• After many years I’ve finally watched the original 43 episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-80).  Since my teenage years I’ve known the show in detail and didn’t feel it was important to sit through the low production values and dull music.  It was so much a part of my younger years that the actual episodes seemed unnecessary.  After watching it I can see that I shouldn’t have put it off so long.  Although it’s not without its flaws the show really is a gem of mecha animation.

    Each episode offers great action and characters with wide appeal.  It is rightly recogized as one of the best television shows from Tomino’s golden age.  It is popular in Japan to this day.  I was surprised to find it airing on Japanese television in the early 2000’s right next to current shows.

    Zaku II

    The Zaku II became an iconic design in Japan. It shows up in unexpected places because it’s so recognizable.

    Mobile Suit Gundam was easier to recognize and understand for general audiences.  Aura Battler Dunbine is an example of a Tomino show that, while great, was harder for many people to get into.  The strong World War II influence helped the show resonate with viewers all over the world.  Many uniforms, action sequences and machines were instantly understood.  Some fans mention western science-fiction influences like the beam sabers borrowing from Star Wars’ light sabers and the Musai cruiser being an inverted Enterprise from Star Trek but these were minor, cosmetic things.  The main aesthetic came from the European theater of World War II.

    The first of the Gundam TV series had the best storyline and pacing.  Tomino put a lot of thought into the One Year War taking place through the 43 episodes.  Major events and players in that war were woven into the episodes seamlessly giving later writers in the Gundam Universe much to work with.  Some of the conflicts like Odessa Day and the battle for A Baoa Qu were too grand for the animation budget they could muster for a television show in 1979.  It’s no surprise that so many side stories and alternate retellings have been made decades later.


    The Zakrello. Still goofy after all these years.

    Some things about First Gundam are hard to ignore, however.  The awkward mecha designs still look silly even after years of admiration.  Zeon’s Dabude tank, Zakrello mobile armor, Dopp fighter plane, etc.  You may think that Nagano Mamoru contributed some crazy designs to Z Gundam but they were a marked improvement over so many oddballs from Moble Suit Gundam.  The music for the show was quite poor.  I enjoy many 70’s anime sound tracks and the style of the music doesn’t disagree with me but Studio Sunrise’s work on the show’s soundtrack resulted in dull, annoying songs that very few people will listen to today.

    Stories set in the UC Gundam setting in later years would have done well to learn from the first show.  Later entries in the Gundam franchise have sometimes veered into simple-minded anti-war propaganda (Gundam 0080 comes to mind) but the first show didn’t set that tone.  Mobile Suit Gundam had a pragmatic view of war that didn’t glorify it in any way but had room for the heroics of the main characters and admiration for those who would risk their lives to defend their homes.

    One particual issue that has bothered me over the years was later Gundam entries’ desire to write Newtype powers out of Gundam.  Although Newtype powers were a subtle influence through much of the show’s run, the final episodes make it clear that Newtype abilities are a key feature of the UC Gundam setting.

    It’s a shame I waited so long to watch the original episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam.  Although later UC Gundam anime seems to have gotten stuck in the One Year War the first show makes it clear why so many people like that part of the Gundam timeline.

    Tags: ,

  • I just finished Count to Infinity by John C. Wright (Dec. 2017).  This is the final book in the Eschaton Sequence that contains:

    • Count to a Trillion (2012)
    • The Hermetic Millennia (2013)
    • The Judge of Ages (2015)
    • The Architect of Aeons (2015)
    • The Vindication of Man (2016)
    • Count to Infinity (2017)

    These six novels tell the story of Menelaus Montrose who begins life in what’s left of Texas in the near future and lives on (with the help of technology) to the end of the universe.  Montrose earns the enmity of Ximen del Azarchel and their rivalry, as well as their opposing philosophies, become a conflict that has a lasting effect on human and then intergalactic society.

    The scope of the story is truly vast.  Wright does a masterful job of increasing the scale of the story again and again over the course of six books.  One of the themes of the narrative is what principles guide society in the best direction.  As human society goes from post apocalypse to a shining tomorrow – and then colonies throughout space – these principles become increasingly important.  The story then goes beyond humanity to advanced multiracial societies that span galactic clusters to play with the same ideas on a truly large scale.  At each step the story pauses to intelligently speculate on the effects of different philosophies when they gain preeminence.

