Hey now, what’s this? More anime? More giant robots? More dusty half-muddled memories? Boy, and how!
Despite my childhood exposures to a lot of it, I didn’t really get into watching a lot of Japanese anime until I started college, when Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” late-night block began, stylized as [adult swim]. This coincided with when I finally got cable, because before that the only thing going was broadcast TV’s takes on Pokemon (which I was too old for, honestly) and Dragonball and Dragonball Z, the perennial cultural favorite. But then 9/11/01 happened and we got cable and non-dialup internet for the house we all lived in, myself, my brother, my parents, and my grandparents…at this time I think my dad’s brother as well.
He lived in the basement, but was at work and out all the time, so I’d spend hours down there, eventually more or less moving in down there when he moved out. It’s cliche now, but to a college student, your own door, your own fridge, a shitty sofa bed, and late-night cable TV to watch weird obscure shit was heaven.
I dove headfirst into watching [adult swim]’s Saturday night block of anime. I’d go to work, go to class, and before I started going out a lot with friends I’d make in college, weekends were me and cable TV in that basement, a brief illusion of living alone, in the dark in my “bachelor pad” with takeout or some swiped beers. There was the now-famous Cowboy Bebop, bizarre cult-favorite FLCL, and of course, a cycling change in various parts of the Gundam franchise. Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memories is one of the ones that immediately stands out to me from that era, mostly because of how utterly different it was from any sense of what storytelling could be to me.
To this day, Sunrise’s Gundam franchise continues to live on with various timelines, universes, sequels, and reboots of itself and off of itself, almost all of which focusing on the larger theme of the futility of war and the ways in which idealism can either help someone live through these sorts of conflicts of morality, or they can utterly drive someone to despair as they see ideals uses as tools for horror (well, if you don’t count the infamous but hilarious sorta-Street Fighter G-Gundam, or the semi-metatextual Gundam Build Fighters). As a result, most Gundam series tend to come across less as “action shows” per se than war narratives and criticisms of various aspects of social structure, “progress,” nationalism, all that good stuff.
Also, the franchise as a whole has, when the story demands it, not been shy about depicting not only true shittiness in its characters, but also actual measurable growth. I remember being somewhat in awe that the “hero” of Stardust Memories (the Earth-based Gundam pilot versus the Zeon space colony-based stolen Gundam pilot) actually sucking quite a bit. He is a terrible pilot shoved into this mission because he happened to be there, and it takes time for him to come into his own.
There’s a lot more going on in the series, which was a bit of a prequel/fill-in miniseries created to fill in a time gap between two earlier Gundam series and justify a story point in the latter, but what I always remember about this is seeing an animated war drama that didn’t portray itself or its characters as inheritly noble, heroic, or the natural “good guys.” Gundam as a franchise, especially in its early days and then-primary timeline, utilized post humanism as a long-running theme to root its somewhat “hard/predictive sci-fi” about inevitable conflicts over rights and resources between space-born people being nudged into evolutionary steps forward but still thought of as rude provincial colonists, and Earth-bound governments and people who were more than eager to exploit their colonies for resources and military purposes but had no real sense of what the new wave of warfare would “make” them do.
Spoiler alert, they’d do it anyway, as Stardust Memory‘s twists revolve around, from what I can remember, forbidden nuclear weaponry and plans to drop whole space colonies on planetary colonies and Earth’s indifference to sacrificing them to protect themselves.
Totally unbelievable, right?