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I'm mildly disappointed. Gundam Build Real is geolocked on youtube, which tells me Bandai has no plans of even translating it. Even their SD Gundam shows get subs and international releases! This sucks.

I mean, the show is likely ass, so it's not like this is a huge loss or anything, but still. Bummertown.
 

Mightyblue

aggro table, shmaggro table
(He/Him/His)
Yeah, that's just odd considering how popular the Build subseries has been in general. Hell, Re:Rise is one of the best Gundam shows in the last twenty years if not further.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)

I feel like there's simultaneously a lot and not very much to say about Gundam ZZ, now having finished watching it. It's not holistically very different at all from the previous two series, despite the disproportionate reputation as a major tonal shift thanks to the earlier episodes' focus on slapstick and lighter stakes relative to precedent. That's when it's also at its best, as several factors work in its favour in that period: the tiresome grimness of Zeta is washed away when remnants of its plotting turn up, like the habitual villain bore Yazan, who is summarily defanged and stripped of all pretenses of unearned gravitas in this world of comical capers, humbled until he's rendered totally irrelevant as any kind of menace. The new recurring villains in Mashymre and Chara are such over-the-top buffoons that they feel like good-natured skewerings of archetypes established prior, played off as pisstakes instead of trying to put them over as vehicles for inept drama. It feels like a statement of intent for the franchise, at least for this series's run, to refresh and seek new avenues of storytelling, and that's exceedingly welcome as the dramatics that Gundam's depended upon up until here have largely fallen flat for me, time and time again. Other factors also elevate these early misadventures, as they're nearly all concentrated to the interior of the Shangri-La space colony and its environment, which grants the series opportunity to choreograph scenes with gravity and other aspects of habitat in mind, and explore them in a varied but defined setting. The usual gruel of Gundam plotting is terrifyingly monotonous as a rule, as it consists of endless travel and zero-gravity fight scenes in the void of space, lacking much of any kind of sustained or diverse interest unless you're into mechs slamming into each other as a fundamental concept, as that's often all there is to rely on. When the localized, down-to-substitute-earth conflicts are playing out in ZZ early on, I don't feel that disconnect as harshly.

But of course, it doesn't last. The series eventually course-corrects into an ostensibly more palatable Gundam mold for those that crave the familiar, serving up more callously and for-the-benefit-of-men's-development killed women, space sorties, the saga of Bright's developing ulcer, and supernatural pseudoscientific mysticism to underline the developing dramatic lines. I don't fault the series for depending on "what works", but this is from the perspective of someone who doesn't think the precedent ever worked very well, and more pertinently the attempt to slot this cast and series into the former Gundam template results in a lot of uncharacteristically shoddy or inexplicable storytelling that I'm not sure how to reconcile even after seeing it all play out, and I don't think the series does either. A lot of it is focused around particular characters, so a spotlight on a few:

  • Leina. She's already allotted a troubling role as the protagonist's little sister, kidnapping victim and motivating bauble to be secured and won back, but as she's predictably (and never any less frustratingly) killed off for his dramatic reaction, the series at some point just plain decides to retcon that death away, in an effort so abrupt, unelaborated upon and incoherent that you almost have to admire the titanic shrug that accompanies the plotting decision. Leina's death added very little to any interesting storytelling, but the undoing of it never serves the character either--she remains a non-player to the end, resurrected for some vague attempt at a less-than-hopeless ending for the central hero, in the process calling into question the narrative merit of these artificially staged deaths in a way that doesn't exactly elevate their impact on the storytelling.
  • Kamille. The erstwhile protagonist returns, for a portrayal that hones in on fraught aspects of the character in far worse form that in his own series. Kamille was honestly fascinating in Zeta as the point of view character, as he was prickly, unlikable at first blush and suffered from serious anger management issues that weren't framed as any kind of power fantasy to self-insert into (never mind how bizarrely violent everyone is in Zeta). What actually was kind of powerful that in a fairly infamous moment he self-identified as autistic--self-deprecatingly, self-loathingly, but he still did, and that reading is there in the text for those that care to follow up on it, and there really have never been, especially in the mid-'80s, very many such explicitly coded representations of being on the spectrum in pop culture for those of us who want that mirror. ZZ's hugely disappointing in this regard as it uses the convenience of Zeta's conclusion and the trauma Kamille suffered there as a plot rationalization and instigating event to shift Kamille's character from a somewhat rare and realistic portrayal to a version of Hollywood autism with all the coding associated with that, and the relevant plot functionality to boot. Kamille is just a walking plot point now, magically communing with others (in a context different from the usual Newtype mindmelting thanks to the coding that's part of the character) and alerting them to danger, a discarded tool who's outlived his relevance as a person. It's weird, uncomfortable, and totally in line with major media trends, from this era or others.
  • Elpeo Ple. What the fuck happened here? When the original Macross featured the Zentradi spy trio whose names combined into a WE ARE PEDOPHILES declaration when read in sequence, it was offputting and worrying from any perspective imaginable, but as those characters ended up paired with the adult bridge crew as romantic foils, whatever intent the "wordplay" (ugh) carried at least did not extend to overall theming with said characters, or walked a very narrow thread without teetering over the edge. With the child soldier Ple in ZZ, we are offered no such mitigating factors: her name, odd as it seems initially but barely registering as unusual next to every other naming convention in the franchise, turns out to be an even more flagrant nod to the worst intersections of nerd culture at the time, to the at that point well-established pornographic magazine Lemon People focused entirely on underage characters. That this veritable immortalization exists isn't, again, surprising--the grassroots scenes and underground rings for such media had always been there, but in the media-explosive era of Japan's bubble economy they were bolstered in the same way other, less malignant enterprises were, and began operating with more visibility, confident in being socially protected in their continued operation. What is harder to wrap one's head around is that high-level decision-making professionals in one of the most popular media franchises of the time saw fit to include a barely-covert tribute to a publication like this as if it was a badge of honor, and to make matters worse, tie it all up to a character whose premise, treatment and presentation all support that fucked up thematicism. Ple's literally-ten-year-old body, her own or her identical clone's, is subject to several fully nude pans across her where the camera lingers for so long on her form, none of which is left abstract for modesty, decency or any other passable reason--instead we have slow zooms on the distinctly defined nipples of unconscious ten-year-olds. Even narratively, it's the same old Gundam shit: present a half-hearted mixture of a tragic child soldier, grooming, psychological and medical abuse, and then exit stage left through a pre-ordained death to make a dude sad, more interested in exploiting those themes than critiquing them. It's unavoidable that everything about Ple reads as exploitative, for the larger social context of her existence and the creators' willingness to openly contribute to that sordid legacy.
  • Glemy. If Leina stands as the most awkward, incoherent storytelling the series engages in from a plot-related perspective, then Glemy is her counterpart in being its most incomprehensible character. Who is this guy? His motives are eventually plain, but where's the emotional foundation that makes the audience actually care about him? He's just a character who hangs around scenes for long enough that he lands the role of a major antagonist seemingly because no one else is available to be built into one, and his ongoing presence as an ostensibly important player is completely unearned and unbelievable in the specific unbelievable context of the wider Gundam universe and storytelling style: he doesn't have an iota of Haman's screen presence, charisma, or dramatic weight and the staging of him as a serious opponent of hers ends up narratively damaging them both. The characterization earlier and later in the series for Glemy seems like two completely different people, and the transition or development never actually takes place. ZZ is plagued with these kinds of missed connections that are vital for a good serial to function and continue to compel, and Glemy embodies too many of them for as focal a part as he eventually plays.
I don't know. I'm kind of emotionally removed from Gundam as far as I've watched it: none of it especially interests me so it's easy for me to disassociate and deinvest and just power through even though so much of it bores or actively puts me off. It's extremely disposable to me as media which is why it continues to be so consumptible. The usual and newly-conceived failures in ZZ actually do kind of bother more than usual, as many individual parts or characters--Elle, Roux, Mashymre, Chara, Bright, Astonaige--were enjoyable enough that I wish they were represented by something better, and nowhere is that feeling stronger than with Haman, whom I continue to be drawn to through the magnetism of the portrayal far beyond the confines of what this series eventually ended up being. That's why it's kinda rough to think that the character may be undervalued because she's primarily associated in playing main antagonist in a series that's at best divisive, but I guess that's how it's been for over thirty years at this point. If I want to remember Gundam ZZ at all, it's going to be for her, as ultimately the entire series was spent trying to answer the crucial question of "where is Haman, and what is she doing"? The sustained interest in finding an answer to that counts for a lot, I think.
 
Always fun to read your writeups, Peklo. I was looking forward to seeing your reaction to ZZ once it ended, specifically because of how it morphs into a completely different show about halfway. Just a few odd comments/notes:

Leina... the series at some point just plain decides to retcon that death away, in an effort so abrupt, unelaborated upon and incoherent that you almost have to admire the titanic shrug that accompanies the plotting decision.
I'm not sure if you're alluding to already, or are unaware of the fact, but the show definitely telegraphed her survival long before her resurfacing. And I really liked the way they did it because for a while, it could just be chalked up to Judau potentially going a little crazy, and there's this constant tension where you can feel the unease as the supporting cast kinda look at each other like "Uhhhh... should we say something!?"

