The controversial entry in the long-running mecha franchise is often dismissed as filler. Here’s why it’s actually one of Gundam’s most crucial shows.
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ has long been considered the black sheep of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Universal Century Gundam entries. A sequel to the critically-lauded Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, ZZ follows on that series’ dark ending by opening with low-stakes comedy, turning once-serious characters such as Bright Noa and Yazan Gable into the butt of slapstick jokes.
This, combined with the absence of Gundam staples Amuro Ray and Char Aznable, causes many fans to either drop the series early on, or skip it altogether. As such, it’s common advice among the Gundam fanbase to go straight from Zeta to the climactic movie Char’s Counterattack. Despite its rough beginning, however, ZZ develops into a crucial entry in the Universal Century, and one viewers shouldn’t miss.
Gundam ZZ opens by introducing the viewer to its main cast, a group of teenage junk traders led by series protagonist Judau Ashta. Hailing from the Shangri-La colony of Side 1, Judau and company live in poverty, forced to salvage scrap to make a living in lieu of their absent parents.
Despite their predicament, Judau and his friends are a well-adjusted and jovial group, which contrasts heavily with the Argama crew who dock at Shangri-La for repairs following Zeta‘s devastating final battle. Following some shenanigans, Judau finds himself piloting the Zeta Gundam, and he and his friends are eventually recruited by Captain Bright Noa to serve on the Argama in the fight against Neo Zeon.
As a protagonist, Judau stands in stark contrast to previous Gundam leads Amuro Ray and Kamille Bidan. While Amuro and Kamille were both introverted and cold, Judau proves far more sociable, having no shame in relying on or confiding in his friends. It’s a fresh dynamic that makes ZZ stand out from its predecessors, and the good-humored nature of the Shangri-La crew offers a palate cleanser after the overwhelming darkness of Zeta‘s final act.
Unfortunately, ZZ spends a little too long meandering on Shangri-La and the comedy wears thin fast. It’s not until Episode 9 that the crew finally makes it into space and the plot starts moving, by which point many viewers have checked out.
But once ZZ finally finds its footing, it’s home to some of Gundam‘s finest episodes. The show’s second act in particular, where the Argama touches down on Earth, puts the crew through some of the franchise’s darkest chapters yet. While Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta were dark from the jump, the fact that ZZ opens on such a lighthearted note allows these moments to hit all the harder. Judau and the gang’s position as outsiders also allows them to question the series’ status quo, and it’s through this lens that ZZ interrogates previous Gundam tropes.
The show’s highlight comes with a haunting episode that finally depicts a space colony being dropped. It’s a compelling concept that’s been frequently mentioned since the first series, but it isn’t until ZZ that Gundam fully explores what such an event entails, showing both the panic in the build-up and the devastation in the aftermath.
It’s made all the more shocking by the Earth Federation’s callousness, who believe that Neo Zeon has done them a favor by ensuring there are fewer mouths to feed. ZZ makes abundantly clear throughout that the Earth Federation is rotten to the core, and how even after Zeta saw the defeat of their fascistic Titans unit, the corruption at the heart of the organization is too embedded to ignore.
ZZ pulls no punches by drawing direct parallels between the Federation’s colonialism and its real-life counterpart when Judau and crew meet several Earthnoids struggling against Federation occupation in Africa. While previous Gundams have centered around the fight for Spacenoid independence, ZZ showcases that everyone in the Gundam universe is suffering under Federation rule, Spacenoid and Earthnoid alike.
It’s this struggle at the heart of ZZ that also makes Char’s Counterattack more resonant. While nowhere near as maligned as ZZ, Char’s Counterattack is also the target of much criticism in the fanbase — namely over why Char Aznable, previously a hero in Zeta, has suddenly turned into a villain off-screen who’s hellbent on destroying the Federation by dropping an asteroid onto Earth.
With its depiction of the Federation’s corruption, ZZ showcases why Char feels compelled to do what he does in Char’s Counterattack. In Zeta, Char denounces calls to become a leader for Spacenoid independence, instead wanting to step aside so the next generation can take center stage. In light of ZZ showing said generation struggling to affect change in the grand scheme of things, Char’s change of heart between shows makes a lot more sense.
Yet by showing how Earthnoids are also subject to Federation oppression, the conflict in Char’s Counterattack gains an added element of tragedy — those same people ZZ takes pains to humanize becoming potential victims of the impending asteroid drop. Thanks to ZZ, Char’s Counterattack goes from being a simple tale of good guys and bad guys to a far more complex story about the cost of violent resistance against an oppressive status quo.
Every Gundam series has its ups and downs, and it’s unfortunate that ZZ frontloads its downs. Once it gets over that hump, however, ZZ is home to some of the richest and most thoughtful storytelling Gundam has to offer, and is worthy of any fan’s time.