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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Re-writing Gundam History

(The picture may not be particuarly relevant to the blog post, but it sure is pretty.)

So I’m 30 episodes into Turn A Gundam, and so far it’s got a lot of things going on in it which really appeals to me, though probably not a lot to many others. I think when Tomino was directing this he wanted to break the conventions of the franchise, which is understandable as the series was made when Gundam was beginning to seem stagnant. There had already been seven different shows in the franchise and to a casual fan they would probably all blend together.

Turn A Gundam stands out however, and its obvious just by looking at it. The titular mecha the Turn A, or White Moustache as it’s sometimes called (Designed by Syd Mead of BladeRunner fame, don’t cha’ know?) seems to be a purposely bizarre design, most obviously because of the V symbol on its mouth which resembles a moustache. The other mecha are just as odd, usually looking a little like animals (not necessarily any real animals I can think of, just strangely animalistic) and overall less flashy than your usual Gundam mecha, and at times, dare I say, more realistic. (Actually, realistic may be a bad word to use when describing mecha.)

(A pretty good example of the animalistic design I was talking about, though maybe I'm stretching. Still, the idea of adapting MS's from animals isn't exactly new, I'm sure I remember some sort of Mobile Suit in Zeta which resembled a Bat, and I'm pretty sure there was an octopus like design in the original series.)

Then there’s also the main character of the series, Loran, he’s very different than what fans are used to when it comes to the hero’s of Gundam. For one thing he’s not aggressive, he’s shy and well spoken, and also seems pretty sensitive. And yet he doesn’t whine like other gundam pilots do, he takes everything in stride and does whatever he can to make those around him at ease, and the world more peaceful, unlike most he has a very idealised view of the world (the last part is actually more of a gripe I have with the series, but maybe I’ll get to that into another article.) And of course, the main difference between him and other Gundam pilots (at the time at least) is that he’s very feminine, voiced by a woman, and even forced to cross dress in some episodes (For perfectly non perverted reasons of course) He’s more the kind of hero I’d expect in a shoujo work than shounen robot show, but I can’t say I dislike him, he’s no where near as grating as
most Gundam pilots.

The biggest difference though is probably the setting. As I said in my last entry I REALLY like the setting of the Universal Century, but at this point it’s been diluted by constant sequels and side-stories, some of which were so bad Tomino had to state they weren’t canon. The Alternate Universes were supposed to solve this problem but more often than not they just rehashed the same ideas with a new set of paint. Turn A Gundam however does exactly what one of these AU’s should, it creates a completely new world. The setting (and the series itself) has been compared to a Studio Ghibli film, and while it’s not quite as beautiful, I can see where the comparison comes from. Turn A Gundam is set in America in the very far future, and it is in an age VERY similar to the 1800’s. Aside from the earths mecha (all of which has been recovered from thousands of years ago.) everything is very low tech, and really a lot of the show is just about setting. There are plenty of episodes which don’t rely on action to progress the story, but rather show simple things like the effect the war has on a hospital, how businesses collapses, and even just how the characters react to one another. In the original gundam series I’ve always found the politics and mecha intriguing, but the characters and dialogue are generally the low points. In Turn A just seeing people interact is a plus.

I can help but think something like Turn A Gundam just couldn’t be made nowadays, at least not in the Gundam franchise. Gundam 00 for instance is enjoyable, but it doesn’t really try to make any huge changes to the formula. Hell, I’m surprised Turn A could be made back then, though I’m sure it was because of an assortment of factors. Perhaps it was because the series before it (X) had done so badly that Sunrise decided it was time for a change, or maybe its because Tomino was finnally working on a Gundam series again, Sunrise would probably let him do whatever he wanted as long as his name was on the finished product.

Either way, shockingly it turns out anime fans don’t much care for change, since Turn A was not a commercial success. Still damn good though.


Iknight said...

Interesting point about Turn-A being the sort of thing we wouldn't see made these days. I've wondered in the past if it was only made in the first place because it was going to be the last cel-painted Gundam series and the last one directed by Tomino (not that we know for sure that he's left the franchise for good). Maybe the decision-makers at Sunrise and Bandai figured that it wouldn't be a commercial success but greenlit it anyway as a kind of glorious last hurrah. That sounds unlikely, though: my impression is that anime's too commercial-minded a business for that kind of thing.

Loran's really a very simple character. I think that helps our attention turn to the rest of the characters who are, as you say, a pleasure to watch. (I heard someone point out once that the bakery business that serves both sides is the happier Turn-A equivalent of Anaheim Electronics making MS for both sides in the UC!)

It'll be interesting to hear what you think of the show's ending.

IAmZim said...

Yeah, I'd agree about Loran, though I do think its nice to have a gundam pilot who never whines for a change. The only thing which is really annoying me about the series so far is how ideological his character can be, his speeches about stopping war are a lil' bit grating, and so is his aversion to killing other pilots...

Hah, I've never thought of the bakery like that, but it kinda works. The world of Turn A certainly seems a lot less gritty than UC, I can't really imagine many people double-crossing each other like Anaheim did...

reganstrongblood said...

do you make audio podcast anymore???

IAmZim said...

Yeah, we do. We're just all lazy. We plan on doing an ep with all three of us at some point, but Q is really busy and technical difficulties are preventing Miss M from speaking over the internet, which leaves me. I guess I'll have to ramble by myself on a mic at some point, but what to ramble about?

Also, thanks for the insightfull comments on the article...