[This post is rife with spoilers]
Alfredo Izuruha had it bad. But before this became apparent, he had led what is the Gundam equivalent of an idyllic suburban childhood. He spent his time playing with his friends, their interests in military-themed toys and games. Mobile suits were the height of awesomeness, as his neutral colony was uninvolved in the One Year War, and he never had to deal with fighting in the streets and nerve gas killing the population of his colony as other characters like Shiro Yamada of Gundam: 08th MS Team did.
At home he plays video games on a large monitor, though he didn’t seem to spend much time there. While he didn’t seem to have a strong parental presence in his life, he isn’t a neglected child either. They’re present enough for him to have to try to avoid showing his not-so-good grades in school, and for him to find out that his colony wouldn’t be nuked by the Principality of Zeon after all.
It was at that moment that Al had to act responsibly — to grow up, real fast. His new-found and precious friend Bernie Wiseman was headed for a fight he surely cannot win: piloting a beat up Zaku [->] armed only with a hatchet against what was then (and would almost always be) the cutting edge in mobile suits, a prototype Gundam [->].
Al’s guilt — a profound experience for a child of 11, is due to the fact that he was the one who badgered Bernie to fight. Bernie was rightly advised to leave the colony, implored by the old Zeon spy to stay alive — for the youth of Zeon is what will make it rise again from the embarassment of the OYW. The only thing that would stay the hand that fires the nuke is the destruction of the Gundam.
Bernie was on his way out, but he found something in himself, a will to fight knowing the odds are all but insurmountable. You can tell I like Bernie a lot, and truthfully I’m damming my tears as I write about him. Yes at first he was harangued, begged, and set on a guilt trip by Al. But ultimately he made a choice that I feel is beyond being merely driven by guilt, or even loyalty to his young friend. He claimed himself as a soldier, and fought what in his mind the good fight: for the colony, for his dead comrades of the ill-fated Cyclops Team, and for Al.
Where is Zeon in all this? It’s part of the magic of Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. In making a co-leading character a sympathetic soldier of the Principality of Zeon, the identification with the state disappears in the final fight. Bernie wasn’t fighting for the ideals or the victory of his faction in the end. He was fighting to save a neutral colony, and to save his one friend.
But this is all a hidden from Al, at least until the end. All he knew that Bernie’s fight with the Gundam is completely unnecessary, and that he was the one who forced him to take up this battle. At this point he’s already known people who are now dead. People he had conversations with days and mere hours earlier, now killed. Not only did he nag Bernie to stay and fight, he was an accomplice and enabler by assisting Bernie in repairing his damaged mobile suit, finding weapons for it, and preparing traps that would hopefully diminish the overwhelming advantage enjoyed by the Gundam.
And they did hope, and for a fleeting moment I did too! Bernie took on the Gundam with everything he had and almost, almost scored a victory. Al saw everything: from the early advantage of the Gundam neutralized by clever traps, to the desperate grappling, the decapitation of the Gundam, which heartbreakingly coincided with the disintigration of the Zaku’s cockpit.
Al was spared from seeing the remains, but he wasn’t spared from hearing how it looked like. Al got to hear Bernie one more time, now speaking like a wise man, telling Al not to bear ill will against the Federation and the pilot of the Gundam. Al has the rest of his life before him, but he’s lost more than just a good friend in Bernie. Having taken part in violence, and having used his lies to consequential ends, he’s lost his childhood for good.
The final ED of War in the Pocket is very haunting: the melancholy music juxtaposed with the images of children gleefully playing with the debris and remnants of battle. Libot colony of Side 6 turned into a war zone, but just briefly. The children continued to think of fighting, soldiers, and mobile suits as cool, but Al won’t be one of them anymore.
Soran Ebrahim had it worse. At Al’s age, not only had Soran never experienced anything like Al’s idyllic suburban childhood and its idealizing of fighting and soldiers, Soran was already a soldier fighting in war. Soran Ibrahim wasn’t just party to military operations the same way Al was, Soran was already a killer.
Soran was born in the former Republic of Krugis, roughly equivalent to real world Kurdistan [->]. When war broke out between the Republic of Krugis and Kingdom of Azadistan, he was recruited by Ali Al-Saachez as a child soldier into a terrorist organization known as the KPSA. Some time later, in order to prove his devotion to god and KPSA’s goals, he was forced to kill his parents.
The loss of one’s parents is tremendously more significant than the loss of a close friend (especially since Al had only known Bernie for a few weeks). Let’s consider the following distinctions: Soran was already a killer; Soran lost his parents because he killed them.
Let us look at what children of this age are dealing with when they are faced with the death of loved ones:
School Age – 5 to 11 years
At this age, a child understands that death is final but may think only seniors or people in accidents die. After age ten he sees the natural order of things and that death may even happen to him.
At this age, the reaction is more complex. There may be crying, a headache or sore throat. He may show anger at the person who died or not believe the death occurred. A return to earlier skills or behavior may show up in lower grades, daydreams, or withdrawal from friends/family. He may refuse to go to school or family events; show the symptoms of the person who died; or fear he will die the same way at the same age. […]
Classmates may say, “I heard your sister died. Cool!” This is usually because they haven’t experienced death, not because they are cruel. They’re curious and don’t know how hurtful these comments are.
