I’m going to be honest here, I’m extremely new to the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. For the uninitiated, Mobile Suit Gundam is a generation-spanning mecha anime, centering around humanity’s future and the weapons it creates to wage war, the gigantic Mobile Suits, and the titular one-of-a-kind prototype, the Gundam. It’s a “real robot” anime, which mostly means that the robots are treated more as fancy tanks instead of as the killers of physics they really are.
It’s extremely popular, but also extremely long, with there being almost forty official entries in the series since the first one in 1979. That had been the reason why I was so hesitant to start in the beginning, for trying to figure out where to start was extremely intimidating with all the things I needed to watch to even begin understanding the more recent entries.
But as the pandemic raged on, I eventually bit the bullet and watched the two-part compilation film on Netflix (as recommended by Gundam fans on Reddit), before moving on to more modern entries.
My choices were 2007’s Mobile Suit Gundam 00 directed by Seiji Mizushima, and 2014’s Gundam Reconguista in G, directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino. 00 was an “Alternate Universe” series, which meant that aside from a few elements, basically all the ideas introduced were new and didn’t rely on previous knowledge, while Reconguista was set so far in the main timeline that no previous series had any bearing on the plot.
I eagerly watched these series at the same time, and as I did, I began to compare them. Everyone knows about Gundam’s strong anti-war themes at this point, but the difference in how these two shows presented this theme intrigued me. 00 was clearly based on real-world politics, but Reconguista tried for something more symbolic. They both came to the same conclusion, (“War is bad”), but had very different ways of showing it.
For example, 00 was extremely inspired by the War on Terror. The protagonists are terrorists trying to end all war by uniting humanity against them. Several of the main characters hailed from the Middle East, and an important dynamic between a former child soldier and his former abuser/general. There’s even a reference to the Energy Crisis, with a subplot centering around a princess trying to get a reliable power source for her country.
Reconguista is a bit different. It focuses more on the dichotomy between the young and the old in society, and if progress is important for human civilization. There’s also some environmentalism thrown in, as the oath that keeps technology from progressing was made to keep the environment of Earth safe from not only war but also pollution.
As I mentioned before, this makes for a very interesting comparison. 00’s politics are firmly centered in the real world, while Reconguista is more of an allegorical tale based on reality. This also leads to a slight difference of tone, as 00’s all-consuming war makes the setting and characters darker than the circumstances in Reconguista, where the characters lived lives mostly untouched by state violence before the plot begins.
In 00, the main character, Setsuna F. Seiei, is a former child soldier recruited to the mysterious paramilitary organization called “Celestial Being”. He views himself as a weapon, constantly calling himself a “Gundam”, and not having much of a social life outside of his dangerous job, a trait shared with the other members of Celestial Being. Even the characters not directly involved with the conflict talk about the war often. It has grown into something that has utterly consumed their lives, a monster with no end.
But, in Reconguista it is very different. Bellri Zenam, the show’s protagonist, begins the series completely untouched by war. His first appearance is him being taught to use a Mobile Suit built for welding, not combat. Even after being press-ganged into joining the Pirate Corps, a “rebel” fighting force with a twist, it takes a while for him to be seriously involved with combat. Even Reconguista’s energy plot is a bit different, with the Pirate Corps stealing batteries in a short-sighted attempt to modernize their own country, hoping that it’ll give them an advantage in war. And unlike in 00, the cast of Reconguista has a very hard time seeing the big picture.
Take for example Aida Surgan, the secondary protagonist of Reconguista, versus Lockon Stratos, one of the four main characters from 00. Surgan is one of two ace pilots in the
Pirate Corps and she’s well…extremely stubborn. Even as she lectures Zenam about how small his worldview is, Surgan refuses to even try to meet him halfway. This becomes a microcosm of much of the conflict later on, as we learn that even she barely understands what she’s fighting for, nor the many opposing sides in the conflict.
The cast of 00 is pretty much the opposite of this, especially the previously mentioned Lockon Stratos. He’s all too aware of what he’s fighting for, especially how it affects others around him. Stratos’ parents were killed in a terrorist attack, an event that led to him leaving his old life behind. The irony of joining a terrorist organization to prevent what happened to his parents from happening again is not lost on him and unlike Surgan, he immediately recognizes the hypocrisy in his actions, and that even the people he’s fighting against have valid points.
I believe that the difference in reasoning in 00 and Reconguista is caused by the viewpoints of their directors. In 00, Mizushima reasons that the war is caused by opportunists who desire power, while Tomino believes that war is caused by miscommunication and an unwillingness to question society. This isn’t surprising, as the original Mobile Suit Gundam was directed by a much younger Tomino who held the very same ideas. This is ironic as, in an interview with a French magazine called “Nolife”, he stated as he had Reconguista take place far in the future so he wouldn’t be held down by his past work, or the work done by others in his absence. Guess nothing changes that much, whether it’s the far future of the Universal Century or the progression of real-world time.
Mizushima had much of the same idea. He also didn’t want to be bogged down by Gundam’s expansive timeline, so he set 00 in an alternate future. This also meant that he could take Gundam from its regular far future and reflect the present more. Mizushima was adamant about making 00 parallel the modern politics of the early 2000s. In his mind, it was the best way to update the 79 series for a younger generation, who hadn’t grown up with the same politics as post-war Japan. Both of these series splintered off from the main timeline to do their own thing, but with very different results. For Tomino, it was a way to solidify his past ideas and recreate them for a future generation, while for Mizushima it was to create a Gundam that spoke to the current one. And these series did their jobs really well. I found myself thoroughly entertained by both series, even though I still hadn’t seen much of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise at that point. For those who have never seen a Gundam anime, or even Mecha in general, they make for great entry points. All you need to do is discover which approach appeals to you more: A dark drama based on realism, or a more light-hearted affair that’s the culmination of years of ideas.