Gundam is one of anime's most successful and prolific franchises. In the more than four decades since the original series debuted, the title has spawned numerous animated series and OVA's, manga, video games, action figures, models, two trading card games, and a (truly terrible) live-action feature film. Yet, for the wealth of material that's come in its wake, the original Mobile Suit Gundam series still proves relevant in today's world and is well worth the watch.
Since the series first premiered in 1979, a considerable amount of material has been produced. As such, even seasoned anime and manga fans can have difficulty finding a suitable starting point for Mobile Suit Gundam. This guide is meant to help newcomers and established mech-maniacs tackle the staple series and see just what the original giant-robot series has to offer.
The Plot of Mobile Suit Gundam
In the distant future, a politically unified humankind has begun to live in gigantic, cylindrical colonies surrounding the Earth. The colonies located farthest from the Earth -- known as Side 3 -- declare themselves the Principality of Zeon, a nation independent from the Earth Federation and the colonies under their control. In so doing, the newly formed Principality of Zeon simultaneously declare war on the Earth Federation. The war -- fought primarily with giant humanoid robots called "mobile suits" -- eventually comes to a stalemate, but the Earth Federation has secretly constructed a new, more powerful mobile suit in the hope of turning the tide.
However, the Zeon forces learn of the weapon's development. While attempting to destroy the new mobile suit, designated 'Gundam' and the elite battleship known as White Base, a civilian teenager named Amuro Ray climbs into the Gundam's cockpit, defeating two Zeon mobile suits and securing White Base's escape. Now a de facto member of the Earth Federation military, Amuro Ray and the rest of White Base's novice crew must navigate the hardships and ugliness that constitute war, all the while striving toward an end to the bloodshed.
Where to Watch the Mobile Suit Gundam Anime
To date, there are two series that concern the events of the original Gundam series. The first of these, and the source material for all other adaptations, Mobile Suit Gundam is currently available to stream through Crunchyroll and Funimation's premium service, in both the original Japanese audio and an English dub. At 43 episodes, the series tells a full, well-rounded story, free of filler and fluff. However, for viewers who are short on time or prefer a more cinematic experience, the original series was also adapted into three feature-length films: Mobile Suit Gundam I, MGS II: Soldiers of Sorrow, and MSG III: Encounters in Space. All three are available through Netflix. The three films skip over some of the finer points of the original series, but the key events and overarching themes are still present. But, they're only available in the original Japanese audio. Although an English dub does exist for each film (featuring voice legend Steve Blum as main antagonist Char Aznable), the localization is famously poor, and worth little more than a laugh.
The second series is called Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. This much newer series principally concerns the early years of fan-favorite Char Aznable and his sister Artesia. If the very much dated animation and music of the original series are too much for some (a considerable stumbling block), rest assured The Origin features updated versions of both. That being said, The Origin is decidedly more meaningful and more poignant after having experienced the original Gundam title.
Where to Read the Mobile Suit Gundam Manga/Novels
Mobile Suit Gundam has been adapted to print a number of times. Of them, the two-volume manga by Okazaki Yu is the most difficult to secure, periodically popping up on eBay and priced between $45 and $85. Another manga adaptation -- Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 -- authored by Kondo Kazuhisa is also available through Amazon, with each volume priced around $20. However, the complete set can be found on eBay for between $100 and $125. A novelization by series creator Tomino Yoshiyuki titled MSG: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation is also available through RightStuf, Amazon, and eBay, with prices ranging from $8 to $52, depending on the condition.
Bearing all of these in mind, the best reading print adaptation for new and seasoned fans alike would be the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin manga. This twelve-volume series boasts brilliant artwork and tells a complete, character-driven narrative that's equal parts comedic, dramatic, and action-packed. Individual installments of The Origin can be found at Amazon, eBay, and RightStuf. They range from $12 to $25. But, for those willing to play the long game and wait out a bidding war, it's possible to find the complete set for around $170 via eBay.
New fans will likely find the original anime to be the best place to start with Mobile Suit Gundam. Those who are already familiar with the franchise, or simply enjoy the heft of a hardcover book, will find The Origin to be more than entertaining.
Its true certain aspects of Mobile Suit Gundam can feel outdated, even antiquated (seriously, the opening and closing themes haven't aged well). However, Gundam addresses heavy, relevant themes. The nature of war, coming of age, and the struggle to find one's own identity in the midst of crisis are only a few of the problems facing Amuro Ray and White Base's crew. Sure, the glossy, seamless animation styles of Demon Slayer or My Hero Academia aren't present, but, especially considering the day and age of its original release, Mobile Suit Gundam is still more than capable of holding its own in today's market.