Week six of our Hot Summer Flashbacks series brings us up to Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, a 50 episode TV series set in UC 0087 and released in 1985. I’m not going to lie: I had a hard time getting into Zeta’s 80’s sense of…style. Zeta’s also kinda terrible on every level but let’s no jump ahead of ourselves…
In a nutshell, Zeta is the direct sequel of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and depicts the dysfunctional world that arises after Zeon falls and the Federation gains total control of Earth and the near earth colonies. It’s a grim tale and one we who grew up post 9/11 can relate to: in the name of hunting down terrorism and protecting earth, the Federation deploys the Titans, who leave ethics behind and regularly brutalizes the colonies (and federation officers) who step out of line. In this regard, Zeta is an interesting, forward looking piece of commentary.
Unfortunately, Zeta is also a fumbling mess. In addition to an all new cast of characters (see: mostly Gundam stereotypes) and the characters retroactively introduced in the OAVs I’ve reviewed in the previous weeks, Zeta gives each surviving character from the original series a cameo, if not a major place on the cast. Simply, there are too many characters to keep track of or care about. More importantly, as many of the cast are re-hashed versions of the original cast, I found it very difficult to care about any of the new characters. (let alone not hate them out right)
It’s also worth nothing that Zeta is an idiotically designed show, where characters are both over designed and their mobile suits are difficult to distinguish…
Left: Bad Guys. Right: Good Guys. Good luck keeping track of that during a battle
MSZG gets its name from Zeta Gundam, a Macross-style transformable mobile suit introduced mid-way through the series. If you want to skip Zeta, the fact that Mobile Suits can transform is the third most important concept introduced to the UC timeline… and that’s not saying much.
The second most important concept is that Minerva Zabi, the infant daughter of one of Zeon’s original brutal lords, has survived and grown up on Axis, a colony hidden in the asteroid belt. (and referenced heavily in the Stardust Memory OAVs) Essentially, this means that we’ll see at least 3 parties vying for political power from now on: Federation, Neutral, and neo-Zeon.
Minerva Zabi, heiress of Zeon and Khann, one of the many not exactly villains of Zeta. It’s not explained why anyone follows a child who has no idea what is going on nor how to fight a war because… Zeta!
As we saw in Stardust Memory, this fractured political structure can be interesting. Unfortunately, Zeta presents it as a convoluted mess. There are certainly clear evil doers, but what their motives are is entirely unclear. Further, characters shift loyalty for bizarre reasons pertaining to ’80s Japanese concepts of Woman’s hearts, betrayal and other foggy things. It’s just awful and I wanted to strangle everyone on the cast, good or evil, constantly.
Worse, the actual recurring villains are so incompetent at what they are doing that it’s hard to care. What tension will rise when Jerid, the evil Titan pilot, has been shot down for the 10th time, beaten up for the 5th time, and generally done nothing more than get his allies killed and has no motivations beyond ‘shoot down the Gundam’? it’s waffle house drama. totally vapid.
Beyond politics, the single most important concept added to the UC by Zeta is its expansion on New Types. Specifically, the Federation’s attempts to create artificial newtypes, aka cyber-newtypes, a group of emotionally unhinged teenagers who can pilot… bigger gundams but are totally crazy and unreliable. Cyber Newtypes are bonkers crazy, almost always attracted to Zeta’s main character in some way, and die in laughable-if-it-weren’t-tragic-ways.
In another nutshell, they are only important because they appear in future Gundam series and represent humanity’s fear of true newtypes. There’s also newtype-style magic, with characters knowing what other characters are doing, or where they are, and in the end the protagonist uses new type power to win the final boss fight but none of that is very interesting, well done, or important.
So you noticed I have’t talked much about Zeta’s protagonist, haven’t you? Kamille Bidan, a twerpy anti-war super newtype may-as-well-be-a-clone-of-Amuro doesn’t have much going for him. He’s obnoxious, good ad everything, sexist and indecisive. Thank goodness he’s not so good as to win the final boss fight without falling into a coma because I wanted him to die from the very beginning of the show.
Also, Char is a main character. Except he wears sun glasses always and pretends to be someone else most of the time and he doesn’t really do anything. Weird right?
In closing, Zeta Gundam is pretty much terrible. characters pop jarringly from place to place with no transition, but regularly take two minutes to launch their mobile suits from the ship. Almost everyone dies in unsatisfying, drawn out ways and the end of the series is a total let down of magic saves the day with no explanation as to what happens after the final battle.
If you don’t care about back stories for future Gundam series, skip this one. There’s nothing worth watching here. Nothing at all.