Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Big In Japan Episode #5: Pokémon: The First Movie

An All-New All-Anime Podcast on the Fanholes Podcast Network! Fanholes Presents, Big In Japan! This week Justin, Mike and Derek discuss the feature film Pokémon: The First Movie!

Big In Japan Episode #5: Pokémon: The First Movie Download this episode (right click and save)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Mike's Top 25 Favorite Mecha From Gundam Part 1: 25-11

Just what it says in the title!  These are my top twenty-five favorite Gundams/mobile suits/mobile armors from my second-favorite mecha-heavy fictional franchise.  Because at the end of the day... we are all GUNDAM...  except those who aren't.


25. G-Bouncer
First Appearance- Gundam Age
Pilot- Woolf Enneacle

The final mobile suit piloted by my favorite character from Age- Woolf Enneacle.  He played the “Roy Fokker/older brother/mentor” role in the series, and of course… those guys always have to have a rad custom unit.  The G-Bouncer is sleek and agile-looking, having been based off the Gundam Age “Spallow” lightweight ninja-like configuration.  I really dig the curved “Shiguru” blade at the end of the shield and its head design… which kinda reminds me of some incarnations of Optimus Prime’s head.

Obviously, THE custom color to have in a Gundam series is usually red like Char, but you gotta admit that having an all-white mobile suit in the dead blackness of space is pretty bold too.  Woolf’s fostering of main character Asemu Asuno’s skills and development had such an influence on the lad that he later had his Gundam Age-2 repainted in tribute to his mentor after Woolf’s death.

24. Gelgoog
First Appearance- Mobile Suit Gundam
Pilot(s)- Char Aznable, Anavel Gato, others

The Gelgoog was basically the Zeon’s answer to the Federation’s Gundam mobile suit… except it was completed far too late in the war to make a difference.  The first Zeon mobile suit that was armed with a beam rifle, it might have changed the course of the One Year War had the Zeon had been able to deploy it in greater numbers earlier.  As it was, the Gelgoog was only available to grunts at the very end of the conflict, and by that time… Zeon command was largely reduced to assigning them to rookie pilots who could not take full advantage of their superior capabilities.

Two guys who COULD take full advantage of the Gelgoog’s potential were Char Aznable- "the Red Comet", and Anavel Gato- "the Nightmare of Solomon."  These Zeon aces piloted custom-colored Gelgoogs and used them to great effect in combat, although Char could still not defeat the RX-78 Gundam with his, owing to Amuro Ray’s ever-increasing skill and Newtype abilities.

I’ve always liked the design of the Gelgoog, and thought it was a nice culmination of the standard Zeon mobile suits of the One Year War.  It had a Zaku-like head, and Dom-like body and legs.  The Gelgoog also carried a massive shield that stored on its back like the RX-78 Gundam, and wielded a beam “naginata” that seemed like a logical extension of the Gouf’s primary melee weapon.  I greatly enjoyed a Mobile Suit In Action or “MSIA” figure of Anavel Gato’s custom blue and green Gelgoog that I once purchased back when you could actually buy Gundam action figures in American stores.  I was also kind of disappointed that the series Gundam Seed Destiny never introduced their version of a Gelgoog, as they had with the Zaku, Gouf, and Dom.

Finally… the word “Gelgoog” is just fun to say.   GelgoogGelgoogGelgoogGelgoog!!!

23. Double Zeta Gundam
First Appearance- ZZ Gundam
Pilot- Judau Ashta

While the original Mobile Suit Gundam series is considered one of, if not THE forefather of the “real robot” anime genre, later series veered into “super robot” territory.  The Zeta Gundam made some steps in this direction with its transformation ability and built-in “bio-sensor”, which could channel pilot Kamille Bidan’s Newtype powers in spectacular and supernatural ways.  The Double Zeta Gundam is an even further step in that direction, taking the original RX-78’s “Core Fighter” system concept and reinterpreting it as a sort of sentai robot combination that formed the suit.  Not only that, but pilot Judau Ashta made full use of the ZZ’s bio-sensor to channel his Newtype abilities as well, which somehow translated to powering up the suit’s beam weapons beyond their established specs.  I don’t know how an energy reactor can accept “BURNING SPIRIT!” as fuel, but whatever!

