Every now and then, something will come along that's undeniably impressive. The Gundam Official Guide is one of those impressive things. Published by Viz under their Animerica banner, the guide was released in March 2002 at the affordable price of only $12.95. It was worth every penny back in 2002, and it's still worth the investment now, especially since they still sell cheap on eBay.
What's most remarkable about the guide is that, despite it being well over a decade old, it's still very informative (especially since there's still a handful of Gundam titles that haven't been released yet in the US).
Written by Mark Simmons, Benjamin Wright, and "the editors of Animerica Magazine," the guide is as in-depth as one can get. Simmons may be one of the foremost experts on Gundam in the US. Not only was he the script consultant for Bandai's English adaptations of the Gundam anime, but also wrote for the now-defunct Gundam Official website along with the informative Gundam Project (also defunct) website which he had maintained for over seven years. Simmons also contributed a spectacular introduction to Stone Bridge Press's release of the Gundam novel trilogy, published in 2004.
First off the Gundam Official Guide is packed with high-quality screenshots from the various anime series', along with photos of various collectibles like action figures, model kits, video games, etc, all on nice glossy paper. Even the most die-hard fan will likely learn something new hear. The guide's introduction gives a condensed history of the Gundam universe and spends some time giving the reader an idea about how prevalent the Gundam pop-culture phenomenon is, not just in Japan, but around the world.
There's an informative look into the production history of the franchise that covers each series (up until then-current Turn A Gundam). This is followed by a detailed directory of the central creators, artists, character/mech designers, and anyone else of significant importance to the history of Gundam.
Each series is then given ample attention, with images of every show's main characters and mobile suits. This is really nice, as it not only gives the age and short bios of the characters but also insanely detailed specs and descriptions of the mobile suits.
After covering each series, TV special, and film (even including the oft-forgotten live-action G-Savior), the guide delves deep into the side-stories that fill out the Gundam universe. This includes everything from manga to video games to Gundam The Ride: A Baoa Qu, an attraction located at the Fujikyu Highland theme park at the base of Mt. Fuji.
The guide even takes a deeper look at the Gundam mythology by examining the real-world science and technology behind the space colonies. This is actually more fun than it sounds and doesn't get bogged down by any techno-jargon. Every Gundam show has its fair share of political maneuverings and philosophical diatribe, and these are examined as well. Most of the article focuses on the Earth Federation, Zeon, and Newtype beliefs, but other groups from the alternate-universe shows are discussed too. Rounding it all out is a history of the mobile suit, from its humble beginnings prior to the One Year War to its evolution throughout the franchise.
And no Gundam guide would be complete without a section on the massive model kit industry that the franchise helped foster for years--and still continues to this day. We even get a look at some action figures and "miscellaneous" items like art books, trading cards, and soundtracks.
Over a decade later, and I still have yet to read a more comprehensive tome of Gundam information published in one collected volume. Certainly, as far as the US goes, you won't find any better (I would imagine that there's no shortage of such books in Japan, albeit in Japanese...). Of course, in the age of the Internet being the go-to source for all information, guides like these may seem antiquated to many. But take my word for it, the Gundam Official Guide still makes for a great read and I find myself returning to its pages time and again, more so than I ever imagined I would when purchasing it years ago.
It's a shame that this guide first hit the shelves back in 2002 and we still have yet to see several Gundam shows get released in the US. Fortunately, as of last year, Turn A Gundam finally received a North American release, and there's been rumor that Gundam ZZ may be forthcoming too, but it's still hard to say when Victory Gundam and Gundam X will get their due. One could only hope that it'll be soon.