Kamille... What actually was kind of powerful that in a fairly infamous moment he self-identified as autistic--self-deprecatingly, self-loathingly, but he still did, and that reading is there in the text for those that care to follow up on it, and there really have never been, especially in the mid-'80s, very many such explicitly coded representations of being on the spectrum in pop culture for those of us who want that mirror.
Did you watch Zeta via fansubs or through more official means? The veracity of that line is something I've always been mildly curious about. Zeta never got an official translation for decades, and most fansubs of it historically were written by bored memers with tenuous grasps on the language. And there was such a lack of information, recognition, and understanding of autism in general, never mind Japan back in the mid 80s, that I've always doubted that was a valid translation. I could always crack open a jisho and figure it out but that would be an effort that would eclipse my only mild curiosity.

Elpeo Ple. What the fuck happened here?
If you wanted to give a generous reading of the character, you could make an argument that the character was meant to portray the gross exploitation of children in warzones/by adults in general. The character arc of both Purus is generally about becoming self-aware and realizing they were being exploited, reclaiming their personal agency, learning some real social mores/values, and then actualizing that agency by doing something worthwhile for once. Of course, you have to ignore all the skeevy and regressive facets built into that story, which completely undermines all of that.

The funny thing about both Purus dying is that while both events fit the "for man pain" mold, the show spends such little time focusing on the events and the subsequent character reactions that it ultimately fails at even doing that job. Puru Two's death is actually so vague and not reacted to that there's actual plausible deniability that she even died. (She definitely died though.)

Glemy... The characterization earlier and later in the series for Glemy seems like two completely different people, and the transition or development never actually takes place. ZZ is plagued with these kinds of missed connections that are vital for a good serial to function and continue to compel, and Glemy embodies too many of them for as focal a part as he eventually plays.
This is just a popular fan theory, but Glemy's transformation from two-bit lieutenant to master of machinations is likely a product of CCA getting greenlit mid-production. The theory goes, Char was supposed to surface at the back-half of ZZ to lead the insurrection against Haman. But then when Char was pulled out of the scenario so that he and Amuro could have a final duel in theaters, someone had to fill the role in the scenario in ZZ, and Glemy got shoved in there. It's a compelling theory because much of Glemy's actions and perspectives make waayyyy more sense when you assume they were meant to be written for Char.
 
Did you watch Zeta via fansubs or through more official means? The veracity of that line is something I've always been mildly curious about. Zeta never got an official translation for decades, and most fansubs of it historically were written by bored memers with tenuous grasps on the language. And there was such a lack of information, recognition, and understanding of autism in general, never mind Japan back in the mid 80s, that I've always doubted that was a valid translation. I could always crack open a jisho and figure it out but that would be an effort that would eclipse my only mild curiosity.

He uses the medical term for autism (自閉症), but like you observe as with a lot of invocations of mental disorders in popular culture that doesn't necessarily mean the show is using it accurately.

(I'm reminded of how many X-Men characters from the 70s-90s have some form of "schizophrenia" and/or "autism" but their depictions don't match the actual meanings of those terms at all.)

If you google カミーユ 自閉症 you can see a lot of threads of people discussing how literally to take it and whether or not they're using it correctly or if Tomino has any idea what he's talking about, fwiw.

edit: Someone in one of those threads quotes Tomino in an interview making it very explicit that he meant Kamille to be autistic, so the creative intent side of the discussion is cleared up. (That doesn't mean you have to think the portrayal makes any sense!)
 
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Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Yeah, Legion from New Mutants is a good contemporary example of where autism is similarly invoked but treated very callously, awkwardly and inaccurately. I don't doubt Gundam attempted similar and tripped for comparable reasons.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I'm not sure if you're alluding to already, or are unaware of the fact, but the show definitely telegraphed her survival long before her resurfacing. And I really liked the way they did it because for a while, it could just be chalked up to Judau potentially going a little crazy, and there's this constant tension where you can feel the unease as the supporting cast kinda look at each other like "Uhhhh... should we say something!?"

I took a long break (like six months or more) after Leina's "death" because the show just wore me down, so in theory this should all be in my recent memory, but this is not how it came across to me at all. There's a huge dramatic focus on Judau mourning Leina and everyone trying to emotionally support him after she dies, and that goes on at least until Ple, the new surrogate little sister figure, also dies. At some point after that--maybe around the colony drop on Dublin--there's a silent montage scene of various tableaus around the world, one of which is... just Leina and Sayla, of all people, mugging for the camera on a beach, looking weirdly happy with themselves. And it's after this completely out of nowhere, inexplicable cut that they start writing in that Judau thinks Leina's still alive and people like Beecha are starting to worry about his mental health. After that they just dole out the necessary (and flimsy) justification why Leina's back, why Sayla is involved (she's here to promote Char's upcoming movie), why Judau's not legitimately grieving anymore, and then we get the tearful reunion as the final scene of the show. Unless I missed nuances and asides along the way, I picked up on nothing about the entire ordeal that was foreshadowed, set up or even retconned convincingly after the fact. It just... happens, like the showrunners changed their minds. A lot about ZZ feels like that!
 
Thanks for the clarification estragon! It's something I've always wondered about, especially considering just how bad a lot of fansubs for Zeta and ZZ used to be. Like, you literally couldn't watch ZZ for over a decade without tiresome amounts of cursing and homophobia inserted into the script. And even years after better subs had been written, those old meme-subs still survived and were the most easily available version of subs for a long time after.

Re: Leina - ok, that tracks Peklo. Which is why I opened up with some uncertainty on my part. I could have sworn Judau was talking to his sister/in denial about her death before that, but I trust your memory about what happened since it's been a fair bit longer since I last watched ZZ. I still think all of that amounts to more foreshadowing for the ending vs some of the character turns. (Here's Mashmyre, but he's been Cyber-Newtype'd!) But you're right that it feels like a retcon.

Curious Peklo about what you thought of Shinta & Qum. The stereotypical Gundam Babies are usually a low-point for most Gundam fans, and often intentionally ignored. But I thought they were thoroughly endearing in ZZ and came into their own, versus just being obligatory mascots in Zeta. (I'm very glad they were never brought back in later installments to get the Katz treatment.)

Also I just wanna leave y'all with this magazine spread of Haman being Haman

 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Since I talk a lot about how this franchise chews through and spits out women, I figured I might make mention of something that actually worked for me on that front in ZZ.


Chara Soon is a deeply ridiculous character in a deeply ridiculous series. To have her and fellow giant ham Mashymre Cello frequently strut to the forefront of the ongoing conflict and define it is about as silly as the crew of scrappy kids that regularly foil their plans, and that's Gundam ZZ for the longest while. You might argue she's representative of its very essence, a loud and cartoonish pest whose presence doesn't so much make gestures towards any kind of lofty moral messaging but is simply content to deliver entertaining farce. It's in her visual design, the glammest glam in a show that's not lacking in that expression, and the stock sexuality that the character is also defined by. Chara is frankly a hugely sexist character in how she's portrayed, from how she's defined in both cinematography and framing and also character interactions breasts-first, and how her forward nature is treated as an unwanted embarrassment because she's a ripe old 23 years old. Whatever her wild "mood swings" are meant to communicate on a gendered level can be taken as read, too.


There's also a strange compelling pull to her that's hard to place. Maybe it's the voice acting performance, a standout in the series. Hazuki Kadoma basically only played this character in her career, and for an industry that's so often defined by lifelong pros that practically fashion their own voices into reliable, saleable archetypes, that novelty distinguishes Chara's screen presence, with Kadoma's raspy, uniquely-inflected delivery that strikes as much rawer and unrefined of a performance than the medium usually allows for. Chara's long-term imprisonment as a POW on the Argama amidst its crew also forms an odd sense of camaraderie between her and her wards, even in light of the warped power dynamics, and that's partly to do with how being primarily a vehicle for jokes, Chara's personal morality, values and beliefs are mostly left uncommented upon to the extent that one might wonder if she possesses any at all. It's that vagueness that later allows for her and Mashymre to be, again, essentially rewritten upon reintroduction to suit the story's shifted needs, this time under the auspices of the narrative contrivance of Cyber-Newtype conditioning and hypnosis.


All of this makes it difficult to get a handle on a "real" Chara, and maybe one doesn't even exist. The character ultimately isn't complex, but since Gundam at least attempts to imbue its characters with a grand interiority most of the time, the willingness to slot her into that role is inevitable. What I think is important about her is that despite all the ambiguity about who this woman even is, in her final moments, whether set up for it as part of machinations larger than herself or not, she asserts herself in doing what she for the entire series most delighted in: flying her stupid space robot, yelling loudly, making things explode and probably climaxing for it. That's her lasting statement, going the distance at the closing of the story and wresting it to her absurd rhythm one last time. It's not a bad way to go out.

 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Curious Peklo about what you thought of Shinta & Qum. The stereotypical Gundam Babies are usually a low-point for most Gundam fans, and often intentionally ignored. But I thought they were thoroughly endearing in ZZ and came into their own, versus just being obligatory mascots in Zeta. (I'm very glad they were never brought back in later installments to get the Katz treatment.)

