In starting this blog I hoped, among other things, to grant myself some free space to take notes on items published elsewhere. Yesterday threw up a good opportunity: Zimmerit’s just issued a translation of an interview with Kazuhisa Kondo, an artist and mechanical designer who’s had a long career in and around Gundam.
First off, I suggest you go read the interview! I shall just pull out and expand on a few points which prodded my brain.
Sean’s opening preamble made me think about the contingency or unfixedness of Gundam’s first decade-and-change. In 2020, one might easily feel inevitability hanging around Gundam, as it hangs around ageing and the weather. Looking back, though, we must try to think ourselves into a world where Gundam could have gone in other directions, or could simply not have gone anywhere: witness the initial fate of the original TV show.
So, for example, when Zeta Gundam aired, no one could see it as merely the first sequel in a very long succession. This might (or might not) have something to do with the oddness of Zeta, a show which, successfully or otherwise, wanders further from its roots than many later titles do.
This interview, meanwhile, dates to around 1992, when the original Mobile Suit Gundam was roughly as old as Gurren Lagann is now: no longer fresh, even perhaps a classic in the foreshortened time of fan memory, but not yet as much of an institution as it is now. A playful spitballing with the details of the One Year War comes through in Kondo’s replies here. As Sean remarks—and he knows this territory much better than I—this time fostered an array of different print stories pursuing what we might think of as different possible future directions for Gundam.
All past things have this unfixedness, and ask the same historical effort of us, even if that effort can never wholly work. Gundam simply offers a clearer demonstration, since it lies strung-out at a greater length across time, leaving its intricacies and tensions more visible.
The fact that this interview explicitly raises the Axis echoes or, more specifically, Third Reich echoes in some Gundam aesthetics of this period makes it a particular curiosity. I agree that a Nazification of the imagery attached to Zeon kicked in at around the time these side-stories flourished, and I share the feeling that getting into that entails writing at rather greater length than I will here!
I’d add, though, that, a little earlier, Gundam ZZ had poked in some ways at this sore spot at least once, around the middle of its run in 1986. I don’t know how fair this is, but one could see that as a kind of return. In the interim, Zeta had looked, as Armoured Trooper Votoms and Dougram did, to the satellite power rivalries, postcolonial wranglings and brush conflicts of the Cold War. Yet there remained details latent in Mobile Suit Gundam and its One Year War which would find a ready audience in otaku, innocent or otherwise, from the mid-eighties and on.