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Zeta Gundam is a conflicting series for me. On one end it has a great sci-fi atmosphere and a neat attention to detail, at the other it has characters that flip flop all over the place and with villains that just kinda fall into the background.
Among specifics, Kamille is a character I just feel constantly jumps between extremes with little consistency or logic. At one point he is petty and cranky and yet next he suddenly becomes a chill dude (after being beaten up by some stuck-up and then abandoned by some that he had started to trust, and this with someone that already seemingly has trust issues) and then back to cranky again. And he seems to go through relationships like most others do socks, picking them up only to just drop and forget them just as fast.
And I really struggled to get any investment on the villains, despite being at the core of the conflict they just kinda feel like they just exist. The closest one that got my attention in any way was Haman, and she was just an extra.
And then there are some characters that just manages to be really grating.
Many of the side characters however fare much better, doing a good job at giving the world the show presents some life. As stated before, it manages a good sci-fi feel while also feeling lived in which is always a treat when it happens. The soundtrack is also a winner, doing a good job at setting the mood.
One big blow against the show though is that the last act of the show just feels incredibly rushed. There is just a sense of the show trying to wrap things up as fast as possible regardless of how anticlimactic or barebones it is. Then there is of course the sudden and rampant appearance of New-type magic that just heightens all this. And then it just all ends at the drop of a hat, not proper conclusion or anything. Just Big Bad dead, THE END.
In general, Zeta Gundam is a passable show in spite of some character stumbles but is ultimate forgettable show with some strong points but with nothing really standout, apart from maybe how bleak it tries to be. Emphasis on "tries".
Now don't jump to conclusions just from the review's title alone. I feel that Zeta Gundam is the kind of anime that has all of the right points to make for an awesome series, and a lot of them do show through. The War Is Hell themes that the Gundam franchise uses are full-force here and do a great job of displaying the horrors of war. I was surprised going into this show at how nice the animation is for something so old. Sure, it's not immune to cases of egregious Off-Model, but the detail put into the art and the designs pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed characters like Char and Haman, and Kamille started out annoying but got better. And I can't get enough of the soundtrack.
But that said... you know that feeling where you really like some food, but then someone puts some sauce onto it that you hate and it makes eating what you should be loving painful instead? Well that feeling occurred for me with Zeta Gundam because Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy is in full force here. My viewpoint on dark works that rely on Trauma Conga Line is that they work because they get us attached to the characters so that we will share their pain when something bad happens to them, and gain immense satisfaction when Throw the Dog a Bone occurs. Problem is that although I enjoy a lot of Zeta's cast, the majority of them are a bunch of whiny jerks. Kamille grows out of his state, but I couldn't stop wanting Katz to get off screen and never come back. And Reccoa's motives later in the series make no sense and get too much focus for my tastes. The end result was me seeing bad stuff happening to a bunch of jerks I couldn't feel sorry for instead of bad stuff happening to sympathetic characters who I would hope for the best for.
Even for the characters I did get attached to, the Crapsack World the series takes place in bends to such degrees to make them suffer that it stops being tragic and just becomes tedious. For instance, the series overuses Stuffed into the Fridge (a trope I normally don't mind) by introducing multiple Disposable Women who all die a few episodes after their introductions to cause the same two characters (Kamille and Jerid) grief and motivate them to work towards the motivations they were already pursuing. By the time Rosammy was introduced, I had caught hold of the formula and couldn't help but cringe at how the same thing was being done again.
With all the crap the unlikable cast was being put through, I ended up rooting for Haman. I hate when I end up rooting for villains, because although she's cool, it usually means to me that I want to go against a work's intended message and see the heroes fail because I can't stand them.
That said, Zeta Gundam is still entertaining. I just think that it could have been better. I preferred ZZ for taking the time to get us attached to the more-likable cast before putting them through the wringer and doing the trauma in moderation as opposed to extreme levels.
I can't stand this show. I really can't.
I don't like the mech design. Everything that isn't taken from the last show just looks stupid.
I don't like the plot inconsistencies, particularly how Jupiter goes from being seven years away from Earth to the site of the bad guys base.
I was never fond of Newtypes, even in the last show. I'll go to my grave saying they were a complete mistake from square one, but here, they go from psychics who are better than you at everything to space wizards who can bend physics with their minds. I'd accept that in a Super Robot show, but this is the *granddaddy* of all Real Robot television. Let's not even touch on the racist implications.
I disliked most of the characters. I appreciate that I wasn't *supposed* to like most of them, but the cast, with a few exceptions, was never fun to watch. As someone who never bought into the Char fanboyism, I don't even like Quattro.
I was turned off by the sexism. Read the quote that opens the page. 'Nuff said.
