Mobile Suit Gundam is a 1979 shōnen, military science-fiction, mecha anime series about a war that was started in the name of freedom for the purpose of domination, and teenager, Amuro Ray, finds himself pulled violently smack dab in the middle of it all. As chaos ensues around him, hoping to make sense of it and help where he can, he climbs into a mobile suit Gundam, the Earth Federation’s newest secret weapon. Using his own brilliance and impeccable resourcefulness, he gets the Gundam working and manages to help refugees flee their homeland on a warship called White Base. Unfortunately for Amuro, getting to safety is only the start of his traumatizingly unexpected position as a mobile suit soldier.
Mobile Suit Gundam is the quintessential mecha anime series. The franchise is supremely iconic and I’m sad to say that as a huge fan of the mecha genre, I’ve never seen any of it. A lot of that had to do with being overwhelmed with the sheer amount of offshoots and serials there are, as well as the uncertainty of where to begin. With my foray into an anime-related mental health experiment, along with a bit of research, I decided now would be an excellent time to dive in. Having legal access to the series—finally—also helps quite a bit. While I knew that the franchise was military sci-fi and had strong themes of wartime, I wasn’t expecting this 1979 series to be so intensely psychological and heart-breaking.
When the anime begins, there’s a terrible attack and then suddenly everyone is running for cover. Then there is a young teen boy who realises that he’s the only hope for helping people escape. What that one small decision leads to is absolutely devastating. He becomes the only person to work the Gundam, and his ability to quickly learn and adapt, while being a supremely vital skill, also turns into the monster that slowly haunts him more and more and more. Having the weight of an entire nation resting on a single person’s shoulders is unfathomable and for it to be a teenager? Someone who’s barely had a chance to live at all, surrounded by unimaginable and, quite frankly, unnecessary deaths? Well, that’s even worse.
I’ll confess that when I popped in the first episode, I was expecting something entertainingly cheesy, as most things from the late 70s and early 80s tend to be, but there is absolutely nothing cheesy about this series. It has so many dimensions to it and along with my astonishment, all I have is respect and growing curiosity to see how everything shall unfold. My favourite elements are the many themes on how war impact people, the non-soldiers and citizens of a nation; the long-term emotional trauma of being a refugee; and the horrifying effects of post traumatic stress, especially on someone who’s barely out of his childhood years.
If there’s anything that Japan can have a bit of an emotional monopoly on, it’s the experience of being on the receiving end of nuclear devastation. While Gundam hasn’t really jumped into this very specific category, what the people are going through by being forced to flee, as well as what happened to those individuals that didn’t have such the luxury or luck of getting away in time, is hauntingly reminiscent of the Second World War. The common folx being pushed into the backseat in order to prioritise the military agenda and the undeniable urge to fight and kill in order to survive rather than flee and protect (in a very specific sense) is stunningly palpable. When you couple that with Amuro’s deteriorating mental health, the anime becomes breath-takingly mortifying.
Since we are seeing the majority of the war via the eyes of Amuro, at least on the Earth Federation’s side, we very quickly get to see how psychologically shocking it is to witness death up close and personal. It’s far worse when one recognises that their own actions had a direct impact on said deaths, such as taking down the opposing mobile suits via a fiery explosion, killing the pilots instantly. You can only stay numb to it for so long before it catches up to you. When that begins to happen with Amuro, everyone needs him to “get over his shite,” essentially, as quickly as possible, so he can keep on fighting the fighting.
This is so fucking hard to watch because of the spiral of depression and the sombre sense of helplessness is overpowering him. I want to yell at all of the adults and tell them that he’s just a kid and they really need to give him a break. Then I’m reminded of the soldiers of who fought in World War II, kamikaze pilots, for example, that were probably not much older than dear Amuro; the grief and fear that they must have felt while trying to fulfil their patriotic duties. It doesn’t get more fucking real than this and, honestly, it can’t be computed or quantified into mere words.
I’m approximately ten episodes into this forty-three segment series and… I have no idea what to expect. Every time I start to predict something, it partially occurs but it brings with it a shitstorm of unforeseen twists that leave me gasping with both frustration and insatiable intrigue. I have a few blogging chums that are big fans of mecha anime, particularly the Gundam franchise and I’m considering hitting them up because I have so many thoughts and keeping them to myself is starting to get overwhelming.
While it’s too early to tell at this point, if Mobile Suit Gundam keeps up this level of storytelling and thematic, allegorical characteristics, at the very least, I have no doubt in my mind it will become one of my top five anime serials of all-time.
You can catch all forty-three episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam over on Funimation and CrunchyRoll. If you’re interested in a truncated version, then the film trilogy is currently streaming over on Netflix (US).
Genre: Military Sci-Fi, Mecha
Season: Spring 1979
Studio: Nippon Sunrise
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Content Warnings: Strong violence including mecha violence, bombings, and fisticuffs. Mild blood. Deaths (moderate in presentation) including mass death, death of children, and military-related killings. Depiction of displaced peoples and refugee experiences. Strong depiction of wartime trauma including post-traumatic stress and severe depression in a teenage soldier. Mild sexual innuendo. Preparation and consumption of food. Mildly strong language. Mild alcohol consumption.
AniList: Kidō Senshi Gundam
Streaming: Funimation, CrunchyRoll, Netflix (Film Trilogy), Anime Lab (Aus)