For those who aren’t already in the know of Gundam, trying to get into anything that isn’t the more individual Gunpla (building intricate Gundam ‘plastic models’ as a hobby) can get pretty overwhelming to say the least.
Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Gundam concept-turned-franchise has led to numerous sequels and spin-offs across different media with the first Mobile Suit Gundam anime having debuted in 1979 and the most recent series being Gundam Build Divers’ (2018) second season and ‘spin-off’ Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise (2019-ongoing).
While the original Mobile Suit Gundam has since moved past its roots as a robot romp dealing in space wars with modern day entries like Gundam Build Fighters (2013-2015), Gundam Build Divers, and Re:Rise, there was one show in particular that raised the bar for hero representation.
You’d think that the media we consume would have had representation down by now, and to be fair to Gundam, there has been a greater number of female characters and people of color added to its canon… But there hasn’t been a protagonist quite like Loran Cehack of Turn A Gundam.
Turn A Gundam was produced by Sunrise Inc. of Gundam fame, the studio also behind classic space western Cowboy Bebop, Code Geass, and Love Live!, from 1999 to 2000. The eighth entry in the franchise, Turn A’s fifty-episode run proved successful enough to be compiled into two movies called Earth Light and Moonlight Butterfly in 2002.
The series’ title derives from a mathematical symbol representing the idea of something universal. It is in this spirit that Turn A Gundam, in the words of creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, tries to unify Gundam design, lore, and ‘story’ to the best of its ability.
Unlike its standout robots, the Gundam franchise has always varied in terms of depth of story. Which just makes the quality of its aesthetic and characters all the more crucial in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention Turn A Gundam’s one of the only series in the franchise to be specifically classified as a romance! Gotta have that romance.
So, if you’re at all interested in diving into the world of Gundam, Turn A Gundam may very well be worth checking out.
What Is Turn A Gundam?
Due to its nature as a composite series, Turn A Gundam is the only show to take place during the ‘Correct Century’ timeline set thousands of years post-Mobile Suit Gundam’s Universal Century.
Every Gundam series takes place within the confines of a fictional earth and set timeline (with the exception of Gundam Build Fighters, Divers, and Re:Rise which take place in our own world) with most of them overlapping as sequels and/or spin-offs.
Speaking of overlapping, while looking into Turn A Gundam, I was taken aback by how much its story had in common with Gen Urobuchi and the Olympus Knights’ sci-fi anime original Aldnoah.Zero (2014-2015). A la Aldnoah.Zero, Turn A Gundam features characters and colonies of people who left for space in the hopes of waiting out the earth’s eventual restoration (in the wake of natural and technological disaster). Though to no one’s surprise, things escalate into an ‘us vs. them’ kind of deal between once-fellow humans.
Our story begins with a member of the lunar colony Moonrace, those who left the earth years ago, named Loran Cehack. Loran is tasked with gauging the current state of his people’s once home planet as a scout… only to find himself growing attached to his found family, the Heims. Unfortunately for Loran, the Heims, and the benevolent Queen of the Moonrace, militant parties on earth and the moon alike seek to divide their respective worlds for good. In the face of impending war, Loran, equipped with a remnant of the past called ‘White Doll’ (i.e the titular Turn A Gundam mobile suit), must find the strength to prevent further escalation and keep his loved ones on both sides safe.
Who Are the Characters?
Like previous Gundam series, Turn A Gundam comprises a large cast befitting a tale of war.
Caught in the middle of said war is Loran Cehack, the picture of heroism with his gentle nature and willingness to fight for peace if and when necessary. I have a lot to say about the guy, but I’ll leave the meat of my analysis for later.
Queen Dianna Soreil is the Moon’s ruler by blood who dreams of returning her people to their rightful place on earth. However, her naivete often gets in the way of her otherwise good intentions. Luckily for Dianna, she has Loran and Harry Ord in her corner.