I thought they were great. My favourite chapter/episode of the original series is when Kikka, Letz and Katz get swept into an outrageous sequence of events where they're commandeering heavy machinery and scrambling to dispose of bombs around Jaburo or wherever. I was so much more invested in and plain worried about that than any dour space tactics standoff that's otherwise going on. Generally I just want different personalities to keep interacting with each other in these stories and dropping rambunctious kids into the mix has always been helpful toward that end.
 

Lance Noble Aster

did his best!
(he/him)
It's not Gundam until you put kids in space, because Gundam is about kids shaping the future of humanity.

ZZ is a major point of distress for me when it comes to me as a Gundam "fan" because ZZ, in my opinion, is the second best season of Gundam. Judau's fantastic, Elle and Roux kick ass and are treated with more respect than most Gundam women get, and Mashymere and Chara are both the best of the Cyber Newtypes.

But also. As mentioned, ZZ includes a character designed explicitly designed to appeal to pedophiles, Ple, and it's fucking gross, and the worst thing in all of Gundam.

Luckily for me, Victory Gundam is even better, but it does suffer from similar failings *coughShrikeTeamcough*, because you know, Tomino.


ZZ Gundam also has some fucking yikes associated media, like Deleted Affair, which details the relationship between an adult Char Aznable and an underage Haman Karn and it just. There was clearly some especially heinous people working on Gundam during the ZZ era.
Thankfully, the official word on Gundam canonicity is that it's not canon unless it's animated, so Deleted Affair is relegated to being non-canon, even if only by accident.

EDIT: Also if it helps, Great Gundam Project and it's leftist Gundam fandom orbit tend towards thinking ZZ Gundam and Haman Karn kick ass, though the old school western fandom definitely think ZZ Gundam is bad (and also Victory Gundam, for that matter).
 
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Lance Noble Aster

did his best!
(he/him)
listen i'm trying to find the interview but it's hard because the search is mostly pulling up horny doujin and pvc statues of Ple (also horny)

EDIT: I can't find the interview / art book bit I'm thinking of that alludes to Ple being included for a certain kind of person, but I think the lingering nude shots and the way she's treated in material outside of the show speak for itself. I'm not sharing any of that stuff, you can curse your own search history if you want it.

EDIT EDIT: I did confirm, via the Gundam Wiki at least, that Hiroyuki Kitazume, the writer on Char's Deleted Affair, the one where he hooks up with an underage Haman Karn (it's the titular deleted affair, you see), also did the character designs on ZZ Gundam. He also worked on CCA, so the weirdness around Char and Quess is probably his fault, too.
But since I can't find actual word on it, I have to revise my statement: ZZ includes a character almost certainly designed to appeal to pedophiles.

I will say, that if you were to cut out her nude scenes, Ple's handling as a character in ZZ Gundam is surprisingly good, especially after Zeta's Four and Rosamia.

EDIT EDIT EDIT: I checked because I had a related suspicion after seeing Kitazume's animation director credits for ZZ Gundam, and sure enough, he directed episode 32, the episode with the grossest Ple stuff.
 
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Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)

Everything about Char's Counterattack plays out like it's doing it's damndest to provide the maximum in fan-pleasing effort to a particular sort of Gundam follower: the ones that relished in witnessing the ongoing feud between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable, how it drove the stories of the franchise whenever either was involved, and which this film is structured as the big blow-off to. It's supposed to close out that interpersonal central saga, and in doing so call back to everything that's lead up to it across a decade, neatly summarizing and celebrating the now-a-franchise. To pull that off and stay true to what Gundam at this point is, not only are the most prominent key players featured in returning roles, but the narrative theming and storytelling conventions remain as they have been, which can be an equal source of delight or frustration depending on one's outlook.

The oddness of navigating the franchise as a whole in this cogent, very authorially-driven early stage crystallizes at this eve of its momentary curtain call. I have never been able to particularly reconcile the series's willingness to frame itself as a gritty war serial while also coaxing its theses with lofty supernatural pseudoscience and veritable superheroics--while also going to not-insignificant lengths in attempts to explicate the implausible as it does so. Somewhere inbetween all of those interacting, contrasting parts of the Gundam formula I experience a disconnect that's difficult to recover from, and the tonal incongruity becomes a hindrance rather than counting as a point toward compelling verisimilitude. ZZ was, for a time, what I'd been angling for as the absurdities of Gundam were being met at their own level, and the formal content and direction seemed to exist in a particularly harmonious state where things were funny at times when they were intended to be--a rarer accomplishment than it may appear.

With Char's Counterattack, the series returns to its inaugural state in presenting high melodrama, but supercharged, as the realities of the amped-up production standards and spectacle with their sweeping symphonic scores and all-the-money-in-the-world animation budget and effort grant a heretofore unexperienced sense of momentous import to the proceedings, contrasting in grand fashion the dead-serious, but also ridiculous story being told. It's this unintentional comedy that rises to become a defining aspect of the film, embodied nowhere better than in Char himself, an ostensible slow-burn tragedy of a person the franchise has fixated on from the start, whose every action is meant to convey pathos and grave inevitability and through that self-serious pretense the over-the-top nature of the portrayal completely takes over and overrides the genuine attempts at drama in anything he attempts. He gives incomprehensible political speeches, he wears capes to formal summits, he goes horseriding business casual, he thinks very hard of his eternal rival... Char is an unwilling clown in the moments when he isn't the saddest person in the film, completely caught up in rationalization and denial of his own actions, hiding behind a martyr's agenda to safeguard himself and his gargantuan ego. He'd almost be sympathetic were he not also an enthusiastic, condescending serial abuser of vulnerable women for his own benefit, several times over even in as short of a time as a motion picture's duration.

That's really the elephant in the room here, once again, though for how consistent a standard the treatment of women in Gundam is, it can hardly be ignored willfully or otherwise in interacting with the franchise as it goes on. All the women in major roles here are defined by their attachment and relations to the men around them, romantically and possessively. Chan and Nanai are barely characters, and more like props to fashion heteronormative reassurance for the audience in the intense relationship between Amuro and Char in setting them up with romances that neither man has half the passion for that they do for each other and their mutual feelings. Longstanding "dude who just works here" crew fixture Astonaige has a girlfriend introduced in Kayra, who gets maybe five sentences in before she's killed in action and farcically mourned by the former, performed with such by-the-book panache that I'd call it parodic if I was willing to grant the franchise that level of self-awareness or criticality.

The most focal of all women in the film is radical teen prodigy Quess, who's caught up in a dynamic of being groomed for military abuse through emotional manipulation by Char, and being lusted after by Gyunei, a Zeon Newtype officer who is depicted as wanting to claim a 13-year-old for himself while accusing Char of the pedophilic conduct that he's himself a much more direct example of. Whether any kind of critical intent went into this web of relationships (and it sure is a theme that turns up with some regularity in this era for the franchise) the net result is the same, in Quess being fought over and abused by the plotting as much as she is within it in the character's own reality. Almost all of these women die, and they rarely get to do so for themselves on their own terms, never really having mattered. Much emphasis is given to how neither Amuro or Char never really moved past Lalah's death thirteen years prior, and that's how it feels on the other side of the screen too, eight or nine years after in our time: the series will invent an endless array of women to suit the wills and whims of its plotting and dispatch them in just as great numbers, in equally great haste.

Ultimately, Char's Counterattack is spectacle for the faithful, and whether it has any impact at all outside of the aesthetic dazzle of it all depends on the willingness to invest and be swept along with the conventions and storytelling priorities long since established. It has nothing new to offer except a sleeker distillation of past glories, and that can be enough or not much at all, all at the same time.
 
CCA sits in a special place in my heart, as it was my very first Gundam (aside from the first two VHS tapes of 0083 brought in clearance at a Hastings bookstore) and it was just completely incomprehensible yet delightful to a teenage me.

Now as a more informed fan that's had over a decade to ruminate on the film, I actually love it more than ever? Which is weird to me considering that the plotting and character arcs of the film are nigh incomprehensible, and even more so if you're actually an invested fan who is trying to make sense of how Char and Amuro - as we last saw them in Zeta - could end up like this. And a lot of those questions only really have answers if you examine the film in the meta context of which it was made. Which I think you might be aware of Peklo, but to the level of which I'm not fully sure based on how you discussed the film.

Everything about Char's Counterattack plays out like it's doing it's damndest to provide the maximum in fan-pleasing effort to a particular sort of Gundam follower: the ones that relished in witnessing the ongoing feud between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable, how it drove the stories of the franchise whenever either was involved, and which this film is structured as the big blow-off to.
The intensely interesting thing to me about Gundam as a franchise (especially the years in which Yoshiyuki Tomino exercised editorial control) is not just that this is dead on, but in identifying who this target audience is. Because as much there is this baseline expectation that Gundam is a franchise for boys based on the prolific merchandising, the casual sexism it plays with, and the machismo that it dances around with that's borders on pro-wrestling levels of ridiculous... that's not actually the target demo here! In fact, that's the demographic that Tomino goes out of his way to alienate at almost every turn. A lot of the formula of Gundam that doesn't mesh with you Peklo was designed specifically to cater to Gundam's under-reported/stated, under-appreciated, yet equally prolific female fanbase.

