Hi folks, it's been a while since I've done a long form lore post, and with the impending release of The Witch From Mercury this weekend, I thought the convoluted world of the Gundam franchise might be a good place to start. While not as widely viewed in the west as Star Trek or Star Wars, I suspect that most sci-fi fans are at least aware of the existence of Gundam, and many people in my generation were exposed to some degree to its 1990s entries (especially the very successful Gundam Wing) during Bandai's partnership with Toonami during the early 2000s.
If you aren't familiar with Gundam, here's the basics: starting with the TV show Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979, the Gundam franchise is a long-running series of TV shows, movies, graphic novels, and other media that has carved itself a fairly deep niche Japanese culture, pop or otherwise. In recent years, Sunrise (the division of Bandai Namco Filmworks that operates the franchise) has agressively embraced the international market; most new programming gets a fast overseas release, or even a simulcast in the case of Witch From Mercury. At the same time, The Right Stuf has acquired distribution rights for the Gundam back catalog, making the franchise more accessible than ever in the USA.
So why does this warrant a big lore post? Well, if you've read my Star Trek lore posts, you know that one thing that interests me is untangling continuity issues that crop up in 'shared universe' type products. And boy oh boy is Gundam one of those. From 1979 to 1994, the Gundam universe existed in a single continuity that, notwithstanding the usual occasional issues with licensed works like comics, maintained a coherent backstory and narrative. However, the cracks were starting to show in the franchise. The animated sequel announced at the end of 1991's Gundam F91 never materialized and ultimately ended up being relegated to manga (this was probably a result of the Japanese Economic Bubble's collapse in 1992), and despite a 30-year in universe time jump to allow for fresh characters and themes, 1993's Victory Gundam failed to meet ratings expectations. The franchise was getting squeezed between two different issues: cooling enthusiasm from the fan base and an increasingly frugal budget environment.
So Sunrise decided to try something different. In 1994, they premiered Mobile Fighter G Gundam. If you were one of those Toonami watchers who saw Wing and G when they aired on U.S. television, you can't have missed that G Gundam had a wildly different tone than Wing. But this title went beyond thematic differences and actually broke with the established continuity. Instead of taking place in the Universal Century (Uchū Seiki, literally "outer-space century") - of the main timeline, G Gundam occurs in the Future Century (Mirai Seiki), with its own history and backstory. At the time G Gundam was released, it was explicitly framed as an alternate universe that did not share continuity with the Universal Century stories. G Gundam was a big success for Sunrise and served to revitalize the franchise in Japan - so perhaps unsurprisingly, over the years to come, alternate universe stories became the new face of Gundam, such as Gundam Wing (After Colony universe, 1995) and Gundam X (After War universe, 1996), a trend that has continued to this day, albeit balanced by new Universal Century titles.
But then something odd happened in 1999. Ɐ Gundam (pronounced "Turn-A Gundam") was a story of people in society with early 20th century technology dealing with an invasion of highly advanced people from the moon. The protagonist discovers a long forgotten underground bunker containing the titular white mobile suit, and becomes embroiled in the conflict. The early stages of Ɐ explored a number of themes including a social environment with echoes to inter-war Japan as well as touching on the inherently imbalanced relationships that occur in colonialism. But over its runtime, it also revealed to us that the "Correct Century" timeline it occurs in wasn't an alternate universe. As more ruins and bunkers are found and more lost technology recovered, it became increasingly clear that the CC exists in the same continuity at the main Universal Century. And then Episode 43 rolls around and the Moonrace's sealed historical archives reveal the truth.
Scenes from G Gundam, Gundam Wing, and X Gundam are all displayed in the archives. The "big reveal" in Ɐ is the revelation that all the alternate universes have been retconned back into the main continuity. Subsequent official materials, both in terms of production details within the shows themselves and accompanying written material have confirmed that the post-2000 alternate universes are also all in the single Ɐ continuity, with the exception of young-children's programming like SD Gundam Force or programs like Build Fighters that exist outside the continuity's fourth wall. So, happy ending, right? We're all one big happy community where everything builds on and expands towards the distant future portrayed in Ɐ and there's no more need to worry about which universe is best or whatever?
