The show itself was dubbed and shown on Cartoon Network right after the surprise success of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, but failed to take in the hoped-for ratings, probably due to the animation being 20 years old by then. It was pulled after 9/11 four episodes from the end, though the final episode nevertheless managed to air that December when Char was voted surprisingly high in Toonami's "New Year's Evil" contest.
Complete Monster: Prince Gihren Zabi, the franchise's first Big Bad, is the eldest son of the Zabi family; de facto dictator of the Principality of Zeon; and the franchise's original CM. A cold, Machiavellian personality who fully believes that Despotism Justifies the Means, Gihren doesn't care about anyone's lives, including those of his own family members, and is willing to do anything to Take Over the World. He takes being compared to Adolf Hitler as a compliment; turns his little brother's funeral into a political rally while the rest of his family looks on in horror; preaches a Master Race philosophy which he doesn't buy into himself; uses a Colony Drop to exterminate vast swathes of earth's population; deploys chemical weapons against the very colonies he claims to be liberating; and later blasts his own father and General Revil into oblivion just so they won't reach an armistice. When his sister Kycilia, no angel herself, confronts him about what he's done, Gihren's sneeringly offhanded disregard for her anger cements his status as an utterly hollow psychopath. Had he won, he admits that he would have reduced the earth's population to less than a billion and kept it that way so that they could never rise up against him. Side-stories involving him only add to his list of crimes—he helped Ginias Sahalin and his Apsalus Project; and arranged, through his secretary, Cecilia Irene, two elaborate false assassination plots with himself as the supposed victim in order to frame Kycilia and garner public support for clamping down on his political opposition. When Det. David Schiller became an Unwitting Pawn in one of these schemes, he was rewarded by seeing his entire family, members of the anti-Zabi faction, imprisoned or executed. Decades after his introduction, Gihren remains the standard to which Gundam's other monsters aspire to.
Even Gihren Zabi gets it himself in some circles of the fandom, especially the Japanese fan circles. That is despite him being behind the bulk of Zeon's war crimes in the One Year War and taking comparisons to Hitler as a compliment. There are even games allowing Zeon to win that envisions a Earth Sphere led by Gihren as a glorious future!
The mobile suit Acguy has a large number of fans who consider its big head, stumpy limbs and plump frame to be Ugly Cute. Its derivatives, the even more bizarre looking Agg, Juagg, and Agguguy, aren't horribly unpopular themselves considering they were never actually on the show.
Sleggar Law appeared in only a handful of episodes yet is incredibly popular. In fact legendary anime director Noburo Ishiguro loved Sleggar so much that he admitted to modelling Roy Focker from Super Dimension Fortress Macross after him.
Evil Is Cool: Zeon gets a lot of love from the fanbase. And there is of course, Char Aznable. It would be hard for him to be a bigger dick. It would also be hard for him to be a bigger badass.
First Installment Wins: Pretty much. Of all the UC series it's always this period that gets side stories, video games, and such. Even though Zeta Gundam was more popular at the time of its airing, these days it's overshadowed by its progenitor.
It's Star Trek syndrome. While the sequel series may be vastly superior, the original show inspired a fandom.
A Federation ship carrying children is sent out into dangerous situations. Years later, Star Trek: The Next Generation would do just that on a weekly basis.
Ho Yay: Fans get giddy at the Char and Garma subtext, especially during the shower scene and their arranged plans.
Hype Backlash: After listening to UC fans promote Mobile Suit Gundam 0079, it can be somewhat disappointing for some fans of other Gundam series to watch the show. Not because it's bad, but because it cannot live up to the hype its fans create for it. The same can be said for individual characters such as Char Aznable and Amuro Ray.
Love to Hate: Char is this to the parts of the fanbase who aren't giving him leather pants, as is Kycilia Zabi. Gihren Zabi arguably qualifies as well. There's no doubt he's a total bastard, but he's just so good at it.
Magnificent Bastard: Kycilia Zabi, who manages to outmaneuver her vile older brother Gihren and assume command of Zeon as it enters its darkest hour, without losing audience sympathy or her flair for the dramatic. Various sidematerials have expanded upon her behind the scenes actions, making it clear that of all the backstabbing social climbers in the Zeon command structure, she was undoubtedly the greatest.
Many of the show's infamous errors and animation oddities, especially those from episode 15, became such on sites like 4Chan. Most notably, the shot of the Gundam peering over a cliff from episode 18.
Misaimed Fandom: Yes, the Federation has corrupt leaders. Yes, Zeon has many good, moral, people who serve it. Yes, the Titans are bad. That being said, it's a little scary how many fans will knee-jerk a SEIG ZEON for a regime that murdered, not millions, but BILLIONS of people and continue to wipe out metropolitan centers every few years... FOR FREEDOM.