Tomino has described pretty consistently over the years among several interviews about his intention as a creator and who he makes these shows for. To him, he's far more invested in telling interpersonal drama stories and moral parables, and the mecha in them are at best, disposable vehicles for those stories that were only there due to editorial mandate from toy companies. When making the original Gundam show, it was infamously prematurely cancelled and the show had to wrap up early. Not necessarily because it was unpopular, but because the ratings system at the time poorly diagnosed its audience in a very Star Trek like scenario. The show became a hit in syndication and the rest is history.

But the context of this burgeoning fandom and how it came to be was not lost on Tomino. He in fact, actually identified very early the types of fans he had, and (In Japan, at the time) it was mostly cleaved along gender lines. There was a LOT of female fans to Gundam initially, and if you listen to Tomino, they were Gundam's most faithful. The overwhelming amount of fan mail that the show received during its initial run was from female viewers, who latched onto the dramatics, the overarching themes, and the ambiguously gay hero and his arch rival. While in production, Tomino readjusted his story to center around these themes even more. The boys only came to the franchise later, once the show had blown up in syndication, and once the toys and model kits for it had ramped up production and wider distribution. And the boys only cared about one thing and it was fucking disgusting (giant fighting robots go boom boom). It's relatively easy to read into it that this dichotomy of the fandom infuriated Tomino. You had the girls who cared about the things he cared about in the story, vs the guys who didn't really give a shit about any of that stuff and idolized these terrifying weapons of war in ways that was intensely distressing to a person whose first memories were of his country being completely leveled by bombs and fire.

A lot of the franchise's weirdness that you disconnect with Peklo, begins to make a lot more sense (in the meta sense) when you realize these things. Where is Beltorchika and why has she been replaced with Chan who is also incredibly disposable to the plot? Well, as it turns out, Gundam fans (♀) hated Beltorchika. In the same way that rabid singing idol fans get irrationally mad at anytime one of their idols shows a hint of agency and having an independent personal love life, Gundam fans got mad that Amuro would be tempted and sullied by vile temptresses and pulled away from making dreamy faces at Char. It's just this weird, intensely Japanese 80s phenomenon where a lot of the franchises's mistreatment of women characters was the exact kind of drama that was directly catered to the desires and whims of its female fanbase. It's an intensely fascinating subject to me from a detached anthropological perspective.

Much emphasis is given to how neither Amuro or Char never really moved past Lalah's death thirteen years prior, and that's how it feels on the other side of the screen too, eight or nine years after in our time: the series will invent an endless array of women to suit the wills and whims of its plotting and dispatch them in just as great numbers, in equally great haste.
Another angle that the film is interesting to me, is exactly this theme that you observe. Reading between the lines, at some point in Tomino's career, he became increasingly self-aware of the fact that what he was in essence doing, was creating children's media. And that he had a responsibility to younger generations to imbue his works with responsible messaging. He did this during a time there was very little awareness or oversight into such things, and as a cis-het-male with a host of personal issues (ego, depression, etc) he's not the best equipped person to take on this challenge and it's kinda fascinating to watch him as a creator, continually adjust and fine-tune his works in an extremely trial and error way. Zeta Gundam reads like Tomino was increasingly exasperated that certain fans (male) didn't really get his themes that war is bad while coveting the tools of war itself, so he went out of his way to double down on how terrible and un-glamorous warfare is. Which obviously didn't really work when Zeta Gundam made Gundam even more popular than it had ever been with the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

ZZ reads like one of the more blatant attempts to that point to crystalize the morality of the franchise. Adults are bad because they perpetuate conflict and strife, particularly by inflicting it upon the generations that succeed them. And the route to salvation is for youth to become aware of this toxic cycle of violence and to break the chains themselves. That's why Blight's greatest action as a good guy in ZZ is to release the crew of the Neo Argama and trust them to take care of everything by themselves without him lording over them and holding them back. That's why Haman is such a compelling character, because she was a victimized youth, trapped by her station and obligations from birth, and her solution to breaking the cycle of violence is to completely level the patriarchy - first the E.F., then her own terrifying machinations she inherited. But in doing so, she's unwittingly perpetuating the cycle further. And that's why Glemy Toto is such an evil character, because he actively delights in perpetuating the cycle of violence by actively employing and abusing children in order to further his goals of reviving the autocratic lineage that created all this warfare and violence in the Universal Century to begin with.

So flash forward to CCA now. Newtypes are supposed to be the metaphorical embodiment of human potential. Their limitless potential should enable them to act upon their increased empathy and awareness of others to create a better world. But IRL, that really hasn't happened. After eight or nine years of Gundam being this massively popular and influential franchise, people continue flocking to it for all the wrong reasons, and emulating all the wrong aspects of it. So we've got this film commissioned where Amuro and Char must duel with each other more because that's what the people demand, and Tomino frames it all as a series of personal failures. Amuro and Char were the original Newtypes, and it was their destiny and duty to lead humanity to a brighter future. And instead, both of them failed utterly and completely to live up to their potentials. Both Amuro and Char spent Zeta and ZZ wandering aimlessly and being very passive figures in those conflicts. By CCA we see them both continue to struggle with the heavy burden they have, trying their best but coming up massively short because they're so self-involved that they can't actually see the world or people around them. Both figures as Newtypes, were in the best possible positions to help guide the next generation of Newtypes (personified in Hathaway and Quess) towards a better future, but both were so self-involved with their own worries and struggles and doing the wrong things, that at best they failed to recognize what they were doing and at worst, callously used and chewed up those budding Newtypes in the same way that they had once been used and abused in their youths.

And that's really what makes the finale of the film so compelling. Is because when faced with the epiphany of that failure, the characters involved show their true colors. Amuro rises to the challenge and fulfills his destiny by giving his life to correct the mistakes of his generation in order to give future generations their own chance at life. And Char sulks, an impotent witness, made to reflect upon his failures and shortcomings. And at the very end, all he can think of is how he was repeatedly deprived his deepest desire of reuniting with a lost motherly figure. Amuro has finally become a respectable adult, and Char never managed to grow up at all.

All of this of course is, at best, still deeply problematic! Whatever the attempts at moralizing here, Hathaway and Quess and all the other supporting characters are still being treated as objects for the (male) main characters to learn important lessons from at best. The themes here are borderline masturbatory in that they make up the subtext but are so obfuscated by layers of other nonsense that it's not easy for an audience member to read them and thus might as well not exist for the sake of imparting wisdom. But in a way that's similarly detached, it's just fascinating to me to observe and ponder well after the fact, and within the context of the broader franchise. CCA was designed to be The End of Gundam. And it definitely wasn't. And as time goes on, the franchise (and Tomino's works in general) slowly learn lessons like maybe you shouldn't victimize all your characters for sad feelings, or if you're trying to speak to the budding morality of children maybe don't do this or that thing. It's fascinating to watch this egotistical and stubborn artist who notoriously battled with his own staff on projects, learn through almost nothing else but repeated failure and self-reflection. By the time we get to Turn-A Gundam, he's shifted to making Gundam shows that are orders of magnitude more responsible (but not yet perfect!) with regards to its portrayal of its female cast. And by G-Reco, women near completely eclipse men as both the primary drivers of the story as well as forming the backbone of the show's morality to a degree that's almost comical in how all the dudes in it are at best big bozos.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I'm pretty much familiar with all of that from osmosis, conjecture and just observing the series from afar and now a little closer recently (and I'm generally incapable of interacting with media without also doing other external reading and research about it as I go along), but thanks for sharing; I don't really disagree with any of it.

It's probably really clear in what I focus on and how I express myself in that I really, truly cannot be compelled to care about the mecha aspect of this series for its own sake, theoretically or in context of the whole as it's played out so far. I'm so close to tuning out completely whenever that becomes the focus and it often can feel like that, despite the ideal form of these big stomping robots just being extensions and manifestations of the human drama. That's the conflict I also have whenever the very concept of Newtypes is put under scrutiny by the narratives--not because there's some danger of the concept being unable to hold together when examined closer, because that's its base state as far as I'm concerned, and not an issue on its own. Rather it's the worry of storytelling elements so fundamentally supplemental to the main course of human drama and human emotions becoming central to the point of overtaking the rest through the sheer weight of accrued tons of ancillary lore and minutiae about how the Gundam cosmology works or doesn't, which is the point where I lose interest. There, and in the actual dramatic content not landing as intended, as I keep on detailing.

This is of course affected by my own sensitivity to such material but the most illuminating moment as far as character reads in this whole movie was a brief outburst during the climactic Amuro and Char confrontation where Nanai attempts to relay a message to Char in her capacity as his second-in-command, and what he responds with is a sneering remark that she should not interfere in a "battle between men." I don't think that was even intended to be especially revelatory as that's essentially been Char's priorities and behaviour for the longest while, but it was so uncharacteristically directly delivered, so absent of his usual slimy manipulations that it just came off as a complete mask-off moment in dropping all the pretense away from what actually pushes this character onward in his machinations and how little of a shit he gives about anything else beyond those concerns and how affected all his nominal principles and goals are. I continue to find Char a font of unintentional comedy as I mentioned, but through several small acts like this in this movie dedicated to him he became finally truly detestable to me, which is some kind of narrative accomplishment, I just don't know what kind. It's especially fascinating because the same story has him trying to enact planetary genocide, and these moments felt like they held higher stakes as far as the character's development and my read of him was concerned.

