25 Days of Anime - #6: Turn A Gundam

There's a reason why I don't watch much in the way of contemporary mecha anime - far too often, creative teams get caught up in the clich├ęs of ridiculous action scenarios. They would rather their creations look cool and have them pull off incredible feats than worry about decent plot and character development. Meanwhile, those that do plan a series with better intentions frequently end up imitating the giants of the genre, and to that end I feel like there have been few mecha series outside of Gundam and Evangelion post-2000 that merit much recognition.

That said, I would very much love to see a new anime try to adopt a formula as bold and unexpected as Turn A Gundam did in 1999. To me, this is one of the most creative mecha series ever conceived - perhaps second only to Neon Genesis Evangelion, which predates it by four years. The combination of World War One-era technology with giant mobile suits makes for a world that could more or less be considered steampunk long before steampunk was recognized as a genre or a subculture. The time and place of the story reflects quite noticeably on the characters. From the outset, it is made clear that people live their lives day-to-day, relying on the transportation methods of trucks, biplanes, and zeppelins, while their cities are illuminated by streetlights and early neon signs. When they first discover the huge mobile suits, some of the elders share what they know of the Black History - records of days gone by, when man was capable of travelling into space and mobile suits were commonplace.

At the same time, a faction of humans living on the moon has been plotting a return to Earth. These Moonrace have been in talks with a select group of individuals about where they hope to settle, but since they are unable to come to an agreement, the Moonrace land on schedule with no real plan other than to seize a small plot of land for temporary use until further negotiations are to occur. There are some early skirmishes between the Earth military's trucks and planes and the Moonrace's gargantuan mobile suits (the WaDoms being big even by traditional Gundam standards). And while these flames of war are quickly doused, a tense atmosphere remains as everyone waits for Dianna Soriel, queen of the Moonrace, to make her next move.

Lead protagonist Loran Cehack was sent to Earth years ago to scout out the possibility of a return for the Moonrace. After his task was completed, he was free to do whatever he wished, which - prior to Queen Dianna's arrival - was acting as an assistant to the Heim family. But when the factions of Earth and the Moon are at odds, Loran must decide where his true allegiances lie. As the series progresses, Loran becomes aware of events going on behind the scenes with either faction, and frankly has one of the most interesting and genuinely human developments out of any lead pilot in the Gundam franchise.

The mecha designs range from curiously unique to wild and outlandish. Turn A Gundam is the first and only series to have its mecha designs come from an American artist, Syd Mead, and as a result it draws heavy inspiration from other particular Gundam stories, in certain cases. At the same time, the more strange and unusual a mecha design, the more fresh and interesting it is to look at, and an aspect as simple as this makes the viewing experience all the less predictable (also lending to this element of presentation are the giant pendulum-like device that allows Loran and company to travel to the Moon late in the series and the presentation of the lunar cityscape). The soundtrack, courtesy of the ever-talented Yoko Kanno, is simply gorgeous, and coupled with the colorful presentation of a largely natural and untamed world, allows the beauty of nature to shine through as much as the awesome designs of the series' signature giant robots.

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