The ZZ’s design is also probably the archetype for every bulky, firepower-focused Gundam from that point on.  It’s lousy with missile launchers and powerful beam cannons… the most evident of which is the “High Mega Cannon” in its forehead.  I like Gundams that have something unique or iconic about their head design, and ZZ is no exception with this weapon.  It also has GIANT beam sabers stored in its backpack that look about three times too large for the ZZ’s hands.  The Double Zeta can be further upgraded into the “Full Armor” ZZ Gundam, which adds even MORE missile launchers and a second High Mega Cannon in its lower torso.  It can unleash a veritable hailstorm of missiles and wields a giant “Hyper Mega Cannon” that is nearly larger than the mobile suit itself!

I think the most enjoyment I get out of this Gundam in general is playing as it in the Gundam “Versus” series of fighting games, where it is one of my best units.  It really speaks to my general play style in fighting games, where I’d rather “tank” hits than avoid them, only to dish out equal or greater damage in return.  With its High Mega Cannon, missile barrages, and super move where it busts out a towering Newtype-fueled beam saber to smack an enemy down, nothing’s more satisfying than landing ZZ’s ridiculously-overpowered attacks.  Judau's hot-blooded cries of "HIGH MEGA CAAAAN-NNON!!!" are a joy to trigger as well.  The Full Armor ZZ Gundam can also summon the Hyper Mega Cannon once per life bar and abruptly deploying it out of thin air to obliterate an enemy from across the map is one of my favorite feelings from those games.

22. Grimgerde
First Appearance- Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Pilot- “Montag”/McGillis Fareed

Your average Char-clone guy in any AU (Alternate Universe) Gundam series will also usually copy his taste in mobile suits, and that’s the case with the speedy red Grimgerde here.  McGillis Fareed, under his disguised identity as “Montag”, utilized this specialized unit in his secret bid to reform and eventually take over the organization of Gjallarhorn.  As an implicit ally to the protagonists of the show, we never got to see the Grimgerde have a fight with the Gundam Barbatos, but McGillis and main character Mikazuki Augus did get a cool “Rival Fusion” scene where they fought back-to-back while entering Earth’s atmosphere.

As you can probably tell from its lithe design, the Grimgerde is meant for high-speed, close-range combat.  Two golden “Valkyrja” swords are mounted in its arm-shields, which can be hand-held or deployed straight from the shields’ undersides.  The Grimgerde can overwhelm virtually any slower mobile suit with its rapid sword strokes, but it also sometimes carries a large drum-fed rifle for long range attacks.  Its elegant design and precise fighting style were a perfect match for the charming, manipulative McGillis, and he equips his later Gundam Bael with the same type of swords as the Grimgerde had.

The Grimgerde also kind of favorably reminds me of Gundam 00’s Flag mobile suit and all of the variants and evolutions piloted by that series’ Char-clone Graham Aker.  Since the Grimgerde is so lightweight and sleek, its 1/144 model kit is a relatively easy build, and very stable too.  It’s certainly one of the most satisfying Gunpla model kits I’ve ever built.  Also?  Cool freakin’ name.

21. Gundam Harute
First Appearance- Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer
Pilot(s)- Allelujah/Hallelujah Haptism, Marie Parfacy/Soma Peries

The final evolution of the super-soldier Allelujah Haptism’s series of suits in Gundam 00, the Harute is the first to take full advantage of his split personality and enhanced quantum brainwaves.  I wasn’t even really a big fan of Allelujah as a character, nor his relationship with the Harute’s co-pilot Marie (MARIE MARIE MARIE!) Parfacy over the course of the series, but I can’t deny that the Harute is one badass machine.  Combining the attributes of Allelujah’s two previous Gundams- the Kyrios and the Arios, along with Marie/Soma’s GN Archer support unit, the Harute is loaded with some interesting weaponry.

