Emerging from an asteroid field of SD Gundam shorts, some renowned, others untranslated and almost impossible to find, I was thrilled to have arrived at the next full-length Gundam series in watch-order: Mobile Suit Victory Gundam. There was no way in the universe it wasn’t going to be good. After loving Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, I knew the tradition of storytelling, character drama, and neverending fighting robot, shonen action would be upheld again in this 4th main run, spanning 51 episodes released between 1993 and 1994. But just how great would it be?
Really great! For the first two episodes, though, I wasn’t clear on what was going on, because after some signature, grandiose lines speculating on why mankind remains at war in Universal Century 0153, the action picks up in the middle. Then comes the flashback to tell the story from the beginning. With the long-governing Earth Federation weakened, as the Zanscare Empire based in the orbital space colonies of Side 2 gaining strength, a few households of illegal immigrants from space eke out a living tending fields in Kasarelia. Located deep within a European forest, Uso Ewin (sometimes rendered Üso, and Ebbing), 13, and Shakti Kareen (also Shakhti), 11, reside there, parents absent. One day, as Uso is paragliding, in rockets a Shokew mobile suit from from BESPA (the Zanscare armed forces) pursuing a “core fighter” (the manned, jet-like central portion of a Gundam) from the pro-Federation League Militaire militia. Uso’s chute gets caught on the Shokew, he manages to enter the cockpit, and forces out the pilot, Lt. Cronicle Asher (who survives, but whose humiliation marks the beginning of a bitter rivalry). With his space-bred, Earth-raised Newtype abilities, Uso masters the user-friendly controls and lands, while Shakti tends to the injured core fighter pilot, Marbet Fingerhat. But when he sees a BESPA force heading for the nearby city of Woowig, he hastens there in the Shokew, hoping to protect a close friend, Katejina Loos. The battle totally levels the city, but Uso, Katejina, and Shakti—along with Karlmann, an orphaned infant henceforth adorably inseparable from her—all survive. They join up with the League Militaire column, now covertly operating a factory manufacturing the League’s secret weapon: the Victory Gundam, its white color recalling the now-legendary mobile suits of the past.
Marbet’s injury makes battle-tested Uso a natural replacement pilot, and he engages often. This being a shonen mecha series, there is at least one battle per episode, which I find fun and exciting, though unless the viewer pays close attention to the dialogue, it’s easy to miss the purported objectives and military significance of each confrontation. Given that convention, the pacing works surprisingly well, and still more importantly, the wide and interesting cast of characters is attentively developed. Whereas the League and Federation have a bureaucratic, conservative, sometimes cowardly leadership, Zanscare, like Zeon before it, is peopled by ambitious, opportunistic officers, and unhinged, psychotic women. Katejina herself is captured before long, and initially hopes to infiltrate the enemy; you’ll be interested in seeing how that turns out.
But my real favorite is Shakti. She is a stand-out character not by being forceful, but by being kind and gentle. Peaceful by instinct, she never accepts or grows dull to the fighting and deaths. As the plot progresses, action shifting to space and back more than once, with no dearth or monotony of settings, Shakti is discovered to be incredibly significant to Zanscare and its idealistic Empress, Maria Pure Armonia. Though not Karlmann’s mother, her maternal instincts are touching to behold, and with Uso they can seem a harmonious family.
Victory Gundam has a dark reputation. There are truly sad moments, and a list of pro- or antagonists with the deceased checked off would show a low survival rate. Yet I found the series uplifting, and not just from the stirring theme music playing as Uso’s Gundam navigates space battles thick with the “pew, pew, pew,” of beam rifles. This is a highly psychological series, in some places anticipating the soon-to-come landmark Neon Genesis Evangelion, and characters do not return to the obligatory fight scenes without a touchstone-sense of the hopes they have for a future without such violence. The preciousness of new life is a theme in Shakti’s bringing up Karlmann. There is even a scene where an enemy is found unable, by instinct, to kill a pregnant woman, around whose same belly allies gather round with awe. So maybe, a harrowing, but a hope-filled series.
Note: In true Gundam custom, there are occasional nudes, so look out/look forward to it!