The animation in old Gundam

I don’t possess anywhere near the amount of animation expertise as some people. I can’t pick out individual animators, nor am I well versed in animation directors. However, I do know art, and I do know what I like, so let’s see if I can say something semi-intelligent about animation.

A couple of nights ago I was looking through my Gundam folder for a picture. This picture was a series of six weird looking frames from the notorious 15th of episode of First Gundam– Cucuruz Doan’s Island. While looking for this picture, I came across a bunch of other great stills from the TV series, and it reminded me of how much I just loved the animation in the original Gundam series.

Let’s be honest– the original Gundam TV series had some pretty clunky looking animation. That said, while the animation was really clunky, and at times downright ugly– the movement of characters and mecha was always filled with personality. Thankfully the movie cuts knock out of most of the ugly, and keep the personality.

What do I mean by personality, though? I mean the animation is filled with life. It isn’t sterilized and cleaned up. It’s raw. When the mecha move, even in the nicer looking episodes of the series, they don’t always conform to their models, nor do they act as real machines would. They bend in weird ways and move in a cartoonish manner. Let me dig out a picture to illustrate my point.

Take a look at this picture. The first thing I want you to notice is the Gundam Hammer– it’s not a perfect circle. In fact, it’s actually very much an oval. This frame is just one in a series of frames drawn to depict the movement of the Hammer hitting the Zaku. But why isn’t the Hammer perfectly round? When the Hammer is stretched out like that, it works as sort of a motion blur– it helps the motion seem faster and stronger. Also, notice how bent up the Zaku is. I doubt metal really bends like that, but when drawn in such a way, that Zaku looks pretty fucked up. I suspect it explodes in the next couple of frames. This is what I love about the animation in Gundam– it’s really kinetic. It sacrifices detail for movement, and as a result things tend to flow in a very visually pleasing way.

One thing I noticed about the original Gundam series is how there’s a lot of western influence. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s designs are very much Japanese, but his contoured, free-flowing lines remind me more of western character designs. The animation itself is also really free flowing and cartoony, free of a lot of obsessive attention to making things move totally realistically. One of my favourite scenes (animation wise) in Gundam isn’t even mecha or character related at all. It’s when the Zeon are landing in Jabro. When they land, you see a snake sleeping on a tree. Once a Zaku or whatever lands right near the snake, the snake’s eyes pop out and I believe its stripes do, too. After that it comes back together and probably falls down. I love this scene.

Sadly, this approach to animation has died in Gundam, and in most Sunrise mecha shows in general. When you watch something like Gundam SEED, Code Geass, or even Gundam 00, the animation is very sterile. There’s no personality in any of the movement, and it’s all very calculated. I understand the mainstream prefers this, but I find it kind of boring.

However, the cartoony, kinetic movement of old Gundam and the like is still alive today. Just look at Gurren Lagann and its various violations of laws of reality. Hell, even look at Clannad. KyoAni, known for their very clean animation that adheres strictly to character sheets gets pretty crazy at times, and by “at times” I mean “whenever Kyou beats the shit out of Sunohara.”