Its most evident weapons are the two GN Sword Rifles, which fire rapid beam shots, act as swords, or split open to become GIANT SCISSORS for bifurcating enemies.  It also has two larger beam cannons at the tips of its giant back-mounted verniers, and a missile pod hanging off its rear waist that can be ejected as an explosive mine when spent.  The Harute also possesses a number of GN Scissor Bits secreted in the verniers that, once deployed, move so fast they are virtually orange and green streaks in combat.  A pair of additional boosters were fitted atop the legs during the Harute’s final battle, which contained even MORE Scissor Bits.  As fast as the Harute can move… imagine it approaching you while flanked by EVEN FASTER-MOVING FLYING SCISSORS!

The Harute’s secret weapon, however, is the “Marute” system, which allows Allelujah, his “evil” personality Hallelujah, and Marie’s combat-oriented alternate personality Soma Peries to sync up their quantum brainwaves and act with singular purpose.  Under the influence of this system, the Harute is directed by TRIPLE the physical reflexes and mental reaction speed of already biologically-enhanced pilots.  It also adopts a wickedly-sinister second and third set of optics on its face, making the mobile suit look less like a heroic Gundam and more like something out of a child’s nightmare.

I love Gundams with some cool “face-stuff” going on and Harute definitely fits that description.  The way it tore across the battlefield in the final space battle of “A Wakening of the Trailblazer” was one of the most memorable parts of the movie, at least mecha-wise.  Much the ZZ Gundam, I also enjoy playing as the Harute in the Gundam Versus series of video games, where its wide assortment of weapons makes for some varied gameplay.  Also, when it drops below 20% health, the Marute system activates, and Hallelujah’s demented cackling is always fun to hear during that period.

20. Unicorn Gundam Unit 02 “Banshee”
First Appearance- Gundam Unicorn
Pilot(s)- Marida Cruz/Ple-Twelve, Riddhe Marcenas

The darkly-colored “evil” double is a long-standing trope in mecha shows and countless other fictional franchises.  The second Unicorn Gundam, dubbed the “Banshee” by its developers, served as a black mirror to the original Unicorn Gundam and its pilot Banagher Links.  Despite still maintaining the “Unicorn” name, the Banshee’s head crest and weapons are meant to invoke the attributes of a lion, fulfilling the parallel to the old English nursery rhyme titled… you guessed it; “The Lion and the Unicorn.”

While the novel versions of Gundam Unicorn kept the Banshee’s armaments the exact same as the Unicorn, the animated versions of the suit were given some strikingly-unique new armaments.  In its first incarnation, the Banshee was piloted by Marida Cruz, also known as the artificially-enhanced Cyber-Newtype “Ple-Twelve.”  Brainwashed into piloting the Banshee and fighting Banagher Links, Marida made full use of the suit’s unique arm-mounted weapons, including a beam “smart gun” which fired a ribbon of energy that could warp and track its target.  More fearsomely-evident was the vibrational claw mounted over the Banshee’s left forearm, which could shred virtually anything it struck.  No one escapes… THE CLAAAAAW.

After Marida was rescued by Banagher and others, the Banshee was assigned to their rival Riddhe Marcenas and given another upgrade.  Now known as the Banshee “Norn”, it was outfitted with a new backpack with deploying power-enhancing panels that appeared to give the suit a sort of “mane”, furthering the lion motif.  The Norn also gained a large shield with a hidden beam cannon inside it.  The shield could attach to the backpack, acting as a booster and increasing the suit’s speed.

A new revolving launcher was added to the underside of the Banshee Norn’s beam rifle, which could fire various projectiles or even project a beam blade for emergency melee defense.  Its most notable attack was firing a series of glowing blue homing grenades… which I swear the production team on Unicorn ripped off from the Halo series of video games.  There was a weapon introduced in “Halo: Reach” called the Plasma Launcher that fired in almost the exact same way.

Obviously, the Banshee looks badass and menacing, and Marida Cruz was probably my favorite character from Gundam Unicorn, so clearly this suit belongs on the list.  Riddhe Marcenas, however… isn’t a really popular guy in general, in the show or among the fandom.  Even though he sees the light in the end and teams-up with Banagher, it’s only after he’s opposed the “good guys” and killed Marida.  Riddhe’s kind of a whiny, entitled rich kid who, as me and my fellow Fanholes would put it- got his toe stubbed in the series, which is the cause of his vendetta against Banagher.  I’ve jokingly called him “Riddhe Brock”, after the Marvel Comics’ character Eddie Brock/Venom, and Venom is in fact a dark version of Spider-Man… so you can see how the comparison works with the Banshee itself!

