We all have our hobbies that we enjoy, and mine partly include the big mechs of the Gundam Universe. I, of course, am referring to the MS-06 series Zaku II (not to mention all of its variants), and why I have such a feeling of endearment to this completely fictional piece of war equipment that in the real world would probably fail.
Do you remember your first or earliest fanatical obsession from your youth? It is okay that you do not, most people will not remember. I can barely remember anything before the mid-90s and Saturday morning cartoons. With that being said, out of all the fictional avatars, persons, heroes, or objects from my development years, I can easily say that the Zaku II takes the center stage.
To me the Zaku II, and the Gundam anime series, is among the finest examples of staying power you will see in any given series (to include non-anime). There are multiple universes to choose from in Gundam, but my favorite will always be the original. I am referring to the Universal Century (UC) Gundam timeline. Imagine being a kid watching World War 3 being broadcasted on your screen where the distant battlefields are not only across the globe but in space, during a crucial moment in human history where more people are vacating Earth in favor of space colonies. Everyone knows Star Wars and Star Trek (I think), but that is easy access Americana that most have grown accustomed to since their first inception. Anime has taken longer to take hold in the United States, but ever since Akira's first release in the 90s it has seen a growing presence here at home. Not to mention the growing enthusiasm for the wide world of Manga, and its' diverse genres that satisfy any readers palette. All I can say about that is, good, and I am glad that as time goes on people can share in what used to be extremely niche.
Gundam UC is a magnificent series that I recommend anyone ever curious about jumping into anime, take a ride with Char Aznable and Amuro Ray as they do cosmic battle in giant mech suits (or mobile suits) for the future of mankind. That is what I also love about that show, and remember that even when I was young, that Gundam was a series that originally did not ever like talking down to it's audience. You got a real sense that the writers appreciated the messages they were trying to convey, some of it political, but it had a lot to do about humanity and the young adults (even teenagers and kids) that are caught up in the turmoil of war. I think that is another reason why the Zaku II stands out in my mind as such an iconic representation of the difference found in not only socio-political debates, but philosophical thought; not to mention the even more grittier details about the varying differences in war doctrines that are in practice not only today, but predicted to be in the not so distant future.
The original creators of the show just wanted a "storm trooper" to represent the faction they wanted to represent as the bad guys. The Principality of Zeon was an interesting faction to follow, not just for it's set of ideals, but its complex collection of characters with their own motivations. Some had good motives for fighting a war, and others not so much (particularly the Zabi family); most as always were just regular people caught up in a war that was beyond their full understanding, which is depicted beautifully over the course of the other series in Gundam UC and the movies. The Zaku II is a villain in the eyes of the people of the Earth Federation that have seen this machine used to commit numerous atrocities or in many cases be at the forefront of a jingoistic political doctrine that drags all of humanity into a war where half of the population is decimated in the first month alone. However, and I love this, on the other hand the Zaku II is an instrument of colonial liberation and freedom for the people of Zeon that wish to see humanity continue its push into the stars, preferably away from an Earth that is dying.
If you can not appreciate the complexities present in that notion of duality, then I am really not sure how else I can drive home the point of the Zaku II and its presence as a character in its own right, throughout the years Gundam has been around. That covers the socio-political aspect of it, and to an extent the portion dealing with the philosophical issue of how much is one man/pilot worth in the grand scheme of things? If you saw the show from a purely Zaku II perspective, not very, as legions of young men are swept away in countless battles. That is mostly due to the arrival of the Gundam on the scene, a new mobile suit, that is designed as a sort of anti-armor weapons platform. The story was not always thus with the Zaku II merely fulfilling the show writers intended role as a foot soldier of the mechanized world. The engineering involved in the Zaku II is brought up numerous times throughout the series, along with the other mobile suit types that appear, and it has one fascinating history. The canon has changed a bit since the 90s, but the original mobile suits were designed to help in the construction of the MEGA structures that are the space colonies. Gradually, their role went from civilian use in construction to one as a weapon of war in the decades that followed. One of humanities earliest colonies in space, known as Side 3, repurposes their mobile suits for use in combat. The mobile suits go from being a symbol of peace to a symbol of war in less than one generation as billions are lost in the onslaught that is the "One Year War" or the "Zeon War for Independence", depending on who's side you take. At the center of this conflict is, again, the Zaku II. This mechanical marvel, designed primarily for space combat, ultimately throughout the show ends up taking the place of jets in the sky and the tanks on the ground. The individuals inside of the craft are "pilots" and they can become "aces" with enough kills. Many of the pilots start out as men in their prime or cadets straight out of the academy. The war goes on for a good solid year, and just as in previous war, soldiers die off in mass. What follows is horrifying as often teenagers or inexperienced pilots are shoved into the seats, typically they would use the older Zaku II models to train the young generation.
Gradually over time the Zaku II would be replaced, not due to its lack of usage, but due to the ever changing circumstances involved in the "One Year War". The Zaku spawns off numerous offshoots and variations that see usage in warfare for the next two solid decades after the initial conflict in Gundam UC has ended. If you are an engineer in real life, I hope you are tantalized at the idea that someone would put this much thought into a fictional war machine, that has a rich and intricately detailed timeline of constant development. I can ramble all day, and do not want this initial article to be too long for you folks, so I am going to have to rap this one up right here. I did this article mostly for the people that have not yet encountered Gundam UC or the wider world of GUNPLA. If you are interested in learning more about the Zaku then I would suggest this video link of a good YouTube channel that goes into more detail about the Zaku II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QUCBC9zQm8. Lastly, I would like to thank you for reading this all the way through, and if you want to see more articles like this one then please let me know at our email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I will leave one last pic for you here that I genuinely hope you will enjoy, it is something I have modified, based on a poster that I found online about the development history of the Zaku II.