What They Say:
Universal Century 0079. The rebel space colonies of the Principality of Zeon launch a war of independence against the Earth Federation, using humanoid fighting vehicles called mobile suits to overwhelm the Federation Forces and conquer half of Earth’s surface. Months later, the Federation has finally developed its own prototype mobile suits at a remote space colony. But when the colony suffers a Zeon surprise attack, these new weapons fall into the hands of a motley crew of civilians and cadets, and fate places a youth named Amuro Ray at the controls of the white mobile suit Gundam…
Contains episodes 1-21.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in mono and the previously created English language adaptation in stereo, both of which use the uncompressed PCM format. The show is naturally limited a bit by age and that’s a given here, but it certainly does stand out above what we had with previous DVD incarnations by a good degree. There’s not a lot in the way of action directionality or placement, particularly in the Japanese track, but it has a stronger, cleaner and more appealing sound with what we get here. The music makes out the best overall though even that is naturally limited a bit with the original encodings. The dialogue itself through is clean and clear while the action effects have some good impact overall with how it plays out, giving it enough of a sweeping feeling without being overpowering of the scene or any dialogue. It’s definitely a strong improvement in general and well worth it.
Originally airing in 1979, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-one episodes for this set are spread across two discs in a ten/eleven format. Since it’s a full frame show, there’s more than enough room to do this on top of the mono Japanese track. Animated by Sunrise, I’ve seen the series in a few incarnations over the years and this is by far the best I’ve ever seen it. The transfer brings out such a richness in color that it feels like a whole other show much of the time. There’s a wonderful solidity about it all that just helps to elevate it in a great way. Details come through very clearly and the animation itself is spot on with the heightened visibility of everything. This is a beautiful transfer of material that’s nearly forty years old. That said, there are things that some will pick at because it is a film source show and you can see some bits of dust and dirt at times that couldn’t be cleaned up in the original Japanese restoration. This is more noticeable early on and there’s less of it in later episodes. But even this is something that I find to be critical to the look of the show in really making it a part of the period it was made. Frankly, I just love how this turned out in general. It’s a great looking release.
The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. I was really thrilled to see that the usual cover art for the first entry in this franchise wasn’t used and instead we get a beautifully – beautifully – painted piece with the Gundam going up against the Red Comet while other ships flit by alongside it. With a black background filled with stars behind it, it has a darker look overall, but one that stands out beautifully with what it’s accomplishing. It has a real richness to its design and simplicity that just speaks to me. The back cover is a bit more traditional and text heavy as it goes for a largely black background with mostly white text. The premise and the importance of the series are kept to the left and well covered while the top has a brief slot of character and mecha shots alongside the title. It’s next to the premise that we get the traditional Gundam with beam sword image though it’s darkened up enough here to make it a bit more menacing and appealing. The bottom has a minimal technical grid that lists everything cleanly and accurately and above that we get a breakdown of the episodes by number and title. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release really works well in setting the mood from the start and keeping it during playback. The menus for both discs are laid out the same but use different artwork, the first with the traditional Gundam with beam saber crouching position while the second has a close up of Char’s Zaku with him in the foreground and the flag behind them. This one stands out more because of all the red, and because it’s not an image we’ve seen a million times, but both are bright, sharp, and appealing. The navigation at the top level is kept to the left with the logo at the top and the selections below where it’s set against a star filled background, giving it some really neat richness. When viewed during playback, the pop-up menu shifts to the bottom with a horizontal layout that works better for that moment. Both menus work great, are easy to navigate and are easy and clean to read.
The extras for this release are naturally a bit light as we only get a couple of things. The clean versions of the opening and closing sequences are naturally welcome, but we also get just under four minutes of fun Japanese DVD and Blu-ray commercials, something I enjoy to see how things are sold to different audiences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original work from Yoshiyuki Tomino that dominated mecha and science fiction anime storytelling for years and continues to this day in a variety of configurations, the original Mobile Suit Gundam series ran for forty-three episodes. Only forty-two are made available for fans around the world though as one episode wasn’t up to Tomino’s level of quality for various reasons and has been unavailable ever since. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, you’re missing out on a fantastic show and a fantastic set. Having seen this series in the massive VHS brickset years ago and the various DVD sets that have been released, revisiting it now with the first half of this season at once is a treat. While the follow-up and alternate series have often garnered more attention than the original, it is always worth going back to the source to understand it.
