Gundam - A Primer:
What is Gundam, you may ask?
Only the finest work of science fiction continuity that isn't Star Trek, with just as many fans (but no spock ears necessary!)
Gundam tends toward being a Real Robot series, in that the robots are grounded in some semblance of physics (there's even minovsky particles
, which are the series' relatively well-founded fictional physics) and used more as tools. There are, however, exceptions, both within the UC at certain specific points (most notably
) and also very evident in G Gundam.
A general summary of any given Gundam series goes like this:
Humans have colonized space, and the colonies are beginning to claim independence. People get in the crossfire, and a crew of giant robot pilots save the day. When people get killed, the survivors meditate on the nature of war. There are expections to this rule, but that's a general idea. These giant humanoid vehicles are called mobile suits, and among them is the eponymous Gundam line of mobile suits, which are always among the most powerful and generally given to the most important characters.
There's also a hobby! A constant since the show's inception, Gunpla (a portmanteau of gundam plastic) is the construction of miniaturized Gundams, ranging from the fairly cheap 1/144th scale High Grades (generally from $10 to $30, dpending on where you're buying them and which HG model it is) to the 1/60 Perfect Grades (upwards of $250, with literally perfect detailing and extensive posability, but limited selection). In between is the Master Grade (1/100th scale, with very good detail and varying degrees of challenge). There are also other grades but those don't really matter. More on the hobby below.
- The main Gundam timeline. Much like how all Star Trek series are in the same timeline and occasionally connect, the Universal Century is a timeline spanning several series and hundreds of characters.
TV Series - Full length, usually running between 26 and 52 episodes:
Mobile Suit Gundam
Zeta Gundam (1985
It is the year 0079 of the Universal Century. A half-century has passed since Earth began moving its burgeoning population into gigantic orbiting space colonies. A new home for mankind, where people are born and raised. And die.
9 months ago, the cluster of colonies furthest from the Earth, called Side 3, proclaimed itself the Principality of Zeon and launched a war of independence against the Earth Federation. Initial fighting lasted over one month and saw both sides lose half their respective populations. People were horrified by the indescribable atrocities that had been committed in the name of independence. Eight months had passed since the rebellion began. They were at a stalemate.
First of all: Watch the compilation films
. it runs you only six hours and has remastered animation, and gets in all the crucial bits. Don't suffer through the full series unless you hate yourself.
This is where the Gundam legacy began, The most iconic machines - the RX-78-2, "Gundam", and its rival, the unmistakable Zaku II - both originated here and have been made in a thousand models over, from this
Being a fairly low budget title, the animation hasn't aged perfectly, nor has the dialogue, but it's still a classic.
The story is fairly simple: In a war between the rebellious space forces of the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation, one young man finds himself aboard a Earth Special Forces ship - the White Base. He must side with them to protect all he loves, and kicks ass in a giant robot while he's at it.
The mech pilot that every other mech pilot ever seems to rip off (if they're not ripping off Go Nagai's archetype of HOTBLOODED).
Happens to be a young engineer caught in the crossfire of the one year war during a skirmish on a Side 7 colony, ends up accidentally in a giant robot and saves his friends, you get the gist. He's new to the concept of war, and finds it tough to accept the bloodshed (just like every other mech pilot ever). He's also a newtype, who are effectively low-level psychics who can feel other's emotions and have heightened battle skills.
The mech pilot that every other mecha series villain ever seems to rip off. Char, also a newtype, is the badass who tends to be the one opposing our heroes in Mobile Suit Gundam, though he isn't explicitly evil.
The real bad guys. In charge of Zeon after the Zeon family kinda slightly got killed off.
The crew of the White Base
The good guys.
Bright Noah (far right)- The captain, and one of the Universal Century's most commonly reoccuring characters.
Mirai Yashima (second from right) - One of the civilians who joins the crew after the evacuation of Side 7
Sayla Mass (Third from right) - The obligatory bridge babe. Has a dark secret related to Char.
Frau Bow (Center)- Amuro's long time childhood friend. Joins the crew to be another random job do-er.
Kai Shiden(far left) - The pilot of Guncannon. Kind of a perv, but a cool guy. Comes back in Zeta.
Hayato Kobayashi (second to left, not a little kid) - Pilots Guntank, kinda short and easily scared. Becomes badass in Zeta and marries Frau.