That's... somewhat true. However, the alternate universes are still, for the most part, functionally their own continuity. With a few specific exceptions, there usually isn't much in the way of effort to integrate the alternate universe stories and as a result, the way they line up is unclear. Broadly speaking, I've seen three theories advanced within the community:
- The alternate universes are in fact still separate universes; it's just that Ɐ's Correct Century also contains events from the other AUs. Therefore, for example, events from the Future Century may be in continuity with the Correct Century, but they aren't in continuity with the After Colony era.
- The alternate universes are separated by long spans of time and are still entirely different eras within the unified timeline. With a few exceptions, there's no way to discern what order they occur in, so they are still functionally separate continuities.
- The alternate universes in fact intersect at points, but there isn't enough data to understand how they line up (again, with a few specific exceptions).
I don't find any of these explanations very satisfying. I'd argue that, in fact, there are clues within the backstory of each Gundam series that allow us to establish a clear production order and, more importantly, that those clue necessitate a degree of overlap between the different stories. So let's try to unravel this ball of yarn.
Before We Begin: Acknowledging a Retcon
Historically, there have been efforts to pin the start of the Universal Century to a specific real-life year. 1999's G-Saviour, for example, tells us that the sequence of events leading up to the start of the UC began in 2045. Historically, sources have indicated a variety of starting points for the UC but often implied it took less than a century from the start of the first space colonies to the declaration of the UC.
2010's Gundam Unicorn again confirms that the UC marks the end of the Anno Domini era.
However, the assertion that the UC starts as early as 2081 ran into a big problem in 2007 with the release of Gundam 00, which explicitly takes place in the Anno Domini calendar and witnesses the foundation of the Earth Federation. While the 00 AD timeline (where the on-screen events occur in the 24th century) does not explicitly rule out the possibility that space colony development started in 2045, if so, the project took a much longer course than previously assumed. The logic used to arrive at the 2081 date can still be applied here; only about 1 in 28 years qualifies as a starting point, which allows us to narrow down potential UC inauguration dates, but we're looking at sometime after - maybe significantly after - 2364. But more on that later! The main takeaway is that secondary sources referencing an 'early UC' need to be understood in the lens of this retcon and may require adjustments to compensate.
Establishing A Rough Chronology
Before we analyze things in detail, let's try to nail down the broad strokes and also look at potential clues to how these settings line up.
Universal Century: This is the main timeline that involves substantially more sources than any of the others. As we touched on earlier, the UC occurs after the end of the Anno Domini era. Some clues:
- In UC 0001, the Earth's population is 9 billion.
- In UC 0001, Side 1, Bunch 1 colony "Shangri-La" is completed. There are conflicting accounts about Shangri La. It's widely described as the first Side 1 colony, but at the same time, we know that the abandoned "Moon Moon" colony construction support station predates it. Most likely, Shangri-La was the first permanent colony built at L1. (Note that Moon Moon was built about a century before UC 0088, so it predates the start of the UC)
- In UC 0080, the Mars Zeon Independence Army establishes a military base on Mars.
- In UC 0121, Mars Zeon is wiped out
- In UC 0218, the Earth Federation undergoes a political split that divides it into the Congress of Settlement Nations (CONSENT) and the Settlement Freedom League.
- In or shortly after UC 0224, CONSENT is dissolved. Its political successor is not clearly established in the UC timeline.
Future Century: This is the timeline where Mobile Fighter G Gundam takes place.
- The Earth is in ruins, with many major landmarks destroyed or seriously damaged.
- The space colonies of this era do not resemble those of previous generations and were built relatively recently, but before the start of the FC timeline.
- The Earth Federation does not exist in this time period, but a similar government (the United Colonies Federation) administers the Earth from the colonies.
- Nanotechnology and artificial intelligence both play a prominent role in the plot.
After Colony: This is the timeline where Gundam Wing takes place. This is our first "anchor point" where we can start connecting the timelines.
- In AC 001, several earth nations established space stations in earth orbit.
