How the 90s Changed the Gundam World
I was born in the late 80s, but I’m proud to say that I am pure 90s kid. I still remember it vividly; those boy bands, bleached hair, cyberpets, grunge music, sagging pans, and a lot of the oddities that became the part of my childhood. And did I mention that I had a few school fights back then?
And I think it’s not just us 90s kids that matured in those years, I could say that the Gundam franchise found a new life in the 90s as well. It was already flying full throttle in the 80s, but the Gundam series changed forever in the later decade. A lot evolved. The stories, characters, the universe, the motif, and even the themes did a slight makeover. On the way people see it, most of the Gundam series today still carry the so-called original mark of the franchise. Most Gundam series, from the mecha to the Char clone are still the legacies of the UC Era. But thanks to the 90s, the Gundam franchise went into a major makeover.
The 90s Marked the End of the UC Era
In the 80s, the Gundam franchise was always associated with one timeline: The Universal Century, or UC Era. It was characterized with humans populating space, construction of space colonies, and the use of humanoid vehicles known as mobile suits as weapons (fans probably knew that). According to Yoshiyuki Tomino, the first Gundam series was set in 2066 A.D in terms of the real-world timeline. Yet for casual fans like me, the UC Era will forever be associated with Amuro and Char. In fact, they will be the first to flash in my mind when the UC Era was mentioned.
Overall, there were 8 Gundam animes (both OVAs and series) that featured the UC Era from 1980s to the start of the 1990s. The last series to be set in the UC timeline was the Mobile Suit Victory Gundam.
But things don’t look so great for the franchise in the early 90s. The toys and kits sales dropped as the Gundam popularity dwindled. Hence the sponsors forced the creators to come up with a different approach, like a reboot. Yasuhiro Imagawa, the director of the project did a bit of research, and completely dropped the dramatic plot, the complex characters and military motif.
Eventually, something mutated out of the drawing board.
The Rise of G Gundam and Alternate Timelines
The result was never been so alien.
Everyone knows how mutated the Mobile Fighter G Gundam compared to the rest. Basically, it’s Street Fighter and Dragon Ball being played in giant robots. The suits were even less realistic and took on a more Super Robot characteristics. And as what’s expected, the series was met with controversy, because on how it deviates from the traditional Gundam storyline and plot. Campy was the best word to describe G-Gundam, a world apart from its darker and more serious predecessors. In fact, plot-wise, it is inferior to other Gundam series
Nevertheless, despite of the hostilities of the fans, it became a hit. The campy Gundam stereotypes seems to add to its charisma. Being different is all that matters here. The Gundam franchise is now back on track, and we could only guess how different the future will be without G Gundam.
G Gundam basically innovated the franchise, if not reinvented it. Future series won’t be sticking to the UC Era. They will have greater flexibility by having their own timelines. The Gundam franchise won’t be abandoning the UC Era completely, but at least now it allowed itself to evolve.
Much of the Gundam pilots share something in common. Like their “Real Robot” type mecha, which is close to reality, the pilots themselves are more real than previous giant robot protagonists. Yes, some possess superpowers, I mean you won’t find any New Type next door or anywhere in the neighborhood. But beyond the above normal human capabilities, they are still pretty much like us. They are flawed, complex, and sometimes overly emotional. Amuro Ray resonates to the fans well because his flaws connect him to them, way before Shinji Ikari cried his way to the screen. But it seems that a lot of UC lead pilots were just Amuro variant. The later UC Era Gundam series are not ready to let go of Amuro (or even Char). Sure, it is fun to hate Kamille Bidan, but at least he was different. The rest are just Amuro clones; normal humans with a knack on mobile suit piloting.
And we need to thank Gundam G for breaking the tradition.
In terms of characterizations, Domon Kasshu is inferior to Amuro. Nevertheless, the success of Gundam G showed that the franchise could survive without any Amuro figure. And the influence of Gundam G could later be seen in other 90s series.
And now comes Gundam Wing, a much-loved series in the West.
Though Gundam Wing retained the militaristic themes of UC Era series, it added its own twists. Like Gundam G, it had five lead characters. The protagonists are all Bishounens, and a bit unbalanced. They are ruthless, murderous, suicidal, and twisted. They are not just any untrained random kids that will stumble upon a mobile suit and fly them into the battlefield effortlessly. These guys are trained killers. I bet that Amuro will turn nuts once he saw how Heero Yuy mouthed death threats to the leading lady (I will kill you). Gone was the heroic mobile suit knights, and in its place are gun totting psychopaths.
Nevertheless, the Gundam franchise won’t drop the Amuro type characters completely. But at least we are now seeing guys like Setsuna F. Seiei and Mikazuki Augus. And when you speak of non Amuro characters, Turn A Gundam had its own champion to boast. Amuro Ray won’t be running in skirts like the overly pretty Loran Cehack.
G Gundam might be influential, but the franchise owed a lot to Gundam Wing. Kids who grew up in the 90s, got their first taste of the Gundam franchise thanks to the Wing series. In fact, until now, they still associate the whole Gundam world to Gundam Wing. And who could still remember its riveting Toonami trailer?
Fans probably knew that Gundam Wing was just a modest success in Japan, or how it popularized the franchise to the West. It did influenced the franchise in its own ways, when other series began to follow its mold. Gundam X, the series that came after it could be described as a mix of UC Era homages, with elements of Wing stories. Yet at the start of the 21st century, another Gundam series adopted the Wing elements, from the murderous pilots, bishounens, violent battles, lots and lots of Michael Bay booms, to the overpowered mecha.
Enter Gundam 00.
It’s Gundam Wing in many ways, though some fans noted it’s a major improvement. Some complaints about Gundam Wing were the plot holes, the rushed endings and lack of better character developments. Gundam 00 solved that with better characters and plot. Character-wise, Gundam Seed is better. But when it comes to action, I will take Gundam 00 anytime.
Gundam 00 won’t be the last to follow Wing’s examples, as the Iron Blooded Orphans bear shades of Gundam Wing. We have less bishounens here though, but the lead character so resembles a younger Heero Yuy.