In whatever case, the Banshee is cool no matter who flies it, and that’s why it is here.  The transformation from “Unicorn” to “Gundam” mode is a pretty cool gimmick in general, and the glowing “psycoframe” that is revealed when it does convert to a Gundam is always a great visual.

19. Shining Gundam
First Appearance- G Gundam
Pilot- Domon Kasshu

It’s not too often that I like the “starter” Gundam of the series protagonist more than the eventual upgrade, but that’s the case here.  The God/Burning Gundam is cool and all, but I always thought the Shining had a lot more personality to it.  Like I said in Harute’s entry, I like a Gundam with a lot of “face-stuff” going on, and Shining’s opening mouthguard seemed cool to me.  That whole kabuki mask thing the head does when Domon activates the suit’s Super Mode is distinctly cool in general, and I feel like Shining’s Super Mode is a lot more involved than the God/Burning Gundam’s one.  There certainly seemed to be more “fanfare” surrounding its activation during the series, I guess.

In terms of weapons, the Shining has your standard vulcan guns, beam sabers, and some rarely-seen beam cannons hidden in its armguards (used only ONCE in the series.)  Domon’s special attacks with the suit are the main method of dealing with enemies, and the Shining Finger is clearly an iconic one for the franchise and anime in general.  There isn’t a Gundam fan alive who hasn’t recited Domon’s whole “This hand of mine!” routine aloud at least once, even if they won’t admit it!

Domon can also up the Shining Gundam’s game with its Hyper Mode, in which the suit’s frame turns completely golden, and his most powerful technique- the Shining Finger Sword.  Channeling the Shining Finger through his beam saber, Domon brings a towering green blade of destruction down on his opponent.  Speaking of beam sabers, one of my favorite animated bits in the first opening credits sequence to G Gundam is when the Shining unsheathes its sabers… only to reveal the name of the show within the blades!  It is even used in actual episodes sometimes, as you can see in the first GIF of this entry.  That’s just so damn stylish that they had to even replicate it in some of the recent Gundam Versus video games DURING actual gameplay!

18. Tallgeese II
First Appearance- Gundam Wing
Pilot- Treize Khushrenada

While the original Tallgeese is more iconic and the Tallgeese III more popular, my favorite incarnation of this famed series of mobile suits is the second.  A large part of that is because of its pilot- the main antagonist of Gundam Wing, Treize Khushrenada.  He’s probably my favorite character in the series, partly because I love his brand of “villain”- the chessmaster who has planned out his scheme to the nth degree and almost never loses his cool.  With time, I also came to appreciate the fact that Treize is about the only character in Wing who actually holds himself accountable for his crimes throughout the series and willingly pays for them with his life.

While the five Gundam pilots are considered the “good guys”, they all did massacre quite a lot of people during the series in horrible ways, and the prospect of them actually facing consequences for that never really comes up.  Treize however has planned out his grand scheme to reform the world and bring about peace to the point where he knows that he himself needs to die to achieve this, and with that ironclad resolve… wholeheartedly throws himself upon the sword (or Altron Gundam’s beam trident) in the end.  That’s some friggin’ dedication!

As for the Tallgeese II itself, its elegant, knightly/Roman gladiator motif certainly fit its pilot to a T.  As seen in the main picture of this entry, Treize even had the suit adopt some regal poses that really sent his personality and bearing.  It had the same weapons as the original Tallgeese- a set of beam sabers and the arm-mounted Dober Gun, all of which Treize utilized with customary skill.  Tallgeese II’s new head design even reflects Treize’s respect and admiration for the Gundams with its mimicry of their facial features.

Much like the ZZ Gundam, the Tallgeese II is also one of my best units to play as in the Gundam Versus series of video games, and its speed and precision are reflected quite well.  Its super move recreates a famous scene in the anime where the Wing Gundam, piloted by the faithful Lady Une, shoves the Tallgeese II out of the way of an enormous approaching energy blast fired by the spaceship Libra.  Catching opponents in this move during a heated battle is always a lot of fun.

