Uh... well, maybe even this cult franchise does have a use-by-date. (I'll explain later.) Still, when the original Mobile Suit Gundam series first aired on TV in April 1979, it blew away (quite literally) many of the preconceptions and limitations of what an animated story could do -- and many an old-timer will fondly recount those classic moments of euphoria. Not until quite recently, with Gainax's Evangelion, had an anime title commanded so much attention in Japanese pop culture. Back then, creator Yoshiyuki Tomino and character designer Yoshikazu "Yaz" Yasuhiko gave birth to an epic which was to spawn seven TV series, four OVAs, four compilation movies, and two original theatrical movies.
Tonight's showing will be the first of three compilation movies, released in theaters over 1981 and 1982. Taken from the first thirteen episodes of the original series, the creators set out to re-present their masterpiece to a theatrical audience. Tomino is known to stress his work as a human drama -- not just another psychic-kid-pilots-robot-and-bash-up-the-bad-guys show. Sure, one of the underlying themes of the show is that about Newtypes, sixth sensed ESPers who are supposed to represent mankind's next stage of evolution as he moves into space. But it is a credit to Tomino and his staff that Gundam does not degenerate into another mere SF action flick. One of the most memorable points of Gundam has been its characters, mortal and fallible humans who are driven by different motivations and faiths. From the enigmatic Char to the shy yet stubborn Amuro, from a scheming Giren Zabi to the complex Sayla Mass, the very nature of Gundam's cast elevates them above that of cardboard cutouts. To boot, our fellow anime companions are given first rate (that is, classic) designs from Yaz! (Ya see, Sayla remains one of this author's fave charas of all time...^_^)
In this first theatrical compilation, we follow 15-year-old Amuro Rei's rapid growth into a talented pilot. The original story was modified somewhat in the process of cutting and compiling the movie; the most notable example in tonight's movie is where Amuro visits his mother. In the original, the Rei homestead was in Japan; however, to trim the original footage to fit the film's parameters, events and places were shuffled so that Amuro pays his respects to his mother in British Columbia, Canada, before joining the battleship Whitebase on a mission headed toward Europe. Other than this, however, much of the content of the first thirteen episodes of the original TV series remain intact throughout the movie.
To round off this article, perhaps we should drop a word about Gundam, the marketing phenomenon. Those familiar with Japanese plastic model kits probably know of the infinite mobile suit types and spinoffs that toy-maker Bandai just loves to crank out by the tons. The Gundam name and heritage proved so powerful that it spawned not only sequel and alternative series and movies, but official manga (comics) and novels as well. Some of the earlier stuff (like the excellent Z Gundam TV series of 1986) were worthy of the name it inherited, but (perhaps inevitably) over the years, Gundam shows have consistently declined in quality. Realizing that Gundam's audience today is no longer the same one as that of nearly two decades ago -- and also that the newer shows are rather less successful than the older ones -- Bandai/Sunrise finally declared earlier this year that with the end of 1997's Gundam X series, no more TV series will be spawned with the Gundam name. While we may look forward to future OVAs (and possibly theatrical films), this certainly marks the end of an era in the history of one of the most influential anime title ever created.
Enjoy tonight's show! (It's kinda long, so make yourselves comfy...)