G Gundam Trades in Gundam Mainstays for New Ideas
When a viewer straps in for a viewing of most Gundam series and films, they can usually reasonably expect a sweeping space opera, consisting of tenuous multi-factional alliances, musings on the nature of war, and giant robots decimating each other in the vacuum of space.
For this reason, many of the Gundam series are highly regarded by critics. Mobile Fighter G Gundam is drastically unlike previous iterations of the Gundam franchise, and it’s been subject to sharp criticism from longtime fans of the franchise.
Fans of the Gundam Franchise are familiar with the various timelines, the differences between Anno Domini and the Universal Century, the struggle of the colonies, Char Aznable, and how these things intersect.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam throws almost all of that out the window with a completely different set of circumstances for the characters to interact in. The story of Mobile Fighter G Gundam takes place in a world similar to that of the other Gundam timelines, where humans have left Earth to colonize space. In the parlance of Gundam fandom, the specific timeline in which G Gundam takes place is the Future Century.
These space colonies are essentially every earth country, but, well, in space. Warfare in this world is more or less nonexistent, as the colonies decide who will be the supreme ruler of the colonies via a Gundam fighting tournament. Each colony appoints their own Gundam fighter to represent them, along with their own Gundam specific to that country.
Gundam Fighters challenge each other on Earth in one-on-one combat until there is one left standing, and that nation rules the colonies until the next fighting tournament comes around.
Another stark difference between G Gundam and the other iterations of the Gundam franchise is that the pilots are no longer seated in traditional cockpits. The fighters in this world use the “Mobile-Trace System”, which uses the fighters’ actual movements to control their Gundam.
This makes the skill of a Gundam pilot dependent on their physical capabilities and their prowess with various weapons. This also means that every time Domon or most other Gundam pilots use their Gundams, there’s a short transformation sequence where they’re dressed in special tight-fitting suits somewhat similar to the tight-fitting plugsuits of the Evangelion series.
New Rules, New Heroes, New Gundams
The show follows the competitor for Neo-Japan, Domon Kasshu, as he fights his way through his competition. Domon has an ulterior motive for fighting, however, as he is searching for his older brother Kyoji.
Domon’s brother Kyoji is allegedly responsible for stealing Neo-Japan’s experimental Dark Gundam, an event that left their mother dead and their father to take the blame for the theft. Apparently taking responsibility in the future also involves being cryogenically frozen, as his father Dr. Kasshu is now.
Domon works with his mechanic and childhood best friend Rain Mikamura on his mission, defeating foes in his Shining Gundam. While he’s already incredibly skilled in martial arts, with the Shining Gundam and later the Burning Gundam he’s even more powerful.
Other than the setting the show has been criticized for its interesting takes on the international Gundams. As stated before, each colony has its own Gundam, and each is based on that nation. The only nation that doesn’t have a colony is Neo Hong Kong, where the finals of the Gundam Fighting Tournament are staged.
This leads to some rather inventive Gundam designs, such as Neo Holland’s Hurricane Gundam, which transforms into a giant windmill and attacks using the windmill blades on its chest. Or even Neo Portugal’s Jester Gundam, with its springlike arms and legs and ability to transform into a top that resembles a jester’s hat.
Mobile Suit G Gundam Represents a Fresh Start
G Gundam came along at a time where the previous Gundam series, Victory Gundam, had generated less-than-stellar ratings, and the toy-selling sponsors of the next series were already calling for a reboot of the whole franchise, which helps to explain the difference between G Gundam and every other iteration of the franchise.
In order to boost toy sales, the producers decided to market the show more towards kids, and thus did away with ruminations and critiques on the nature of warfare and massive space battles. G Gundam then became a departure from the “real robot” mecha style of previous Gundam series, and more of a “super robot” style.
Because of the globetrotting nature of the show, special attention was paid to the depictions of the places where the story takes place. The series director, Yasuhiro Imagawa, along with the production staff initially used guidebooks to get a feel for the locations, but felt that they didn’t represent the locales as the people that lived there saw them.
To remedy this, the producers and Imagawa took reference from filmmakers that had made location-based films, such as Federico Fellini for depictions of Rome and Woody Allen for New York. They would also go to locations such as Hong Kong and scout out the areas that they wanted to put into the anime. Their findings would then go directly into elements of the plot such as the Neo Hong Kong arc.
The show, as one can imagine, received mixed reviews when it broadcast. It did slightly better in terms of Japanese TV ratings compared to the previous series, Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, but that wasn’t saying much.
In North America, it received some of the best ratings of any anime show during that period, but critics in America and Japan took its plot to task, decrying the departure from previous themes. Especially in America, where Mobile Suit Gundam Wing was one of the first exposures to Gundam viewers had, even though it was made after G Gundam.
As the show went on, critics began to let up and enjoy the somewhat off-beat world Imagawa and his team created.
Mobile Suit G Gundam is the result of starting over from scratch. Even though the reasons for doing so were primarily motivated by toy sales, it offered a new look at the world of Gundam. This allowed for the production crew to experiment with a variety of production methods and make risky narrative decisions.
While it’s arguable that these decisions paid off, it still represents an interesting experimental time in the Gundam franchise.