Also, if you leave the Tallgeese II idle long enough during gameplay, Treize will start to recite the names of people whose deaths he is responsible for, much as he did for Wufei at the end of the series.  Guy's just meticulously-respectful like that.

17. Wing Gundam Fenice
First Appearance- Gundam Build Fighters
Pilot- Ricardo Fellini

After a Tallgeese must come a Wing Gundam!  The original Wing Gundam was neat and all, but I really latched onto Ricardo Fellini’s custom Wing “Fenice” in the Build Fighters series.  First off, Fellini was my favorite character in the show, being a cool older brother/mentor-type character to the two protagonists Sei and Reiji.  He was also of Italian descent, which I am as well, so some ethnic pride probably played into it a little bit.  Indeed, his Wing Fenice is decked out in the green, white, and red colors of the Italian flag, and Fellini’s nickname “The Italian Dandy” spoke to his playboy nature.  So yeah… maybe all that’s kind of a stereotype of Italian people, but whatever… at least he wasn’t (as far as we saw) involved with the mob or anything!  Although there DOES exist a “Gunpla Mafia” in the Build Fighters universe…

The Wing Fenice is an odd suit, having an asymmetrical design that originates from Fellini’s constant rebuilding/tweaking of it when it gets damaged.  Whenever he lost a battle over the course of his career, he’d simply repair or modify the Fenice accordingly rather than restoring it back to the original vanilla Wing design.  The asymmetrical style did appeal to me… the suit even has two differently-colored optics!  The word “Fenice” means “Phoenix” in Italian, which references this suit’s constant “rising from the ashes” after every bit of damage.  This was a cool concept and spoke to me personally, as I’m also wont to use things until they utterly break beyond repair.  Anyone who has ever seen my ancient-ass cell phone can attest to that!

The Fenice is armed with a Custom Buster Rifle that splits into larger and smaller guns, a Beam Rapier that serves as its chief melee weapon, and a Beam Mantle that forms a sort of energy “half-cloak” over the suit’s shoulder.  The Beam Mantle is mostly used for defense, but Fellini has wrapped it around the Fenice’s fist at times to strengthen its punches.  The Fenice is not capable of transforming into the Wing’s traditional plane-like “Bird Mode” anymore… instead, Fellini created a separate support unit called the Meteor Hopper that allows for high-speed ground travel.

Fellini and his Fenice provided my favorite battle in the Build Fighters series as well, as he took on Sei and Reiji during the Gunpla World Tournament.  Unwilling to take it easy on his younger opponents and friends, Fellini fought a rugged, intense battle with them that left both the Fenice and the boys’ Star Build Strike in tatters and ended in a draw, allowing all participants to advance to the next round.  Fellini was eventually eliminated in the tournament, with the Fenice being destroyed so thoroughly by Aila Jyrkiäinen’s Qubeley Papillon that he was finally forced to rebuild it from the ground up as the Wing Fenice Rinascita.

The Fenice Rinascita is closer in appearance to a traditional Wing Gundam look, with symmetrical body features.  However, one does wonder if Fellini will simply start the process again of modifying it after battles until it once again resembles the lopsided, yet stylish look of his original Fenice.

16. Duel Gundam
First Appearance- Gundam Seed
Pilot- Yzak Joule

A Gundam wearing an extra layer of armor is a common occurrence in the franchise, probably made most famous by the Gundam Alex in the 0080 “War in the Pocket” series.  The Duel is my favorite mobile suit that does this, with its distinct “Assault Shroud” add-ons atop its main body.  Piloted by Yzak Joule, who also happens to be my favorite character in Gundam Seed, the Duel initially existed as sort of an “evil” version of the main character Kira Yamato’s Strike Gundam.  Having been the prototype or base for the rest of the initial five Gundams in that series, the Duel is only initially armed with the standard beam rifle, sabers, and shield that your average Gundam will usually have.  These are the basic weapons of the Strike as well, but the Strike can also equip its additional “Striker” packs to change up its weapon load-out and provide more varied combat options.  The Duel possessed no such ability and had to rely on the tools it already had at its disposal and the pilot’s skill to be effective.  Its beam rifle was at the very least unique from the Strike’s in that it possessed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher underneath its barrel.

