Fanime 2011: A Girl's Guide to Gundam
Do girls watch Gundam? They must if there was A Girl's Guide to Gundam panel at FanimeCon 2011. I wanted to find out who the the girls are that watch Gundam and why they watch it. Note that I am not a girl, but I attended a Gundam panel for girls.
Despite what some of the Gundam mecha designs may try to tell us, Gundam for girls does not just involve a "Sailor Moon" Gundam, or an ultra cute-ified SD girly Gundam, or Beargguy. Well, it could involve Beargguy a little because Beargguy is so awesome that even people who don't watch Gundam like him.
The panel was headed by two female Gundam fans, Kristen and Jet. It would be too weird if some random dude was trying to tell people why girls like Gundam. The girls had a 1:1 scale green Haro at their table. I didn't know these actually existed, so after the panel I went to the Bluefin booth to see if they had any, but of course, they were sold out. While I was there I met a couple of girls looking for a yellow Haro, but they were sold out of that, too. Anyway, Kristen got her start on Gundam with Gundam Wing while Jet's first series was Turn A Gundam. Also, both of them really like the Gundam Mk. II.
As it was, being a Gundam for girls thing, I was one of the very few guys at the panel. I knew I was in the right place, but the first slide confirmed it: a picture of many familiar Gundams and Mobile Suits as cute chibi style girls. It was held on the Monday of Fanime 2011, which was probably the worst day to have a panel. This year was my first time attending Fanime, but Monday easily had the least amount of people there, so it wasn't quite as packed as I was expecting considering it was a Gundam panel.
The next slide gave a general overview of what Gundam is. Gundam is over 32-years old, has loads of great characters, war, drama, and awesome mecha. There are spin-offs, alternate universes, videogames, and countless mercahndise. Each series involves heavy space politics and characters with familiar archetypes. Although most of the battles are fought with giant robots, the fight is really a man vs. man thing. Except the Gundam 00 movie which involves aliens, "but lets not talk about that," joked Kristen. Yes, the Gundam 00 movie was pretty terrible and is the only Gundam anything to have aliens as the villains.
There are two main universes of Gundam series. There is the Universal Century and the Alternate Universes. The Universal Century includes most of the series and spin-offs that involve the Earth Federation and Zeon, along with the Titans and AEUG. This encompasses the original series, Zeta, Double Zeta, 0083, 8th MS Team, and F-91 to name a few. The alternate universes don't have anything to do with the Universal Century. This includes Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Gundam Wing, Gundam Seed, and Gundam 00. Although, Gundam Seed has many similarities to Zeta and is, in a way, a retelling of it.
Most of the Universal Century series are also drawn in the "classic" anime form, which is why Gundam Unicorn looks like a show from the 70s, just updated and cleaner. The Alternate Universes have newer anime styles and feature the Earth fighting a different foe that is not Zeon. For example in Gundam 00, the Gundams aren't on anyone's side but their own. They get involved in battles that are not initially involved in, or even start battles to prevent wars. As the various series went on, the characters grew and the mobile suits got thinner, more varied, and for some, more purple.
There are two main types of Gundam pilots; the teenager and the adult. The teenager is a usually a war orphan and either steals, stumbles upon, or inherits a Gundam. In Gundam Zeta the main teenage hero, Kamille, steals the Gundam and immediately tried to use to crush a rival with its foot. The last line the girls' had under Teenage Type of, "Fuck your space politics, I just want my friends," really sums up a teenage hero rather perfectly. The adult is already a military man with his own assigned upgrades and is a bit unconventional in his style.
Next up were a few villains, but it was just three wannabe villains. They think they're good at being bad, but they're not. Then the next slide came up and there was nothing but swoons and applause from the ladies in the audience. It was Char. Possibly the sexiest picture of Char, ever. I'm a guy, but even I'll admit that it was one sexy picture of Char.
Another thing that was mentioned were the relationships in Gundam. Many of the relationships are kept in the background and left up to fan speculation. There may be a little hint or a glance every now and then, but the show won't blatantly tell you that Char was with that girl last night. An example used that is completely the opposite was Macross/Robotech. In Macross/Robotech, the narrator just shoves the relationships down your throat. "Who will Rick choose? Minmay or Lisa? Find out next episode!"
Next were the female heroes. Mot of the time the females in Gundam series have more support roles, as evidenced by the following slide, but there are two actual female leads in Gundam. I had not known about them before this, but these two female heroes are in two Gundam manga. Which series has the most female characters? That would be Zeta. Zeta even has the biggest female villain with Haman and her mobile suit the Quebley kind of has a manicure, which I also did not notice before this panel.
I couldn't say if the female community is actually different than the male community, as I just talk to my friends about Gundam and don't post on message boards about it, but the girls did give some websites female fans can go to. For news and information there are the Gundam Wiki, mahq.net, and Zeonic. For getting your fandom on there are Yahoo groups, Livejournal, tumblr, Deviantart, and Fanfiction.net. Personally, I tend to stay away from fan fiction stuff because there would probably end up with something like the Yaoi picture on the slide. so, you can love a fancy suit or a nice set of funnels, but in the end who are you going to root for?
Now here is one of the biggest differences between girl and boy fans: Females have a bigger love for the characters, while males will focus more on the mecha. This is mostly true. Guys tend to talk more about how awesome a particular mobile suit might be. However, the story is very important to me. I do enjoy the mobile suits more than some teenage hero whining about war and his friends dying. For males, the pilot doesn't really matter when buying a Gunpla model, the mobile suit just has to look cool. Females, on the other hand, will buy a Gunpla model because of who pilots it.
One thing that was mentioned is that these Kristen and Jet both see the Gundams and most of the mobile suits as female. "Even Zaku's have skirts." This hadn't really occurred to me before. I've certainly noticed that many mobile suits have a skirt-like design on their thighs, but I always thought of it more as a 70s design aesthetic rather than a female mobile suit. Maybe all the mobile suits really are female.
Moving on, the original Mobile Suit Gundam series got cancelled, but it was the female fans who kind of kept it alive. It wasn't until Zeta came out that Gundam popularity really took off. Now there are tons of products featuring Gundam and it will never stop. I also believe that the 1:1 scale Gundam statue in Japan is only the first step towards an actual working Gundam. Japan will make it one day. The future for girls and Gundam was presented with a slide of a fashion designer that seems to have pout some Gundam design in her dresses.
So, as a guy, was the Girl's Guide to Gundam panel a good stop during Fanime? Yes, definitely. Overall it was a great panel and it made me think of a few things a little differently, like how mobile suits might actually be female and I've been playing with girl robots all these years. I also think these two girls might be bigger Gundam fans than I am. This was a great overview of the series and would be a good introductory panel for any girl not into Gundam, but might be thinking about watching it. However, I have a feeling most, if not all, of the girls at the panel were already Gundam fans. If you'll excuse me, I have an urge to go watch some Gundam and start planning my Char cosplay.
- Shawn - 6/5/11