By Andrew Osmond.
Gundam F91 is a feature film, released in Japanese cinemas in 1991. It’s also effectively a one-off. It has its own set of characters, and it’s not directly derived from any of the other versions of Gundam. Although it involves several of the franchise’s big-name creators, it’s not a good starting point for newbies – there are many better “beginner” Gundams. But if you’ve seen at least some Gundam anime, then you’ll find yourself on familiar ground.
The film starts in an extremely Gundam-ish way. A cylindrical space colony is attacked by robot suits, and several youngsters are thrown into the conflict. F91 focuses on two of them; a boy engineering student called Seabook and his glamorous not-quite girlfriend, the auburn-haired Cecily. When their home is attacked, the pair struggle to get friends and family members to safety. However, Seabook and Cecily are separated early on in the film.
From there, the film cuts between their linked stories, which both involve family issues. Seabook eventually comes face to face with the titular Gundam F91, a new model of mecha designed by his mum. As for Cecily, it turns out she’s the runaway heiress to an aristocratic family – a family that controls the force which attacked the colony. This army goes by the piratical name of Crossbone Vanguard, and its leader wears a metal mask. Gundam fans shouldn’t be surprised by that.
Officially, Gundam F91 was a continuation of the “classic” Gundam timeline, the Universal Century. It followed Char’s Counter Attack, which had been released in 1988, and like that film it’s written and directed by the franchise’s creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino. But F91 is set thirty years later, and it opts to have no wrinkly cameos from previous Gundam characters, or any references to the previous conflicts. There’s still an Earth Federation – not the most evil characters in the film, but not shown in a good light, either. Minovsky Particles get namechecked a few times, and the characters are still very interested in Newtypes.
There are many more echoes of old Gundams – for example, the preteen kids in the heroes’ care recall the terrible trio of Kikka, Letz and Katz in the 1979 series. Family issues have long been a favourite Gundam theme, years before Eva; for example, Cecily’s predicament with her heritage has shades of Sayla and her inconvenient brother in the first Gundam. As for the metal-masked commander of Crossbone Vanguard, he’ll inevitably remind fans of Char, though the film goes on to subvert expectations – he’s not really a Char character at all.
Gundam F91 wasn’t meant to have been a film. Tomino first planned it as a full TV series, but that fell through, reportedly because of staff disputes; hence the film format. At least that meant that the animation could be far more expensive and action-packed.
Tomino was able to work with two of his most famous collaborators from the first TV Gundam in 1979. The character designer was Yoshikazu Yasuhiko; since 1979 he’d gone on to direct his own SF anime films such as Crusher Joe and Venus Wars (not that they seemed to please him, as he told me here). F91’s mecha designer was the Gundam mecha designer, Kunio Okawara. His creations in F91 include robots that can reconfigure as oversized tanks, and disc-shaped killer robots that carry out the film’s worst atrocities; they anticipate similar robots in Hollywood’s 2012 guilty pleasure, Battleship.
Of F91’s two main characters, Cecily – who gets another name later – was voiced in Japanese by Yumi Touma. Old-school fans may remember her as the elf Deedlit in the fantasy video anime Record of Lodoss War, which was made around the same time. The hero Seabook was voiced in Japanese by Kouj Tsujitani, who’d been in another Gundam only recently; he’d voiced Bernie Wiseman in the video series A War in the Pocket. You also may know the actor from a rival mecha saga; he voiced Dewey Novak, the main adversary in Bones’ Eureka 7. Sadly, Tsujitani died in 2018 from a stroke; he was only 56.
Gundam F91 is being released on Blu-ray in the UK by Anime Limited.
Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films.