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Vaeran

perfect world
(he/him)
I'm on track at my current pace to finish Build Fighters over this three-day weekend and I'm having a good time with it! It's obviously goofy as heck but in a way I can get behind, and it's clearly made with a ton of love and passion for Gundam and its history. I would say it's also a naked attempt to goose Gunpla sales, but what Gundam series isn't?

- I'm not particularly invested in the plot thread of Reiji being a prince from some magical alternate world, and honestly had mostly forgotten about it by the time we got to the evil Chairman What's-his-name who recognized him. I guess they're heading towards explaining his backstory but I'd actually be fine if they never did and just left it as a weird non-sequitur. It does give the Chairman a reason to meddle in the tournament Wong Yun Fat-style, so I guess it makes for an interesting wrinkle.

- I love that the G-Saviour shows up as a practice dummy and gets obliterated in 0.003 seconds, Zilla-style. I cackled.

- I legit thought Sei's dad was dead until we found out he's actually... traveling the world to promote Gunpla? Okay. And is some sort of Gunpla Battle referee with the authority to handcuff and arrest people for Gunpla crimes? ...Okay! The scene of him being an intense model-building drill sergeant to Reiji and Aila was cute though.

- Does the Star Build Strike have too many systems and gimmicks? Maybe. The Absorb/Discharge system is a cool idea, but then it also just has a sort of generic super mode that's a lot less interesting. It feels like Sei's operating on a whole other level from the rest of the builders, who just seem to take existing designs and maybe add a weapon or two. I'm hoping Build Fighters Try will have a little more parity there.

- Some of these battles are getting really intense! The fight between Sei/Reiji and Fellini in the final round of the qualifiers was really exciting, as was the Mao fight (the last one I watched.) Looking forward to how they crank it up from here to the finale.

Trying to decide where to go after I finish BF... I just bought F91 on blu-ray, so maybe I'll revisit that next. My opinion from the last time I watched it (15+ years ago) was that it's pretty middle-of-the-road Gundam and unremarkable aside from the opening battle in the colony, but maybe I'll have a different perspective this time. It also apparently features a commentary track by the dub voice directors; I can't imagine they'll have much insight to offer, but I also can't imagine what they'd possibly have to talk about for two hours, so I may have to check that out.
 
I would say it's also a naked attempt to goose Gunpla sales, but what Gundam series isn't?
tbf it's a little bit more of a naked attempt than most. Most Gunpla that gets made historically, Bandai designs brand new moulds for all the brand new mecha designs for brand new shows. In Build Fighters though - at least the first one - the whole point of basing everything around a concept centered around characters kitbashing kits, is that when they print new kits for this series, they're actually reusing the moulds for older kits with a few added tweaks thrown in like a few changed parts on the outside, a new weapon or two, and injecting the runners with different colors of plastic. If you buy a Build Fighters kit from the first series and look at the runners in the box, they'll have the old names of the kits and copyright dates on the old runners, with at most a new runner or two thrown in to adjust the gundam so it looks funny like in the show. It's very nakedly a cheap way to sell people old kits with minimal effort/investment. It's honestly the most disappointing part of the first series because the kit variation is so limited and boring. Only a few were cool enough to buy personally. And since some of the kits they're basing the new ones off of were so incredibly old at that point, they were very disappointing builds because the engineering and design of Gunpla has evolved by lightyears over the course of the 2000s, and it's disappointing to basically be sold a kit from 2002 in 2013 at full price and have it look/feel so antiquated.

Later seasons of Build Fighters/Divers actually do a much better job of increasing the variety/making the kitbashes look and feel more unique/and just straight up inventing new kits or designing new kits from the ground up instead of just reusing old runners. The hero suits for Build Fighters Try take visual inspiration from older gundams, but are essentially brand new designs with all brand new runners. Same with Build Divers and especially Build Divers Re:Rise.

- Does the Star Build Strike have too many systems and gimmicks? Maybe. The Absorb/Discharge system is a cool idea, but then it also just has a sort of generic super mode that's a lot less interesting. It feels like Sei's operating on a whole other level from the rest of the builders, who just seem to take existing designs and maybe add a weapon or two. I'm hoping Build Fighters Try will have a little more parity there.
Star Build Strike is probably the least interesting hero suit in the franchise IMO. Other build hero suits find their own ways to be OP, but they aren't as imba as the Build Strike vs the rest of the tournament field. Try does a better job of making the competition feel like a challenge and everyone else gets their own cool gimmicks. For all of Divers' faults, it does a really good job of building the hero-team up as a group of noobs who are just dipping their feet into Gunpla Battles, into a top-tier clan that can hang with the big boys. Divers does a really good job of simulating the MMO experience. And Re:Rise is just... it just has to be experienced.

