There is an irony, a paradox, an inauthenticity… depending on who you ask, about the theme and execution of Gundam as an animated narrative. On the one hand, there is this theme of “War is Hell” that is important in every show, albeit in varying degrees. I maintain that it is still the original Mobile Suit Gundam from 1979 that did this best (albeit in the film versions) but I’ll have to prove that some other time because it does deserve its own essay. My point here is, that even the best of portrayals still manifest this dissonance:
War is hell, but fighting (in the Gundam) is just about as close to heaven as it gets.
A good pilot, with super powers, in a clearly superior machine, with so much possibility in front of him. How can he not experience joy? How can we avoid being entertained? The animated violence is the primary spectacle that draws us to watch. Duels and set-pieces are the highlights of the experience, set up/framed, and made meaningful by the other narrative elements.
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE is no different, as it gives us the renewed thrill, and for the third time, of the lead pilot discovering his own powers and abilities for the first time, while piloting the Gundam.
This is wonderful to me. I love it when the young leads discover the distinct thrill of handling their robot. One of the things that put me off in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is how Kira was immediately, always, and ultimately more than the Gundams. Athrun was never about the Gundam and Shinn… his destiny was never going to be a legendary Gunda pilot. Amuro… he piloted two Gundams, and his signature moments were in its cockpit: the last shot he took during A Baoa Qu, and of course meeting Axis in its atmospheric approach (though one can argue that his whole battle, from fighting the Alpha Azieru to Char’s Sazabi was his signature moment in that battle). Amuro was, and chose never to be more than, “just a pilot.” This ties him irrevocably to the Gundam and is why he remains its legendary pilot and the hero of the whole franchise.
Amuro’s, and many of the other characters – and Flit’s is no different heroics are tied to the Gundam. Their heroism, while may sometimes be read as self-sacrifice, is more self-actualization – that of being who they truly are, one with their Gundams, performing heroic feats of combat. This is the spectacle of the franchise, and war being hell, is also the grand stage for all this.
But let’s dial it down a notch or three. In this episode, we’re treated to the child discovering his abilities in his magic machine. You remember that moment on your bicycle, when you sped down your first steep incline, faster than you’ve ever been on two wheels. That moment on your skateboard… that moment when in your car, when you first went full throttle and gunned that engine for all it could give you. It took some skill, it took remembering some things more experience people told you. And in that moment, you put it all together, and yes… you felt indestructible. There was nothing better than you at that moment, you really believed it.
And in a robot anime, this meant beating the tough opponent and laying waste its forces. Kio did his mid-air disengagement and combining with AGE parts. It gave him the AGE-3 Fortress, based on Gundam 00’s Seravee design. And thankfully, Kio didn’t pull a beam saber and instead beat his enemies with pink rivers of laser death. It’s the kind of awesomeness that turns hater assholes into fanboys. It put Wootbit Gunhale in his place. Kio you are the X-Rounder heir of Flit Asuno. Destroying Vagan mobile suits is your birthright.
So, is war truly hell? Sure, but perhaps hell comes and goes.
In other news, our new captain is still suffering. It’s all good.
Captain N00bilicious should have more to do next episode, maybe.