Sadly, this review isn’t nearly as much fun as my Gundam Wing review… Gundam X is a much better program, and so it’s harder to mock. In the chronology of the Gundam Universe, this series aired directly following Wing, and somehow despite a noticable improvement in quality, suffered poor ratings, ultimately clocking in ten episodes short of the intended 49, totaling 39. Thus, I began my ‘halfway’ review at around episode 20.
(NOTE: I do intend to do a wrap-up review of Wing, but I still need to find the time to watch Endless Waltz on YouTube, which is a bit of a pain in the neck… But I haven’t forgotten!)
The story of After War: Gundam X is not terribly complex, but it’s solid. It is an “alternate universe” in the more typical definition of the word; that is, you can actually trace the point at which the AW timeline of X diverges from that of the UC. In this world, the rebelling space-fairing forces actually managed to stage a world-wide colony drop, ravaging the face of the planet, and reducing the planet’s population to something like less than a percent, if I remember correctly. That event occurred 15 years prior to the opening of the series.
In this strange new world, by and large devoid of humans, the survivors cling to the surface, struggling to rebuild their world. Confusion reigns, and people are more or less self-sufficient, with no sense of any collective, global conscience, for the moment at least. The main characters are a class of adventurers called “Vultures.” I’m not sure if that word has such a negative connotation in the Japanese language as it does in English, but nonetheless, the protagonists all seem to be happy with the label. They scour the Earth, looking for left over and abandoned equipment from the war, selling it off for money to maintain repairs on their ship and to their weapons, as well as to feed their crews.
Jamil is captain of the Frieden (Germ: Joy), a Vulture craft. The first story arc focuses on how the headstrong young mobile suit pilot Garrod, and the Newtype Tiffa, come to join his crew. With them comes the GX-9900 Gundam, the ultimate weapon of the old federation which unleashed the attack that in turn triggered the colony drop. Jamil, guilt-ridden for his contribution to the war 15 years ago, now makes his living as a Vulture, all the while seeking out Newtypes in order to protect them.
Garrod is the main focus of the series, but given that he eventually joins the crew of the Frieden, that becomes much less apparent later on, when the entire crew gets roughly equal screentime. Garrod is a 15 year old punk, hasty and too bold at times, but also quite resourceful. One of my favorite things about Garrod is he’s a pretty believable character. We know little about his past (or it escapes me/has not been revealed), but it’s easy enough to understand him: he’s a hot-shot out to prove that just because he’s a kid doesn’t mean he can be ignored.
Constantly rushing in without looking at what’s ahead, Garrod finds himself in countless tight spots. More often than not, Roybea and Witz, the “hired guns” on Jamil’s ship, arrive in their respective Gundams to back him up. These two guys are pretty interesting characters, because while it would be easy to write them as either “faux-twins” (basically the same person with different animations) or polar opposites, neither is actually the case. One entire episode is devoted to telling their respective backstories, and you slowly come to see the reasons why each fights. Most of the time, they get along like old buddies, kidding around, watching out for each other, and so on. However, the current arc I’m midway through actually sees them at odds with one another, which has been fun to watch. One of the most impressive points about X so far is that they’ve received development at all.
That supporting characters get this treatment is fantastic, and the principles are no exception. Both Tiffa and Garrod are noticeably changed by the events that transpire on board their ship. They both begin to understand what it means living with the rest of the crew, and it comes to define their interactions with the rest of their shipmates. Contrast this with the static and mysterious Capt. Jamil, the former Federation Soldier, and his first mate, Sarah. They don’t seem to change much, but they’re already, for the most part, responsible, empathetic characters that lend most of the support the rest of the crew needs from time to time. Even more minor characters, such as Kid, the ‘boy wonder’ chief mechanic, and the Doctor that takes care of the crew, step up to the plate and prove interesting and complex, in spite of their limited screentime.
Tiffa, most of all, I like. Her character, the strange shy girl with tremendous power (characteristic of a Newtype), is so easy to screw up from a writing standpoint. In order to maintain the “mystery” aspect, they usually would just mute this character (I’ve seen it done… Neon Genesis Evangelion, that was directed at you, in spite of our love affair). That way, if she never says anything, you never know what she’s thinking. I was very worried that Tiffa would be like this, and she was, a bit at first. But then she starts speaking, because the crew starts listening. Her feelings about many things (like helping Jamil, caring for the Frieden, etc.) are easily enough discerned from her actions. However, she’s still reserved (never is seen joking around or playing with her shipmates), and much to his chagrin, seems ambivalent to Garrod’s shy and timid romantic advances.
