25 Days of Anime - #19: Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

An oldie-but-a-goodie, Zeta Gundam is effectively to the original Mobile Suit Gundam what The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars: A New Hope. It retains many of the same core characters from the original, while further expanding the Gundam universe. With the forces of Zeon long-since routed, the Earth Federation has been reworked to accommodate for a sort of elite peacekeeping force known as the Titans. The problem is, the Titans and their superiors control the Earth and its colonies through fear, which eventually gives rise to the rebel group known as the AEUG.

The AEUG is unique to the Gundam franchise, as it is comprised of forces from both the former Zeon and Earth Federation forces, as well as a few new faces. The spotlight is given to young Kamille Bidan, whose distaste with the Titans leads him to steal one of their Gundam Mk IIs and ally himself with Lt. Quattro Bajeena and the AEUG. While famed pilot of the original Gundam Amuro Ray sort of takes a backseat to this new protagonist, he does spend time wrestling with ghosts of yesteryear. It's a very unusual method of passing the torch on to a new generation of pilots and political activists, but one that allows for a great balance of new and old.

Zeta Gundam is host to a number of cheesy plot devices not uncommon to series from the 1980s. But it takes on a far more serious tone than that of its predecessor, and is generally considered one of the darker Gundam series in the Universal Century timeline. Kamille bears witness to many horrors unleashed by the Titans and experiences a few personal losses, which lend him to reinforce his own values and outlook on the conflict. The dynamic he shares with Lt. Quattro is one of the most unusual and interesting in the entire Gundam metaseries.

Though I'm generally not a fan of compilation films, the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation trilogy does a surprisingly good job of retaining the spirit of the original series and brings out its best moments in stellar new animated sequences. This is due in part to the nature of many of the battles in the original anime going back-and-forth over the course of whole episodes (or multiple episodes, in some cases). It's not as striking an offender as, say, DBZ, and I'm still partial to the original fifty-episode run. But A New Translation is a solid representation of the Zeta Gundam story, too.

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