One of Mobile Suit Gundam’s most-maligned series is finally available to stream this week — which means, hopefully, Gundam fans old and new alike will use it as a chance to re-evaluate what has often been seen as the black sheep of early Gundam.
Over the weekend Crunchyroll announced that as part of its ongoing expansion of its Gundam catalogue three more pieces of the esteemed mecha franchise had been added to the platform: Awakening of the Trailblazer, the movie sequel to the 2007 series Gundam 00; Char’s Counterattack, the cinematic conclusion of the first three Gundam series of the franchise’s original “Universal Century” timeline; and its direct predecessor, the 1986 TV series ZZ Gundam. Although ZZ Gundam hasn’t been impossible to see — it’s been available on Blu-ray for several years at this point, and has occasionally been made available to stream in limited-time windows on the Gundam.Info Youtube channel — its arrival on Crunchyroll is its first long-term arrival on a streaming service, making it more readily accessible than it ever has been.
A direct sequel to the events of Z Gundam — itself not on Crunchyroll yet, in spite of the Funimation/Crunchyroll merger — ZZ (pronounced “Double Zeta,” alas, for fans of long-bearded guitarists) follows Judau Ashta, a young boy from the Side 1 colony who, alongside his friends and young sister, get caught up with the crew of the Anti-Earth Union Group ship Argama after it limps into dock for repairs and resupply. With Zeta’s protagonist Kamille comatose after the events of the series, Judau — who makes a living harvesting and selling scrap from damaged mobile suits — suddenly finds himself and his friends thrust into the AEUG’s ongoing conflicts with the remnants of the secessionist space colony Zeon, itself reborn as Neo-Zeon under the rule of the sinister Haman Karn, the guardian of the last surviving member of the royal family that kicked off Gundam’s original conflict.
All that sounds very self serious and traditionally Gundam-y, but part of why ZZ Gundam has a misunderstood reputation more often than not is because it starts off very tonally different to its predecessors in the franchise. Zeta Gundam’s conclusion was surprisingly dark, with much of the main cast of the series left dead or incapacitated, and its “victory” not as clear-cut as the conclusion of the One Year War in the original Gundam. ZZ, meanwhile, opens with a lot of comedy hijinks and farce, with both protagonists and antagonist groups alike getting a bunch of non-traditional, kooky characters as they race to restore their depleted fighting forces. Judau (a little younger than prior protagonists Kamille and Amuro) is deliberately much more of an abrasive young teenager less interested in fighting other people’s conflicts for them. And as ZZ’s storyline eventually evens out from its original tonal shift into something more traditionally Gundam, he never loses his anti-authority abrasiveness as he develops and matures as a pilot, eventually making for some really interesting commentary on the franchise’s systems of governance and the exploitation of generations of youths like him and his friends at the hands of those systems. Plus, he does love punching authority figures in the face:
Char’s Counterattack, the franchise’s immediate continuation that released the year after ZZ’s conclusion, largely eschews following the events and characters of ZZ and Zeta to re-focus on the conflict between the original Gundam’s main protagonist and antagonist, Amuro and Char Aznable. But the worldview ZZ leaves behind by its conclusion is one of the franchise’s most fascinating bits of commentary about war and corrupt institutions, and arguably one far more unique than the return of Char in particular as a villainous foil. If you’re a Gundam fan and have shirked off the series in the past for its “silly” tone, now’s a good time as ever to give it a worthy re-evaluation as a climax to the original “trilogy” of shows.
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