Trying to decide where to go after I finish BF... I just bought F91 on blu-ray, so maybe I'll revisit that next.
I'm a big fan of F91. On the one hand, it's a very simple narrative. And feels very much like it was compromised in editing or something. But I really like the setting and characters. It feels like a very earnest, non-cynical attempt to do a soft reboot and try to recapture the magic of the original MSG. And this is just me reading between the lines or maybe projecting, but F91 flopping after such an earnest attempt makes the subversiveness of Victory, Turn-A, and Brain Powerd feel intentional and vindictive. F91 also has some baller mobile suit designs and the whole film from top to bottom is probably the most gorgeous looking Gundam film in the franchise. It's just a single movie too, so why not use it to break up the pace?
 

Vaeran

perfect world
(he/him)
Finished Build Fighters over the weekend. What a delightful little series! I really didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but it's definitely got heart and spirit, as silly as it may be.

- The scenes of the Gundam festival with ten hundred kabillion character cameos had me mashing the pause button to try to catch everyone, grinning all the while. I think my favorite was seeing a teenage Al Izuruha being cheered on by Bernie and Chris as he wins a Gunpla battle. (Earlier in the thread I made a joke about Al growing up to be an ace pilot, and it seems the universe heard me.) That, or a young Domon building a little God Gundam model with his family. Heartwarming!

- I'll never get tired of fighters grunting, wincing and crying out as if they're actually being physically affected by the hits their Gunpla take.

- The Embody System is a nice nod to G Gundam's Berserker System, but it's kind of unfortunate that the only female fighter in the final 16 needed a dude to rescue her from it. I guess it's a good thing it ended up being used on Yuuki as well, if only to balance out the implied misogyny a little.

- The Arista going berserk at the end and fielding a Gunpla army was pretty narratively flimsy, but definitely made for a satisfying finale where everyone got a chance to shine and show off a little, which is the perfect note to end on. Loved seeing Mr. Ral and Mao's master whoop some ass.

I'm quite excited for BF Try now, but I'm going to put that off for a bit so I have something to look forward to.

In the meantime I rewatched F91, which might not have been the best decision in terms of timing, as it feels pretty dry coming off of the hyperactive sugary mania that was Build Fighters. I'm sad to report that it didn't blow me away this time either; it's a fine watch but I don't know how much of it is going to stick with me. I guess it's a shame it got carved down from a planned full TV series into a two hour movie, but I doubt I'll lose any sleep over what could have been. There are parts that definitely feel rushed and disjointed; characters blitz through their arcs, and there's a particularly jarring edit that cuts directly from the middle of Seabook's first sortie in the F91 to him walking around the colony streets, looking for Cecily. I had to make sure I didn't accidentally press a button and skip part of a scene, but nope! That was on purpose.

- Cecily seems like an empty vessel who just becomes whatever the person she last spoke to wants her to be. She ping pongs back and forth between her two identities so abruptly that I wondered for a while if she was just putting on an act to try to fool the Ronahs, but that doesn't seem to be the case; she even says to Seabook that she just went along with what they wanted because her friends weren't around. Come on, girl, grow a backbone. The movie (and Crossbone) want us to believe that she and Seabook are meant for each other or whatever, but the opening scene has him forcing her into a beauty pageant against her will (though she once again acquiesces to what someone else wants.) Not a good sign that he's also treating her like a pawn, just like her creepy family.

- Carozzo's reasons for welding an iron mask to his face are a weird, incongruous mix of sad incel resentment at his wife leaving him, and vague political ambitions for the founding of Cosmo Babylonia, but he stomps around like his wearing the mask is everyone else's fault. Nobody told you to put it on, weirdo! Big loser energy from this guy. The most satisfying moment in the movie is when his wife calls him out for being the aggressor but acting like a victim. No wonder even his own people don't like him.

- Dorel Ronah has what seems like an interesting little subplot where he seems to be a bit of a gloryhound who defies orders in order to prove himself, but it never goes anywhere and he barely interacts with anyone other than his subordinates. Unsatisfying. Similarly, Meitzer Ronah seems like a thoughtful fellow but he disappears entirely by the halfway mark of the film.

