Getting into Gundam (and Other Long-Running Anime) – This Week in Anime

Nick and Chris tackle the issue of getting into long-running anime series—and why it’s not really the intimidating prospect it might appear to be at first glance.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Spoiler Warning for discussion of these series ahead.

Gundam the Witch From Mercury, Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Gundam Build Fighters, One Piece, BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!!, Soaring Sky! Pretty Cure, Yohane the Parhelion: Sunshine in the Mirror, and Mobile Suit Gundam are streaming on Crunchyroll. Mobile Suit Gundam compilation movies, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean are streaming on Netflix. Gundam Build Metaverse is streaming on YouTube


Nick, it’s happened. After decades of anime protags struggling to get into the giant robot, some anime viewers are now saying it’s too hard to get into the show about the giant robots.

Well then, I suppose it falls to us to be the stern and ethically questionable parental figures making these brats step into the cockpit. Dibs on being the one who makes it out alive.
That’s fine, I think I’ll do well as an ethereal hallucination at the climax of the final battle.

Yes, it seems one of the discourses du jour in anime circles over the last couple of weeks was the argument that the storied Gundam franchise, and other long-runners like it, can be just too hard for newbies to start up. Probably untrue, as we’ll prove, but it’s an interesting launching point for discussion nonetheless.

It’s a topic that I try to be understanding about. As somebody who stood outside of Gundam fandom for a long while, I remember the franchise—and plenty of other long-running IPs with tons of entries—feeling intimidating and obtuse. I sympathize with anybody struggling to crack that shell. On the other hand, stop being babies, nerds. You’re scared of a cartoon. Just go pick one and watch it. Do you think your grandparents worried about what episode of I Love Lucy was the right place to get on board?

That’s perhaps a good place to start and an indication of why our creaky old generation has less trouble with this sort of thing. Many of us got our first taste of anime by watching it on TV! On an airing schedule that we had to accommodate! And virtually none of us watched Dragon Ball Z from the beginning—we got dropped into some episode in the middle of the Namek arc and just had to roll with it.
Which is even funnier since starting at the beginning of DBZ still meant skipping over 150 episodes of the original Dragon Ball, which everyone in the US had to do because that section of the anime didn’t come out here until years after. So practically an entire generation of anime fans started somewhere in the middle of the middle.
It’s fine not just because this is just the way watching shows worked in the pre-streaming era, but because Dragon Ball‘s plotting generally isn’t too impenetrable. You can pick up on stuff as you go—probably helped a bit by Toriyama himself forgetting about characters and plot points from years earlier.

Though this methodology applied to everything watched on TV—and speaking to the progenitor of this discussion—being a kid and trying to follow the plot of Gundam Wing via scattered episode airings could be a bit trickier.
To be fair even watching Wing in order is an exercise in confusion. Characters in that show will change motivation and personality multiple times in the same scene, let alone episode or story arc. But I guess just winging it and air-dropping onto a show in the middle isn’t a foolproof strategy. Though with the death of linear broadcast that’s also not as big an issue these days.

That’s the thing: The streaming era has made it a theoretical cinch to load up virtually any show you want to get into and give it a shot. So if someone did want to start Dragon Ball from the beginning and watch through Super, they could. The challenge nowadays with multifaceted franchises like Gundam seems to be: With so many options for starting points, where do you start?

There are many answers, depending on the person, the franchise, and what’s even available at any given time or region. From the outside, it looks impenetrable—with talks of timelines and centuries and alternate universes. Oddly enough my entrance into the franchise was from the goofy spinoff about kids smashing their Gundam models together.
Gundam Build Fighters is a wild entry, in that it’s loaded with fanservice and in-jokes that only the most dedicated of fans will get all of. But it’s also designed as a fresh, extremely accessible story to bring in a whole new audience to sell plastic models to. Which it was wildly successful at.

Hilarious that this fun-first entry-point toy commercial aired in the same season as the absurdly dense Tomino timeline trip that was Reconguista in G.
Late-era Tomino is its own whole bucket of fish when it comes to being impenetrable, but I do genuinely think Build Fighters offers something as an onboarding ramp. While it’s as tonally disparate from basically any mainline entry as possible, there’s an intense passion for the entire franchise and its history—and that is infectious. Even if you don’t get that half the character arcs are allusions, or that 90% of the background characters are cameos from other shows, seeing how much the people making it love all things Gundam made me want to see just what all the fuss was about. And from there, it’s been a rewarding—if massively inconsistent—journey.
I don’t know exactly how galling that makes it when the classic Build Fighters kids have looped around to becoming crowd-pleaser cameos themselves in Sunrise‘s latest misbegotten metaverse-based entry in this corner of the franchise, but at least I can’t say there’s no precedent for it.

