For the past 40 years, the mecha genre has been one of anime’s biggest attractions. The Mobile Suit Gundam franchise which debuted in 1979, was the beginning of the “realistic mecha genre.” While its initial broadcast was a ratings failure, through reruns, merchandising sales, and a reboot movie trilogy, it has been going non-stop. Since 1994, the franchise has been split between two timelines. One is the Universal Century (or UC for short) which connects back to the first Gundam series, and you have alternate universe series such as Gundam Wing and Iron-Blooded Orphans. Considering that Bandai/Sunrise still produces new content for the Universal Century timeline, we’d like to share in what chronological order you should watch Universal Century Gundam.
-- SPOILERS AHEAD --
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: April 25, 2015 - May 5, 2018
If you’re going to watch Gundam in chronological order as opposed to release order, then you have to start with The Origin. It’s a six-part OVA series that tells the origin of Char Aznable, the antagonist turned anti-hero of the original Universal Century releases. Through Origin, viewers can learn why Char becomes the man he is in the original Gundam series, Zeta Gundam, and Char’s Counterattack. You see how he develops his skills as a pilot and his cunning as a leader. In addition, you learn a bit about some other characters from the original series like Ranba Ral and you get a glimpse of what Amuro was doing shortly before he became the Gundam pilot. While The Origin came out 35 years after Gundam’s debut, its artistic style is still very much in-tune with the original series since Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the character designer of the original series, also served as the designer for The Origin. When you watch The Origin, it’ll make your viewing experience of the UC (especially from Gundam to Char’s Counterattack) much richer!
Mobile Suit Gundam Trilogy
- Episodes: 3
- Aired: March 14, 1981 - March 13, 1982
As to why we are suggesting the trilogy over the original series, it’s because the remake trilogy serves as the official canon. The Trilogy is comprised of Mobile Suit Gundam I, Mobile Suit Gundam II: Soldiers of Sorrow, and Mobile Suit Gundam III: Encounters in Space. As to how they differ, that’s another article for another time. So what proof do we have that the trilogy is the official canon? It’s provided in Char’s Counterattack. As Char recalls in that movie when Lalah (his companion) was killed by Amuro in Encounters in Space, Char remembers he almost killed Sayla, his own sister. In the flashback in Char’s Counterattack, Sayla is piloting the Core Booster fighter jet, which is Sayla’s jet in the movie. In the original series, Sayla was piloting the G-Fighter in that scene.
The trilogy excellently condenses 43 episodes into three 2-hour movies and tells the same story and gets rid of the “gimmicks” (such as the G-Fighter and the Gundam’s ball-in-chain) from the original TV series to give it a more realistic feel.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: March 25, 1989 - August 25, 1989
0080 was the first Gundam installment not directed by its original creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino. This side story takes place around Christmas of UC 0079 so it coincides with the climax of the original trilogy. The main setting of 0080 is the neutral space colony of Side 6, which was introduced in the third movie of the trilogy, and viewers are treated to the point of view of Alfred Izuruha, a fifth-grader who thinks war is cool until he experiences it first hand.
Considering that Grave of the Fireflies premiered a year before 0080, the theme of telling a war story from the point of view of a child seemed to be a novelty to capitalize on. Through 0080, fans can learn that in war, both sides have their good and bad people, and the effect war has on children. Lastly, the battles offer a different sense of intensity since they focus more on guerrilla tactics as opposed to going in guns blazing.
Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 25, 1996 - July 25, 1999
Like 0080, 08th MS Team is another side story that takes place during the events of the third movie of the original trilogy. In this installment, the Earth Federation finally has its own mass-produced mech platoons, which is what the titular 08th MS Team is. What makes this series unique compared to other Gundam installments is that opposed to having “evolved” humans duking it out, audiences are treated to more “realistic” battles, as they take place in the jungle, and those conditions play a huge part in the outcome.
While Shiro, the main character, can be a cowboy at times, he’s a leader by example and he really cares about his soldiers. 08th MS Team largely relies on tactics and each member of the squad has a certain role to play, and if one member fails, then the whole team could meet their doom. Compared to the traditional heroic elements in other Gundam installments where pilots can be overpowered. The battles in 08th MS team offer a distinct sense of danger that’ll have you on the edge of your seat!
For some shout outs, if you want to include video games and some one-shots, we can briefly include some to make your experience with the Universal Century much deeper. For video games, we recommend Blue Destiny for the Sega Saturn and Rise from the Ashes on Dreamcast as they both take place within the timeframe of the third movie. For one-shots, we certainly recommend you check out Thunderbolt (or its original manga), one of the most intense stories within the UC timeline and MS IGLOO. As for manga that have no anime adaptations, you’re going to have to wait for part 2.