- In AC 022, colony construction starts at the L1 point, but runs into a series of delays.
In AC 102, an Island 2 colony is constructed at L1; construction of colony clusters proceeds from here while at the same time mass emigration to the colonies begins.
- Note that Shangri-La was an Island 3 type and can't be this same colony. Therefore, AC 102 must be the same year, or later, than UC 0001. Based on the way downstream events overlap, I'm inclined to accept that AC 102 = UC 0001.
- In AC 133, many Earth nations form the United Earth Sphere Alliance to advance their collective interests.
In AC 195, the UESA is overthrown; after a brief succession by the authoritarian World Nation, the Earth Sphere United Nation emerges as the new political identity of Earth.
- While narratively UESA and ESUN play the same role as the Earth Federation in UC, more likely these exist as member entities within the EF.
- In AC 182 (==UC 0081), Mars colonization starts
Mars Century: This is a concurrent timeline within the After Colony story that occurs on Mars. Each year on the MC is approximately two Earth years.
- MC 0001 explicitly corresponds with AC 182 (==UC 0081)
- The story continues through the second half of MC 0022 (==AC 224==UC 0123) during a period where the Earth Sphere-affiliated Mars Federation government is splintering and falling into civil war.
After War: This period, which follows after an unidentified timeline, is the era where Gundam X occurs.
The Earth has been completely devastated by massive orbital bombardment. 99.9% of the population has died.
- The bombardment was achieved by de-orbiting space colonies onto the Earth. The kind used were Island 3 colonies of the sort that were popular in the Universal Century.
- In this era, Newtypes are present and recognized and at least a rudimentary understanding of how their psychic phenomena function exists.
Prior to the war, the Earth government was called "United Nations Earth" or UNE.
- However, in Japanese, the Earth government is called 地球連邦 - Chikyū Renpō. This is the same word and spelling translated as "Earth Federation" in UC. UNE and the Earth Federation may in fact be the same thing.
Anno Domini: This is the 'real world' calendar, which is still in use during the events of Gundam 00.
- In 2188, the exploration vessel Europa departs for Jupiter.
- In the 2290s, Mobile Suits start to appear in the militaries of the various Earth nations
From 2297-2307, three orbital elevators are completed (planning and financing goes back to the 2250s)
- The elevators connect to several orbital stations. These stations are a possible anchor to AC 001. If so, this would suggest that UC 0001 is some time between 2398 and 2408 AD. Applying the "January 14th UC 0080 must be a Monday on a leap year" test, let's look at 2480, 2484, and 2488. None of these years pass that test, though 2492 does. It's not impossible that some time lag existed between completion of the station and establishment of the AC calendar, and coincidentally the Earth Sphere Federation was also inaugurated in 2311. I think we can reasonably conclude that UC 0001 = AC 102 = AD 2412.
In 2308 the major nations initially combine their military forces under the United Nations banner, before formally inaugurating the Earth Sphere Federation in 2311.
- Note that once again, despite the difference in the English styling, this is 地球連邦 - the same spelling as "Earth Federation" and "United Nations Earth."
- In 2314, a species of liquid-metal life forms enter the Earth system, fleeing from a supernova that destroyed their home system. Repeated attempts at communication fail and a major conflict erupts before an innovator is able to finally bridge the communication gap using quantum brainwaves. The transformed ELS mothership remains at Earth until at least 2364, but it clearly absent in later timelines.
- Some time between 2314 and 2364, there is a worldwide conflict between Innovators (see below) and "old humans"
- In and after 2364, Earth launches at least two deep space exploration ships.
Newtypes are not observed in this era, but human beings with expanded quantum consciousness, known as Innovators, do exist. At first these were artificially created (known as Innovades) and later emerged as a natural consequence of exposure to the GN Particles used in Solar Furnaces for power generation, or through physical contact with the liquid-metal ELS. At the peak of the Innovator era, 40% of the human population had developed these characteristics.