Dianna’s wellbeing is overseen by the Captain of her Royal Guard, Harry Ord. The cool and rational guardsman is my favorite type of character, due in no small part to his drive to get stuff done.
While those familiar with Gundam archetypes may recognize Harry as a ‘Char Clone,’ a ‘masked’ morally gray rival/villain inspired by Mobile Suit Gundam’s Char Aznable. He is a proponent of… tough love more than anything. He bears no ill will towards Loran and remains ever true to their liege.
Harry’s conflicted feelings for Dianna’s body double Kihel Heim, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.
Kihel is the eldest daughter of Loran’s found family, the Heims. It is her resemblance to Dianna, political savvy, and strong will that make her such an important player in the bid for peace. These are traits that make her and Harry’s dynamic as a newfound ‘lord’ and retainer especially juicy, even if their more telling moments are kept off-screen.
Kihel’s younger sister, Sochie Heim, is a strong woman in her own right, but often feels overshadowed and underestimated. While Kihel’s arc consists of reconciling her role as Dianna’s stand-in with that of an uncertain future, Sochie has to work through her hatred for the Moonrace…
An arc rife with drama considering Sochie has long harbored a crush on Loran.
What Makes These Characters and Their Designs Important?
So, let’s talk hero representation.
The Gundam franchise is far from alone in this, but its anime series have a tendency to use the same type of protagonist over and over again. The kind that screams closed off or hot-headed shounen with fair skin and surface level thoughts.
Loran, on the other hand, is an effeminate young man of color with a foot in two worlds. He is both loyal and torn over upholding said loyalty, a patriot and a traitor all in one. He is also designed in a way that allows him the convincing female disguise, ‘Laura,’ that proves ideal for espionage.
Our hero represents a constant state of being caught betwixt and between, whether that be in regards to allegiance or identity. This is also reinforced by the near-divine physical likeness between his lieges Queen Dianna Soreil of the Moonrace and Kihel Heim, the two women pining for the other’s life.
And yet, Loran manages to retain his compassion and faith throughout his and his allies’ many trials.
In the same way Turn A Gundam was made to celebrate the franchise’s extensive body of works, the traits that make Loran unique may very well bring in new fans, as is the power and purpose of solid representation.
A decision that elevates Loran’s Turn A Gundam mobile suit as well, for a pilotable robot is only as competent as its pilot.
The Turn A Gundam is most remembered for being the first Gundam ever designed by a non-Japanese creative, for the talent behind it was American neo-futuristic concept artist and designer Syd Mead of Blade Runner and Tron fame. The Turn A Gundam was designed with simplicity in mind, which becomes apparent the moment you compare it to previous mobile suits. The body of the suit is contained and neither strictly feminine nor masculine. The simple colors and crescent sweep of its mouthpiece evoke Loran’s ties to his former home, the moon, as well as a few suits of Gundam series past. Turn A Gundam’s ‘mustache’ is actually a point of contention among fans, but one this writer welcomes. The titular robot stands out from its brethren without resorting to garish or over the top visuals.
For Syd Mead to draw inspiration from Mobile Suit Gundam’s iconic RX-78-2 Gundam and tweak its design just enough to suit Turn A Gundam’s own story is rather fitting. Moreover, Mead’s process is what creating a distinct look across different, but related shows should look like in general. We’re not trying to turn apples into oranges here. You wouldn’t mistake the Gundam series’ heroic bots for those from, let’s say, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
This mixing of the old and new is very much reflected in Turn A Gundam’s worldbuilding.
In fact, there are several ‘recycled’ designs utilized by the military forces of both worlds meant to reference their own shared dark history on top of that of previous space wars. Loran discovering the Turn A Gundam mobile suit at the site of his coming-of-age ritual, Mountain Cycle, literally showcases previous suits buried deep underground.
With that said, there’s something for everyone whether you happen to be a newcomer or a veteran of the franchise.