Having just completed Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, I felt a desire to share my thoughts on the series, including how it compares with the first Mobile Suit Gundam which I finished about a month ago. I’d like to note that I’m making no attempt at being objective in this and that it’s purely based upon my feelings in regards to the series, and what was done right and wrong by the two series.
I’d like to begin by looking at the things which are generally recognized by nearly everyone to be better in Zeta. Zeta clearly has highly improved animation as compared to 0079. Going from the often frustratingly bad animation of 0079 to a show where the action scenes would look fairly good today was a welcome change. The biggest example can simply be seen in the first OP for Zeta. It’s certainly not the pinnacle of animation, but the little things like the animation of Kamille and Char’s hair, the animation of the thrusters coming of the Hi-Zacks coming towards the screen, or the explosion when the Mk-II’s shield is blown up set it apart from 0079 from the moment you begin the show. Most of this likely comes from the anime industry progressing and having a larger budget, but the change matters regardless. Despite the massive improvement however, Zeta kept one of the most jarring animation issues from the first show, namely the poorly looped backgrounds. Whenever the characters were moving through a corridor or another space where time could be cut by looping the background, it was. This typically doesn’t destroy my immersion, but when done in these two series its often done in a way that makes it incredibly obvious that the background is repeating. Personally, this is a major detraction from every scene in which it occurs, but the overall animation in Zeta was more than serviceable and managed to fit the series well.
Zeta’s music is another aspect which is much improved. Besides just being at a higher audio quality, Zeta’s soundtrack felt much more fitting than 0079’s. It’s much grander in scope and also manages to leave behind the childlike sound of 0079’s soundtrack. The simple increase in number of tracks between the two marks a major plus in Zeta’s favor since the amount of repetition, while still high, is much lower than 0079’s.
Now I’d like to look at what’s more important, Zeta and 0079’s execution. To start, I’d like to say that I believe Zeta generally does better at many parts of its execution, but 0079 manages to trump it in a few areas.
Looking at the stories of the two series makes it obvious that Zeta is in many ways an attempt by Tomino to make 0079 over again in a better way. Parallels can be seen between many of the shows but the most blatant is Four’s arc. Four is given roughly four episodes of screen time to develop, but her arc is nearly the exact same as Lalah’s, something which is actively pointed out by Amuro and Char within the series. With this idea that Zeta was in many ways meant to be a better 0079 we can make comparisons between the two series without the issue of comparing two completely different series.
Kamille is frequently, though certainly not always, considered to be more interesting than Amuro, and I’m inclined to agree, although I’d rate them quite closely. Both go through interesting character arcs, with Amuro becoming more willing to fight as a soldier, while Kamille remains incredibly opposed to war but develops in his ability to connect to others through the series. I find Kamille’s much more satisfying to watch. Amuro’s development into a strong soldier is interesting, but only really serves to demonstrate what war can do to people. Kamille on the other hand is forced to kill people and never really evolves beyond that, only beginning to accept it right by the end, and when this occurs it’s clearly portrayed as a negative development and he gets his mind destroyed soon after. Both of them got better at dealing with other people over time, largely to proximity and the development of their Newtype abilities, but Kamille has a much more appealing change to me, as Amuro merely appeared somewhat awkward in the beginning while Kamille was actively anti-social, making his change to a much more outgoing person that much more meaningful.
I believe characters were done better in Zeta for the most part, however pacing was done considerably better in 0079. Every episode in 0079 feels meaningful and has a sense of progress to it, while many episodes in Zeta’s first half feel like the Argama is just floating in space doing nothing. The sense of progress in 0079 gives a certain cohesiveness to the story that Zeta simply lacks. Many episodes in 0079 feel like they could be compiled into one episode, while many episodes in Zeta feel like they could simply be removed. An example of this is the entire Rosamia arc, which serves merely as a retread of the Four arc and does nothing new or interesting with the Cyber-Newtype concept. This is just one of numerous examples wherein parts of Zeta are lacking in purpose and seem to be there simply to fill out the 50 episode count and show more fight scenes.
I see two major themes in the shows. The first is the tragedy and horror of war which is frequently shown, and the second is the ability of humans to evolve to a point where we may better understand one another, shown through the use of Newtypes. I think both of them were done better in Zeta, though as a first attempt 0079 did a fantastic job.
To begin with, Gundam is well known for its strong anti-war themes, and these clearly started out early. 0079 portrays the story of a group of youths without military training forced to fight a war on the front lines. Amuro is turned from a regular nerdy boy into a strong soldier through the war, and multiple character deaths along with clear signs that thousands of soldiers are dying drills in the point that war is terrible. However 0079 still seems hopeful at the end, almost as if Tomino was forced to be less anti-war than he really wanted. Zeta on the other hand is absolutely brutal, and really shows why he’s called “Kill ’em all Tomino”. As I said earlier, Kamille never truly accepts his place in the war unlike Amuro, and mostly continues to fight out of a pure hatred of the Titans and a desire to protect those he cares about, completely lacking in the sense of duty that Amuro gained over time. On its own this is not necessarily better, but the massive number of deaths around Kamille serves to show how someone who has no desire to fight in the war is having everything he cares about destroyed by it. This contrast between Kamille’s hatred of the war and being forced to take part in it to prevent any more death presents what is to me a much stronger anti-war message which really shows how much war can ruin someone’s life. This is taken as far as it can without Kamille being killed, as his mind is so utterly destroyed that he’s likely no longer even capable of perceiving the war. Amuro comes out of his series poorly, with much PTSD and a loss of his innocence, but Kamille is so broken that he gains a false innocence, truly losing everything he cared about simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tomino intelligently puts the anti-war themes which show humanity’s worst with the idea that humanity can be much greater in the form of Newtypes. Tomino shows Newtypes in a way that shows that we haven’t yet evolved to the point we need to, but have the ability to. Those Newtypes who do exist are used in 0079 and Zeta are put through the worst of the situations that Tomino dreamed up, with none of them coming out of the wars happy. It’s clear though, that if people were to stop fighting and attempt to progress, that Newtypes would begin to become dominant and humans would reach a greater understanding. Kamille’s final attack on Scirocco is the greatest example of what Tomino believes humans can become, as he’s able to tap into the power of his dead comrades and even those Newtypes he fought to defeat Scirocco. The time Kamille spent in Newtype space with Haman is another example, as Kamille and Haman were able to come to a greater understanding of each other merely because they are both Newtypes. It’s clear that despite Tomino’s feeling that humanity can be brutal and cruel because of war, he doesn’t believe that that’s all we’re capable of. Zeta simply went much further with the concept, as it simply has more Newtypes and more time to explore them as the concept existed from the beginning in Zeta.
Overall, I feel like Zeta did most things better than 0079. It explored its themes further and better, the characters had more interesting development and personalities, and the production values were much better. It’s unfortunate then that the pacing keeps Zeta from being truly superior to 0079 in every way, as if the pacing were corrected I believe it would be a 10/10 series. As it is, I believe Zeta to be a better show if only for its execution of the themes, but wish that it could have fully surpassed its predecessor.