- Despite the neccessarily early position of 00 in the overall chronology, Innovators are unknown in subsequent eras (though the Earth Federation charter anticipates the emergence of human beings with expanded consciousness in its long-suppressed final clause). This may indicate that in the absence of GN particles, Innovators stopped emerging - though perhaps exposure to GN particles plays some role in the creation of Cyber Newtypes? We just don't know.
Correct Century: This is the time period when Ɐ Gundam takes place. We don't know much about the events leading up to the CC, but fragmentary sources point to a conflict between a "back to nature" faction that wanted to reset humanity to preindustrial living and a technology faction that believed further advancement could solve humanities problems. This culminated with a devastating nanoweapon attack that molecularly disassembled most advanced materials and destroyed human civilization overnight, with a few exceptions such as some lunar settlements and specially protected underground bunkers. It took over 2300 years for Earth to regain industrial age technology.
- In-Universe, the Universal Century is believed by some scholars to have occurred about 3000 years before CC 1993. Based on the lack of data available, this is likely to be a very rough estimate.
- See the Reguild Century below for more data and also more ambiguity.
Cosmic Era: This is the tricky one. In many ways the CE is a retelling of the story of the original 1979 Gundam and its sequel Zeta Gundam in a reimagined world. Some fans dismiss this as a true alternate universe or a movie-within-a-movie type deal where the CE is a heavily fictionalized retelling of historical events. However, there are some specific anchors to the Correct Century that make it hard to just discard. Let's look at the clues.
In the CE, there is not a single united Earth Federation, though an international military alliance called OMNI Enforcer does exist, sponsored by the major Earth nations.
- The four-member alliance that backs OMNI Enforcer exists within the larger framework of the United Nations, mirroring the relationship that would have had to exist between UESA and the Earth Federation in subsequent years.
- The political boundaries on Earth are different from what we see in 00 Gundam, though the broad geopolitical alignments are the same.
00 World Map -- source: https://www.deviantart.com/kyuzoaoi/art/Revised-Gundam-00-World-Map-500134223
CE World Map -- source: https://gundam.fandom.com/wiki/Cosmic_Era?file=Map_of_Earth_-_Cosmic_Era.gif
- Orbital elevators and the ELS flower are not observable. The only "colony clusters" are the ostensibly industrial PLANT colonies, though other space stations and space facilities do exist. Widespread space emigration does not appear to have happened yet.
- Newtypes (distinct from though in some cases overlapping with the genetically-engineered Coordinators) are observable by the viewer, but are not recognized within the world.
The United Nations still exists in CE 9 and promotes the adoption of the Cosmic Era calendar.
- So far, all these points seem to point to the CE story occurring prior to the events of 00, but let's see how the chronology clues pan out.
- In CE 10, to promote space development and the eventual creation of space colonies, construction work starts on Lunar Base Copernicus to serve as a supply and assembly base. It is completed two years later.
- In CE 15, the exploration Tsiolkovsky departs for Jupiter under the command of Nobel-winning astronaut George Glenn. In his departure speech, Glenn reveals that he was genetically engineered and disseminates the knowledge to create more 'Coordinators' like him.
- In CE 22, George Glenn discovers fossil evidence of alien life on an asteroid near Europa.
- In CE 35, Mobile Armor starts to appear in the various national militaries. Mobile Suits do not exist yet.
- In CE 44, the first 10 PLANTs are completed at L5, intended to serve as production hubs for further space development. Now numbering over 10 million and facing violence and discrimination on Earth, many Coordinators emigrate to the PLANTs, which quickly grow in economic power.
In CE 65, the PLANTs create their first mobile suits. The Zodiac Alliance, which loosely united the PLANTs, strengthens its bonds and centralizes its government under the Zodiac Alliance Freedom Treaty (ZAFT).
- In the English dub, ZAFT is also used to refer to the ZAFT military. However, in the Japanese dub, they say "ZAFTO-gun". Now, the "o" after ZAFT may just be a result of the structure of the Japanese alphabet, but I like to imagine that the "O" is for Organization, like the "O" in NATO. But I digress.