Regarding Tomino, I'm obviously frustrated with a lot of decisions he's been at the center of in this era of when he held the firmest grip on the series, but realize it's not all him and the form the stories took were always greatly affected by sponsors, marketers, producers, and any number of other creative voices whether they were working on a similar level with him or mandating things from up above. I'm looking forward to him maturing more as a storyteller, and also letting other people commit their own successes and failures onto animation cel with this monster he helped create.
 
I hope none of my writing came across as patronizing or an argument against what you've been saying. I actually agree with almost all of it, I just find the boring stuff you (very understandably) don't care about also interesting. I am a big sap for melodrama, so long as it doesn't devolve into wheel-spinning and generally furthers the story/themes/character development. I also like big punchy robots, but strangely enough Gundam's philosophy towards them has helped me detach myself emotionally from them. (They're tools, you shouldn't anthropomorphize them.)

Char is an objectively awful person, and another part about CCA I like is that it kind of serves as a character assassination of him/brings to light just how bad he is, in case you were the type of fan who was suffering under any delusions that he's actually a cool guy. I think the reaction you had with regards to the small moments being more effective versus his big abstract plot is a normal one and probably also the intended reaction an audience member ought to have.

I'm looking forward to him maturing more as a storyteller, and also letting other people commit their own successes and failures onto animation cel with this monster he helped create.
His evolution and journey as a storytellers a fascinating one that he honestly never really completes.

One thing I find inherently engaging about a lot of his shows and particularly his Gundam, is the way he tells his stories. As time goes on, he becomes more and more stubborn about eliminating common storytelling short hands like inner monologues that are designed to increase audience clarity and move the understanding of the plot along faster. Which is a lot of where complaints about his 'confusing' stories comes from. Removing narrators, poorly placed info dumps, inner monologues, and convenient narrative devices makes for a more enthralling form of storytelling for me personally, because it tasks me as a viewer to actively analyze the characters, their situations/dialogs, and employ empathy to figure out what they're feeling and what their motivations are. Which is fascinating to me on multiple levels. Even if the story/characters itself are inherently dull, the active engagement itself in the story keeps me hooked because as an audience member it's like I'm being brought into the show to help solve a puzzle. And this is one of those occasions where the formal structure of a show informs and reinforces the narrative themes of the show as well, since asking viewers to exercise empathy is core to a lot of the stories he tries to tell.

But instead of finding a happy medium, several of his shows honestly take that ethos way too far to the point where it takes a near impossible level of mental investment and media literacy for the average viewer to ever be able to follow along. This is more of a meta problem than anything else within the text of the show, until it isn't. I'm reminded of an anecdote Tomino described in a relatively recent interview where he was explaining some of the production of G-Reco. And in it, he described - with only a glimmer of self-awareness - how the voice actors were very confused and very poorly handled the revelation that these two characters could actually never hook up because they were secret siblings, incest is wrong, and the plot circumstances meant one character in this potential love affair could never actually romantically love the other even with the sibling stuff pushed aside. Like, the people doing the character performances didn't even realize these fundamental aspects about the characters they were playing or their characters thought processes, because it wasn't even apparent to them. If that's the case, the audience has a huge uphill battle to really understanding what's going on.

There are all kinds of unforced editing errors in his shows too, where there is nearly no transition between scenes, and huge amounts of time have ostensibly passed, but he is just allergic to providing establishing shots or other little visual shorthands developed in cinema to describe the passage of time so viewers aren't confused if this next series of events happened just minutes after the last one, or potentially years, it's up to you as a viewer to pay attention to all the little context clues in the background and in the dialog to come to that realization yourself. These kinds of problems seem more like editing oversights when tasked with judicious pruning of overly ambitious stories than anything else, as you are bound to find out in F-91.

The franchise without him is also a fascinating beast. Early on, there are very clear attempts by other creative talents to try and capture a lot of the same ethos, themes, and moods that defined Tomino's Gundam, but the success rate at doing so is always a mixed bag. OVA series like 0080 and 0083 tend to over emphasize and fetishize the robots in them, and focus in on the inherent tragedy of warfare without really understanding the moral imperative of that to begin with. G-Gundam does a heroic job of taking studio/toy company mandates and laundering that into something respectful of the Gundam legacy, but is entirely way too focused on the male perspective - both in show and for potential fans. As the show is one giant bulging mass of testosterone, and the emotional drama is centered chiefly around weaning a main character off of his toxic masculinity. Gundam Wing is a crazy lucid dream that really lampshades the inherent absurdity of Gundam things to preposterous levels. Gundam X is an incredibly thoughtful dissertation on Newtype magic and breaking the cycle of violence, and better explores the kinds of themes CCA wanted to than CCA while removing almost all problematic aspects of that story, and of course it's the only other Gundam to have ever been prematurely cancelled. SEED is like this remake of the original series made by people who grew up fans of the franchise, who understand what other fans like about Gundam but who don't really fully understand themselves what Gundam itself is about. Unicorn tries its hardest to be a Tomino-ass Gundam, narrative excesses and problematic relationships and all, but it is mostly emulating style over substance. And that's just the beginning of the spinoffs. Shows like 00 and IBO are so far removed from what Gundam things had traditionally been that it feels weird that they're even called Gundam to begin with. To say nothing of things like Build Fighters or SD Sangokuden that would undoubtedly make Tomino roll over in his grave if he weren't still alive. It's a really weird franchise!
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
For my own peace of mind and to establish some kind of vaguely reasonable endpoint to work towards, I'm probably going to stop watching Gundam after Turn A. It's what drew me to the series to begin with through some key visuals and concepts, and I actually tried watching it before I surrendered to the inclination to start at the start and follow production order, but that's as far as I'm willing to take this kind of long-term chronological investment as per my usual tastes and interests. I hold a similar resolve with Macross and it functionally ending for me after Macross 7, whenever I get around to that.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)

War in the Pocket is a Gundam story that's not a Gundam story. Sure, it plays in the shared continuity of the series established prior, and features many of the motifs expected from the franchise--the Earth Federation/Zeon military conflict, mobile suit battles, children as important focal players--and it has a fairly straightforward grip on the same central tenet of the series in portraying warfare to convey a message, but as to what that message is can be equally as contested as its undeniable presence in the storytelling the franchise gets up to. Memetically, it's been reduced to the foregone conclusion of an anvil that "war is bad", and more fool the viewers who misconstrue the narratives' ample efforts in hammering that point home time and time again, but Gundam for all its moral flexibility and ambiguity hasn't to this point quite figured out a way to reconcile that inherent contradiction of what it ostensibly espouses and how it carries itself to that ideology, if it ever manages or even cares to. It has effectively struggled with simplification from both ends: those that would rather it be the toyetic licensing juggernaut that it grew to be perceived as and defined by, and those that swear on its lofty explorations of morality, politics, sciences, spirituality, governance or any other grand social thesis that fits the narrative of a work being underestimated for the depth and sophistication of its themes. It is this push and pull and the self-contradictory unease that cannot be erased in any meaningful way that often results in the franchise at its most interesting even as the seams can be seen, and sometimes exactly because of it, as the audience themselves are made complicit in participating in something irreconcilable along the way. Still, what if that muddled introspection wasn't the price of admission in interacting with the demonstrably compelling concepts of Gundam? What if the premise was twisted just so in service of theme and tone, instead of carrying on on the path proven popular in the decade past?

The first thing one notices about War in the Pocket is its commitment to a level of intimacy previously unexplored in the series. What has driven Gundam up to this point have been very character interaction-heavy stories, but they've always focused on a defined protagonist amongst a cast of dozens or hundreds of faces in the ensemble. With this story, you can comfortably count the major narrative figures on the fingers of one or a pair of five-digit hands, and even that may oversell it, as what it ultimately forms into is a parallel character study between the unlikely surrogate sibling relationship between space colonist Al and Zeon rookie Bernie. From the start, the reality of the One Year War is made distant and irrelevant on multiple bases--for Al, it fuels his naivete and idealization of warfare and those that participate in it, and for Bernie and his compatriots, it underlines the callous disconnect in the duties and responsibilities they're expected to undertake in the name of a power structure and ideology they aren't allowed to come close to even understanding the nature of, let alone affecting themselves, as they're left to rely on no one but themselves and whatever they can scrounge up amongst one another, totally cut off from any kind of support structures of their own. There's a real sense of everything and everyone having been worn down by the sheer industry of war rather than any personal animosity serving to propel the conflict. The players take the stage as instructed because they have no recourse to do otherwise, and with reluctant routine resigned fatalism is never far behind.

The workmanlike attitude to warfare is reflected in how the show itself portrays violence and armed conflict. In Char's Counterattack, we saw the heightened production standards of a major motion picture realized during an economic boom result in a dizzying ballet of action choreography, as Gundam's fundamental over-the-top qualities were filtered through frenetic high-speed action designed to showcase nostalgic attractions on the big screen, moving how you'd never seen them before. The movie seemed to revel in the intricacy of its fidelity, and for War in the Pocket a similar level of quality is applied to the work wholesale for altogether different presentational ends. The action that occurs is brief and unglamorous, for both people and the mobile suits that serve as their extensions; many times over the infliction of violence leads to the unceremonious breaking down of the human body or its facsimile as parts of it simply cease to function for the level of trauma suffered, and what remains is irrevocably ravaged in turn. This is the most graphic expression of the franchise up to this point, and for the ecosystem it was part of and came from in the OVA scene of the '80s, it's a remarkably restrained use of violence in a medium whose trends had lead it into the opposite direction in overwhelming prevalence. War in the Pocket wields violence with intent, and it's sickening to experience because of that--not because you're questioning the creative decisions of the showrunners, but because their effects are so deeply felt in the execution.