The premise is simple enough in that in a future where mankind has spread to the solar system, there’s an event that causes a war to erupt where one side goes for independence in the stars while the other fights back to maintain its hold so that everything doesn’t fracture. Things went so bad during the war that half the planet’s population was wiped out in a cataclysmic event. So things have been peaceful for a bit, but there’s always advancements, developments and research going on as well as stockpiling of material of war and training of soldiers. Political maneuvering, dynastic elements and the drive of youth all comes into play as well to eventually push mankind to war once more. And such is what kicks off and drives this series as one colony, a Side as they’re called is attacked by the Principality of Zeon to find out what secrets the Federation are keeping in there.
And they are keeping a secret as they’ve been hiding the development of a new mobile suit known as the Gundam. When we see the first encounter between it and the Zeon Zaku’s, it’s impressive even though it’s piloted by an untrained fifteen-year-old boy. The Gundam is far more impervious to basic attacks, has higher quality and stronger weapons and its maneuverability is far better across the board. It’s not an ultimate weapon, but it is a game changer. And even just one of them makes that clear, never mind the potential for their being dozens more if it can be developed. So naturally, the Zeon side has to stop this from happening, which means that as the war breaks out between the two sides they’re chasing it hard from the colony down to Earth and across enemy land and their own. And into this we get a mixture of aloof politics from the Federation trying to use the Gundam and the flying White Base ship it’s on as a diversion while those from Zeon are ramping up their war after the Gundam takes out some particular members of the royal family. Once it’s out of the bottle it can’t be put back in without spilling a whole lot. And that’s what dominates this set as everything falls apart in so many ways.
The premise of Gundam is familiar enough and since it’s been around for nearly forty years there’s admittedly not a lot new to say about it. Having reviewed it previously in five-episode blocks, I really enjoyed watching it in full here because you do see things in a bigger way. The series is one that is very much of the time it was made as there are so many areas, storywise, where you kind of grimace a bit because it is so simple with its politics and strategy. But it was designed in a simpler storytelling period and yet was something that outstripped other shows by a significant margin back then. Some of what’s done can be amusing depending on how you view it, but if you put yourself into the proper context it works out pretty well. It’s a show that certainly stands out for showing the difficulties of war on a range of people, civilians and military alike, and though there were many shows where people were killed off before, this one just started to take it to a different level.
This set is one that takes us through a lot of the foundations of the franchise with story elements that will echo through other incarnations in the decades to come. What I liked is that it starts in the colony and gives us something tantalizing to deal with, some good battles in space and the thrown into the fire element of the crew where the bulk of the soldiers have died and civilians (and kids) have to step up across the board. The kids aspect, of course, is problematic at times, notably with the younger kids, but there’s also a very Japanese element to it. Bright gives Amuro grief repeatedly about his not stepping up or following the rules as a soldier, but Amuro is a fifteen-year-old kid that is really conflicted about war (though not to the extreme pacifist angle). I get where both sides are coming from with it, especially in terms of writers/audience in how the younger generation is expected to handle things like this. So it’s an interesting area to delve into across the set here as it happens several times.
I also really liked that as we get further into this set of episodes that we get more with Zeon and the royal family and how all that works. It’s not gone into in a deep way or anything, but the start is there and it plays in contrast to how (we believe) that Federation works. There are some really interesting aspects to it since there’s more of a revenge angle that plays into it as it progresses. And personalities are stronger here than the Federation, which gets little attention at the leadership level. There’s also the obvious appeal of the charismatic Char Aznable, the Red Comet. He’s a standout from the start, and not just from costume design, which makes him really engaging to watch as he deals with the first encounters with the Gunda. When he’s shifted back to Zeon the show really does lose something for the rest of the duration of this set.
Mobile Suit Gundam is an institution in the anime world and it does largely stand the test of time. For me, the Universal Century is Gundam. I like a lot of the alternate timelines and takes on the properly – G-Gundam is probably my favorite – but the original work and those OVAs are what makes this the best for me. Admittedly, I’ve long preferred the movie versions over the actual TV series, but revisiting it now and getting into the sprawling aspect a bit more of it with so many subplots and diversions, I’m finding myself liking it a lot more than I used to. This release is pretty much the best the show has ever looked. I was blown away by it at the first and the only reason it’s tagged down slightly is because of the film element aspects. The transfer itself is fantastic and fans of this show will simply love what they get here. Highly recommended.
Japanese PCM 1.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Japanese DVD/BD Commercials
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sunrise
Release Date: November 3rd, 2015
Running Time: 525 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.