After being damaged (and Yzak scarred) by Kira Yamato’s Strike, the Duel is fitted with the additional Assault Shroud armor to compensate for its lack of specialty as compared to its sibling Gundams.  Aside from the added protection of the armor, the Duel gained a rail gun and missile pod on its shoulders.  The Assault Shroud especially came in handy in the final battle, where it absorbed the damage from the Forbidden Gundam’s high-powered beam cannon, allowing Yzak to surprise his opponent and finish him off.

As you can see, despite the Duel seeming a bit “vanilla”, Yzak managed to pull off some impressive feats with it towards the end of the series, destroying both the Forbidden and Raider Gundams.  These two, along with the Calamity Gundam, gave a ton of trouble to Kira Yamato and his main rival/best friend Athrun Zala over the last ten or so episodes of the series.  However, Yzak and his plain old boring vanilla Duel managed to pull out wins on two out of three of them.  One of my favorite scenes in the series is in the final episode, where Yzak finds himself protecting his wounded best friend Dearka Elsman in the crippled Buster Gundam.  With the Duel stripped of all its weapons, Yzak grabs the Buster’s still-functional sniper rifle and finishes the attacking Raider Gundam off with it.

The Duel Gundam was given an upgrade in the Gundam Seed: Stargazer series known as the “Blu” Duel.  This new suit possessed more thoroughly-integrated Assault Shroud armor, flip-out beam pistols under its forearms, and throwable “Anti-Armor Penetrators” in its shoulder in addition to the original Duel's already-existing weapons.  Unfortunately, its pilot Mudie Holcroft couldn’t replicate Yzak’s impressive accomplishments with the original incarnation and died quite pathetically.  It’s too bad Yzak never got to pilot the Blu Duel… it was a cool-looking upgrade.

15. Gundam Virsago Chest Break
First Appearance- Gundam X
Pilot- Shagia Frost

One half of the main duo of antagonist mobile suits in Gundam X, the Gundam Virsago Chest Break cuts a menacing and interesting silhouette.  It seemed to me like a hybrid of the Gundams Epyon and Altron from Wing… but somehow mixed with some proto-Gurren Lagann aesthetic.  Its distinct chest design almost seems like a face… and even more so when the chest expands and splits open (hence the “Chest Break” qualifier) to reveal its signature triple Megasonic Cannons.  Aside from reminding me of Gurren Lagann (I saw Gurren Lagann BEFORE Gundam X, mind you, despite X being older), the opening chest super-weapon also reminded me of the armored anime hero the Guyver and his “Mega-Smasher” attack.

In addition to the Megasonic Cannons, the Virsago also possessed extending arms with claws and beam guns mounted at the wrists, granting it exceptional reach in close-quarters combat.  A beam saber and a pair of Strike Shooter weapons that could combine and fire a wipe spread of beam shots rounded out its arsenal.  The original Gundam Virsago had a different set of wings that aided in maneuverability, but the Chest Break upgrade replaces these with a series of fins that fanned out and gave the suit an almost arachnid-like appearance.  These fins were to absorb microwaves from the Satellite System stationed on Earth’s moon, which the Virsago could then use to power the Satellite Launcher mounted on its partner Gundam, the Ashtaron Hermit Crab.  Working together like that, the two mobile suits could unleash a destructive force equal to that of the Gundam Double X’s own Twin Satellite Cannon, able to wipe out multiple space cruisers and mobile suits in a single blast.

The Frost Brothers, Shagia and Olba, were probably my favorite part of the Gundam X series, bedeviling the main character Garrod Ran and his allies throughout the entire show. Shagia’s Virsago and Olba’s Ashtaron made for a fearsome-looking duo on the battlefield and their psychically-coordinated schemes and battle strategies were enjoyable to behold. I almost included the Ashtaron Hermit Crab in with this entry, as the two brothers are rarely ever apart, but I just happen to like the Virsago Chest Break a bit better design-wise. It also has a great figure in the Robot Damashii line of Gundam toys, and is one of my favorite units to use in the Gundam Versus series of video games.