- Everything surrounding the development of the F91 is a headscratcher. It's not even officially called a Gundam; some engineer on the Space Ark just gets a random burst of inspiration to name it that. "Oh yeah, there used to be an MS decades ago that looked like this! Let's codename it Gundam." You're telling me the Federation isn't going to wring absolutely every last drop of propaganda, history and awe out of the Gundam name? Naaah. And I'm perplexed at Dr. Arno's "code" in the manual for the bio-computer. Reese insists (twice) that it's not code, but how would anyone who didn't know her mom personally get the cat's cradle reference? And once you get it, how does that help you configure a computer? Baffling stuff.

- Char dropping asteroids on the Earth was rude, but plotting to murder everyone with automated buzzsaws is some next level shit. The scenes of the Bugs doing their thing were genuinely disturbing.

- "Afterimages that have mass?!" Your mask is on too tight, Carozzo.

- Kimi wo Mitsumete doesn't even play during the movie? I've been sold a bill of goods!
 
Re: GBF - I don't remember if I read it here, or elsewhere. But somebody on the internet hypothesized that the world of GBF is like a Gundam purgatory/afterlife, and it's where all the dead Gundam characters go to experience peace. And it's definitely not what the makers of the show could have possibly intended, but it's a fun thought.

Re: Cecily - I always had a more charitable read of the character, and attributed a lot more of her actions to her own agency. Yes, there is a long period where she's just loafing around, but she also doesn't really have a choice as a captive. (They even assign guards to make sure she doesn't kill herself.) And the entire time she's doing soul searching about her family in a way she never really decompressed before because she had been taken away from them at a young age. All those happy memories with her grandfather, the more she thought about them, the more he sounded like fucking Hitler. And the second she gets a chance to, she bails and defects, even if it means to do so very dangerously in the middle of a battle. She is so all-in against Cosmo Babylonia by the end that she's got really viscous bloodlust for her father's head and desperately wants to murder him personally for what he's done. The whole her and Arno thing I think isn't developed all that well, but Tomino sucks at writing romance and I think we can assume they kind of newtype-vibe off of each other.

Oh yeah, there used to be an MS decades ago that looked like this! Let's codename it Gundam." You're telling me the Federation isn't going to wring absolutely every last drop of propaganda, history and awe out of the Gundam name?
My read on the Universal Century has always been that the EF actually does keep the Gundam under wraps. In the OYW, it's a secret weapon that they don't want advertised, and the only reason people really know about it is because the enemy soldiers keep whispering to each other about the White Devil. In Zeta and ZZ, the Gundams are attempted to be used by the Titans, and they get appropriated/liberated by the AEUG who are ostensibly enemies of the EF. Gundams in Early-UC are symbols. Symbols that the EF can't control the meaning of or what they mean to the people. And like all corrupt plutocracies and/or fascists, they're not big on symbols they can't control, and thus actively try to suppress them. Gundams by the time of F91, are a symbol of a period of turmoil I'm sure the EF doesn't want people remembering, since they were either in opposition to the EF, and/or the ones cleaning up after the EF's corruption. And that's even more the case for the non-Tomino add-on entries to the Universal Century.
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
- Carozzo's reasons for welding an iron mask to his face are a weird, incongruous mix of sad incel resentment at his wife leaving him, and vague political ambitions for the founding of Cosmo Babylonia, but he stomps around like his wearing the mask is everyone else's fault. Nobody told you to put it on, weirdo! Big loser energy from this guy. The most satisfying moment in the movie is when his wife calls him out for being the aggressor but acting like a victim. No wonder even his own people don't like him.

Tomino's villains are often pathetic characters who blame others for their shortcomings and attempt to remedy that through violent suppression rather than working on themselves.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
Cecily seems like an empty vessel who just becomes whatever the person she last spoke to wants her to be. She ping pongs back and forth between her two identities so abruptly that I wondered for a while if she was just putting on an act to try to fool the Ronahs, but that doesn't seem to be the case; she even says to Seabook that she just went along with what they wanted because her friends weren't around. Come on, girl, grow a backbone.
That's not how I read it at all. Cecily rejects the Ronahs but gets worn down, because they've taken her captive and manipulate her heavily: first playing on their family ties to offer her a new place in the world, and then giving her a carefully-curated view of their military might that suggests the Crossbone Vanguard has crushed all resistance to their rule. Cecily is left with the impression that democracy is finished, all of her friends and family are dead, and the life she knew is over; so giving into the Ronahs hardly seems like the worst thing. But then she goes on a sortie and encounters Seabook, realizes the situation is not half of what she was told, and immediately defects. It's essentially an arc about indoctrination and deprogramming, albeit compressed into only a couple key moments.
 