But, most of all, I hate its fans. (You may notice I didn't use the word "hate" until now.) Normally, when I don't like a show, I'm quick to say "That's just my opinion. I'm entitled to it, just as you're entitled to yours. Saying I don't like it doesn't mean you aren't allowed to." This show's fanbase was not so accommodating. I got bile, hate, angry comparisons to other, newer, to my mind better Gundam shows by people who insulted my taste and told me that I wasn't entitled to my opinion, that I must have actually liked it and just not wanted to, etc.
In short, I would have been content to leave your sacred cow be, if you hadn't thrown its dung at me.
Does the show fail completely? No, there are some successes. I liked some of its underlying ideas, like the way mechs have to be built to dodge because no armor can protect against beam weapons (making the final boss's inexplicably-immune space-magic mech even more irritating), and I love to watch Yazan Gable, even if part of it is the thrill of watching a human eau-natural butchering his "betters" with sadistic glee.
But, I still disliked the show, and my encounters with its snobbish and bitter fanbase have only cemented that dislike into hate.
Zeta Gundam is one of those anime shows that I simultaneously genuinely enjoy and yet sincerely hate. That may sound like a very odd way to put things, but there is good reason for it. Without a doubt, Zeta is better-animated, better-plotted and has better characterization throughout most of its run than the original. It deserves the praise that it gets, and represents an impressive milestone in the history of the Real Robot genre.
However, not everything about Zeta is good. The main protagonist is, without a doubt, the most whiny asshole in the entire history of anything ever. I enjoyed the portrayal of Flay Allster in Gundam SEED because I felt the trauma she endured throughout the series justified her more irrational actions and behavior. Kamille has no such excuses. Lip service is paid to the idea that he is autistic, but his behavior crosses the antisocial border so much that it simply isn't a worthy excuse. For a start he prattles constantly about wanting peace, while at the same time amassing a kill-count equal to (possibly surpassing) that of the previous Gundam protagonist. He also actively insults and belittles others, and even treats his would-be girlfriend with utmost contempt at several points during the course of the series.
What really annoyed me about all this is that it wasn't even necessary. Char Aznable could very easily have filled Kamille's shoes for Zeta Gundam, and lost nothing for it. He is just as flawed a protagonist as Kamille, yet simultaneously a much more likable and endearing character than Kamille is. (then again, one could say the same of a flatulent moose). In a show filled with excellent and highly memorable characters, Kamille's sheer lack of redeeming features stand out like a sore thumb.
Another moderate issue with Zeta is the fact that a lot of the deaths are entirely avoidable. The idiot ball is passed around quite frequently, with certain people apparently losing their mental faculties just long enough to bite the dust and add more ghosts to Kamille's ethereal army at the endgame.
Yet despite these flaws, Zeta Gundam still stands out from the pack. It has very well detailed animation, great pacing and a very solid plot overall. There are certainly issues, but the fact I was willing to ignore them and still enjoy the series shows that where Zeta shines are the parts that truly count.
Zeta Gundam is a milestone of anime history, often claimed to be one of the greatest and most popular of the Gundam franchise, and for some, best anime, period. I stand wholeheartedly by this statement. At the same time, I can say with all honesty that upon first watching Zeta, I found it much different from what I expected. After finishing it, I felt conflicted over my reaction to it.
All the praise it got ended up clouding my judgement, and I ended up expecting a masterpiece along the lines of Evangelion or something of the sort. In a way, that's exactly what I got. In the same way that Evangelion would go on to become mainstream franchise, Zeta would go on to become Gundam's most famed series, and would shape the Real Robot Genre to what it is nowadays.
The plot is simple as an outline: The Federation suffers from corruption and forms a military branch that becomes oppresive and tyrannical. In response, a rebellion is formed, and among this all is Kamille Bidan, angsty teen and pilot extraordinaire, who joins with the aforementioned rebellion. Since the plot is moved primarily by the motivations and goals of the characters, it manages to become deep and complicated, filled with political intrigue, moral ambiguity and even a bit of philosophy.
One of the things that Zeta does best is to improve the problems that the original Gundam had: Where there was once shoddy artwork, there is now more fluid animation. Music as a whole is improved, and generic plot elements are replaced with more meaningful conflict that has many repercussions later in the series.
My (former) beef with Zeta: Since it managed to have such an impact on later works (mainly because of how dark it was), the drama in the show seems tame compared to what we're used to. Even though I mentioned Evangelion earlier, it's actually quite probable that without Zeta it wouldn't exist.
Annoying kids and constant slaps make for one of the most annoying trends in the series, mainly because neither of them contribute anything meaningful to the story. In the end, when I managed to look past these faults, I realized I actually, truly liked Zeta. Weird, huh?
I highly recommend you watch Zeta, even if you're not into mecha anime.
Final thoughts: Believe in the sign of Zeta!
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