14. Gundam Sandrock Custom
First Appearance- Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
Pilot- Quatre Raberba Winner

I think the Sandrock is easily the least interesting or striking design out of the original five Gundams in the Wing TV series.  However, famed mechanical designer Hajime Katoki changed it into my favorite of the five when he completely reinterpreted the Gundams for the Endless Waltz OVA/movie.  The new color scheme, distinct shoulders, and enhancement of the Sandrock’s signature Heat Shotel weapons changed almost everything I thought was boring about the original design and made it cool.  On top of that, the Sandrock “Custom” was given a massive cloak that strengthened its “desert warrior” theme and just made the suit look both regal and imposing as hell.  I always think robots wearing capes or cloaks looks awesome, and the Sandrock Custom was one of the first instances I saw of this in a mecha franchise.

The Sandrock and its pilot Quatre Raberba Winner are usually always accompanied by his “entourage”- the Maganac Corps, and their mobile suits were all given similar redesigns in the brief image we saw of them in Endless Waltz.  Quatre is also honestly my least favorite character of the five main Gundam pilots in Wing, but the Sandrock Custom seems to send his princely bearing much better than its original incarnation at least.

Designer Hajime Katoki also created a “retcon” version of the original Sandrock, linking it more closely with the Custom design used in Endless Waltz.  This Sandrock was later used in the “Glory of Losers” manga, which retells the events of the Wing TV series.  Events from the anime were expanded on and/or reinterpreted in many cases, and the Sandrock even received an “Armadillo” upgrade which added heavy Maganac-esque armor atop its frame.  I probably would have liked the Sandrock a whole lot better in the show if it had this design from the get-go!

13. Gundam Age-2 Dark Hound
First Appearance- Gundam Age
Pilot- “Captain Ash”/Asemu Asuno

The Age-2 Dark Hound was upgraded and redesigned from the Gundam Age-2 Normal, serving as the second main protagonist Asemu Asuno’s mobile suit for the latter half of the series.  Going undercover and becoming “Captain Ash” of the Bisidian Space Pirates, Asemu’s new Dark Hound complimented his new identity as leader of this roving band of outlaws.  The Dark Hound maintained the Age-2’s transformation ability, converting to a new, sleeker version of the “G-Strider” flight mode.

Obviously, the Dark Hound is a blatant homage to the pirate-themed Crossbone series of Gundams from the self-titled manga set in the Universal Century timeline.  Specifically, it probably draws the most from Zabine Chareux’s darkly-colored Crossbone X-2 Gundam.  While the Crossbone Gundams are cool and all… I almost feel like their pirate theme is a little too… on-the-nose, maybe?  I mean, you can still tell the Dark Hound is pirate-themed just by glancing at it, but the Crossbone Gundams just take that a step further than I care for.  The Dark Hound has just the right amount of “pirate” for me is what I’m saying, which is why I like it better than the original Gundams it is homaging.  Plus, Asemu was my favorite of the three main characters from Age, so that certainly greases the wheels even more.  Still… the Crossbone X-2 does have a badass cloak and scary glowing face vent… but ultimately, I think the Dark Hound’s transformation ability and general style appeals to me more.

The Dark Hound’s main weapon was the Dods Lancer, a rapid-fire beam rifle shaped like a lance which also served as its nose in flight mode.  It also had your usual beam sabers, a “Flash Eye” weapon in its chest that could blind opponents with a sudden shining burst of light, and Anchor Shots in its wings that were basically grappling lines with large hooks at the ends.  The Anchor Shots could electrocute opponents that they latched onto, or the entire line could be rapidly spun to act as a whirling shield for the Dark Hound.  In flight mode, it could enter a “Hyper Boost”, dramatically increasing its speed for short bursts.  And one time it did a sweet Rider Kick.

