Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam Review online.
Give me a stinking hot weekend and I’ll take it as an opportunity to cocoon at home, fire up the air-con and settle into a marathon session of DVD watching. This weekend was Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam Collection 1. It brings together episodes 1 to 25 of the Zeta Gundam series over four discs (with 7 episodes on disc 1, and 6 episodes on the remainder).
My first foray into the Gundam franchise was with Gundam Seed — one of the more contemporary instalments — so I was really interested to see how one of the older series stood up. I was not disappointed. The story is a solid and, as I’m now becoming to experience, a “uniquely Gundam” space drama. The story takes some time to build momentum and this is typical of a Gundam series if it is running over 50 episodes, like this one. There is the usual set-up of two sides in a war and one of them has the Gundam mecha at their disposal, which inevitably means that side will win at the end. I haven’t seen the original Mobile Suit Gundam so some of the references to people and situations went over my head. However, to the credit of the story, the knowledge gaps were filled in pretty quickly and I quickly got into the scheme of things. By the end of the collection, I was really looking forward to getting the second one to see how things pan out as several situations get set up quite nicely as the dramatic tension increases. The cast, typical of a Gundam series, grows very large very quickly and each character has opportunities to set foot out on the stage. Our main protagonist, Kamille Bidan, is a young civilian caught in the wrong place at the right time. Kamille’s a bit of a hot-head, sometimes impetuous, sometimes selfish, but is ultimately a “good guy” and becomes the love interest of virtually every female on the cast. He ended up as the pilot of the Mark II Gundam and, as expected, has had to prove himself as a competent pilot (and somewhat reluctant soldier). Kamille gets into the swing of things gradually and becomes a competent soldier with some inspiration thanks to Amuro Rey and other cast members from the original Gundam series. Much of the success of this story lies with the interaction and development between characters as none of them are really one-dimensional or superficial, and some hold deep secrets. There are plenty of opportunities to get to know the main characters, their foibles, weaknesses and strengths, and that all helps to increase the enjoyment value.
Visuals are well detailed — bearing in mind it’s over 20 years old — particularly the attention to detail for the mecha. It is obvious that much of the visual budget was allocated to making the mecha look stunning, and it shows. The animation is entirely made up of traditional hand-drawn and painted cels with no computer-assisted rendering. For an older viewer like myself, the appeal of the traditional cel presentation is that it shows the skill and passion of the artists and designers to get a high quality presentation without the so-called heavy lifting being done by computer processing. Compared to contemporary presentations Zeta might not have the showy over-the-top output of the Freedom Gundam (from Gundam Seed) letting rip with multiple laser blasts radiating out in all directions, but, and this is a big but, this show doesn’t need to rely on such eye candy as such resources were not available to the producers of the time. I think this is an important point to make if other viewers have experienced newer instalments in the Gundam franchise first before watching this one. What I did see, I enjoyed and felt the visuals, even if they may appear a bit rough round the edges from time-to-time, showed the high quality and effort that was put into making this title. Most of the space battles were fluid and fast-paced (meaning lots of cels to be drawn, coloured, and photographed). Even minor things like computer and targeting displays were individually drawn, painted and included (something that in a contemporary setting would have been computer generated). Basically, there’s a lot to like about the presentation of this series even if it may not have the elegance or flair of contemporary shows. There’s plenty of old-fashioned eye candy with the female cast and some fan service particularly with Lt Emma or Fa and their skirts in a low-gravity environment. Much enjoyment to be had…
Audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Japanese tracks (with English subtitles). As is usual for me, I listened to the series with the original Japanese dialogue. The dialogue works well and the respective voice actors convey the elements of the characters well too. Music works well with this series. The opening theme is dramatic and sweeping, consistent with what I now expect of a Gundam series. The ending theme is simple, bouncy and also works well. Background music also assists with simple cues to emphasise dramatic tension or relaxed situations. Nothing overly outstanding with the music generally, but it does the job well enough. There isn’t much in the way of obvious directionality on the soundstage as I’d suspect the original release would have been a mono soundtrack, but there are also no issues of quality dropping in the transfer either. A good, reliable, soundtrack all round.
Extras – well, there aren’t any except for some other trailers for Madman releases on Disc 4 — usually Gundam-related ones. Then again, with seven or six episodes per disc, there isn’t much room to play with so no complaints there as much of the space on the disc is allocated to the feature presentation.
Bottom line: Well worth including for anyone who has been following the Gundam franchise. 4 stars for a robust, interesting story and characters that opens up a lot of potential for a good ride in Collection 2. It also shows what can be done with committing to visual quality even for something 20 years old. This is a keeper – almost a classic.