What also highlights the tone of the story is the ground-level anonymity of the cast. These are not sparkling figureheads making momentous decisions that shape the destiny of the universe, nor are they vilified nemeses to rally against and swear retribution toward. Gundam's ostensible distaste for war has been complicated along the way simply for the narrative priorities of its storytelling, as it does always focus on exceptionalist viewpoints even as it coaches them in the rhetoric of and for the masses. The heroes of humble beginnings grow into idolized representations of humankind's potential, while the villains and antagonists--the Zabis, the Chars, the Hamans--are always there to provide figuratively and often literally colourful larger-than-life charismatic personalities to push against. It's not a question of who you, as a consumer of a fictional story actively "root" for on a moral or ethical basis, but that you attach and imprint on these characters simply for the desire of wanting to see more of them in the first place, week after week, and so have to participate in the functional prolonging of whatever conflict they're central players in. That's where the for-war/no-war/anti-war debates effectively stymie themselves as audience engagement forbids moralizing on any more consequential level for how the stories are structured and told. War in the Pocket's innovation in this context is its reluctance and almost total abandonment of the pro wrestling, super heroic fashioning of feuds and warfare to project onto (aside from the incredibly named and briefly appearing Lieteunant Colonel Killing who proceeds to do little of consequence in his screentime), and how meaningless and arbitrary all the decisions that dictate the fates of its cast ultimately are, how absent of the personal investment. If you read an anti-war message into the series, it must be applied generously and holistically to every single person in it, as they're all victims of the impersonal and ever-turning cogs of war, while we are still Al doodling Zakus, caught in a daydream.

If the longstanding thematic complexities are communicated with relatively more clarity in this new, condensed and distilled expression of the franchise, then so is its equally as enduring and contentious relationship with how to portray women as part of the stories. When Gundam has faltered in this respect previously, as it regularly has, it has been primarily for the inclusion of women in plot points and character development ancillary and subservient to male characters's complementary roles in those respective dynamics. The failures of Gundam are always hard to take because you can see at least part of the process that lead to the treatment, and the promise wasted as a result. If War in the Pocket is any bettered in this respect, it's confoundingly for just about the opposite reasons: it could be characterized as not trying particularly at all, as women simply aren't featured in it to any kind of prominent degree outside of the one lone exception in Chris, who to the series's credit plays a key role, has her own circumstances going on outside of the protagonist's reactive space and orbit, and isn't at any point sexualized or victimized in a way that feels exploitative. All of these factors in unison are a massive improvement from the franchise default in a vacuum, but they can't be championed too strongly as the series simply refuses to involve women much in the story it tells, and so it's a bittersweet resolution where positive change is only arrived at through omission--not because something was truly done exceptionally well this time, but because the absence of the habitual criticisms has leveled the impression toward a safe neutrality. In the end, it's up to each individual to ask themselves whether it's better to try and fail spectacularly, or to maintain appearances through refusing to act at all.

It would be inaccurate to portray War in the Pocket as totally in absentia of previous series paradigms, as the nominal parallel exists in Al and Bernie, for whatever protagonist/antagonist pairing from the series's past one cares to view them through. It's a false equivalence to draw too closely, however, as that initially teased framing and how it co-opted and defined the caustic, fraught relationship between a pair such as Amuro and Char is quickly proven not a suitable comparison to what Al and Bernie have. Where previously there was conflict and intrigue, here there is warmth and caring. Bernie, like Char, sets himself up as a mentor and confidant to an impressionable and dependent youngster to make use of them for his own pragmatic ends, but there comes a point where becoming that mask overwrites the affected nonchalance in himself and he genuinely begins to feel what he was scared to, simply because the people around him extended that hand to hold onto. Bernie in shedding his egocentrism and sheer terror in connecting to others becomes the anti-Char in how he embraces his anonymous, invisible responsibility not for a personal vendetta or the pursuit of heroic accomplishment, but for fulfilling an impossible duty to the best of his ability not because anyone tells him to but because he can't sever the connections he's unwittingly formed. Bernie's fate isn't crushing because you could not see it coming--everything about it points to the opposite viewer expectation--but for how free of the cycle of violence and hate he'd come to be and what he saw as a final message worth passing on after the death he wasn't looking for but realistically anticipated. Char perpetuated a galactic war to orchestrate circumstances for a fatal confrontation with his dearest frenemy caring little of the people hurt in the process--Bernie's response to the impending doom of millions was to weigh his own life against them and make the only choice he could.

War in the Pocket is not significant because it's "so brutal and raw, dude." It's also not a work that through its shell-shocked and somber view of the mobile suit war effort serves as some kind of repudiation of the larger context of the media franchise it's part of or serve to "deconstruct" it, as works of genuine engagement with the related heritage and subject matter are often mistaken to do. It's as much of a celebration of the franchise as the film that preceded it, but instead of fan-pleasing mythmaking, it takes the concepts of Gundam and frames them just askew enough that the novelty and sense of significance is returned after a decade of overexposure, that instead of the wearying dance of monetization and marketability the central tenets of what always powered the series at its core are made possible to be in the focus again, without distractions. The interpersonal drama and the empathy necessary for the sustained functioning of these stories are made central because everything else is stripped away, and they have to be confronted directly for the story to exist. It's not a Gundam show. But in the end, it might be the most Gundam in the ways that really matter.
 
Turn-A is as good of a place as any to stop. There's certainly stuff worth watching beyond it in the franchise, but picking and choosing is the best path forward when so many entries to the franchise after that become increasingly derivative, as well as increasingly grow further and further out of touch with the core ideas that makes Gundam, Gundam. I'd still love to see you eviscerate certain titles like Unicorn or Iron Blooded Orphans though, for my own selfish pleasure.

0080 is a really weird inflection point in the franchise. It represents the first meaningful Gundam works made without Tomino's guidance. (Not counting the SD Gundam OVAs - which are a bizarre and fascinating slice of the franchise's history, btw.) It's also the first in a long line of prestige OVAs in the franchise. As well as the first early-UC/O.Y.W. blatant nostalgia bait in the franchise. 0080 is an almost universally praised entry in the franchise to fans, but I've always held an irrational grudge against it for its place in the meta history of the franchise for those three things I listed above. For what it is though, it's a fairly decent thing.

Certain fans will trumpet 0080 as having the "first female Gundam pilot" but that's something I've always thought rang a little hollow due everything you described with regards to how sidelined she is in the plot and how absent women in general are from the story. (It also ignores all the women who piloted Gundams previously in the franchise like Emma, Roux, Elle, etc.) Different Gundam shows have differing levels of success with regards to how inclusive and progressive they are with their female characters. But if I'm being honest with myself, even the Gundams that do the best job at this, still come up short in the end. And will continue to come up short for the foreseeable future because of its nature as a franchise, the attitudes of the suits in charge, the demographics it cares about first and foremost, and the culture that it's born from. Gundam will never allow for a female lead. The closest thing we'll ever get is Laura. (Big part of why I love that show the most.)
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I think tonal and thematic biases really actively shape what kind of roles women are allowed to have in the franchise. For Tomino works, he's really preoccupied with a high-minded concept of universal self-actualization of the human condition on basically metaphysical levels of narrative--he cannot ignore the existence of women in light of that thematic core, and that's why there's heartbreak in seeing his stories attempt and often fail at the representation reached for. For War in the Pocket, I don't get the feeling that a similar sense of aspirational, flawed inclusivity guided the makeup of the story that eventually formed--rather the idea of a blue-collar, quiet character drama was stereotypically shaped from gendered genre ingredients that didn't even consider women's place in them. It functions, but is in a way far less ambitious than other Gundam works, and that straightforward quality both thematically and in the style of the storytelling where it's not necessary to particularly parse and scrutinize closely to get an emotional response out of go a long way in showcasing why it's got a non-fanatic reach not shared by other franchise representatives.

I'd still love to see you eviscerate certain titles like Unicorn or Iron Blooded Orphans though, for my own selfish pleasure.

I think it's more likely that after Turn A I'll let go of the "obligation" (poor me!) of following production order in sequence, and may watch whatever catches my attention afterward if I still want more. Preliminary sense is that Reconguista in G has the best chance of being worth my time in latter-day Gundam.
 
"aspirational, flawed inclusivity" is a great way to phrase it.

0080's approach to female characters is honestly going to be a high point for non-Tomino Gundam shows for a long while. 0083 is a regressive train wreck in that respect. (Nina Purpleton is a big bag of yikes, and Cima Garahau is a discount store version of Haman Karn that wants to be Haman without really understanding what makes Haman great.) G-Gundam is a masculine power-fantasy, so women's roles in the story are extremely limited at best, almost like a traditional sports anime. Gundam Wing is just a hot mess in all aspects from beginning to end. Gundam X wants to do a good job of female representation, but it never manages to make any of its female characters as important as the core of main dudes; women always feel like accessories to the action, even if they've managed to attain equal partnership in the romance arena. 08th MS Team wants to be Romeo & Juliet in space, and you can guess how that one goes. The 90s were a brutal stretch, and it really isn't until Turn-A where women are allowed to be just as important (if not more so) to the plot as men. And there's this broad and dynamic spectrum of women so that for every character who is a hot mess, there's several who balance that out with competency and swagger. The Prince and the Pauper tale of Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim is the emotional core of Turn-A and it's so good. And the Loran/Laura dynamic is probably Tomino's unironcally best attempt at a discussion of gender roles.