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Vaeran

perfect world
(he/him)
I guess I can see that. I think this is one of those cases where the narrative and characterization really suffer from having been cut down from a series into a single movie. As I understand it, F91 as released is supposed to represent the first 13 episode arc from the planned series, which explains why so much is left unresolved at the end.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
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I don't know what to make of Gundam Wing.

It is, in a word, stupid. Very stupid. The politics, and political manoeuvring, are utterly nonsensical. The schemes are so transparent that the only reason any of them succeed is because none of the marks have any sense of skepticism or self-preservation. None of the characters behave like real people. Our protagonists' Gundams so outclass their opponents that battles have little tension or weight. To be frank, Wing doesn't really work on any level: not as a political thriller, not as a character drama and not even as an action show.

And yet… I must admit that I still found it to be quite enjoyable.​

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I don't even mean that in an ironic, point-and-laugh way (although there are certainly reasons to do that early on). I mean that it is genuinely engaging. And not even in spite of itself; I think that it is so engaging precisely because it is so unmoored, because that lets it go in these wild, curious and creative directions that you wouldn't normally expect a show to go.

For example, the war. Most shows of this ilk (including most other Gundam shows) have a clear conflict, where the standings and particulars change but the overall thrust remains similar throughout, barring some late twists. Here, there is constant movement and change in the story. By my count, there are six phases to the broader conflict — each its own micro-conflict, with different belligerents and casus belli — plus a few other leadership changes that don't mark immediate upheavals. That's a lot to fit into fifty episodes! To really put that in perspective, consider how the requisite Char clone covers the entirety of Char's character arc — from Mobile Suit Gundam to Char’s Counterattack.

But it's not the pace per se that makes it interesting, but how it's done. Each new phase of the conflict grows naturally out of the last one, as each coup does not create a lasting order but instead destabilizes the situation further, thus allowing another party to pull off their own plot. OZ focusing all their attention on space is what gives the Sanc Kingdom an opening to re-assert themselves in terrestrial affairs; Romefeller and OZ being caught up in their own dispute creates space for White Fang (who even absorb many of OZ's forces) to bring back the cause of space independence. It's not a forever war, it's a shambolic mess.​

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Wing is also a bit unconventional. Not structurally or narratively, but in the literal sense that it ignores a few conventions of writing for TV.

It's standard practice to get the protagonists together as early as possible and keep them together, but Wing doesn't do that. The five Gundam pilots here are not a unit at all, but five characters who have their own paths and goals. They do run into each other quite frequently and team up, but those teams are typically only two or three strong — the five of them come together very very rarely. This also means it gets to break another common rule, that each main character should be in every episode. Here, major characters will disappear from the story for episodes on end. Granted, sometimes this is relevant narratively (when Trowa is presumed dead) or done for characterization purposes (Relena staying out of the spotlight gives an opportunity for her to be re-introduced in a different role), but other times there's no explicit explanation — the character is just meant to be off doing something else of no particular importance or interest. Only Heero is a constant presence in the show, with everyone else coming and going as the story requires.

Even more surprising is that this show ignores the Gundams at times. The longest stretch is when the cast goes up into space and is forced to leave their Gundams behind, but it's a recurring bit that someone loses access to their Gundam for a while (usually because they blew it up) and just doesn't engage in combat, and there's also a few lulls in the conflict where battles just aren't happening very often. I think this is great; I always appreciate when a show knows when to take a break, and I likewise find it disappointing when an action show feels the need to awkwardly shove in some action that really didn't need to be there. I just didn't expect Gundam Wing to be the Gundam show to do it.​

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But like I said, none of the drama around this really lands. How could it, when the geopolitics don't make sense, every faction's goals begin and end at platitudes, all the manoeuvring comes way too easy, characters change their motivations as the story demands, and the effects of the war on the civilians is never shown? The stakes are ostensibly high, but the whole thing feels entirely weightless and directionless — less a war than it is petty bickering that involves shooting. It even ends with the characters re-establishing the exact order that they had been rebelling against. That would be a great theme if I believed it was intentional.

So there's this weird push-and-pull going on: I don't like what the show is doing, but I like how it's doing it. It is undeniably entertaining to watch a bunch of secret plots and ploys and palace coups unfold, one after the other, with barely any time between them, even if the motivations for any of it don't stand up to scrutiny. It's like a turn-off-your-brain version of a political thriller.​

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That said, there are some bright spots here. The most obvious one is the music. Both the openings songs, "Just Communication" and "Rhythm Emotion", are stellar, but the real star here is the background music in the show; sweeping and dramatic, it gives a real boost to the show's dramatics and is a huge reason it's so entertaining on a moment-to-moment basis.