Gundam Build Metaverse sucks ass to an astounding degree. I’m gonna tell people to just start whatever entry they want later but do not start with that sack of crap.

Really, the secret of Gundam is that it’s always been specifically designed by Sunrise, Bandai, and the rest to be as easy to on-ramp into as possible. You can’t keep selling toys if your media isn’t consistently bringing in new viewers. Hell, one of Gundam‘s most recent entries seemed to be wildly successful at drawing in that neophyte audience—which just makes it that much odder to now be catching trending YouTube videos and podcasts about how the franchise is supposedly impossible to pick up.

Part of it is an issue of perception – when you simply see a giant gestalt of Gundam, picking a place to start is like picking out a single tree in a forest you just spotted over the horizon. So sometimes it’s useful to just have a guide that can break down what’s what—or better yet, a knowledgeable friend who can recommend a title that would be to your tastes. Having somebody explain the difference between a SEED and a 00—or just tell you that the show called The Origin isn’t the best place to start—can be a huge help.

It’s more positive than being resigned to the idea that it’s purely impenetrable and not even worth trying. There is the potential for interpersonal preferences to seemingly complicate things—I know people will still go to war over whether the TV cut or the movie compilations of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime is the better starting choice. But does it matter when both options are easily available and you can easily go back and check the other out later if you like?

Honestly I think a lot of the friction comes down to a certain kind of mind goblin that can make people think they need to watch everything. Or that they need to start at the beginning and work their way through release or chronologically. While that’s a valid approach if it works for you, it also tends to make entertainment feel like homework. I’ve had folks say similar things about the sheer length of One Piece and how it feels like a huge time commitment.

The discussion over getting into One Piece has practically become a parody of itself by this point. Yes, there’s a ton of it, but it’s still a linear story with a beginning you can start at and just be off to the (very long) races. Still, at times it seems like the publishers and channels themselves like to play into the myth of One Piece‘s uphill entryway by continuously putting out new ways to start watching it.

In that regard, my advice is to just…try it. Like, if it interests you, just go watch it and see what you think. Don’t think of it as starting some huge project that you have to reach the end of—just think of it as a new food to try out and see if you like it. If you don’t, you’re free to walk away. If you do, congrats, you have decades’ worth of new stuff to chow down on.

Alternatively, do what I did: Just jump straight into the middle of the story when Crunchyroll started simulcasting with the Sabaody Archipelago arc.

Like crash-landing on planet Namek all over again, seamless! So long as you know the basics of One Piece, Sabaody ain’t a bad place to jump on.

That’s another thing: trust yourself to be smart enough to learn from context. Even with a show as lengthy and interconnected as One Piece, the storytelling itself is still familiar enough that you can get by on inference. If a new character shows up that you don’t recognize, you can figure out what their deal is by just seeing them interact with the ones you do. Believe in your own media literacy!

Even franchises designed with multiple, technically independently accessible entries will likely require some intuiting of overarching elements. There are a billion Fate/stay night spin-offs that don’t strictly need familiarity with the original and any proper nouns you don’t recognize can just be handwaved as part and parcel of how labyrinthine that series always is anyway. Similarly, I know several people who freestyled the order they read JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure parts based on what they thought looked coolest and got by just fine.

Jojo‘s is an interesting reversal of this conversation since there’s a decades-long argument in the fandom about whether or not it’s okay to “skip parts” to get into it. On the one hand, I understand the desire of existing fans to get newbies a comprehensive, holistic view of the whole series. On the other, the cries that you have to watch in a certain order and must never skip around to your liking is a great way to drive people off.

Especially as JoJo became a communal watch event during its anime run (at least until Netflix put the kibosh on that with Stone Ocean), I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for just hopping onto the latest one to be a part of the conversation. When you’re not a joyless gatekeeper, it’s fun to see newbies come into something you like with no context for what they’re reacting to.

That joy is exactly why I want to push back against the idea that any older franchise or long-running series is “impossible” to get into. When you love something the way longtime Gundam-heads do—or how I love Macross—it’s great to see friends or even strangers discover all the stuff you’ve internalized. Sometimes it’s just funny to see people get blindsided like the famous Space Oomfie tweet:

When the official account acknowledges you later on, you know you’ve made it.