G-Reco in this respect is just inches away from being this incredible, indescribable thing. In that if it didn't have a toy manufacturer mandated male main character, it would feel like a band of kickass women out to smash the patriarchy. It gets sooooo close, but Gunpla is for boys, so Gundam will always be saddled with that baggage.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)

Gundam F91 is great.

Really, it is about that straightforward of an estimation, made perhaps all the more significant in how much of an uphill struggle most of this other stuff has been for me. Whatever particular criticisms spring to mind are all relatively minor, and I'm not in the headspace to organize my thoughts in any structured manner, so a couple of individual talking points to elucidate why the film left a positive impression, or weird curiosities about it:
  • is it ever good to have Yoshikazu Yasuhiko back on character design. Haruhiko Mikimoto's work on War in the Pocket was certainly distinct because how could it not be, but the association to Macross was just too strong to ever fully sever in the process. Here, we've got wonderful Yas caricatures and fancy hair, and it's archetypal Gundam in ways that are valuable outside of just maintaining the status quo, as nothing else quite reaches the levels of mundane diversity in visual design as his work.
  • the knowledge that the film was patched together from the scrapped remains of a cancelled television series goes a long way in explicating its nature, and while it may read as something to mourn in what could have been and almost was, I'm not so sure the form taken here was to its detriment. As a highly condensed narrative by necessity, there's a breathless pace to the storytelling that's especially strong in the opening sequences of the colony attack and its survival by the refugees created by it; similarly violence can never be dwelled upon or emotionally exploited for long--oftentimes it's a byproduct of the chaotic collateral happening all around the main thrust of what the story focuses on, and the treatment of it as so unnoticed, so uncommented upon is far more effective in selling the larger anti-war ethos ostensibly at the heart of Gundam than any sentimental pontificating could be or has been. Similarly, the characterization of the wider cast I think also counterintuitively benefits from the recontextualization; these are not film characters operating within that medium but strangers compressed to an ill-fitting context, and that leaves them more as evocative sketches or ideas of people rather than individuals developed over time in a serialization where they may have soared or fallen flat. They are equally as protected by the shape of the story as they are constrained by it, to an effect I find a welcome break from the franchise standard.
  • Carozzo the Iron Mask may very well be the most ridiculous character yet seen in Gundam, and I find humour in him for the same reason I do in Char, in that a fairly horrible person in strictly internal narrative terms becomes funny through juxtaposing their ostensible gravitas via the absurd, and from a personal desire to defang the would-be nemesis. There's the mask and the moniker, the world's worst attempt at reconnecting with an estranged daughter, the bit where he's literally shot during a public address where he uses that as material to spice up his promo with without missing a beat, the jacked-up-to-the-brain contraption to pilot his mech... Carozzo is tuned to the max at all times, and he is a "fun" villain to watch because of it, while the more serious aspects of him deal with some pretty direct misogynist rhetoric that makes his inevitable fall just a bit sweeter when it comes.
  • I'm hesitant to label any media as borrowing from Star Wars as that's usually a dead-end for meaningful or even accurate commentary, and Gundam despite being ushered in during the fever pitch of the phenomenon never felt hugely indebted to that particular sci-fi monument even as the influences could be picked out from the start. Here, that mark is more prominent than usual, and probably nowhere else more so than in the soundtrack, which seems to quote passages and motifs from John Williams's work with no particular attempts at keeping it subtle. It's a strange sensation that's created as a result.
  • I really like the Bugs as an action setpiece and plot point. Carozzo rationalizes them as free of guilt for those deploying them, not that I follow or subscribe to his leaps of logic, as they're frankly horrifying and much more personal ways to cause large-scale murder of populations. Seeing the mobile suits struggle to keep pace and fend off these unfeeling whirling buzzsaws is simultaneously cartoonishly overdone and because of that unintentional bit of levity, all the more frightening.
  • weird little moments that stick out: a baby nearly asphyxiating trapped inside a space suit. Monica falling off her moped and eating shit in an aside that just happens, like deadpan slapstick. The to-scale giant bullet casing from a mobile suit's gun mortally wounding a fleeing mother in colliding with her head. Sam, who is the best-designed character in this movie. The best zero-gravity space hug this side of Final Fantasy VIII.
  • it's the woman corner! It would be difficult to think F91 exceptionally good on the Gundam scale if it didn't portray women better than used to. It pulls this off partly through the described vagueries of the plotting; there simply isn't time to particularly bury or elevate any one persons, but there's also more to it than those realities of narrative abstraction. Women are just present everywhere in this story, to a strikingly multifaceted degree for how thin the textual narrative goes, so it's largely up to evocative walk-ons to form that impression, and that's accomplished consistently throughout. Women do different things, look different, act different, interact with each other, are not marched off to death one after another for dramatics... it's a story that's not particularly packed with memorable signature moments, but it's boring in the most complimentary way as that nature also forbids extreme exploitation over the course of the film. Leahlee and Monica taking on the previously masculinely-coded acting ship captain and parental Gundam engineer roles refreshes those dynamics in a series that's so beholden to its own history, and Cecily's role as movie's most important character narratively and in terms of story focus by quantity is also welcome even if the pressure to maintain the sanctity of protagonist boyhood still remains. The only particularly irksome aspect here is that for how big of a production is made of the final confrontation with Carozzo and his doomsday device, the finishing blow and personal catharsis should've gone to Cecily instead of Seabook. If that's the worst F91 can inflict on one's psyche, it's on pretty firm standing overall.
This movie was a nice surprise, partly facilitated by its relatively lesser presence in the wider Gundam discourse as I've witnessed it; I had no preconceptions of what to expect and found much of merit, with less internal conflict to manage than I'm used to. I appreciated the break.
 

Lance Noble Aster

did his best!
(he/him)
Yeah, F91's nature as a salvaged project does so much to curtail Tomino's worst storytelling habits. The F91 itself, for a long time, was my favorite Gundam. As it's post-CCA it's also post-miniaturization of mobile suits, which means F91 is tiny compared to the Nu, and still small compared to the RX-78-2.

That's all I have to say about it because it's been a long time since I saw it, but I'm thinking I might want to pick up a newer F91 model.

I don't have a source on this on hand, but the bugs are supposedly a stand-in for a chemical gas attack because mobile suits can't shoot an already-deployed chemical weapon.
 
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Glad you enjoyed F91, Peklo. I think it's a criminally underrated entry to the franchise.

I don't begrudge the fact that F91 was originally supposed to be a TV show but got paired down into a film. I'd rather see Gundam TV shows because I think they just work better in a long form story format, but theatrical films - even back then - were seen as prestige vehicles. Even if the logistics of making one is probably simpler and requires less total frames than making a movie. The thing I mourn is:



The plan was definitely to make more F91 and continue Seabook & Cecily's story, but then F91 bombed in theaters and this setting and storylines all got scrapped for yet another soft reboot to make Victory. Lots of fans look to the Crossbone novels as the sequels to F91, but from my understanding of how Crossbone goes down, there's very little chance they are actually what Tomino would have done considering Crossbone diverges in its own radical directions and throws out the bulk majority of the setting/scenario that F91 sets up.

It's all pretty tragic I think, because F91 really reads like Tomino trying to do his best to make a crowd pleasing, conventional, classic Gundam story in the mold of the original show. And it's free of the kinds of kill-em-all cynicism that defines a lot of his 80s works. It's the kind of soft reboot of a franchise that SEED would eventually do to great success. But instead, fans turned their nose up at F91 originally. Which is probably a really shitty feeling when you go out of your way to make something for someone you think they'll like and they just shit on it instead. So many of Tomino's shows and films read like they're openly antagonistic of certain fans and viewers, and this one tried really hard not to be but it still didn't matter.

One thing I really appreciate about F91 is the Babylonian/Ancient Near-East motifs all over the show, including the face mask of the titular F91 Gundam.



It just lends the Gundam this incredibly striking look, and a weird feeling of history too. Like we're watching some modern take on the Epic of Gilgamesh or something.

I really like Cecily as a character too. She gets treated with a lot more respect in the writing versus most female protagonists in Gundam up to that point. The story even sets her up to be victimized and rescued in the way a more regressive Gundam would have done, but instead she siezes her own agency and takes command of the situation herself and kicks butt. I don't mind her not being the one to off her father, because even if he deserved it, nobody should be put into a position where they have to do that, so I'm fine with Seabook thinking that and taking one for the team.

I'm thinking I might want to pick up a newer F91 model.
The new MG F91 2.0 is a mighty fine model kit, and fixes a lot of my biggest complaints about the 1.0. Only problem with the new 2.0 is that it doesn't come with a cool stand like the Rafflesia stand that the 1.0 came with. Also, it's pretty incredible we live in a world where there's now a RE/100 Vigna Ghina that looks great. Both kits have been sitting on the top of my backlog and I think I'll tackle them both once summer break begins.

