It’s not impossible for me to like an anime based on it campiness. It just…happens so rarely. My idea of camp consists of 80s/90s action films, 70s-80s porno films, 80s horror films, the new Godzilla movie, Dredd, the first 2/3 of Umineko, the 90s Zorro film, etc. etc. And you know what they all have in common? They’re not f*cking Sunrise mecha!
Seriously, I never got the appeal of these things. Sure Geass was entertaining back when it was fresh and you were new to anime, but not only has it gotten more dated and boring than Independence Day overtime (and by the way, why are we getting a sequel to that shit?), but these attempts to copy its formula along with just being Gundam in general have been horrible. Sunrise’s attempts at camp more often than not come off like they’re trying way too hard to be cool rather than as a labor of love and it’s awkward and cringeworthy, like those godawful Boondock Saints movies. At least the majority of exploitation films during its golden age stuck with one method at most when it came to pleasing the audience.
Not that I’m much of a fan of Gundam even when it’s “good”. I’ve gone on before on how I can’t stand war dramas and I’m not a particular fan of the space opera one either, something Gundam soaks its roots in very heavily. Not that I hate everything from those genres, but with every Star Wars comes a Mass Effect, and I don’t think any more words need to be said. But on the flipside, for every Mission Impossible 2 and 3 comes a Ghost Protocol, and Imagawa’s take on the Gundam franchise is definitely the latter. It may not be deep compared to its counterparts, but it’s very well-executed in terms of pacing and action set pieces, and it even manages to slip in some cool meta-commentary regarding the franchise its a part of, making for a very rewarding piece of spectacle.
I know I previously wrote that G Gundam was a “decent at best” experience that I could only really pay attention to when I listened to its awful dub. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking back then, and I don’t think anyone else does, so let’s not dwell on it. G Gundam already captures my attention right off the bat by having a premise where world conflicts are solved by the best method anyone could have ever conceived: martial arts tournaments with robots. Seriously, why haven’t we thought of doing this, let alone make more pieces of fiction about that? Granted, I prefer my martial arts tournaments to be robot-free, but G Gundam has its fair share of mano y mano fist fights as well and you need to be a good martial artist in order to pilot these things correctly anyways. There’s no “instant-control of mecha despite not being trained to pilot it” bullshit here. In fact, trying to do that pretty much kills you before you make the robot so much as twitch a finger.
The story is centered on a young Gundam fighter named Domon Kasshu and his quest to find his missing brother – who has been marked a fugitive after a certain series of events caused their parents to suffer the same fate as any parent in an anime except with actual physical presence. In order to do this, he participates in the Gundam fighting tournament and from then on, we get a current-gen fighting game style story in which Domon meets up with someone and fights them with his “shining finger” whilst inching towards the plot points needed to complete the story ever so slowly. Well let me tell you right away that it does hell of a better job at telling that kind of story than any of Netherrealm’s fighting games, in that it doesn’t keep changing characters Guy Ritchie-style in an attempt to make things more “epic”, only to make it disjointed and excessively padded. There are episodes when it does focus on other characters, but they’re sparse and only used when necessary to develop them – barring one episode involving a kid that was frankly stupid because that trope has never worked once in fiction and it sure as hell doesn’t work here.
G Gundam is divided into two distinct halves: the qualifying rounds and the actual tournament. You win no points for guessing that the tournament half is when I think the show truly shines, but the first half is fun too in regards to setting up the rules and having Domon discover portions of the mystery regarding his brother and the Devil Gundam. The episodic fight-of-the-week style of storytelling can be a bit of a problem at first though, not going to lie. Whilst there’s some hinting, you don’t really get a clarification of what Domon’s goals are until the sixth episode, and even then, it’s a pretty simple story. Even when the formula gets dropped upon Master Asia’s introduction and stakes ramp up, that fact doesn’t really change. G Gundam is one of those anime you have to get into, so it’s not really a surprise that it didn’t do so well upon release and is still criticized even now.
So why do I like this show? Because it’s f*cking camp, that’s why.
In addition to the concept of the Gundam tournament being just cool in general, this show captures a lot of what I enjoy about the Golden Age of Hong Kong’s martial arts cinema and presents it as a (mostly) visually interesting show that shows its self-awareness through the cinematography and technicals rather than the characters denting the fourth wall with obnoxious fourth-wall commentary and try-hard poses that would embarrass the Tick. Okay fine, there’s a bit of that in regards to people screaming each other’s names during battle, but I never said G Gundam was perfect, let alone on the same level of The Drunken Master. And since it’s essentially a martial arts anime, you’ll be happy to know that the show delivers when it comes to the action in terms of choreography and creativity. The only thing I can say that’s bad about them is that they always end with Domon using his traditional “Shining Finger” move, because that’s the only finishing move the show seems fit to give him. It’s a cool name and all, but how about a roundhouse kick to finish things off every once in a while, Imagawa?
Also, for an anime that rides mostly on presentation (especially considering it’s almost fifty episodes long), there’s bound to be times when it can’t keep the energy up. So you get your occasional weak episodes that come off more gimmicky than purposeful, as well as some fights that might feel extraneous. The biggest problem comes near the end when the show peaks too early and devolves into a generic “save the world” type story for its final stretch with the only real standout being the ending scene. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that fans of cheesy romance and shipping will definitely get a kick out of it as soon as they wake up due to passing out from LOVE overload. Actually wait, some of you have watched Aquarion EVOL right? Well it’s like that, only a thousand times better because the female lead was actually interesting, amongst other things.
G Gundam isn’t really the most sophisticated thing in the world, even by anime standards, let alone Sunrise’s. However, it does a lot right with me in terms of finding fun in regards to spectacle appeal, and that’s why I like it so much. It has funny characters, each with their own goals and ambitions regardless of the situation. It has fight scenes that have weight and tension behind their creativity. And above all, it has a decent sound track that gets your blood pumped for the next episode let alone some awesome opening and closing themes. I even kind of like the love triangle thing between Domon, his childhood friend Rain, and Gundam fighter Allenby, mostly because you couldn’t take it that seriously and it’s a pretty minor blip in the grand scheme of things here rather than in Escaflowne (Sunrise’s other stuff indulges in it as well, but Escaflowne man. Oh god).
It’s a bit of a mess when you get down to it, but it’s a fun mess, and I will jam sharpies into my nipples if I ever say that about another Sunrise mecha ever again.