Episode 01, "The Mysterious Mobile Suit"
Synopsis: Long after the Universal Century calendar passed, the Regild Century calendar marked the years. In RC 1014, a group of Capital Guard Academy's cadets experience space for the first time, training to use large robots called Mobile Suits as they travel the orbital space elevator. There, one of the cadets, Bellri Zenam, takes action against an attacking space pirate in a strange mobile suit a passenger named Raraiya Monday reacts to. Bellri and other cadets, with the help of their instructor Dellensen Samatar, manage to subdue the enemy mobile suit and capture it and its pilot, a beautiful girl named Aida Rayhunton. Aida calls the mobile suit the G-Self, and is shocked when Bellri is capable of accessing its cockpit.
When you stare into the Gundam void, Yoshiyuki Tomino stares back.
Mostly disapprovingly, I imagine, because the past few Gundam TV series have been, well, less than stellar, and of course, don't have the Big T's magical touch. CE era Gundam should probably be considered a series of war crimes against humanity. Gundam 00 was decent, but I feel ultimately failed to live up to its potential. Gundam AGE was a big pile of nothing, with a great premise that they wasted on predictable plotting and characterization. Did anybody even finish that one? Did somebody actually make it to the end of AGE? And Gundam Build Fighters isn't even Gundam. It's not about mobile suit pilots, it's a show about fucking hobbyists. Well, why not do an actual, live-action Gunpla hobbyist show? Get Falldog on that thing, he could be the star of that show. (Two episodes on Zombie Nemos alone.) The only reason anyone even comes to this site these days is for his Gunpla Guide. Well, that and to rag on me.
My point is, outside of the Gundam Unicorn OVA, which is obscenely expensive and nearly impossible to find, Gundam's been in the crapper for a long time. I largely disavowed myself of the fandom years ago (mostly /m/'s fault), and outside of the classics, I haven't paid much attention to the franchise itself for a while. So facing the possible cosmic horror of another Gundam television series, even one directed by Big T himself, I was deeply skeptical, even if a tad intrigued, regardless.
However, while I still remain a little reserved in my excitement, I am at least delighted enough that this first episode of the new Tomino effort is, for better or worse, every bit a Tomino Gundam series. The familiar things are here, some new twists, great ideas, technobabble tidal wave, colorful, quirky characters, overzealous authority figures and the children who disobey them, and weird, weird character names.
I'm still adjusting to the aesthetic of the mechanical designs. Everything feels super rounded and toy-friendly, which is something I never considered Tomino to appreciate, but is still looking pretty good, and the mobile suits don't seem quite as simplistic and overly toy-ish in motion. The MS were designed by Akira Yasuda, who did mecha work in Tomino's Overman King Gainer (I can see the influence here) and while I'm not overly fond of the general look, especially of the G-Self, it's at least not as intrusively busy as some other recent Gundam designs and fits the somewhat more optimistic, lighter tone of the show.
The pacing is a bit slapdash, with things rapidly occurring in a way that doesn't let you really accustom yourself to the setting, and the jargon-heavy, clunky dialogue at the beginning of the episode, doesn't help at times, but there's this sense of charming awkwardness to it that's like coming home for Tomino fans, and any awkwardness fixes itself before the end. You can tell that the Big T has had a lot of ideas built up in his mind for a very long time and his cup runneth over here, which means this will either be great or terrible. (WHO WILL SURVIVE?)
Though the orbital space elevator concept was used in Gundam 00 (in fact, this episode has a similar premise to the first episode of that, with it being suddenly attacked and the attack fended off), Tomino utilizes the idea of cadets training to good effect, supplying us a good reason why our heroes are taking the elevator, why they have access to mobile suits, and why they're trained enough with the equipment that if they teamed up they might capture another mobile suit. We find out that there's a tradition involving the girl's academy cheering on the cadets, so there's a reason for female characters to be there, that the Raraiya Monday character is in the care of the instructor, which is why she tags along, and that the main character finds himself accessing the main Gundam of the series by an interesting twist on a "Gundamjack".
Our main character is spunky and unfettered by the usual, bitter standoffishness of Newtype children like Amuro or Kamille (or more recently, Banana... er, Banagher), the unbridled arrogant douchebaggery of guys like Judau Ashta, and the dull stoicism of Heero Yuy and Setsuna F. Seiei (though his is a barely restrained rage shaped like stoicism). He's more of a Garrod Ran, a little snarky and self-posessed, but not a problem child. He seems like he'll be fun and likable well before most Gundam mains get to be (by the way, I love Amuro and Kamille, but let's face it, it takes a while for them to warm up).
You have to love the Tomino self-awareness, too, with Dellensen's "You just stole two names and stuck them together!" Oh, you, Big T.
4 out of 5