- Motivated by anti-Coordinator racists within the government, Earth nations increasingly pressure the PLANTs, both in terms of uneven economic policies and also through more direct aggression. This comes to a head in CE 70 when a UN-brokered peace conference on the moon is bombed. Each side blames the other, and seven days later OMNI Enforcer destroys the Junius 7 PLANT with a nuclear missile. 243,000 Coordinators die. ZAFT declares independence.
- The war continues until CE 72, but rekindles in late CE 73 and only finally ends in CE 74.
- By the end of the war, it was clear that the Coordinator population was facing serious problems - birth rates in the third generation were dropping rapidly and efforts to develop reliable artificial gestation ended in failure. We don't know the final fate oft he Coordinators, but it appears they may have simply vanished back into the general human population over time.
So how does this all fit into the timeline? Well, at first glance it looks like CE predates 00. The 00 backstory implies three major wars happened within its recent memory, which might well include the events we see here. Europa launches in 2188, and I think it's worth questioning if that name is a reference to George Glenn's discovery of Evidence 01 near... Europa. I think we can safely posit that CE 29 cannot occur after 2188. In fact, we can go a step further and say that 2188 cannot be earlier than CE 74 and is probably later. Why? Because the Europa mission was backed by the Solar Energy Union, not by the Atlantic Federation. This means that the territorial changes that occur between CE and AD have already started to happen by 2188.
Let's tentatively say that the Cosmic Era's retroactive starting point is 2045, the original date for the United Nations' space colonization plan referenced in the UC. This would put CE 74 in 2118 and leave a meaningful buffer for territorial changes to occur before the events of 00.
Post Disaster: This is the calendar that's used in Iron Blooded Orphans, and it follows an unidentified previous chronology.
- The Earth Sphere has been devastated by war, though not on the scale seen in X Gundam. The crater from Operation British is visible on the world map; likewise, Northern Ireland is gone.
- Before the PD was the Calamity War, an approximately 300 year period where out of control AI-operated self-sustaining weapons fought humanity. 1/4 of the population died.
- There's at least one colony cluster in the PD.
- The Gundam Frames appear to have a strong emphasis on close combat capabilities, in part to deal with AI-operated mobile armor that was difficult to accurately hit at range.
- The Alaya-Vijnana System for interface with and control of mobile suits has conceptual similarities to the GUND system from Witch From Mercury.
- The idea of Mobile Suits that mimic the wearer's body motions is explored in G Gundam, albeit with a waldo suit rather than a neural interface.
While the data is somewhat vague, I'm inclined to see the events of Mobile Fighter G Gundam as either preceding the Calamity War (introducing the technology for AI controlled, self-sustaining mobile weapons) or actually representing the opening stages of the Calamity War.
Advanced Generation: The setting for Gundam AGE. Wondering why I kept bringing up Mars related facts earlier? Here's why.
Unknown earlier date: Many dangerous technologies are banned under the Silver Chalice treaty, with all data destroyed except for the archives of the secret EXA-DB
- If I had to guess, this probably occurred between the end of the AD timeline and the start of the UC, and explains the absence and/or need to rediscover certain key technologies in the UC period.
35 Years before AG 1: Earth Federation starts Mars colonizations
- Mars Colonization starts in AC 182 == UC 0081. Therefore, AG1 == UC 0116
- Unspecified time after: Mars Colony suffers from a disease outbreak that kills 20% of the colony. Earth Federation writes off the colony as lost.
- AG 101 (==UC 0216) -- First appearance of the Unknown Enemy, destruction of Angel colony
- AG 108 (==UC 0223; concurrent with the events of G Saviour) -- Unknown Enemy attacks Ovan colony
- AG 115 (==UC 0230) -- By this time, the Earth Federation is a unitary government again following the whole CONSENT mess.
- AG 164 (==UC 0279) -- End of the war with the Unknown Enemy, who turned out to be the survivors of the Mars Colony
- AG 201 (==UC 0316) -- Some time before this year, forbidden technology from the EXA-DB was used to repair Mars' atmosphere and finally complete its terraforming
Reguild Century: The other tricky one. This is the timeline for Reconguista in G.
The Reguild Century explicity takes place after the Universal Century, which is in turn described as lasting about 2000 years.
