I've decided to do a short, concise review of each Gundam series I watch in order to give Gundam fans and newbies a quick look at each of the entries in the extensive Gundam franchise. Of course, what better to start with than the very first Gundam anime ever? Mobile Suit Gundam first aired from 1979 to 1980. Interestingly enough, the One Year War takes place in U.C. 0079 and ends in 0080...maybe that was intentional. I don't really know. Anyway, I think it's interesting to note that Mobile Suit Gundam was not actually popular in its initial run. In fact, it was supposed to be canceled prematurely, so it's quite amazing how iconic it has become in Otaku and Japanese culture in general. But I digress. Onto the review.
I think a lot of younger fans will find it hard getting into the older shows because of just how dated the animation is. Remember that this is 1979, over 30 years ago. The animation really IS dated; sometimes it's hard to see what exactly is going on in action scenes. You're basically given a slideshow. The Gundam is also drawn so inconsistently that I'm actually questioning what it's supposed to look like. Like I said, it's dated. All I can say is, this is just something you have to deal with if you're looking to try and appreciate a classic.
We don't need to worry too much about the animation, however, since it's the plot and iconic characters that make MSG legendary. The familiar story of a young boy getting caught up in a war started right here. MSG is considered such a pioneer because of its sophisticated plot and attention to the realism in its machines. It largely succeeds in evoking an emotional response through its depiction of the horrors of war. What I really appreciated was that they weren't afraid to kill off characters. It captured the reality of its subject matter. There's plenty of war politics to go around, and while some of it is really simple, it keeps the story sophisticated and deep.
The focal point of Mobile Suit Gundam is really in its human drama. Our main character Amuro Ray starts out as a whiny, selfish child who very reluctantly pilots the Gundam. However, he eventually finds himself unable to leave the Gundam to anyone else, and takes up the responsibility of protecting the White Base as everyone comes to rely on him. His abilities also grow tremendously to the point where even Char is no match for him. Getting to watch Amuro develop is easily one of the best parts of following this series.
He does not, however, hog the spotlight. Every draftee aboard the White Base is young and immature, and all of them grow together as they fight through every decisive battle. Though insufferable at first, I found myself growing attached to characters like Bright Noa, Kai Shiden, and Sayla Mass. We share in their struggle, and we share in their grief when tragedy strikes. They manage to offer a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a war epic all in one. Surely, the characters are the highlight in Mobile Suit Gundam.
Of course, there is also Char Aznable, who is arguably the greatest character in the U.C. timeline. Char, while manipulative and troubled, is shown to have his own reasons for fighting as well. He fights to avenge his father and eliminate the Zabi family that destroyed his life. He slowly works his way through the Zeon ranks, manipulating events so that each and every member of the Zabi family perishes. His character and personality make him one of the main reasons to watch MSG, along with the legendary rivalry he forms with Amuro.
Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam definitely is not without its flaws. There are very noticeable pacing issues throughout the series, particularly in parts where there is no major plot-point. Because of this, the show tends to drag, and some people might find it hard to feel excited about coming back for the next episode. The show is basically at its best at the beginning and the end. The last few episodes also seem a bit rushed and packed together. Characters and machines are introduced and destroyed in a single episode, despite being interesting. I believe this is because the show was supposed to be canceled, so they had to rush everything for a proper ending. Finally, there are portions of the show that still have a bit of super-robot influence in them. Things like the Gundam Hammer and the G-Armour seem a bit silly and tacked-on. It's no wonder Tomino decided to get rid of them for the movie compilation.
Overall, I had a lot of fun watching Mobile Suit Gundam. It created some unforgettable moments, from Amuro's encounter with Lalah to his first battle with Ramba Ral and his "This is no Zaku" Gouf. Despite the incredibly choppy animation, I found the battle scenes to be exciting and one of the best parts of MSG. Perhaps it is because the soundtrack is so great. Every time a classic tune started played, I couldn't help but get into the retro anime action. The series also introduced Amuro and Char, two of the most beloved characters in the Gundam franchise. While its age and execution give it many imperfections here and there, there is no doubt that Mobile Suit Gundam is a classic that cannot be ignored by any fan of the franchise.
[Overall Score - 7.9/10]