An Introduction to Zeta Gundam

With Mobile Suit Gundam in our rearview, it’s time to move on to the sequel series, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam! But before digging in, let’s talk a little bit about Zeta‘s production background.

The original Gundam started airing in 1979, and it was… not a success. In fact, it got cancelled. So, how did it get a sequel? Well, as you may recall from my other posts about the franchise, the answer lies in gunpla–plastic model kits. These were extremely popular; popular enough that series director Yoshiyuki Tomino was given the opportunity to re-edit footage from the original series (along with some new animation) into a trilogy of compilation films. These were released in theaters in 1981 and 1982 to massive success.

The enormous popularity of the compilation films brought Gundam to prominence in Japan, and as a result, Tomino was able to make a sequel series: Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

Zeta picks up in Universal Century 0087, eight years after the first series–a nice reflection of the fact that many years had passed in real life, too. It’s not an average sequel, however; it doesn’t focus on the same cast as the first series, although many of them return in supporting roles. Instead, we’re given a new protagonist in Kamille Bidan: a young man suddenly caught up in a war, not unlike Amuro was in 0079. It makes a lot of sense to me that Tomino chose to focus on a new character. The Gundam saga has always been about youth, and after an eight-year time-skip, Amuro’s not exactly a kid anymore.

Even today, nearly forty years later, Zeta is still considered one of the best shows in the franchise. It features a much more complicated conflict that its predecessor, with three warring factions and a massive cast of characters. It’s also quite a bit darker than Mobile Suit Gundam, which… if you’re familiar with that show, you know that’s really saying something. In fact, this show is so dark that afterwards, people started calling our beloved director “Kill ‘Em All” Tomino.

It should be noted that Tomino himself has admitted that he poured a lot of the negativity he was feeling at the time into the series. Twenty years after the show first aired, he released a new series of compilation films called Zeta Gundam: A New Translation, which is noticeably lighter… but that’s not what we’re talking about here, so prepare yourself for tragedy!

Another point of interest regarding Zeta Gundam: it hits a lot of the same beats as the original series. Like, a whole lot of the same beats. That’s one of the things that I love about it, though–in much the same way that George Lucas wanted the Star Wars films to ‘rhyme’ with each other, Gundam and Zeta Gundam feel like different iterations of the same story; there are echoes of the same conflicts and rivalries, but seen through the eyes of radically different characters. For me, seeing Kamille go through a lot of what Amuro went through while reacting in completely different ways is one of the most fascinating parts of the show!

As I said, Zeta became immensely popular, paving the way for the Gundam franchise to become the juggernaut it is today. It should be a lot of fun to dig into here, looking at the story in comparison to the last series and discussing how influential it became to its successors. Check back next week as we meet Kamille, his friend Fa, and–most importantly–a not-so-mysterious blonde-haired stranger with a sick pair of sunglasses!

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