US Distributor: Nozomi Entertainment
Production Studio: Sunrise
Was this provided by the publisher? Yes
More Info: Anime News Network

Note: This review may contain spoilers, reader discretion is advised.

In the 1980s, Mobile Suit Gundam was a hot property. The series saw great success in syndication, as well as a trio of theatrical compilation films. Because of this, it wasn’t a matter of if, rather than when fans would see a sequel to the landmark series. Fans got in their answer in when in 1985, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam hit Japanese TV.  Is Zeta Gundam a worthy sequel to the original series?  Yes, in every way imaginable.

Seven years have passed since the Earth Federation was victorious in the One Year War against the Principality of Zeon. Despite the successful operation, things have not been peaceful.  After the events of Operation Stardust, the Earth Federation created the Titans: an élite task force charged with hunting down Zeon remnants.  As time passed, though, the Titans became bellicose. They showed a real willingness to kill those who dared to oppose them.  As a result of the Titans’ actions, the Anti Earth Union Group (AUEG) was created to retain control within the Earth Sphere.  

Kamille Bidan is a teenage civilian (and amateur Mobile Suit pilot) who lives a peaceful live in Green Noa 1 at Side 7.  His life is forever changed one day, when the AUEG attacks Green Noa 1, and he steals the prototype Gundam Mk-II. One thing leads to another, and Kamille finds himself in the employ of the AUEG, facing down the Titans who dared to ruin his quiet life.

There’s a stark difference in tone between Zeta Gundam and the Mobile Suit Gundam. Specifically,  Zeta Gundam is  far darker than its predecessor.  There’s a persistent feeling of dread through Zeta Gundam.  It feels as if the whole system could collapse into a tyrannical nightmare at any moment.  Victories earned in battle by the AEUG early in the series come across as Pyrrhic victories, taking two steps forward and one step back.  A good example of this can be seen during the AEUG assault on Jaburo.  While the AUEG was able to defeat the Titans and Federation forces, they barely escaped the base alive, as it was destroyed by a nuclear weapon.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam also excels in its ability to deliver a complex political narrative for the Earth Sphere.  In the original series, there were only two sides, with neither being particularly “good.”  In Zeta Gundam, this isn’t the case as the situation has more complexity and nuance to it.  The AEUG may be backed by Anaheim Electronics (and providing them with mobile suits), but they are not above granting mobile suits to the Titans at the same time.  The political situation gets murkier when the a force called Axis, which is composed of Zeon remnants, arrives in the Earth Sphere. At this point, all bets are off as all sides attempt to court Axis to gain their allegiance.  The leader of Axis, Haman Kahn, is similarly corrupt. He plays the same game, as he attempts to pull the strings of both the AUEG and Titan forces in an attempt to restore the Zabi family to power.

The series isn’t all about the political situation in the Earth Sphere, though. It is also a coming of age story for the protagonist Kamille Bidan.  Kamille’s evolution from angst-filled teenager to mature adult isn’t a straight path. He’s forced to confront the horrors of conflict first-hand, from watching both of his parents perish to  having his love interest die in his arms.  This means that, while Kamille’s growth as character is important and crafted smoothly, he can be grating at best and unlikable at worst in the early parts of the show.  This is be best seen when he attacks some Jerid Masa for simply mocking his name.

Being that this is a sequel, viewers can expect to see plenty of returning characters from the original series. And, really, it’s interesting to see how these players have changed since the One Year War.  Bright, for example, is an experienced officer and family man. He’s a far cry from the green officer who was forced to deal  with a ship full of civilians in the original Gundam.

In Amuro’s case, we see him dealing with the effects of the war, along with his pseudo house arrest and surveillance by the Federation government due to their fear of his Newtype powers.  That said, the biggest interest in the returning cast is Char Aznable.  At this point, it isn’t a big spoiler to mention that Lt. Quattro is the Red Comet, himself.  Char’s continued growth as a character is as important as Kamille’s is during the series.  With the Zabi family out of the picture, Char’s focus is no longer revenge. Instead, he desires to help humanity through his father’s teachings by moving humanity into the vast frontier of outer space.

The new characters for Zeta Gundam are a massive improvement over the original cast.  The new players are more dynamic and complex, with real motivations (aside from “survival”).  They have their own ideals, which they live and die by.  The best example of this in action is Paptimus Scirocco from the Titans.  He’s a Newtype, with power and charisma to spare.  Plus, he wants to create a world where a woman rules humanity.  Ironically, he’s also conniving and a glorified pick up artist who manipulates emotionally unstable females.  

Due to the show’s dark tone, though, there are points where the cast just comes across as a obnoxiously edgy or, at worst, total jerkasses.  It’s hard to feel sympathetic for Wong Lee, who’s generally an asshole most of the time he is on-screen. This cements itself when he’s shown beating up Kamille for being late, or when he simply disagrees with her tactics.

On a technical level, it is amazing to see what a difference of six years can do for production values.  Despite hitting Japanese TV thirty-one years ago, the show still looks great even by today’s standards.  The mobile suit designs are still as crisp and visually striking as they were in their début.  The animation is also vastly improved.  Combat is more fluid as a whole, and the battles are generally directed better.  Animation mistakes still litter the overall product, though, with rank insignia inconsistencies being the biggest offender.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the elephant in the room in regards to Zeta Gundam: the original opening and ending themes.  When the show was initially released in 2004 (and the later re-released twice over)  by Bandai Entertainment, the two original opening themes two original opening themes (Zeta-Toki o koete, Mizu no Hoshi e Ai wo Komete) and ending theme (Hoshizora no Believe)  were not included due to licensing issues. These were instead replaced by orchestral tracks from the show.  Twelve years later, this is still the case and the original two opening and ending theme were once again omitted .  This isn’t a huge deal breaker, but fans hoping the original opening and ending themes to be included will be disappointed.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is an example of the Gundam franchise and director Yoshiyuki Tomino at their finest.  It’s a gripping drama, told with a mix of old and new characters. The impressive animation still holds up to this day, and the mobile suit designs still hold a distinctive charm. With this in mind, it isn’t hard to see why Zeta Gundam is still a fan favorite many years later.  While Kamille’s abrasiveness early on can be off-putting and the lack of the original opening and ending themes are a buzz kill, if you haven’t checked out Zeta Gundam, please do so.  You won’t regret it.