I love me some Science Fiction. I’ve written before quite a bit on my love of The Twilight Zone and Doctor Who, but I feel that is about I time I re-approached the genre with yet another focus. It probably isn’t what you think.
Star Trek would be an obvious choice. There are cool ideas at play, an emphasis on technology, and some interesting characters once you dig into it. Speaking of, check out Lawrence Krauss’s “Physics of Star Trek” if you haven’t already. It is a very cool read.
But I’m not going to focus on Star Trek.
Star Wars could be an interesting choice I suppose. I used to love it when I was younger, but I think the new trilogy and Lucas’s descent into becoming a Hollywood equivalent of a Hutt as I’ve grown up has left me a bit bitter. Speaking of which, go watch the RedLetterMedia reviews of Episodes I-III. They might be the finest and most ruthlessly honest movie reviews I have seen in my life.
But no, my next focus isn’t going to be Star Wars.
What I am going to discuss is perhaps one of the most outstanding and enduring Sci-Fi space epics of all time. For over 30 years, new chapters and stories have been told in the grand saga. And sadly, in all likelihood, you’ve never seen it.
This is the finest Science Fiction the East has to offer:
I’ve had arguments before about whether Sci-Fi anime should be considered alongside live action. If you ask me, these stories can live up to and surpass some of the most treasured live-action sci-fi works.
Mobile Suit Gundam is absolutely huge in Japan. The main timeline (UC) has had new television series and movies added to it for decades, all adding to the dense multi-generational overarching tale of the human struggle with space colonization.
Gundam has never quite caught on in the west outside of a couple of the alternate universe series that were picked up by Toonami back in the day. However, enough of the UC storylines got airplay to develop a passionate fan community in the States.
I think Gundam typically has been written off in the west for two reasons: 1) it is animation 2) there are giant “robots”. The perception of Gundam is that it is an analog of Transformers or Speed Racer.
It isn’t that.
The UC Gundam storyline is a brutal anti-war epic that deals with the ethics of warfare, the future of humanity, and the reality of mortality. It isn’t kid stuff. However, I think it is definitely good for kids to watch it.
In a lot of ways, the “villains” of the UC timeline are essentially bizarro-Saganists: human occupants of space colonies seeking independence for the homogenized, corrupt monogovernment that has developed on Earth.
From that description, they sound like the good guys, right? Well, that’s my favorite thing about Gundam. Rarely is there going to be a clear good/bad divide line along the factions.
The aforementioned “Spacenoids” seeking freedom are essentially hijacked by an extreme family that institute themselves as a monarchy. The family members range in personality from “ok dude” to “Hitler and Machiavelli made a baby in space, and I am that pissed off baby”.
The war that breaks out between the two factions in the original series (back in 1979) sees1/3 of humanity in both space and on earth wiped out in less than a year. Hot damn, that is some brutal shit (Earth is leveled to mostly desert at that point, and hasn’t fared any better in the series in the decades since). The war sees gas warfare, the institution of a police state, nuclear weaponry, and even space kamikaze (colonies drop out of space and ram into the earth).
The whole plot makes my Sagan senses tingle. Some of the series go more into religion than others (Gundam 00 hits it so hard Jesus probably got a concussion), but I can certainly recommend any of the UC timeline. The original series still had some kiddie stuff shoehorned in for audiences, so I recommend finding the director’s cut trilogy of movies. Cuts out the silly bits, but still tells the story. Apart from the original series, countless sequels and side-stories exist that are mostly quite good. The direct sequel “Zeta Gundam” is perhaps even better than the original. As a general rule, any of the series helmed by original creator Yoshiyuki Tomino are going to be outstanding.
The one big caveat I will give is that the series brush into “quantum”, chopra-esque brainwave bollocks on occasion. It ties into the story ok, but the silliness of it can be a bit overwhelming. However, to the series’ credit, people do at least scientifically explore it and learn how it works…and then weaponize it. Again, kid stuff.
If this peaks you interest at all, here is my recommended viewing order:
Mobile Suit Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam: 8th MS Team (side-story)
Mobile Suit Gundam 0083 (side-story)
Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta
Mobile Suit Gundam Double-Zeta (struggle through the first half, the last half is worth it)
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (ongoing, next episode is scheduled for May)
I hear that in the next few years, a prequel series (The Origin) is going to be animated shortly that elaborates on the original series and initial “one year war”. I can only expect that it will be fantastic.
This post was a bit tangential, sure. But I needed a pick-up after today.