Where to Start - Getting into Gundam

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As a moderator over at /r/Gundam I often see folks asking how to get into the franchise and what shows to watch. Hopefully this guide will help you along that path.

 

TL;WR?

If you don't have time to go through and read, it's best to pick with one of the below series:  

Mobile Suit Gundam

O

R

Gundam 0080

Gundam 00

G Gundam

Note that the above are in no order of preference or recommendation. Why I think they're four good starting points is detailed below.

If you can't be bothered as to finding out why the above are recommended, or just want me to make the decision for you, then watch the original Mobile Suit Gundam. The full series, all 43 episodes, not the movies.

 

First and Foremost

For starters, there’s no one right way to get into the franchise. Everyone has different tastes and very few people like every Gundam installment. For example, Gundam SEED. This 2002 series took all of the most popular Gundam tropes and structured them around a narrative largely reminiscent of the original 1979 series (Mobile Suit Gundam). It was widely popular in Japan but received a very divisive reaction here in North America. While many have recommended that folks start off by watching Gundam SEED I disagree for reasons I'll get to later in the article. Now, just because I disagree enough to not make it a primary recommendation doesn't mean I disagree with the recommendation all together. Making a recommendation like this is difficult because you, the person who's interested in getting started with Gundam, is not necessarily going to have the same interest and tastes as others looking to get into the franchise. While the Gundam franchise may be vast, over 35 animated productions alone, it's far from homogeneous. Part of getting into the franchise is finding out what aligns with your interests.

The original series was revolutionary for its time. Since then, a lot of what made Gundam standout has been boiled down to a bunch of tropes and basic premises. Around these premises quite a few stories with varying character, locations, and other elements have been built. Some are bad, some are great, all of them really open to personal opinion. As you dive into the franchise you’ll find you don’t like everything, that’s okay. Keep watching and check out what others are saying. It’s diverse enough that there’s something for pretty much everyone.

It’s also important to mention that Gundam is primarily targeted toward a younger audience. It very well may not connect as well with you as it did the show’s now older fanbase. At the end of the day, if Gundam isn’t for you, it’s not for you. Don't worry about it.

The uninitiated may be confused as to the grand scope of the Gundam franchise, tons of series, tons of characters, tons of mobile suits and Gundams. You’ll grasp it pretty quickly once you get into it, but here are a few starter points:

  • All of the various Gundam series do not take place in the same universe/timeline. There are quite a few, the most popular and the most detailed is the Universal Century (UC) timeline which started with the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Many others have followed, picking up the story where Mobile Suit Gundam left off. These include the animated programs Zeta Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Char's Counterattack, 08th MS Team, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, and numerous other installments and medias.
  • The non-Universal Century installments exist in other timelines, the lot of which are often grouped in and refereed to as the Alternate Universes (AU). Each of these AU installments has their own timeline. For example, Gundam Wing is After Colony while Gundam SEED is Cosmic Era.
  • There aren’t any programs which jump between universes/timelines though there are quite a few that reference or pay homage to a predecessor. In one instance a few timelines are loosely connected but are best considered separate altogether. If anyone says that Turn-A is the compilation of every timeline you can smack them. For a full list of timelines check out the Gundam Wikia.
  • Not every robot (the technical term is mecha) you see is a Gundam. Most are what are called “Mobile Suits” or some variation of the phrase. The term Gundam is reserved for a select few. 9/10 times Gundams share a key similarities/look, such as the v-fin (the pointy yellow thing on the forehead). I say 9/10 times because there are instances where this doesn’t apply. It’s up to the folks at Sunrise and Bandai what is, and what isn’t, a Gundam.

So, where do I think folks should start? Well, that depends…

 

Primary Recommendation

You: What should I start by watching?
Me: Watch Mobile Suit Gundam.

You can't go wrong starting with the series that started everything, Mobile Suit Gundam. First aired in 1979 it was one of the most mature anime programs of the time. Over three decades later it can seem a bit dated, with especially the animation*, but it has a charm and uniqueness to it that still shine today.

Mobile Suit Gundam lays the foundation for nearly every series, movie, manga, that would later follow, both through direct association or by establishing the core themes that define the franchise.

If you don't have the time go make it through all 43 episodes the three compilation movies are an acceptable alternative, although they leave a few iconic things out.

* Not watching older shows because of the animation is like not playing Ocarina of Time or Final Fantasy VII because of the outdated graphics.

 

Other Recommendations

You: I’ve never watched anything Gundam before and there’s a new series on, Iron Blooded Orphans. Can I watch that?
Me: Yes. Start watching it now. No prior franchise exposure required.

 


 

You: I’m looking to get my feet wet, see a bit of Gundam, maybe enjoy a taste of UC.
Me: Watch Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket or 08th MS Team.

First off, Gundam 0080 is short. Only six glorious episodes. Great, characters, great animation, great plot, and some of the most memorable moments in the Universal Century timeline. It's a stripped down and pure approach to the war drama, mecha action, and character dichotomy that makes the Gundam franchise special.

Now, while Gundam 0080 may be set smack dab in the middle of Universal Century’s prime years it doesn’t really rely so heavily on that backstory that a new viewer would be lost. That’s how I remember it at least.

 

 

Alternatively, a popular recommendation that often gets placed before 0080 is The 08th MS Team. 12 episodes in length, 08th provides a different look at the One Year War set primarily in the jungles of Asia. It can be somewhat divisive for fans, often lauded for its grunt based focus while others aren't a fan of the show's love plot. It also presents a somewhat contradictory view of the One Year War than available up to this point. This is why I generally recommend 0080 as a starting point over 08th MS Team. Over all, 08th MS Team features solid design, animation, memorable characters, and is a must watch even if it isn't your first.