In terms of writing, Zechs' character arc is a rare time when Wing is actually successful. Granted, it's not exactly a Wing original: Zechs is the most derivative Char clone the series has seen. But there are benefits to a second draft, and yes, I think Wing manages to make Char's overall story a lot smoother, one that doesn't require deep reading and fanon to paper over the cracks. The key here is how Zechs gets revenge for his father very early on, only to find he doesn't know what to do with himself now — it goes a long way into explaining why he throws himself into new roles so suddenly and eagerly.

On a character level, Relena is pretty great. True, she does a 180 midway through — from holding true to her adoptive parents to embracing her Peacecraft heritage; from calling for the death of those who irritate her (and taking it into her own hands) to advocating "total pacifism" — but her self-assurance and willingness to confront adversaries holds true. So, even if her re-casting as the ruler of the Sanc Kingdom comes out of nowhere, it makes Relena central to the plot and puts her in a position to verbally spar with just about everyone, which is a definite improvement.

And then there's Dorothy. Introduced around the time of Relena's reinvention, Dorothy serves as her foil: an unapologetic, enthusiastic warmonger who's quick to challenge Relena's concept of "total pacifism". But more importantly, she is a ridiculous, over-the-top character: sporting a huge car, huge brows and an even huger personality, she steals every scene she's in. It's not enough for her to poke holes in Relena's position, she teases Relena and actively goads her into breaking her principles. Which culminates in Dorothy saying something to the effect of "hey I know the easiest way to solve this" and handing Relena a gun. She's incredible. One of my favourite characters in the franchise, easily.​

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There's a sort of gonzo quality to Wing. Its complete disregard for long-term planning, preferring instead to just overwhelm with new plot points, makes for something that's messy, clumsy, and undeniably immediate. It hangs together only because it's moving too fast to fall apart. Is this what I want from Gundam? No, not really. But damn, it certainly makes an impression.​

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PS: It was nice to see Sayla get work again.
 
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Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Two-Mix basically has one song, but it’s a banger. And the bgm composer is of course Kow Otani, a master of sweeping orchestral work who’s also done a bunch of Godzilla films and Shadow of the Colossus.

Another thing Wing had going for it is the most flamboyant Gundam designs this side of G. The Deathscythe is the ridiculous Hot Topic of mobile suits, but I kind of love it.

Of course, the other side of the Wing phenomenon at the time is that it was much more forward than other Gundam series about paying to its female audience. It’s so ready-made for shipping, all of its main protagonists are handily number-coded.
 

Egarwaen

(He/Him)
Wing's mechanical designs are also super weird; apart from the Gundams, they start off positively restrained compared to its predecessors. No giant space battleships here; mostly things that look like fancy shuttles or Apollo-era skeletal framework spacecraft. Oz' control over space is cemented with a fortress plausibly referred to as "Barge"; it's basically a space colony that they've strapped engines and big lasers to. By the end of the series we've got some truly implausibly huge spaceships flying around - Peacemillion mostly exists to give characters rooms to talk in, but Libra is totally and completely out of whack with everything else, to the point where its power supply is a threat to the continued habitability of Earth.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
I wasn't particularly taken by the mechanical designs here, actually. I thought the mobile suits were way too similar to one another: they all have essentially the same build and silhouette, with few unique details aside from weaponry; they all have predominantly white colour schemes (even the Tallgeese is white); and they tend to re-use the same secondary and tertiary colours between them, too. You already brought up G, but in my mind it did a lot better at making each Gundam distinct.
 
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Egarwaen

(He/Him)
The antagonist mecha have way more going on. The Aries is an incredible design, and the Taurus, Virgo, Vayeate, and Mercurius are pretty strong too.
 

Kirin

Summon for hire
(he/him)
Yeah I think the thing is, because of the way the main cast often splits up, all the main Gundams have the standard “hero Gundam” shape as a base, and put all their variation into the weaponry instead. Like, scythe and dragon arms and whatever the heck “heat shotels” are, aren’t things you usually see on a main hero unit.

Tallgeese is kind of its own hero unit as well; white isn’t very exciting but it’s fun that it leans into Roman design influences instead of the usual Samurai ones. And then there’s Epyon, which does stand out.

But yeah, for actual different silhouettes you have to go to the enemy mook suits. Although the movie custom versions of the main Gundams stretch them all a bit further.
 
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