It’s cool to get a new perspective! Or even to see other people go through the same journey we once did. I love it when a friend starts watching Macross 7 and goes from hating Nekki Basara to loving that stupid, singing, space hippie the same way I did.

See, I’ve attended your regular sermons at the First Church of Listen To My Song enough that I know I’ll be primed to love him out of the gate whenever I get to that entry.

Oh trust me, the evangelizing will only grow more zealous when those Blu-ray sets start coming out. I have the series digest and everything ready to go.
Nick Order: The Machete Order of Macross.
I know what you mean about perspective and fresh appreciation though. I’m pretty sure seeing a bunch of new people get sucked into BanG Dream!‘s thoroughly insane spin-off, It’s MyGO!!!!!, last year singlehandedly reinvigorated my love for a franchise I’ve been following for years.

Even if it did come alongside needing to confirm for those newcomers that the other entries in the series generally weren’t quite like that.
That’s also valuable advice, though. A lot of franchises will branch off in different directions, and providing that context to newbies can help them manage their expectations in important ways. To reference that little infographic, I was initially really put off by the tone of Macross Plus and almost didn’t continue with the franchise because so many had insisted it was the perfect entry point. It was only after I gave 7 a chance and fell in love with it that my addiction took hold.
Even if someone doesn’t have a trusted friend familiar with their tastes to say “No, I know you, you’ll want to start watching Gundam with 08th MS Team,” just having an awareness of the breadth available in a franchise can help if you’re compelled to get into it. It’s why I always appreciate recommendation lists that highlight the specific appeals of each entry, rather than singling out one as The Chosen Gateway Series.
There’s not a wrong reason to start any given entry, either. I picked up the 08th MS Team because I saw a GIF from it with some cool robot animation. I tried 00 because my friend got an Exia kit that looked awesome. I watched Iron-Blooded Orphans as it aired because Mari Okada is a madwoman. All of these reasons are equally valid.

Sometimes a new entry can sell itself that well as an entry point just based on looking cool. I think of the new people who checked out the premiere of Soaring Sky! Pretty Cure, the actual twentieth entry in the Precure franchise on account of it sporting some new twists on the magical girl formula and cool designs by the Love Live! Superstar!! artist.

And then Love Live!, meanwhile, is a franchise where I presume newcomers generally pick out an entry to start with by just identifying a prospective Best Girl from a lineup and beginning with whatever season they’re from.
God help anybody who starts with Yohane the Parhelion and then spends the next 8 seasons of TV asking why there aren’t more talking dogs.
Sunshine in the Mirror itself is so funny. It’s technically as stand-alone and newbie-friendly as any of the Love Live! seasons, despite being a high-concept April-Fools-originating spin-off of a spin-off.

Someone out there is going to get into Love Live! by curiously playing the Metroidvania video game based on this—and that is also valid.
Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, and if they decide to watch 40-some-odd anime girls sing their hearts out after watching some of them kill monsters as sprite-art, more power to them. Maybe getting into Gundam would seem less impossible if they started putting out more left-field spin-offs. You can’t tell me there’s not a market for a dating sim where all the romance options are Char clones.
Getting onto the Aznable route is tricky, you have to become like a mother to him.
Still, there’s something to that irreverence, in that part of letting yourself get into a franchise like Gundam is not being so precious about the material and the “right” way to start it. The fact is, if someone’s already played a bit of a Gundam video game or picked a model kit off the shelves of their local HobbyTown, they are already into Gundam! Having a huge sampler platter of potential new stuff to try out once you’re in ought to be exciting.
The moral of the story is that getting into that robot isn’t nearly as hard as it seems from the ground. Sure, it’s tall and imposing, but it’ll open right up to you if you have the nerve to approach it—and you’ll find all sorts of stuff in there you won’t expect. Like mountains of violence enacted upon (and by) children! Also, there’s an actual toilet seen in some of them. Don’t ask about the weird stains inside Barbatos’ cockpit, it’s a whole story to tell.

I feel like this metaphor got away from me.

No worries, long and complicated and inconsistent is how we like both our metaphors and our anime franchises. But yeah, I hope this approach has made clear that getting into a series like Gundam isn’t impossible, and is in fact, super easy. Whether you start with the original series, Witch From Mercury, or Doozy Bots.

…Actually, maybe there is a wrong way or two for getting into these things.
Never say that name here again.

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