Yeah, F91's nature as a salvaged project does so much to curtail Tomino's worst storytelling habits.
It curtails some, but it exacerbates others. I get the feeling from the guy's body of works that he has a lot of ideas he wants to cram into his works, and when confronted with time constraints, he does a poor job of being his own editor and pairing down things out of necessity because he just really wants to fit all those ideas in and has a hard time compromising. His Turn-A compliation films are almost unwatchable unless you watched the TV show, because of how much stuff is crammed into such small packages. There's a lot of fast, hard cuts with almost no room for scenes to breathe, or any establishing shots at all in order to help connect people's minds to the fact that a new scene in a new location has begun. F91 has some really rough editing, and it could have definitely used a Zack Snyderesque Ulimate Extended Edition or something to help flesh out some scenes and provide more clearer scene transitions.

Meanwhile, his G-Reco films are like the exact opposite. G-Reco is a fantastic show IMO, but it also suffers pacing issues from probably having one too many ideas crammed into it. And the two films released so far (of a total of FIVE planned) feels like the guy really took a lot of the criticisms of G-Reco to heart and rewrote everything to do as good of a job as possible with regards to explaining concepts, people, scenarios, etc in the film while making sure every new scene is clearly transitioned to.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)

Describing Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory as "unbelievably bad" is an apt estimation to instinctively reach for, but it doesn't quite capture the heart of the matter: the ways in which the show fumbles are not in themselves unfamiliar to Gundam and its narrative patterns; they are made exceptional only because of the severity of the offenses, their inescapable nature and the specific repellent concoction arrived at after it's all been laid out in the open. In light of these failures, it might be useful to contrast those specifics with previous franchise installments, to not only highlight the issues themselves for what they are but to see in the fraught history of the series examples and avenues for better storytelling, shaky as it has so often been.

I've described in previous writeups my ongoing attempts at parsing the emphasis on Newtype-related plotting and thematicism in the franchise, and the often at odds tonality and formal narrative content that results. It's been very difficult to make any definite declarations about, as those themes are often tied to some of the worst-treated characters in these stories--where the writing gets its most exploitative, even for a dramatic environment that's not lacking for maudlin sacrificial lambs on its base level. But the more I see of Gundam and now become exposed to alternative voices on what it's about when Yoshiyuki Tomino isn't involved in all that it is anymore, I'm becoming more receptive to the possibility that without Newtypes Gundam can't really support itself thematically. It at least needs a comparable humanistic supernatural high concept to anchor itself with if it doesn't stick to established form. This has less to do with adhering to convention out of habit than the increasingly apparent state of being that manifests in the concept's absence where with nothing uplifting or representative of human potential present--a seductive idealism to grab onto--the stories tend to get mired in the tragedy and suffering in the theater of war for its own sake, instead of using those as a setting for the real heart of these stories which has been the inability of human coexistence and communication juxtaposed with the universe opening up, ostensibly for all. The Newtype psychodrama really loses one when it overwrites character interaction totally as a narrative shortcut, but as a medium for additional vectors of communication in exploring the already highly symbolic and theatrical conditions of the various subjects in these stories, it has great resonance for the spirit pumping through Gundam even if in the moment it may frustrate or confound. War in the Pocket ignored it for the story it wanted to tell; Stardust Memory also does with less convincing alternatives to provide in its stead, which leads to further troubles in the manner it tells its tale.

Another point that's become clearer over time and with the help of counterexamples is that Gundam is thematically a whole load of nothing without the presence of children and teenagers in its cast. The very young participants not only help diversify the character interactions and sides you see of characters depending on the social cues--what is Bright without rowdy kids to beleaguer and consequently humanize and elevate him--but they are very direct and literal representations of the future that's ostensibly being fought for behind all principles and ideals the characters often define themselves by. Gundam without children turns into a pointless record of war, too concerned with the prescriptive formalism suggested by its adopted structure; an anti-war premise fixating only on the procedures and scripture of warfare. That is what Stardust Memory feels like, as it has the highest production values of probably any Gundam property in existence, all the shine and pedigree to make a grand show of itself... and it doesn't feel like it has anything to say about anything that happens over the course of its story, appearing completely devoid of meaning on some inherent level that hasn't occurred before in the franchise. There's a void of thematic propulsion that highlights the absence of anyone below young adult from the proceedings, and the narrative shakeup that that represents isn't something that comes to the series naturally, because the demands of screenwriting are still attempted to be met and those roles filled with a cast not suited for them. Previously, child characters may have been used for comic relief and levity through utilizing the upfront fearlessness of children for some manner of uncontrollable slapstick, and Stardust Memory briefly tries to fit some of its cast to fill those roles, none of which actually works for their portrayal otherwise or the tonal incongruity of trying to have this frankly completely self-important series attempt to be humorous or personable.

Whenever I write about Gundam, or really any media at all, I make sure to devote time and attention to the gender politics therein. It's not to fill a quota or a critical afterthought but an ubiquitous reflection of how I interpret media and what I prefer to focus on in critiques of it, so it often fulfills a sort of semi-comical-in-its-consistency coda to these writings as Gundam mostly maintains its uneasy relationship to such evaluations from series to series. Even so, I need to stress how exceptional Stardust Memory is in this context: it's the ultimate boys' club Gundam, the peak of that kind of clubhouse mentality and so transparent in its messaging that nothing else even begins to compare. There's no escape from the machismo and sexism pulsing throughout its story, no retreating from the misogyny vortex that it represents. I'm not sure if it's particularly useful to list point by point where the faults lie since the sensation is so common to the viewing experience. Past Gundams usually had defined low-points whether they were characters, scenes or individual lines of dialogue--the troubling factors could be isolated, compartmentalized and thus discussed and potentially endured for the sake of the rest of the show. Without violent men squaring off; commiserating and relating to one another through their active harassment of women; the tacit permitting and approval of said harassment by "good guy" authorities in the fiction; the monolithic emotive portrayal of both women and men for the worse in the gender essentialism imparted; the exaggerations in framing femininity with weakness and toxic masculinity with strength; the sidelining of women in the narrative totally even when they're given the pretense of being focal... whatever talking point or worst-case scenario one might conjure up, Stardust Memory makes sure to commit to it, eagerly so.

The things that ostensibly might mediate the mistreatment are themselves strained to exhaustion: Mora can't carry the show when it treats her very physical form as a punchline and the singular focus of the little character she has until she's forgotten about; Cima can't in all her transfixing presence and remarkable physical maturity do much either to escape the role given to her in the supplementary villain role she's entrapped by, disliked and shrugged off by all aspects of the narrative. Nina is an odd sort of tragedy as the leading woman whose portrayal vacillates between internally coherent career woman and narratively damseled, genderedly volatile eternal sufferer whose job is to keep the tear ducts flowing and be handed off figuratively and literally between men. She is still the most compelling character in the show, partly because there was a suggestion of depth not afforded to many somewhere in her, but there is no reclaiming an arc so insistent on negating everything that afforded her any level of autonomy. To arrive at this level of gendered disregard is borderline malicious in how it comes off by the end of it, in contrast to other Gundam works that could easily be argued to try a great many things in service of trying to better themselves on the route to those sordid results. Here, I don't see the attempt even being made. It's an empty shell devoid of purpose with its priorities laid bare in the title of the concluding opening theme: a story of "Men of Destiny" with no room for anyone else in that cockfighting dynamic.

This is a visually beautiful show in the sense that the craft is clear in its construction; aesthetically I'm a little suspect of Toshihiro Kawamoto's human figures as that kind of gender essentialism that bothers about the writing I think is also reflected in the designs that emphasize high femininity and masculinity in turn, whereas I think Gundam at its more compelling has blurred that gender divide both narratively and aesthetically; this just seems like a take on the series fit for the toys-for-boys mold and actively hostile to women's interest in it according to the avenues that powered the franchise during its rise to prominence. It shares a lot with a work like Macross Plus and what deters me from that, though without nearly as solid a thematic founding, but the overall semiotics are unsettlingly similar in the aesthetic makeup, technical excellence, pretense of maturity, and moral deficit. Appropriately, Stardust Memory is going to be remembered by me as the worst of the burst bubble economy prestige animation scene--a total disaster that only served to elevate the rest of its franchise by comparison through its own failures.
 

Mightyblue

aggro table, shmaggro table
(He/Him/His)
"Beautifully animated stupidity" is basically the long-running fan opinion of 0083 in either movie or OVA format, yeah. Unsure of how it's treated over in Japan, but everything post ZZ up through Victory marks a pretty bleak period of the franchise floundering from idea to idea with nothing really driving it outside plamo sales. You get occasional bright spots like 0080 and G (depending on your tolerance for overwhelming machismo and naked racism), but even Victory itself is pretty rough and Turn A feels both like a swansong to Gundam and a fuck you to the suits/plamo nerds.

It's sort of a shame it predated corporate realization that coherent long-running narratives do more to drive investment and more importantly merch sales by about twenty years, otherwise I don't think Bandai would've basically chased Tomino off Gundam. The endless parade of alternate setting Gundam shows until the last few years definitely didn't do the franchise many favors either in my opinion.
 
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