    An unusual change from most of the science-fiction I’ve read was to limit space travel to light speed.  It gave a different and fascinating view of how interstellar, and then intergalactic, societies would form and operate.

    Similar to his Golden Age trilogy, advanced artificial intelligences become characters in the story.  In some ways they view things differently than humans but are close enough to reason with people.  The conversations that result from these exchanges give the reader much food for thought.

    The Eschaton Sequence is highly recommended for your next venture into science-fiction.  You’re in good hands with author John C. Wright.

    Tags: ,

  • Thundarr the Barbarian was an animated show by Hanna-Barbera that aired on television from 1980 to 1981.  I watched it as a youngster but only vaguely remembered it.  When I heard the OSR community was using it as a roleplaying setting at several conventions I picked up the DVD collection to jog my memory.

    Thundarr the Barbarian

    The opening credits were etched deep in my memory and were immediately familiar.  I rediscovered a great action / adventure show that didn’t deserve to be forgotten.  Thundarr, a barbarian warrior armed with a unique energy sword, rides with a mutant brute and a sorceress through what remains of the United States hundreds of years after a global disaster.  Civilization is in ruins, remnants of advanced technology are found scattered about and magical arts have somehow returned.  Thundarr and his friends travel about looking for people in need of help.  They fight off mutants, monsters and sorcerers as they struggle to protect the isolated and dwindling villages that are all that remain of society.

    Thundarr is clearly modeled after Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.  Thundarr’s title gives it away but he also mimics Conan’s colorful epithets when surprised and shares the famous hero’s dislike of sorcerers.  Unlike Conan, Thundarr sticks to one favored weapon, his “fabulous Sun Sword”, and remains in his tribe’s furs.  Conan changed his clothes to match the regions he visited and liked a good set of armor when he could get it.  The principal characters of Thundarr the Barbarian always wear the same clothes but this is common in cartoons.  It makes the characters easier to recognize for younger viewers.

    Thundarr rides across the land with his faithful friends Princess Ariel and Ookla the mok.

    Each episode is its own adventure and those adventures are good ones.  The writers never forget their focus on action and don’t waste time with distractions.  Although there’s comic relief peppered though each episode the story quickly gets under way and moves through a tightly-written story that doesn’t let up until the very end.  The episodes seem longer than 25 minutes because so much is happening.

    I appreciated the early 80’s approach to action shows.  They emphasize the story and pack in plenty of action.  Character development is kept to a minimum so we don’t get long scenes revealing anyone’s feelings.  Comic relief is woven deftly into other scenes so we avoid long, drawn out bits that only offer dopey humor.  There is no irony or sarcasm.  The events and setting are played straight so the audience can take things seriously and immerse themselves in the action.

    Thundarr the Barbarian is not without its faults.  Hanna-Barbera was so worried about possible complaints from parents that they were afraid to depict violence.  In a post apocalypse setting where a barbarian often fights for survival it’s appropriate to have some halfway realistic violence.  Guns are replaced by awkward-looking laser wands, combatants kick each other instead of using the weapons in their hands and no one dies in a fight.  The post apocalypse setting is quite interesting but suffers from a lack of world building.  There is no explanation of how magic returned to the world or how some can use it and some can’t.  We see numerous hints about a society of sorcerers but get no information about how it formed, how it operates or how it recruits.  Even the genesis of Thundarr’s team is never mentioned.  There is an over emphasis these days on prequels and origin stories but it would be nice to hear even a passing line about how Thundarr met his companions Ookla and Ariel.

    Because of the shortcomings mentioned above, I feel Thundarr the Barbarian is ripe for a remake.  Even if that remake never comes the show is more than worthy of a few hours of your time.  I got my DVD collection on Amazon.com.


  • I had to take some time away from blogging to help my children with their needs but I’m hoping I can find some time again for a few posts. I’ll make an effort in the months ahead to put up a few things related to the themes of this blog.

    My boys

    My favorite distractions.