12. Neue Ziel
First Appearance- Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
Pilot- Anavel Gato

The only mobile armor on this list, Neue Ziel (or “New Goal”) was said to look like “the spirit and ideals of Zeon given physical form” by its pilot Anavel Gato.  It’s hard to argue with that assessment, as this giant flying super-weapon ticks off all the usual Zeon boxes- it’s green, menacing, has a mono-eye, and possesses enough firepower to completely overwhelm scores of weaker opponents.  Despite its massive size, its beam-deflecting I-Field and impressive maneuverability allowed Gato to take on an entire fleet of enemy Federation ships.

The Neue Ziel boasts FIFTEEN mega particle cannons mounted on its main body and within its six arms, along with a much larger cannon with a higher output in its torso.  It also has over twenty missile launchers on its body, and each of its six arms could emit giant beam sabers.  Its two larger main arms could be fired off on cables to perform an “all-range” attack, which even non-Newtype pilots like Gato were able to direct.  This impressive loadout of weapons and the Neue Ziel’s performance in general admittedly seemed… somewhat more advanced than should have been possible during the pre-Zeta Gundam era of the Universal Century, but you can’t argue that it’s damned cool to watch in combat.  Gato even went out like a boss piloting it at the end of the 0083 series, ramming the Neue Ziel into a Federation battle cruiser in a kamikaze attack.

It used to be fun playing as the Neue Ziel in the Gundam Battle Assault video games, as it was one of the largest playable units in the game, not even properly fitting on the screen at times.  My friends and I used to have a rule that if you picked something of that size, the other player had to pick something of a comparable girth just to make the match fair.  The mobile armor Big Zam was really the only thing available that matched the Neue Ziel’s height, and both were fairly ponderous and slow-moving in that game.  This resulted in some awkward-looking matches, as once humorously demonstrated by the Game Grumps.

Whenever I think of my old Neue Ziel/Big Zam fights with my friends, I can’t help but think of this too-

11. Brave (Commander Test-Type)
First Appearance- Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer
Pilot- Graham Aker

The final evolution of the Flag and Enact lineage of mobile suits in Gundam 00, this customized Brave is the personal unit of my favorite character from the series, Graham Aker.  As leader of the Solbraves squadron, Graham returned to his roots in the 00 movie after embarking on a journey of obsession and revenge over the course of the TV series.  His overriding desire to defeat the Gundams led him to become the masked man known as “Mr. Bushido” in the second half of the series.  He adopted a samurai’s motif and received a license to engage in combat whenever he chose apart from the usual military chain of command.  However, after a crushing defeat by his rival Setsuna F. Seiei, Graham took the Gundam pilot’s parting words about life and purpose to heart.  He ditched the Mr. Bushido persona and desire for revenge, and his new mobile suit in “A Wakening of the Trailblazer” reflects that.

I always liked the Union territory’s mobile suits best out of the three main global powers in the 00 universe, particularly the sleek and aerodynamic Flag lineage.  Graham customarily piloted these suits and maintained a general admiration and pride in the Flag in particular throughout the series.  The later suits he piloted as Mr. Bushido- the samurai-themed Masurao and Susanowo, were built very similarly to Flag frames and Graham’s personal Brave itself takes after the Flag as well, specifically in the head design.  While the normal Brave units have head designs derived from the Flag’s sibling mobile suit, the Enact, the commander model’s head is clearly based on the Flag.  Leaving aside the customized Ahead he briefly piloted as Mr. Bushido, Graham is quite consistent in what he likes in a mobile suit, and I share his tastes with this particular choice.

The Commander Test-Type version of the Brave is equipped with two GN Tau (or “Pesudo”) Drives, one more than the standard Braves in Graham’s squadron.  This obviously gives it higher performance and power output, which Graham used to the full extent in A Wakening of the Trailblazer.  Its flight mode allowed for some extreme agility and speed in dogfights, and transformation in mid-flight was now capable without putting a massive strain on the pilot’s body.  Previously, only Graham himself was able to perform such a feat- his own signature midair transformation being dubbed the “Graham Special”, but the advances in mobile suit technology by the time of the Brave’s development allowed any reasonably-skilled pilot to pull it off.  However, thanks to the Commander Test-Type’s enhanced power, Graham was still capable of one-upping his wingmen, and he consistently pushed his Brave to the limits of its design and beyond during battle against the alien ELS.