Ask John: Why Are Gundam Fans So Obsessed With First Gundam?
Why are Gundam fans so obsessed with First Gundam?
The 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam television series is not the first giant robot anime, nor is it even the only Gundam series. It’s arguably not the best Gundam series. And it’s now nearly 30 years old. While the series does have some iconic scenes, and its influence is undeniable, the show is also lubrigious and somewhat dull. And even Gundam creator/director Yoshiyuki Tomino dislikes original series episode 15. Yet despite all of these obstacles, Gundam is still respected, and more importantly, beloved by Japanese otaku. So wondering exactly why “First Gundam” remains so popular is a valid and intriguing question.
First Gundam is fondly remembered for revolutionizing the robot anime genre by introducing the concept that giant robots are mere machines that can be used for good or evil – not giant steel embodiments of good or evil themselves. However, if Gundam was only respected for its historical relevance, it wouldn’t be as favored today as it is. First Gundam is particularly relevant to Japanese anime fans because First Gundam has come to be synonymous with the spirit of anime itself.
First Gundam protagonist Amuro Rei embodies the spirit of 1970s Japanese youth radicals and activists. He’s a young man motivated and guided by a pursuit of justice, right, and a sense of social responsibility. While petulant and emotional, Amuro still commits himself to doing what his conscience forces him to do. In many ways, Amuro reflects an idealized Japanese teen. He’s independent, but loyal to his friends and determined to fight for his own sense of justice.
Char Aznable is the prototypical enigmatic, chivalric villain. He’s mysterious because he hides his face and his true identity. He’s highly skilled and very charismatic. He’s motivated by his lofty ideals rather than a simplistic antagonism. To put it simply, Char is fascinating.
Gundam fans and anime scholars may be aware that Gundam is unlike most robot anime because the mecha in the Gundam universe are mass produced, but not all fans may consciously realize the significance of that distinction. In typical robot anime, the robots are exclusively the property of heroes or villains. Gundam is different because Gundam makes giant robots accessible to ordinary people. Gundam robot are equipment, just like cars. Certainly not everyone is issued a giant robot, but one doesn’t need to be a hero character to have access to a GM Commando or Zaku mobile suit. In effect, Gundam is unique because it introduced the concept of conventional, nondescript giant robots. Anime fans may notice that whenever an anime series parodies a giant robot, there’s a strong possibility that the parody will resemble a Gundam robot. That similarity is partially due to the prevalence of Gundam imagery, and partially due to the fact that the robots introduced by First Gundam have become the de facto visual representation of “giant robots.”
The mystique of First Gundam partially lies in its simplicity. The theme of Gundam is one in which average Japanese people can gain power and affect their own sense of justice through piloting a giant robot. That’s different from most other robot anime in which one must be someone special or heroic in order to pilot a giant robot. Not only does First Gundam represent a sort of “everyman’s” giant robot anime, the background of the animation itself reinforces this sentiment. During its original Japanese television broadcast, Gundam was not successful. The series didn’t become popular until its re-releases, making it a sort of underdog that rose to the top on the strength of a slowly growing wave of fan support.
In effect, otaku associate with First Gundam. The series came from humble beginnings and introduced revolutionary concepts. It also appeals to the psychology of ordinary people while simultaneously providing admirable and role model characters. And it epitomizes the classic, fundmental attraction of giant robots. Modern anime like Genshiken and Keroro Gunso that illustrate an affection for Gundam merely reflect the Japanese otaku community’s feeling that First Gundam epitomizes the marginalized, influential, creative, fascinating, traditional, exciting, and gratifying spirit of anime itself. First Gundam is intelligent, filled with youthful passion, characterized by iconic robots and memorable scenes and passages, and characterized by the hand crafted devotion of traditional, old-fashioned anime. So in many respects First Gundam stands for the nostalgic identifying values of everything that anime itself represents.