This seems to have seeped in writers of many of the UC side stories where the majority of Zeon characters are presented as the heroic ones while any good characters in the Federation are typically a Token Good Teammate, which ignores that while there was fairly even balance of sympathetic characters in the original series on both sides, the worst characters were all in Zeon.
What really makes Char's crossing of the moral event horizon work is that he didn't just kill Garma, he also killed the entire crew of the Gaw that Garma was on. And this is coming from a man who had been shown to genuinely mourn the loss of his subordinates. Chew on that for awhile.
Gihren Zabi crosses it at Garma's funeral, when he turns his younger brother's send-off into a self-aggrandizing political rally (and piratecopies Hitler's salute "Sieg Heil" into "Sieg Zeon"), then reveals himself as a Complete Monster when he murders his father.
M'Quve arranging for Ramba Ral's death by denying him better mobile suits.
Narm: The crew crying and blaming themselves for Ryu's death. Changed for the compilation movies, fortunately. In the movies, Amuro just beats up Hayato for letting Ryu go into battle.
While the compilation movies may have toned down the banshee-like wailing of the White Base crew, Ryu's death in itself lost a lot of its impact. Tomino shoehorned it in for continuity, at the expense of the plot, and Ryu's sacrifice came right after Matilda's death by similar means. The White Base Crew (and Amuro) spend more time mourning Matilda than they do Ryu, who in the series was so mourned that Bright had a PTSD type breakdown and couldn't captain the ship for several episodes.
The symbolic images involving the Newtype powers can get very ridiculous. Near the end of the series it looks like Amuro is tripping balls rather than feeling traumatized due to Lalah's death.
The movie trilogy dub from the '90s, especially Bright's inexplicable cockney accent. The TV series dub is considered to be a huge improvement.
Gihren Zabi's lifeless body bouncing softly against a video screen in zero gravity shortly after being shot through the head by his sister, Kyscilia
Never Live It Down: Kai Shiden is labeled a Dirty Coward by most of the crew early in the series for his bitter complaints about the situation they're in, despite the fact that he repeatedly undertakes dangerous assignments when necessary.note And after the war, he's left the danger of a MS cockpit for the safe career of war journalist While the other characters eventually realize their mistake, the majority of the fandom seems to have ignored that and consider him a spineless jerk.
In other circles however, he's an Ensemble Darkhorse with a level of popularity that surpasses even Char Aznable. It helps that, come Zeta, he's effectively the Gundam series equivalent of James Bond.
Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Inevitable, given the number of homages the later shows in the franchise did, it means many plot points in the show don't stand out now as much as they did when they were first done. The show wasn't very successful when it initially aired, in fact leading it to end three episodes earlier than originally planned, meaning it didn't have the animation budget that later Gundam shows did, which can be clearly seen in how its animation is a lot less detailed and a lot slower paced. The dated animation and Early Installment Weirdness tone didn't appeal to many newcomers, even among several UC fans who prefer the later installments and OVA series.
Squick: In the novel version, aside from the gross plot changes, Word of God states that Amuro's crush on Sayla culminated in him making a locket out of her pubic hair.
It should be noted that Amuro himself initially thought this was disgusting, but was pressured into it by Kai and Hayato. It's apparently a combat pilot superstition that if a pilot gets into a relationship with a woman he must take an "Amulet" with him on missions or risk bringing misfortune and death on the entire squad.
Strangled by the Red String: Amuro and Lalah's relationship just comes out of nowhere, as does their instant attachment to one another. The series justifies it, what with their Newtype powers having caused them to identify with one another, but that doesn't help make the relationship any more real to the audience. The strangling Newtype would become a tradition in Zeta Gundam.
Vindicated by History: It's tough to believe that this show was cancelled early due to poor ratings. And it's now the progenitor of one of the most renowned franchises in anime history.
Wangst: Amuro can get pretty whiny at times. He has his reasons, of course, but even so.
And it should be noted that he stops his petulant whining about two-thirds of the way through the series.
Hayato's as bad, or worse. His entire personality is based around resenting Amuro for being better than he is, and whining like a bitch whenever Bright praises the latter's performance. Perhaps his wangstiest moment comes following the latter's desertion, when he's so mad that Amuro wasn't executed for it, that hedeserts. You go kid. That'll show them.
What an Idiot: Hayato deserting when Amuro wasn't executed for deserting. Logic clearly was not involved. Thankfully for both of them they weren't part of the regular military at that point and Ryu even reasons to Bright that they were on the spot draftees, so it would be too harsh to apply strict military rules to them.