- That 2000 years probably also includes some of the other timelines.
In this period, the dominant religion includes the "AG Tech Taboo" in its dogma, banning many technologies seen as dangerous.
- This may refer to the various previously-suppressed technologies that were recovered during the Advanced Generation period.
- G-Reco takes place in RC 1014.
- The show depicts several locations previously seen in Ɐ Gundam in un-ruined states.
- While the evidence suggests that G-Reco predates Ɐ, the director has suggested that it is, in fact, a sequel to Ɐ, happening 500 years later. This seems unlikely, and I'm inclined to ignore this until and unless its confirmed on screen.
Ad Stella: The latest one, and the one we know the least about. This is the setting of The Witch From Mercury, and here is what we know:
- There is space station in the vicinity of Mercury
- Sophisticated mobile suit technology already exists
A human-machine interface, called GUND, exists. It can be used for applications ranging from prosthetics all the way up to operating mobile suits
- Fairly extensive cyberprotheses are used in this era by people who live in space to combat issues with extended living in microgravity.
- The GUND technology poses some health risks and some controversy exists in society regarding its proliferation.
- Dialogue in the G-Witch Prologue suggests mobile suit technology predated the GUND system.
- There's an organization or government called the "Front 3rd Autonomous Sector." Is this a reference to space colonies autonomous from Earth? We don't know. Also, there's a news organization called Interplanetary News Network, which suggests that planets other than Earth are inhabited in this time period.
So how does this fit into the puzzle? Its too early to say. My knee jerk reaction is to put it in the later part of the timeline, around the Calamity War period, or even after it, but we'll just have to watch the new show and see what it reveals!
Reviewing The Results
Based on the data above, this is what I'd propose as the chronological viewing order of the Gundam franchise. Bear with me here, it's a bit of a wild ride.
- Secret Deep Backstory: Space Runaway Ideon, an honorary member of the franchise (see here).
- Cosmic Era
- Anno Domini
Early Universal Century
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
The One Year War (a bit of a tangle)
- MS IGLOO (Episode 1)
- MS IGLOO 2 (Episode 1)
- MS IGLOO (Episode 2)
- MS IGLOO 2 (Episode 2)
- Mobile Suit: Gundam (Episodes 1-12)
- 08th Mobile Suit Team (Episode 1-6)
- Mobile Suit: Gundam (Episodes 13-25)
- MS IGLOO 2 (Episode 3)
- 08th Mobile Suit Team (Episode 7 and Miller's Report)
- Mobile Suit: Gundam (Episodes 26-29)
- MS IGLOO (Episode 3)
- 08th Mobile Suit Team (Episodes 8-11)
- MS IGLOO (Episode 4)
- Gundam 0080 (Episode 1)
- Mobile Suit Gundam (Episodes 30-31)
- Gundam 0080 (Episodes 2-5)
- Gundam Thunderbolt (Episodes 1-3)
- Mobile Suit Gundam (Episodes 32-36)
- Gundam 0080 (Episode 6)
- Mobile Suit Gundam (Episodes 37-40)
- MS IGLOO (Episode 5)
- Mobile Suit Gundam (Episodes 41-42)
- MS IGLOO (Episode 6)
- Gundam Thunderbolt (Episode 4)
- Mobile Suit Gundam (Episode 43)
- 08th Mobile Suit Team (Episode 12)
- Gundam Thunderbolt (Episodes 5-8)
- Gundam 0083
- Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta
- Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack
- Operation Meteor
- Middle Universal Century
- Late Universal Century (generational time jumps between these entries)
- The Advanced Generation and Beyond (very large time jumps between these entries)
- The End... and the New Beginning (thousands of years between entries)
And that, as they say, is that. This list is my best guess at the chronological viewing order for the Gundam franchise, based on the clues and details of each show. I hope you found this interesting! At some point I'd like to come back and do a deep dive into the implications of Gundam Wing happening in the middle of the Universal Century, but that'll have to wait for another day since I think I've more than met my writing quota for the time being!
Edited by gregaaz