Out of all the Giant Robot animated features ever produced, none have ever equaled the popularity of Kido Senshi Gundam, better known to U.S. anime fans as Mobile Suit Gundam. The 43-episode original series, written by Yoshiyuki Tomino and produced in 1979, did not start off with high ratings but by the end had received incredible popularity for the time. The phenomenal success of the series led the way for two sequel series (Zeta Gundam and Double Zeta Gundam), two feature- length movies (Gundam: Char's Counterattack and Gundam F-91), and two OVA series (Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket and Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory). Today the Gundam saga still retains an incredible number of fans around the globe, with more people joining every day.
Why is Mobile Suit Gundam so popular? One reason is the realistic feel of the series. Up until 1979 Giant Robot features had all followed a set pattern. A young boy found the robot, usually designed by his father or uncle, and proceeded to defeat the enemy over a series insanely-hyped battles. Throughout the series the boy would form an emotional attachment to the giant robot, thinking of it as a friend or big brother. Since the shows were basically giant commercials for kids' toys, the directors would make the combat as flashy as possible, ignoring all physical laws in favor of exciting battles. The plot and storyline were always secondary in the directors' minds.
Mobile Suit Gundam was much more realistic in terms of storyline for the time. For the first time ever, the mecha were toned down to simple war machines, allowing the characters to interact and develop more personality. The mecha themselves were neither good nor evil; it was the person inside who determined that. Also, the plots and characters in Gundam were much more mature than their counterparts in other shows. Characters were no longer strictly "good" or "evil", but instead had their own varying sets of ethics and goals. And the characters were not immortal, they would often DIE during the course of the series, sometimes without any lengthy death scene or time for remorse.
Another reason that Gundam is so popular is the highly developed background story to the series. Few animation series have a background as complete and well thought out as Gundam. Each of the series relates to the previous ones, and often the same characters will reoccur in multiple series, slightly older and more mature with each passing year. This finely developed background increases the overall "realism" of the Gundam saga. However, this background is also sometimes confusing to new anime fans, who see a later series in the Gundam timeline without knowing what happened in the previous ones. The main purpose of this article is to give you, the reader, a basic understanding of the background of the Gundam saga, so you can hopefully get more enjoyment out of watching the superb shows such as Gundam 0083 or Char's Counterattack, which occur later in the Gundam timeline.