If there’s a franchise that I seem to neglect the most, it’s probably the Gundam series. Giant robots are my jam, but I often find it difficult to go back and watch through all the various Gundam series. Considering there are so many different anime that are spread across decades, it’s certainly a daunting task! With so many differing continuities, as well as various adaptations to take into consideration, it becomes a near impossibility to consume every part of the franchise.
I got into Gundam when I was about 11, though the infinitely enjoyable Mobile Fighter G Gundam series. This show was bombastic insanity, and I knew I just needed more of the franchise! While most Gundam shows are different, they almost always focus on some kind of war fought with giant robots. Eventually, Gundam decided to go back to the beginning with Gundam Seed. Gundam Seed was a reboot / re-imagining of the original show, taking a ton of old concepts and characters and changing them up.
Gundam Seed is a series that can be hit-or-miss to a lot of people. I like Gundam Seed, but I’m not a super huge fan of it. The new characters felt too much like the originals and didn’t do enough to deviate or feel unique or stand out. Fight scenes were great and the new Gundams were well-designed, but it just lacked that punch that the original. In all honest, I think I would’ve liked Mobile Suit Gundam Seed more if it was it’s own entity.
Surprisingly enough, my prayers were answered when I discovered the oft-forgot manga known as Gundam Seed Astray. What is it? Well, if Gundam Seed is the story of Luke Skywalker, then Astray would be the tale of Han Solo. Astray focuses on the junk collector known as Lowe Gear (Lowe Guele in the Japanese version) and revolves around his seemingly bottomless luck. Lowe one day stumbles across a giant robot known as an “Astray” unit, a Gundam that was focused on very loosely on the show. Lowe finds two such units, but the other is stolen by a mercenary named Gai Murakumo.
Lowe pilots the Red Frame while Gai pilots the Blue Frame, and the two quickly become friends and rivals. The two also deal with the third Astray frame, known as the “Yellow Frame”, piloted by a dangerous nobleman known as Rondo Sahaku. The three engage in dangerous battles, as Lowe tries his best to collect junk and improve his mech. What makes Lowe interesting is that he’s one of the few pilots in the series to be able to pilot a Gundam without any augmentations. Lowe is an ordinary human, unlike 99% of the pilots in the series. Despite not being a Coordinator, Lowe is able to tangle with the strongest fighters in the series. Utilizing an old outdated computer as an assistant, Lowe braves the dangers of space and does battle with various threats.
Astray’s plot unfolds alongside the series it’s based on, very frequently crossing over and referencing the series. Likewise, Seed acknowledges Astray as well, creating this really good synergy. Astray got a ton of spinoffs and sequels of its own, including one focusing on side stories revolving around Lowe and friends, and even focusing on Gai and the Serpent’s Tail guild. The series continues to spawn various spin-offs and sequels, but I’ll always remember the original series and R the most.
Astray was more focused on plot, while R acted as a supplementary series to it. R filled in some of the gaps and also had an extremely bad-ass art-style. Then there’s X Astray, which was… Okay. I honestly didn’t like how the series started to veer off after a while and took the focus away from Lowe. It’s not that I don’t like the other characters, but Lowe’s bottomless charisma made other characters feel bland by comparison.
While Seed felt like another whiny melodrama during war-times, Astray was an attempt at telling a light story set in the same universe. Silly space adventures focusing on a happy-go-lucky goofball was the name of Astray’s game. Is it perfect? Nah, but it had a lot of heart to it and I enjoyed it greatly. It just sucks it never got a true anime adaptation, outside of a few five-minute shorts that is.
Honestly, if you can find old copies of this series, I recommend picking them up. They aren’t perfect and the series is over-stuffed with filler at times, but it’s something I can wholeheartedly recommend. Awesome action, nicely drawn artwork, like-able characters, silly adventures, what’s not to love? Maybe one day Astray will finally get an anime adaptation, though I doubt it. To be fair, it’s fine as is and doesn’t really need one. After all, why kick it into high gear, when it’s fine enough in Lowe Gear?