 


 

You: I remember watching Gundam Wing on Toonami back in the day. Plus, I’ve got some time to kill. Now what?
Me: You should check out Gundam 00.

Gundam 00 is a nice stand alone series that one can get into without having any other exposure to the franchise. It’s made up of two, 25 episode seasons so it should keep you occupied for awhile. It’s got good action, interesting characters, a unique setting, and is generally well received by Gundam and non-Gundam fans alike.

Some may find the story sort of flat and the characters rather basic, or the story mediocre, especially in the second season, but there's a lot of development along the way with plenty of flashy visuals in between.

The follow up movie, A Wakening of the Trailblazer, wasn't so well received. It's not necessarily required viewing but it does serve to wrap up the story for everyone.

 


 

You: Okay, I’m hooked. I want to dive into the Universal Century timeline. Where do I start?
Me: Start with the original series, Mobile Suit Gundam.

If you're interested really getting to know Universal Century you need to start off from square one with the original series. All of the good, bad, and hokey elements really shine. Just remember that you're watching what was essentially a 1979 children's TV series.

When it comes to Universal Century some folks suggest tackling things in chronological order, others suggest by order of production. I’m of the mindset that you should go through by order of production. It really helps you see the development of the franchise the way Universal Century was originally told. If you go through chronologically you’ll butt up against some conflicting narratives and some retconning.

I’ll throw each viewing order way down at the bottom of this article.

 


 

You: Should I watch the Gundam movies?
Me: Well, that depends.

I do not think that any of the Gundam movies work as alternatives to the material they take from. Watch Mobile Suit Gundam before you watch the compilation movies pieced together from the series. The same for Zeta Gundam as well, though to a stronger extent due to some of the changes they make in the movies (which are only quasi cannon).

Gundam: The Origin is just okay IMHO, I believe you’d be better off reading the manga. It’s not really a replacement for the original series. Sort of a pseudo retcon that updates the original while not really messing up the following sequels.

 


 

You: Speaking of movies, should I watch Gundam Unicorn? I’ve seen clips and it looks great.
Me: Only if you’ve seen most of the other Universal Century series first.

Gundam Unicorn, for the most part, is pretty fantastic. However, it relies heavily on the Universal Century foundation laid out before it. You shouldn’t get into Gundam Unicorn without a good background in the timeline.

 


 

You: I’m looking for something fun, less real robot, less war drama, more super robot and hot blooded.
Me: Look no further than G Gundam.

G Gundam is the unGundam, the cool, weird uncle of the Gundam franchise. It’s barely related to the tropes and themes of the rest of the franchise and it’s a wonder it ever got made. G Gundam takes the franchise's core as a war drama and replaces serious with silly. It’s by far the weirdest of all the series, and easily the most entertaining. Hilarious stereotypes, great mecha design, fun battles, great music and fantastic characters. Pure entertainment.

The only downside is that it's an odd gateway because it's so much different than the rest of the franchise. Folks may enjoy it, but not take to the other series or visa versa. While Gundam franchise is often categorized as "real robot" (even if that "real" is loosely defined), G Gundam joyfully casts that aside.

 


 

You: Why don't you recommend starting with Gundam SEED?
Me: Because there are more benefits to starting with Mobile Suit Gundam.

The reasoning for my decision to leave SEED off the list is two fold. The first is that, as much as I hate to admit it, my preference against SEED makes it hard to recommend to anyone. Sure it has some of the best mecha design in the franchise but the characters can be very grating, if not outright hateable. The plot also meanders and nearly all of its key elements are adapted or taken straight from Mobile Suit Gundam. A lot of elements. If you watch one, then the other right after, you'd most likely be bored to death. Personally I think MSG does a lot better job with these plot elements, along with better characters and less filler.

More importantly, watching Mobile Suit Gundam opens you up to the entire lineup of series that take place in the Universal Century. Zeta, Gundam, Gundam ZZ, Gundam 0083, Gundam 0080, Char's Counterattack, Gundam Unicorn, etc. The direct sequel to MSG, Zeta Gundam, is arguably one of the best series of the franchise. Meanwhile, the direct sequel to Gundam SEED, Gundam SEED Destiny, is arguably the worst.

 


 

You: What are some other options?
Me: You may also want to consider Gundam X or Turn-A Gundam.

Gundam X and Turn-A Gundam are two other stand alone series which both borrow the key franchise themes but add enough originality to be their own thing. Turn-A is generally regarded as the better of two, and one of the best series over all, but carries over a lot of themes best witnessed through other programs first.

 

 Curious about all of the various Gundam series out there?

 Check out the /m/ Guide to Gundam which offers a great summatation of each series' pros and cons.

 

 

Still More Recommendations

Still need more opinions? How about from our own PenguinTruth?

 

 

There's also this great piece by WackyModder84 or the numerous times it's been asked before on /r/Gundam. You can also view some differing opinions to my own by reviewing the comments when I shared this article initially here.  

 

Gundam Universal Century Production Viewing Order

  • Mobile Suit Gundam
  • Zeta Gundam
  • Gundam ZZ
  • Char’s Counterattack
  • Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
  • Gundam F9
  • Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
  • Victory Gundam
  • Gundam 08th MS Team
  • MS IGLOO
  • Gundam Unicorn
  • Gundam: The Origin

 

Gundam Universal Century Chronological Viewing Order

  • Gundam: The Origin
  • Gundam MS IGLOO
  • Mobile Suit Gundam
  • Gundam 08th MS Team
  • Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
  • Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
  • Zeta Gundam
  • Gundam ZZ
  • Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
  • Gundam Unicorn
  • Gundam F91
  • Victory Gundam

 

If you want to get crazy, you can even break things up by order of actual event. See this great post for more details.