ZZ Gundam (1986)
Victory Gundam (1993)
Image of the mid-episode splash screen
I would like to start by asking the forgiveness of the assembly members and all Federation citizens. We mean no disrespect by taking over this meeting. I am Lieutenant Quattro Bajeena of the Anti-Earth Union Group. There is one more thing I must disclose before I say what I came to say. I have another name. I am also the man who was known as Char Aznable. I have come to you today as someone who carries within him the true aspirations of Zeon. Do not think of me as Char of the Principality of Zeon, but rather as the son of Zeon Deikun. Zeon Deikun’s legacy has nothing to do with the evils and hatred of the Zabi family. Zeon Deikun did not build the principality of Zeon!
When one sees how the Titans do as they please with the Earth Federation Forces it becomes apparent that they are more depraved then the Zabi family ever was! Humanity went to space so that the planet would not collapse under the weight of the people on it. Once there, they flourished, expanding their living space as they built more colonies on their own! Unfortunately, their success filled them with hubris and dreams of glory creating evils like the Zabi family! We mustn’t repeat that mistake! Why won’t people understand that moving into space will broaden their horizons!?
We believe that humanity should no longer pollute the Earth! But the Titans whose souls are pulled down by gravity think only of ravaging it! Why is it so hard for people to understand? From the dawn of history, mankind has played in this cradle called “Earth.”
But now, humanity must leave the nursery behind! Our infancy has come to an end! Tell me why at this turning point in our history we must fight amongst each other and further pollute the Earth? The Earth should be returned to its natural state and all of humanity must make its home in outer space! Otherwise, Earth will no longer be the planet of water. Even this very city of Dakar is slowly being engulfed by the desert. This is how exhausted the Earth is! Right now, every one of us would like to see the Earth remain alive and beautiful.
If we truly feel this way then we should not cling to the Earth as parasites just to fulfill our selfish desires. The Titans have started a battle disregarding the lives at this assembly. See for yourselves the brutality of the actions they take.
They place themselves above the regular Earth Federation Forces and label anyone who opposes them evil doers. But, their own arrogance is the greatest evil; they will be the ruin of humanity! Those of you who were watching the television must realize by now that this is how the Titans go about their business. I admit, it was wrong to take over this assembly, but what of the Titans who were trying to destroy it with the members still inside? Would they even destroy their own supporters?!
Note:Compilation films do exist with greatly updated 2006-era animation but drastically change the ending and are therefore considered non-canon. Watch the show first.
The sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam, taking place seven years after the conclusion of the One Year War. With new politics, better animation budget, and a darker storyline, Zeta brought Gundam into the 80s. It's often considered The Next Generation to Mobile Suit Gundam's The Original Series, consistently ranking highly in popularity and quality. The general plot follows the Anti-Earth Union Group's main carrier, the Agarma, on its fight against the corrupt Earth Federation military unit known as the Titans.
Much like its predecessor, the story begins when a civilian -our main character- escapes from a small colony skirmish in a brand new experimental mobile suit, the RX-178 Gundam Mk2. From there, it's a 50 episode adventure of teenage angst, 80s music, and giant robots blowing up. It's also the series that established the trend - now almost universal in both Gundam and elsewhere - of the protagonist getting a vastly upgraded mecha halfway through the show.
Our main character, a 16 year old amateur mobile suit technician whose parents are on the engineering team for the Gundam mk2. He hijacks the prototype of this machine to spite the Titans who happpen to be stopping by his town.
Turns out to be the most powerful newtype in the UC
A Titan pilot, and Kamille's rival.
A skilled and mysterious pilot for the AEUG. Wears awesome 80s sunglasses.
He is a Char.
Recurring characters from 0079 are numerous, and include several of the White Base crew members.
- The final full Gundam TV series, Victory takes place in the year UC 0153, 84 years after the original series.
Films and OVAs, Running between 1 and 13 episodes:
Char's Counterattack (1988)
- Basically answers the question: What ever happened to Amuro and Char? with a simple "Ah they decided to fight each other in 0093 and yeah it was cool". Some kinda off characterization, especially on Char's part, but a fun movie.
0080: War in the Pocket (1989)
- The first animated side story, focusing on a young boy caught in a minor side skirmish, hence the name.
) - A movie that takes place in UC year 0123, focusing on the Crossbone Militia.
0083: Stardust Memory (1993)
- Details the Zeon insurgence incidents that led to the formation of the Titans in Zeta Gundam.