Once more, I can’t emphasize enough that the real joy of watching Gundam X has been seeing how these characters progress and develop. All of this only from the first half of the series! Contrast this with Wing, in which what pass for ‘characters’ in that program are more or less scripted archetype-automatons that respond the same way in the first episode as they do in the last (Quatre and Trowa being the exceptions, perhaps, and Duo getting points for not being half as irritating as the remaining cast). Remember Heero’s “I Fight Because There Is Fighting!” speech? None of that trash here; not even close.
Not to continue contrasting this to Wing, but I feel like I can do that because they were aired back-to-back, and I watched them in the corresponding order. Here is one spot where Gundam Wing proves the better. Gundam X is a really well-written show, but there are really only one or two interesting suits. Whatever model of the GX Garrod pilots is fantastic to watch. Witz’s Airmaster is cool too, transforming many times in a single battle from humanoid form to an airplane mode. Roybea’s Leopard is essentially an artillery platform, spending most of the battles shooting endless supplies of missiles into the fray. But that’s it.
The enemy suits encountered are very generic, (even the OZ mobile dolls had a bit of character to them, or at the very least you knew their model types!) and given that their average screenlife is about 2 seconds, and then they explode, it’s hard to really give a damn about them. The two antagonists that recur have confusing and odd suits, cited by the crew as “Freaky Gundams” in the translation I’m watching. That about sums it up. They’re goofy looking, and have extendo-arms, and show up long enough to make a mess of things, and then they run away. So complex is their makeup though that it’s almost impossible to identify one from the other, and even then, understanding what you’re looking at is a bit of a chore with those guys.
So yeah, only the two or maybe three really cool suits, but that’s OK. They’re cycled and upgraded often enough that you never really get bored of watching them get the crap beat from them every other episode. Plus the satellite cannon is a pretty sweet (and actually technologically feasible!) weapon.
The best thing I can say about X is that it’s a well crafted story. It’s composed of about 8-9 arcs, each lasting about a handful of episodes, with it’s own set of new characters that join the regulars for that arc. The structure is almost reminiscent of a serial or comic book, as within the arc every episode ends on an air of tension. Unlike Wing, with the mega-generic recap that occurs at the start of each episode that contains ZERO useful information in it the 2nd-15th time seeing it, X updates you on exactly how the last episode ended.
The best part here is that this recap normally goes about 20-30 seconds PAST what you’ve already seen. You can’t ignore it, because there is a tiny scrap of new material, even in the recap, which is, in 4-out-of-5 instances, masterfully timed to recapture the suspense you felt at the conclusion of the previous episode, and then they throw you into the intro sequence! Once or twice this was done so well I even got goosebumps! Then, at the close of an arc, they lay off. That leg is over, and they’re not going to drag you along to the next one if you don’t fancy it. Thus, with nothing suspenseful to recap, the following arc-opening episode usually begins with a small prologue, giving you helpful information to understand what is about to unfold.
I don’t know how else to put it: it’s respectful, intelligent, professional story telling. The episodes seemed to be crafted with a purpose in mind, as opposed to a 30-episode story stretched to its limits to fill 50 episodes, and then haphazardly diced up indiscriminately where it was convenient (YES, GUNDAM WING, I AM GLARING AT YOU). It’s masterful, and I’ve enjoyed it greatly.
Not available in America, I’m getting pretty close to buying a crap-copy of this program, so enamored am I with it thus far! I’ll let you know how it winds down, but let’s just say I’ve got high hopes.
ADDENDUM: Sorry, I just thought of this; the episode titles! They’re always quotes from the show, which I thought was neat. At the very least, it’s a step up from Wing:
|Episode No.||Wing Title||X Title|
|10||Heero, Distracted by Defeat||I Am a Newtype|
|18||Tallgeese Destroyed||The Sea of Lorelei|
|25||Quatre vs. Heero||You Are Our Stars of Hope|
…so maybe that wasn’t quite as scathing of a commentary as I meant to level, but Wing’s titles are just plain terrible. Seriously, can you guess what happens in episode 18: Tallgeese Destroyed? THE TALLGEESE GETS DESTROYED. Come on. Maybe X’s sound a little fluffy, but at least they’re not spoilers. Actually done now.
[LIES! Final comment, is to take a look at this fantastic review of Gundam X. I was looking around for some images to stick in the post, and I came across this review. He says what I say far more concisely, I do admit, but it’s more or less the exact sentiment I was getting at with my survey of the show! ]