In 2005 the 50 episode Z Gundam television series from 1985 was compiled into a movie trilogy titled Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation. I grabbed the DVD set when I saw it on Amazon.com but waited to watch them until my surround sound system was working. It was worth the wait! The movies use dolby 5.1 surround and, together with the full-screen animation, make for an awesome cinematic experience.
The movies were really cool and a lot of fun to watch. They’re a real treat for Gundam fans already familiar with Z Gundam. However, I have a hard time recommending them to people who haven’t already seen the Z Gundam episodes.
The movies mix old, remastered animation from the TV series together with new animation. The new animation is both lush and brilliant. Mobile suits and ships come alive in a way I didn’t know was possible. Battle scenes in space take on new dimensions and captivate the viewer. Details of mobile suit mechanisms (like transformation) are demonstrated proving the animators cared about the material with which they were working – and the fans as well. New animation also showed viewers interesting day-to-day details of life aboard space ships. Details like navigating corridors in zero gravity and the devices provided for crew members to live more efficiently in space were added to the movies. My only complaint is the jarring difference at times between old and new animation. The difference in quality becomes more noticeable when the scenes are mixed together so thoroughly. Although I learned to accept it I doubt new viewers would be so forgiving.
Compressing around 21 hours into three feature films meant many things had to be cut. Sub plots, lighter moments and scenes detailing relationships between characters had to go. For a longtime Gundam fan that isn’t a problem but for someone new to Z Gundam it could give wrong impressions. I wouldn’t doubt that a westerner who knew nothing about Gundam, after seeing these three movies, would think Z Gundam is light on plot and character development. Also, the relentless pace of action scenes, although incredible to see in the movies, can tire a person out. That’s why I wouldn’t show the Z Gundam movies to someone not already familiar with UC Gundam.
One thing that was interesting to see was the emphasis in the movies on the relationship between Emma Sheen and Captain Henken. The original TV series didn’t give enough time to this character relationship and the death of Captain Henken at the end suffers as a result. The movies take time in several scenes to show not only Henken’s pursuit of Emma’s affections but also Emma’s grudging acceptance. This makes Henken’s sacrifice towards the end of the story more moving.
The movies show a radically different ending for Camille Bidan, Z Gundam’s main character. The TV series ends with him suffering so much trauma that he’s a mental vegetable. After 20 years the creators decided to give Z Gundam’s dedicated hero a happy ending with his love and childhood friend, Fa. Although I’m usually a purist on details of plot and theme, I found myself accepting this change easily. After 20 years Camille deserves a break.