Gundam is considered one of anime’s (Japanese animation) major icons-a series that originally debuted in 1979, but unlike other “mecha” (giant robot) shows at the time, focused on a more realistic war story. Sure, the Gundam was colorful, resembled medieval Japanese armor, carried what was basically a giant lightsaber etc., combined with some other mechs to form “G-armor” and other tropes of the mecha genre of the time, and often fought equally colorful villains. However, in other ways it was more restrained than it’s often super-heroic counterparts (The Gundam for instance, constantly needed maintenance on a base spaceship, and wasn’t always reliable), and although it had a space setting, didn’t involve any aliens or indeed, much action beyond Earth’s solar system and also focused heavily on loss and death. This article will attempt to explain the basics of the series a bit, as well as the first few ‘alternate universe’ stories and their concepts (although a future article will explore them more).
Conflicts between Earth and several of it’s orbiting artificial space colonies-in which both sides are often treated as often being both right and wrong-is the foundation of most of the Gundam series, with some exceptions. The mecha of the series are often referred to as “Mobile Suits”, and are used in these conflicts. Also present in many of the series are “Newtypes” (although the term is not always used)-people who, due to living in space, have evolved higher reflexes and somewhat psychic abilities, giving them an edge in piloting. The Gundam itself-although often potrayed as a super-robot in some series-is often a prototype for mass-produced suits (Called GMs in the Universal Century Timeline, or Daggers in the SEED timeline) developed by the Earth faction, as the colonies have usually already developed and deployed their mobile suits, giving them an advantage in the war. Basically, the introduction of the Gundam, it’s counterparts and derivative suits is often presented as a turning point in the conflict, with an inexperienced but gifted pilot often taking the helm of the Mobile suit.
There are many Gundam series, some more different than others. The original and it’s main sequels (Z, ZZ, Victory Gundam), as well as several spin off video series (0080, 0083, 08th Ms team, Unicorn, Thunderbolt)and films (Char’s counterattack, F91) are set in the “Universal Century” timeline. The majority of Gundam series are set in this, and it remains the most associated with Gundam in Japan. The first series and several OAVs (Original animated Videos, sort of direct-to-video miniseries often with improved production values) are set during a conflict called the “One Year War”. The original, it’s sequel Z and the movie Char’s counterattack also largely center on the rivalry between Newtype Gundam pilot Amuro Ray, and enemy Ace Char Anzable, a masked man (and also a Newtype) who has ulterior motives.
In 1994, the series decided to try something new, and the ‘alternate universe’ Gundam series were born. Many of these feature story lines similar to the Universal Century series, but with a different twist or theme.
The first-and perhaps one of the most different-is the “Future Colony Era” from G Gundam. G Gundam features a “Street fighter” style tournament of international Gundams, while also featuring the threat of a prototype “Devil Gundam” (or Dark Gundam). The series has been both both lauded and criticized for it’s ocassionally goofy Gundam designs and over-the-top drama.
“Gundam Wing”-set in the “After Colony” era has a somewhat more traditional Gundam plot, although with the theme of five teens who are each given a Gundam (Each with it’s own different attributes) to take on the villainous OZ organization which plans to dominate the Earth and it’s space colonies (Although there are many more twists to the story once it gets going). Although there are no Newtypes in the series, there is a pilot interface-the ZERO system-which allows for similar abilities, although with the downside of making the pilots mentally unstable. The series had one sequel, the video series “Endless Waltz”.
The series “After War Gundam X”-well, set in the “After War” era-featured a sort of more post-apocalyptic take on Gundam, as a war-similar to one in the original Mobile Suit Gundam-didn’t go quite as well leaving much of the world a ruin. Newtypes come back in this series, as well. This series wasn’t quite a hit as G and Wing were, and it was cancelled fairly early on.
The series Turn A Gundam, set in the “Correct century” featured the return of Gundam’s original creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino (Who had left after “Victory Gundam”), and featured references to all the series to that point, perhaps suggesting that all the series had happened in the same universe, just at different points of history (or history repeating itself somehow with the Gundam being the constant). The series dealt with a conflict between Earth and the moon, and featured an unconventionally designed Gundam, by Syd Mead, who had designed many American sci-fi films.
Gundam SEED, and it’s sequel, Gundam SEED Destiny, largely followed a storyline similar to that of the UC timeline, but with far more Gundams, and an underlying story about two best friends who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Here, there are “sort of” Newtypes, except instead of naturally occurring in space they are genetically engineered and called Coordinators. The series was highly successful.