What Is the First Gundam Series?

Upper half of a blue and gray Gundam model.

The Gundam franchise is pretty popular. Some people enjoy the anime, some enjoy building Gundam models, and some enjoy reading the books and manga.

It’s very likely that if you like one, you’ll like them all. The franchise is full of different shows, models, and timelines.

What is the first Gundam series? Mobile Suit Gundam is the first Gundam series. It released in Japan in 1979, though it wasn’t very popular until the Gundam model kits came out. Once kits became available, the popularity grew, and now there’s a wide variety of shows to watch and models to build.

Let’s take a closer look at the Gundam series that started it all. 

Mobile Suit Gundam: The First Series

The first Gundam series is Mobile Suit Gundam. This series sets up the Universal Century timeline that many more Gundam series use to tell their stories. 

The universe that is created in this series is futuristic.

The calendar begins with the year 0001, which is usually written as UC 0001 since there are multiple timelines in the Gundam franchise.

In this universe, people live in space station colonies. There are two colonies, the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation.

In the year UC 0079, the Principality of Zeon declares its independence from the Earth Federation. The One Year War is the result of this declaration, and it doesn’t end until UC 0080.

The Principality of Zeon is more advanced than the Earth Federation – they have weapons called mobile suits.

Yes, these are the Gundams that the franchise is all about. These mobile suits destroy about half of the earth’s population because they’re huge and powerful.

The protagonist Amuro Ray ends up finding the Earth Federation’s prototype of its own mobile suit.

Since the Principality of Zeon is close to winning the war, Amuro Ray has to use the prototype to fight back.

After a successful battle, the Earth Federation forms a new crew of mobile suit pilots with which to keep fighting.

The Universal Century Timeline

The events in the Universal Century timeline are the most popular.

Many shows add onto this timeline and add more details to the One Year War and other events that precede and follow it.

The other shows that are in the Universal Century timeline are:

  • Gundam: The Origin.
  • MS IGLOO.
  • The 08th MS Team.
  • 0080: War in the Pocket.
  • 0083: Stardust Memory.
  • Zeta Gundam.
  • Gundam ZZ.
  • Char’s Counterattack.
  • Gundam Unicorn.
  • Gundam F91.
  • Victory Gundam.

Most of these shows will require some kind of prior knowledge about the UC, except for Mobile Suit Gundam.

Even Gundam: The Origin, which is a prequel to Mobile Suit Gundam, requires some understanding of the UC because it was made after Mobile Suit Gundam and alludes to events that have yet to happen.

There are other timelines on which other series are based. Some of them have different outcomes of the war or don’t have a war at all.

Some timelines are one-shots, so they only have one series that takes place in those timelines. (You can learn more about the other Gundam series here.)

When Did Mobile Suit Gundam Release?

Release Date April 7, 1979
End Date January 26, 1980
Number of Episodes 43

Mobile Suit Gundam released in Japan on April 7, 1979, by director Yoshiyuki Tomino.

Tomino is known for using aliens as antagonists in the series he had worked on before, but in Mobile Suit Gundam, he chose to use humans so he could tell a story about war and how badly it affects people.

Italy was the first country other than Japan to air the show on TV, which it began to do in February 1980. Other countries began to air it on TV shortly after Italy did.

The Gundam franchise didn’t make it to America until 1998 when the movie version of Mobile Suit Gundam was released.

Gundam Wing was the first TV series to air in America on Cartoon Network in 2000. The show stopped airing shortly after September 11, 2001 and struggled to gain popularity when it was brought back to TV the following year. 

Although Mobile Suit Gundam had a slow rise to popularity around the world, it is still one of the most-watched series to this day.

Some say it hasn’t aged well over the years and that it definitely looks like it was made in the 70s, but the story is so great that people look past the animation to enjoy it.

The show changed Japanese mecha anime forever.

It was the birth of the Real Robot genre and brought something new to the table by depicting the huge robots as war weapons and the pilots as regular people.

Before Mobile Suit Gundam, giant mecha robots were portrayed as superheroes that were piloted by superheroes.

The Gundam franchise brought a new flavor to the genre by making it seem more realistic. 

Introduction of Gundam Model Building

Mobile Suit Gundam wasn’t that popular on its own when it released in 1979.

The show was supposed to have a total of 52 episodes aired, but sponsors weeded it down to 39. After some negotiation, it was decided that the show would have 43 episodes. 

The show didn’t become popular until Bandai bought copyrights so they could create plastic models of the mobile suits.

The first models came out in 1980 after Mobile Suit Gundam was canceled. They had almost every mobile suit in the show available to purchase. 

These models were much different than the kind they have today – these needed glue to put together and needed to be painted if you wanted them to look like the show.

They weren’t very articulate, either. You couldn’t pose them like you can modern models. 

Bandai then created the Mobile Suit Variation (MSV) line, which had alternate versions of the mobile suits that were already released.

This introduced pieces that were colored during production, meaning that less paint was needed to make the models look like the Gundams in the show.

Since 1988, Gundam models haven’t required any glue to put together. Instead, they snap together.

This made it easier and more fun to build and also made it easier for children to put together.

In the 90s, High Grade, Master Grade, Perfect Grade, and First Grade were established. I go into greater detail about Gundam model grades here.

This is also the decade that Gundam models became popular in North America and Europe, thanks to the debut of Gundam TV series and movies. 

Product Recommendations

Watch: Mobile Suit Gundam Part 1 Blu-ray Collection

This Blu-ray collection has episodes 1-21 of Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s perfect if you want to give this series a try but aren’t sure you want to commit to the entire series.

This collection includes bonus features, commercials, Japanese audio with English subtitles, and English dubbed audio.

Build: Bandai Hobby Mobile Suit Gundam 1/144 RX-78-2 Gundam

This Gundam model kit is a recreation of the most iconic mobile suit – Amuro Ray’s RX-78-2. This was the Gundam that the first model was based on.

Unlike the 1980 version, this model doesn’t require paint or glue. The pieces snap together and the pieces are already colored.

This is a great build for beginners. The details are already molded and colored on the pieces, so you don’t have to use decals.

Panel lining isn’t necessary either, but of course, you can choose to do this if you want to give it a try or if you enjoy that part of Gundam detailing. 

This model comes with a shield and a battle rifle and is fully posable. Full articulation is important if you want to display them on the shelf, so this model is perfect for just that.

Summary

Mobile Suit Gundam is the foundation of the Gundam series. It sets up the Universal Century timeline upon which many other series are based.

It also changed Japanese anime depictions of robot fighters forever. If you’ve never seen any Gundam series before, this would be a great place to start.

Although the animation might look outdated, the story still stands. Mobile Suit Gundam is the most recognizable Gundam series even though it was slow to gain popularity.

Image credit: Gundam Models AE