So, I’m not that big on mecha anime. Sure, I’ve dabbled in a few like Macross Frontier but, overall? It’s just not my thing. Like, I’m sure the anime is good, but it’s infinitely funnier seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion fans lose it trying to defend the show. But there is no doubting the impact the genre has had on animation overall. And the definitive image that comes to people when they think ‘giant robots’ will always be Gundam related.
Thing is, Mobile Suit Gundam is worth watching if you know where to start as there are almost 40 years of animation to parse through. And, for a show that was created to sell toys, it took itself far too seriously than it had any right to. Just like Evangelion, the high-tech robots are in dichotomy with themes of religion, philosophy, and ideology. It’s a mixed bag, for sure, but for some die-hard fans, it’s worth the ride.
My best friend in the entire world happens to be one of those fans. They are the kind of people to actively collect Gundam kits and build them, following the series as they were released. And even they think that there are some entries in the Gundam franchise that are better than the others or can be passed over altogether. However, that holds for most mega franchises that have more than a single series in their arsenal. Not all of their offerings will be consistently good.
So, where does one begin when traversing the vast expanse of Mobile Suit Gundam? There are just so many animation projects to comb through, with no continuity between them that connects. So, where do you start? That’s what we are here to determine. So, if you’ve been curious about Gundams and mecha anime, here is a guide to help you along the way! Let’s begin.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Redefining Genres For Forty Years!
It isn’t hyped for no reason, you know? Like, I want to be super critical here and say Mobile Suit Gundam is an overrated franchise when that simply isn’t the truth. It definitely shaped the landscape for a huge genre in anime.
Gundam was the brainchild of series creator Tomino Yoshiyuki, character designer and anime director Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, and mechanical designer Ōkawara Kunio. Tomino was inspired by the ideas of American physicist Gerard O’Neill, a leading proponent of space colonization. Therefore, Gundam was set in the future that looked a lot more real, with the main enemies not aliens but humans themselves.
That edge of realism is what became the norm, with mecha anime growing more serious with topics of war, man-made apocalypses, and the like. Now, 40 years later, it is the standard. Gundam became the blueprint for most ‘giant robot’ anime that came after.
What Gundam Series Are Worth Watching?
The Gundam series can be subdivided into two broad categories. The easier to explain is the AU (Alternate Universe) timelines. These are self-contained settings and storylines that don’t require you to engage with any of the other series within this category barring direct sequels. These are also the easiest to get into as the episode count doesn’t tend to extend beyond the typical 50 episodes/2 seasons format barring some exceptions.
The other older and significantly wider category are the shows set within the UC (Universal Century) timeline. The franchise itself began with the very first entry in this timeline known as Mobile Suit Gundam though it’s come to be known as Gundam 0073 these days to specify the setting year it occurred in. The easiest way to get into this category is to watch the series in the following order:
1. Mobile Suit Gundam 0073: Stardust Memory (1991) – Both series or compilation films
2. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985) – But only the series as the films mess with the continuation.
3. Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (1986)
4. Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (1988)
These series serve as the franchise’s core and introduce pretty much all the important characters and events referenced in the series that were produced later. Once you’ve caught up, you can, for the most part, pick and choose any of the other spinoffs, remakes, etc.
They will all be set at some point within the timeline of the series mentioned above.