For many, the first exposure to the awesome Gundam franchise was the very atypical series Mobile Fighter G Gundam. Giant robots flying through space, moving displays of generalship and personal heroism in following possibly deadly orders, handsome youths who are the next step in human evolution, and tragic women as beautiful as they are 100% insane: these made Gundam one of the great institutions of anime, but are scarcely present in this 1994-1995 installment of 49 episodes. G Gundam does have its own strengths and rewards for viewing, and is sure to be a real experience for any completionist who has to watch everything Gundam, though I’m not sure this is the one to line your walls with models of, after hours of diligent supergluing and painting... just to show your love.
Set in the Future Century, a different era than preceding Gundam anime, fans will notice major differences. Near-Earth space is heavily colonized, but rather than the Earth Federation, Zeon, and their splinters, the polities are those of our era, only with Neo- prefixed to their names—Neo-Japan, Neo-America, Neo-France, and so forth—and consist of both the landmasses on the planet, and space colonies constructed to resemble the homeland... or some national stereotype, which often inspires their mobile suit design too. G Gundam’s outré stereotypes are legendary, perhaps the best-remembered part of the series.
But whereas the more fortunate in the Universal Century were residents of Earth, less affected by warfare which often led to the deaths of entire colonies of space, here the elites make their homes in orbit. Thus, when all the nations reach an agreement to end total warfare, they decide the new battle for supremacy, the right to rule all the nations, will be a Gundam Fight tournament to be held every four years, with the Earth as the arena. As usual the Earth is said to be polluted, but save for a few cities ruined by warfare looks just fine. Residents of Earth despise the death and devastation wrought by the Gundam Fight, while nations pour their resources into a mobile suits for their best pilots, in hopes of victory. There’s even a large boxing ring of satellites around the Earth that appears often. I assumed it was a symbolic image, until a scene when one of the gundams bounces off the ropes! Also, few battles happen in space, but when one does, there’s no rush to don normal suits (space suits) as in all previous series. Are they really that stupid, that they don’t see their lives are at risk if a hit drains the oxygen from the ship? No, I’m sure it was the studio that was dumb. G Gundam is not as “real robot” as previous seasons.
If this is a politically-driven tournament, for most contestants the reasons why they fight are very personal. Enter Domon Kasshu, Neo-Japan’s fighter piloting the Shining Gundam. Immediately mysterious, wherever he travels, he asks those he meets if they’ve seen the man in this photograph:
Domon even asks the narrator who introduces each episode! Who is this man? The mystery is soon unveiled, but it’s more fun to wait for the exposition than have it spoiled. As Domon clashes with other fighters, he always keeps this quest a high priority. Always traveling with Domon is Rain Mikamura. A childhood friend, Rain upholds the Gundam tradition of women in mobile suit engineering, maintaining the Shining Gundam and giving Domon advice.
The battles can be interesting but are low stakes and small scale. Matches are typically one on one, and according to Gundam Fight rules, must be agreed upon beforehand, and attacks aimed at the cockpit are forbidden, so contestants rarely die. Sensible rules, but the violence pales next to the scope and drama of classic Gundam warfare, with whole armies of mobile suits careening through space to the buzz of beam rifles, and incredibly high fatality rates.
The show’s strength lies in the rivalries and friendships Domon forms, with Neo-American Chibodee Crocket (who has a pit crew girls harem), the chivalric George de Sand of the very Rose of Versailles-inflected Neo-France, Sai Saici (a young martial artist trained by a pair of monks whose temple he aims to restore to its past glory) of Neo-China (which has an emperor again), and prisoner Argo Gulskii [the anime missed the Soviet Union by a few years, but there is still a GULAG-homage prison camp system on the White Sea], as well as Neo-Germany’s enigmatic Schwarz Bruder, a superior fighter who quickly becomes a mentor figure. Fighting genuinely malevolent foes side by side, training together, and rematch after rematch are standard shonen, but slow to get old.
While G Gundam can boast of its men, the female department is lacking. Rain gets prominent treatment in the first ending, but for all the screen time is a little plain-looking. She has a nice name, but she is no Fraw Bow or Sayla, no Fa Yuiry, much less my personal favorite, Shakti Kareen. About Gundam, I often think, in following the meme, “Why they think we like Gundam” would be the mobile suits and complicated plastic models that take 20+ hours to paste together, while “Why I really like Gundam” would be a poster of all the girls. With such a tradition to follow, can only say this one missed the target. Other females play mainly supporting roles, and the villains introduced later are chiefly male. In time, at least one pretty girl plays a prominent role, Allenby Beardsley of Neo-Denmark (huh?). In appearance and behavior, she follows Gundam convention much more closely; she’s a spritely beauty who at times becomes psychotic and unhinged. However, there are no newtypes in G Gundam, so a contrived scientific explanation is behind it. And, she’s just introduced too late and too much a standout to really improve this iteration’s tenor.
So yes, do watch, but expect more a descent to the shonen baseline, a tournament-style, male-dominated action series, where the drama is mostly kept at an artificial low. So instead of “Gundam”, expect something like Beyblade, only more realistic.