The 08th MS Team (1996)
- Focuses on a group of grunts fighting on the ground in Southeast Asia during the One Year War of 0079. Given the nature of the series, it's almost like Gundam Band of Brothers. The animation is very good, especially for the 90s. It's also rather long for an OVA, running 12 episodes, so there's plenty of good stuff for everyone. If you just want a good action Gundam show without any of the stupid character drama then this is the best way to go (at least until Unicorn finishes in two years)
MS IGLOO (2004)
- Full CGI OVA series taking place during the One Year War.
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010)
- The currently running UC series. This one actually got me into Gundam because, despite the name, it is fucking awesome. The animation and script are all top notch and the dub is excellent. Based on a series of light novels. Follows a boy named Banagher who stumbles into Princess Mineva Zabi, the heir to the Zeon throne, and from there gets into an adventure that leads him to defending the legendary Laplace's Box, which contains what some say are the secrets of the Universal Century itself.
Episodes 1 and 2 are out on Blu-Ray and dubbed already, or available via Playstation Network. The next four episodes will come out over the next 24 months, at a pace of one every six months.
After some certain point in the production line-up, the Gundam guys at Sunrise wanted to shift things around, so they decided to make the first alternate universe Gundam series (note that these universes are referred to as timelines). Alternate universes tend to have large differences between both themselves and the UC timeline, including different mook mobile suits, a greater abundance of actual Gundam mobile suits (which are rather rare in UC), and different histories of colonization and conflicts. Some alt timelines will have even greater differences.
Future Century timeline
Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994)
- A hotblooded fighting tournament series where all the nations of the world and the colonies of space decide their troubles by holding a massive Gundam tournament. The main character is Domon Kasshu, a young man out to seek revenge on his bastard of an older brother. It aired repeatedly on Toonami a few years back, so a lot of people are familiar with it. This is a fun show but don't take it all too seriously (the creators weren't at all serious about it) though the end is pretty cool.
After Colony Timeline
Gundam Wing (1995)
- Probably the most fast paced and violent Gundam show ever, Wing follows a squad of skilled young pilots who are out to sway a war between the colonies and the Earth. The squadmates are really more together as a unit than they are as a part of either side of the war. The first Gundam to make it to American TV on the Toonami programming block, and therefore easily the most popular in the States. Also still reasonably popular in Japan.
After War Timeline
- The only alternate universe to stem directly from the Universal Century
After War Gundam X (1996)
- In a world where multiple colony drops happened very quickly and nearly destroyed the Earth's surface, leading to a post-apocalyptic existence for humanity, a scavenger group finds a young Newtype. They look to save her and themselves while also trying to help preserve the tiny remnants of humanity.
Correct Century Timeline
Look at that Gundam's fucking moustache
Turn A Gundam (1999)
- (Guest Write-up by Forever Zefiro) The people on Earth live a carefree Victorian era style life until discovering mobile suits buried deep underground originating from a bygone era of war known as the Dark History. Meanwhile, the Moonrace sends reconnaissance agents, including Loran Cehack, to Earth, initiating their mission to reclaim their ancestors’ lands. Loran begins working as a servant for the wealthy Heim family, and during a coming-of-age ceremony, discovers and pilots the Turn A Gundam, often referred to as the White Doll. Loran is torn between helping his new friends on Earth survive against the military might of the Moonrace, and his loyalty to his Queen Dianna and her vision of the Moonrace returning to their ancient homes on Earth. With the help of the Turn A Gundam, Loran struggles to find a peaceful solution to the war.
Cosmic Era Timeline
- The first alternate universe to get two full series.
Gundam SEED (2002
) - Follows a war between genetically self-modified spacenoids known as ZAFT and the Earth. Pretty much directed in a manner as purposefully reminiscent of the original Mobile Suit Gundam as possible without being an actual reboot. Your opinion on the quality of the show may vary, but there are some cool mobile suit designs. This one was on Toonami for a little while as well and only around four years ago, so it's the most recent Gundam a lot of younger kids have seen.
Gundam SEED Destiny (2004)
- The Zeta to SEED's 0079. Some new characters, some old. Some new mechs, some old. Higher stakes, cooler battles, etc. Your mileage may vary.
Anno Domini Timeline
- Explicitly takes place in our own timeline.
Gundam 00 (2007)
- Focuses on a group of Gundam users attempting to solve conflicts in a resource choked future using Gundams. There is also a second season and a brand new movie that finishes the series.
By the way if you feel insulted by the brevity of your favorite series summary, then make a write-up and I'll post it!