Gundam: the View from the Gateway

October 2nd, 2009 – Other Articles

Now, hands up, who’s seen a Gundam series?

How many have seen Gundam Wing, Gundam SEED, G Gundam, and Gundam 00?

How many are girls?

Now, I’ve noticed something that’s a bit odd with the Gundam franchise. While for the most part, it seems to be a bastion of geeky boys (while I’m sure they exist, I’ve met few girls who make model Gundams), there are a few recent series that seem to have an audience and fanbase that is a rather hefty percent female. These series are Gundam Wing, Gundam SEED, Gundam SEED Destiny, Gundam 00, and G Gundam. The other, older Gundam series – Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam - don’t have this demographic.

Did you ever wonder why?

Mobile Suite Gundam: this artwork makes me cry a little, inside

Mobile Suit Gundam: this artwork makes me cry a little, inside

I did, actually, and I have decided to share my insights with you. Now, granted, I have only seen SEED, Wing, Destiny, and G, so I could be mistaken in my assumptions. However, I think that there are number of distinct differences between the older and newer Gundam series that explain this split in the audience.

Now, all of the Gundam series have a lot in common; Gundams, for one, as well as war, the idea of pacifism, human evolution, and a mysterious blond guy with a mask. They have dynamic characters that grow and change over the course of the series, and the main characters are often teenagers. Aside from the ethics of having teenagers in war zones, this makes it easier for the audience to relate to the protagonist(s).

All of these are a cut above the standard shonen series: disconnected episodes of the protagonist defeating the villain of the week, and chattering on about the power of friendship and teamwork. So what’s so different about the later series that makes them more popular with girls?

Gundam SEED: Kira and Athrun, star crossed (lovers) friends

Gundam SEED: Kira and Athrun, star crossed (lovers) friends

From what I’ve heard, Gundam SEED, Gundam SEED Destiny, Gundam Wing, and Gundam 00 (I’ll get to G Gundam later) have a few things that are missing from the older series. While the politics, war, and ethical issues are still important, the characters and their development are much more the focus of the series. The thoughts and feelings are more expressed, more interesting, and just better realized. In the older series, the focus was on the battles the pilots were in, and the sides they were on. These are important in the later ones too, but we get to feel the dilemma Kira faces when he has to choose between protecting his friends and rejoining his ‘own kind’. We see how it feels for him to have to fight his best friend, even when they believe the same things. In Wing, in addition to the secret missions, the politics, and the backstabbing, we get to feel the psychological effects of having teenagers sent to fight on their own and then abandoned by their handlers.

Additionally, the character designs and the art in general has improved. Gundam 00 in paticular is known for its pretty boys, and Gundam Wing is known as a gateway anime for many fangirls who are into slash.

Gundam 00: very, very pretty boys

Gundam 00: very, very pretty boys

This could be completely inaccurate; for all I know, Zeta has ridiculously pretty boys who spend all their time sobbing. But the things is, that’s not what us girls hear, or see. The art we see from the older series are invariably grainy shots of giant robots, which, while cool, can get really old, really quickly. And when boys fansqueal over the older series, they always seem to be talking about how either the new series have ripped off a particular idea, or about how the older fight scenes were way better than the new ones.

In addition, Wing and SEED were shown on Cartoon Network during the Toonami programming block in the years when the anime market was exploding, and gaining more and more female fans in general. For many of us, one of our first animes was one of these two series.

All these factors mean that girls are far more likely to have seen and enjoyed the newer Gundam series than the older ones. And, if the creators keep this up, girls will keep watching them. And making fanart. And writing fanfics. And having meta-discussions. And cosplaying…

There probably won’t be much model making though.

A note for anyone who was paying attention: I never explained why girls like G Gundam. It’s actually less that girls in particular like it than hard-core Gundam fans (who are overwhelmingly male) hate it. The whole idea and general execution is utterly absurd, from the catch phrase “Shining Finger” to the finale, which involves the main fighter yelling “Love-love!” and a horse inside a Gundam cockpit. The whole anime is silly and over the top and (if you have a good sense of humor) utterly brilliant. Of course, if you spend your free time seriously discussing the politics of the original Gundam series, and how the technology of so-and-so world feeds into its political structure, you might not take kindly to a series that is so clearly making fun of the entire francise. G Gundam also aired with Gundam SEED and Gundam Wing in the Toonami time slot; I didn’t even know it was so hated until I ran into ‘true’ Gundam fans.

G Gundam: Oh, the absurdity

G Gundam: Oh, the absurdity

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4 Responses to “Gundam: the View from the Gateway”

  1. liebenasuka says:

    Gundam sounds like a scary series. There are so much stuff and I don’t even know where to start.

  2. User avatar Darwin says:

    They’re actually all standalone except for a couple of sequel series (Zeta, ZZ, SEED Destiny is all of them, I think?), so you could start more or less anywhere. Of course, on the other hand, they’re all very different, so it’s hard to tell which ones you’d even like. To compound this problem, fans will always just tell you to watch whichever one they like best, so you can’t trust them either! It’s a terrible conundrum, it is.

  3. User avatar Kathy Moon says:

    I’ve heard “War In The Pocket” is the Gundam for people who don’t like Gundams.

  4. ANON 28 says:

    Let’s wait for Gundam Unicorn. It’s has Girlish name (unicorn?) and olde Universal Century as they said…

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