-san the creator of the series made it a point to make the concepts, designs and physics behind the mobile suits to be theoretically believable. Partnering up with Kunio Okawara who worked on a ton of super robot titles at Sunrise as well as the highly acclaimed Votoms series post-Gundam, Tomino put into motion the seeds of what became the ongoing war drama that pit the earthbound Federation versus the space-born and bred Principality of Zeon. In a time where the wounds of WWII were still fresh in peoples minds, the parallels between what was history and what Tomino told of the future were unavoidable.
Unlike reality however, the lines that separate good and evil were a lot more hazy. Gundam was more than just giant mechs running around making war. There were people whose lives are affected, torn apart and victimized and the series did not shy away from talking about it. This was also partially the cause for it’s less than lukewarm reception at first. The toy company Clover that was responsible for making the toyline for the show even sold its rights due to lackluster performance – a mistake that could be compared to dumping google stock when they first came out.
When Bandai bought the rights to produce the plastic models (now known as Gunpla), a new market arose. These toys which were injection molded model kits were quite different and more technical than their die cast counterparts which Clover initially tried to release. The popularity of Gunpla fueled and created a new fandom for the show and marked the beginning of a new era for Gundam.
What draws a lot of viewers is the amazing mecha designs that although evolve over the years, still maintain the technical splendor of well engineered and well thought out science fiction- traits that creators of future tiles like Macross and others have openly credited as their inspiration. They models that are based on the anime are equally stunning and account for more than 70% of all model kits sold in Japan.
What sets Gundam apart from a lot of anime is the maturity of the characters that have come out of the multitude of stories. Amuro Ray, the seminal hero type character in the series and his antagonist Char Aznable humanize war by creating the pattern for other stories that follow. There is always a duel, but the significance is not just who ends up dead. The debate/dialogue between the protagonist and antagonist as they try to justify what drives them to war makes it hard for the viewer to just take sides. There is a certain brilliance to the way the writers manage to mask moral grey areas in anime form to hopefully drive the viewer to also question ones own convictions regarding the political landscape.
So what series should a Gundam neophyte watch first? I personally get asked this quite often and my go to answer nowadays is Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin.
Whether you are into mecha or not, Gundam is an integral part of the anime culture. It’s reach has far greater influence than any other anime title ever made to date. It has inspired authors, animators, scientists and dreamers to try realize the ambitious vision of the mobile suits and in some way, exemplify/honor the heroism and sacrifice of Federation and Zeon alike.
For me, Gundam day (just like celebrating Star Wars day!) is just my way of appreciating and celebrating a work of art that has been such a huge part of my childhood and has been a positive force even in my adult life.