May 14, 2018
PoeticJustice (All reviews)
The mid to late nineties was a dark time for the Gundam franchise. After several flops for once famed director, Yoshiyuki Tomino, he seemed to be on his way out from the anime community. His interesting blend of politics, misanthropy, and cynicism was finally losing its novelty. After the poorly received Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Tomino entered a several year hiatus. The hiatus seemed to have no end in sight until he came back in 1999 with Turn A Gundam, arguably the strongest written anime Tomino has ever produced.
Turn A Gundam is a rejection of Tomino’s prior Gundam entries in many ways. While it retains the anti-war message, it replaces his message of cynicism with a newfound hope in humanity’s future. It seems in his hiatus from the anime world, he was able to channel his feelings into a much more focused vision. Using all the experience from his prior endeavors as both an author and director, Turn A Gundam is the answer to both the Gundam universe and Tomino’s own personal strife. Where Zeta was cruel and bleak, Turn A is optimistic and expresses a hope in people that Tomino never had before.
Turn A Gundam follows Loran Cehack, a young man from the Moon who was sent to Earth to see if it is ready to be colonized. He spends some time with an Earth family after he was found near dead. Loran soon learns to love the Heim family and become enamored with the Earth and its culture. He tells the officials back on the moon that the Earth is ready for settlement, little did he know that this would spark a conflict that threatens the existence of the entire human race. This initial premise is vastly different from previous Gundam entries which focused on the conflict between Earth and space. Here the conflict focuses on colonizers and the colonized which is untouched territory in anime.
Turn A Gundam tackles the subject of colonization with a finesse that most other anime would not be able to pull off. It is divided into several smaller story arcs with the larger narrative of the Moonrace’s colonization of the Earth tying all these arcs together. Loran tries to balance his new love for the people of the Earth with his loyalty to the Moonrace, his birthrace. He encounters the people of Earth, the rural folk separated from society trying to make a living off farming and how colonization has impacted their livelihood. We see the small store owner who has to sacrifice his own business to placate the hostile invaders. We see the strife and pain of farming folk who lived lives untouched by war or technology. There is an intimacy in every encounter, a personal touch that other Gundam entries lack due to their epic scale of the narrative.

Like all prior Gundam entries, there is never a simple black and white dichotomy. There are those who are part of the Moonrace who also desire peace, who do not wish to see bloodshed on either side. It is this commonality that both sides share allow for moments of diplomacy. Gundam has always been highly political and Turn A Gundam is no different. There are a lot of conversations between the leaders of Earth and The Moon that are easily the highlight of the series. Gundam has always, for me, been the best political anime I have seen. It does not preach political philosophy to you; rather it presents a circumstance for its characters that can only be solved through conversation. The dialogue, which is sometimes stilted in its delivery, never ceases to be informative or well written throughout.

The art of Turn A Gundam reminds me of the American Gothic painting by Grant Wood. The color palate is full of light yellows, whites and beiges. It creates this classic Americana feeling and captures the spirit of a mid-1800s America. The art is easily one of the many highlights of the anime. The soundtrack, done by Yoko Kanno, captures both the delicate moments and the darker, tenser ones. Tracks such as Theory of the World’s Edge blends both an industrial beat with bagpipes highlighting the contrast of cultures in the form of sound. It comes together toward the end into a harmonious, luminous track that is more than music, it is an experience. There is also the track, The First Advent – God’s Scorn, which has an orchestral feeling with operatic vocals giving the track a dark, foreboding, tone. Turn A Gundam’s soundtrack ranks among Kanno’s best.

Turn A’s cast is varied in terms of character and their symbolic purpose. The protagonist, Loran Cehack, is simple to understand in terms of personality. He is a pacifist, against violence and believes that both Earthlings and the Moonrace can live in harmony. Not only does he believe that, he represents that. Loran is the bridge between the two worlds and can navigate through them, highlighting the humanity that both sides share yet ignore due animosity and ignorance. This animosity and ignorance is what caused the conflict between Newtypes and Oldtypes in prior Gundam anime. Tomino posed a question to his viewers, ‘Can people get along although they are drastically different.’ Loran is the answer to that question, a resounding yes. He may not be as complex as Kamille or Amuro but he serves a higher symbolic purpose than those characters. Not to say they are bad characters, in terms of personality and character traits I highly prefer Kamille and Amuro to Loran. But Turn A Gundam is a show where ideals supersede reality.

Dianna Soriel, the Queen of the Moonrace and her Earth counterpart, Kihel Heim, are probably the best written characters in Turn A. They switch roles early on in the story, since they are almost identical, and serve as both a way to explore their respective worlds without intrusive exposition and their respective characters. Dianna takes Kihel’s place on Earth while Kihel becomes Queen of the Moonrace. Dianna learns about humanity, interacting with the people of Earth who have had their lives ruined by colonization which Kihel learns the responsibility of a leader. These are the strongest characters in the show, not because they emulate a man’s behavior. They exude a beauty and strength associated with the female gender, the strength of compassion and conviction. The best moment in the show is a speech given by Kihel/Dianna to both the people of Earth and the Moonrace. A plea for peace so moving it nearly brought tears to my eyes. The strength of female characters, especially in the West, is associated with them being as close to a man in behavior and ability as possible, rejecting femininity. Tomino has often been accused of sexism, however, he has written arguably one of the best female characters I have seen in both anime and western fiction that maintains a feminine beauty. Kate Chopin BTFO.

Queen Dianna’s most trusted guard, Harry Ord, is a char clone on par with the Red Comet himself. He takes Char’s best attributes, wit and ambition and rejects the other flaws, arrogance and sociopathy. The flaws are what makes Char a great character but it is loyalty that makes Harry a great one as well. He could be viewed as the answer to Char as character. What Char should have been if he was not hampered by his own flaws, he would be close to what Harry is. The dialogue that is going on between these two characters also serves to tie in the many universes of Gundam.

Turn A Gundam is the answer to the Gundam Franchise, Tomino’s final call for peace. It would have been a magnificent swan song for him, ending on one of the most beautiful pieces of fiction I have seen in some time. Although there were moments that dragged, specifically the beginning, the middle and end more than make up for whatever slumps there were. Turn A Gundam is the ethos of every Gundam series converging into a single point and forming a singular identity, no longer fragmented by doubt or cynicism. I will undoubtedly be screaming “UNIVERSE” from now on.