From Griefworks “Children’s Changing Concept of Death” [->]
Further research available below. The behaviors may be observable in Al after Bernie’s death but we don’t get an opportunity to do so because that’s where their story ends. Soran’s story had just begun. The similarity and distinction between the two children:
The Gundam took Al’s childhood away by killing Bernie.
The Gundam appeared to Soran like a god and represented his liberation from the sin of killing his parents.
Granted Soran never forgave himself for killing his parents, but he’s externalized his guilt and hatred and projected them unto his tormentor: Ali Al-Saachez. Along with his identification with the Gundam, his revenge-seeking became one the defining themes of his latter adolescence, as the Gundam Meister Setsuna F. Seiei. I daresay he’s overcome the tragedy of his childhood, beginning when Ribbons killed his Gundam god by declaring himself as the pilot who spared Soran at the time of his rescue (as he remembered things to be), and that Ribbons was the chief enemy in Setsuna’s existence [->], and is completed in his transformation as an Innovator and his ultimate victory over Ribbons.
OGT writes [->]:
Only after Ribbons delivers a shock to his system does he understand the duality of it all, and resolves to bring about a new era himself using Gundam, rather than Gundam using him: an active rather than a passive role.
In that sense, the final battle is quite simple: Setsuna destroys both the 0 Gundam, his idealized image of Gundam, and the warped Ribbons who upset Aeolia Schenberg’s plan, who can no longer stoop to trying to understand another. Why bother understanding someone, when you can make them do what you want with just a flick of the wrist? But that, too, is where Ribbons is as wrong as Setsuna was: despite his protestations to the contrary, it is not he who leads the path towards the future, but others acting on his behalf. By pulling puppet strings, Ribbons is the ultimate at using an external force to bring about the new age he desires. Setsuna’s true Innovation, though, is not the GN particle pixie dust, but the realization that no external impetus can bring about change: not Celestial Being, not the A-Laws. Only an internal impetus can bring the desired change, as surely as it worked on Setsuna (literally and psychologically).
Considering all of this, I feel like Setsuna has the life that Al can only dream of leading. Setsuna would be the perfect “Bernie” in Al’s life, given how Setsuna reached out to Saji later on in Gundam 00, I don’t see how he wouldn’t be a good ‘aniki’ for young Al. Another remarkable thing: Setsuna achieved his power levels, his maturity, entirely without teachers. His only ‘aniki’ betrayed him by making him kill his own parents. Setsuna’s story is all about picking himself up from mistakes he made, and consequences inflicted on him by circumstance.
Setsuna never had a Kamina the way Simon the Driller did. While Simon is celebrated as an apology for Ikari Shinji — the answer to the question of “How would Shinji turn out if he had Kouji Kabuto (or Bright Noa) by his side?” — Setsuna may perhaps be a better analogue. Shinji and Setsuna never had a Kamina on their corner.
In this respect, Al had it worse. Al had to be both Bright Noa and Kamina to Bernie. Of course he couldn’t smack him in the face [->] (in a Gundam show, you know it’s coming [->]). It’s too much of a role for Al to play, and he wasn’t successful in it. Remember, Bernie came around of his own volition — which made him so lovable and inspiring. Setsuna, considering everything he’s done and reflecting on the things he’s had to deal with seems such an impressive character in hindsight or upon intense reading and interpretation. However I can’t find myself to love him or root for him. Al and Bernie I find more lovable in their tragedy than Setsuna is in his victory.
I end this post with a montage from War in the Pocket:
From “Adolescent bereavement: Turning a fragile time into acceptance and peace.” By: Kandt, Victoria E., School Counselor, 00366536, 19940101, Vol. 41, Issue 3
A factor that makes loss an even more difficult time for adolescents is that their concept of death is somewhat different from an adult’s. Adolescents may fantasize about death and see it as a romantic adventure that they will be able to escape in the final minutes. They live intensely in the present and therefore see death as a vague possibility.
Adolescents have enough cognitive knowledge to know about the future but are still confused about aspects of it. This makes a loss even more difficult to accept. They are just starting to think about the future so the idea of thinking about the end of a life is unfamiliar for many.
Adults have memories to remind them that they have had traumatic experiences before and lived through them. Adolescents do not have as many experiences with death or other traumatic events, and because of this they don’t have the knowledge that things will get better. Therefore, the experience of loss can be a confusing and scary event.
Another developmental characteristic that may also affect adolescents’ grief reactions is the idea of an imaginary audience. Adolescent egocentrism and self-consciousness about physical and sexual changes contribute to the belief by adolescents that they are under continual observation by others, especially their peers. This often leads to a denial of their grief as a mask for their peers.
Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the adult coping mechanism of evasion when it comes to the subject of death. Although their initial impulse might be to deal openly with the situation, the strong desire to conform often persuades them to hide their grief. This age-group considers it crucial not to be set apart from their peers. One of their biggest fears is the possibility of being seen as different. Whenever a factor does set them apart, such as a death, they may try to diminish it in whatever way possible to reach the goal of conformity. Consequently, when death has occurred, adolescents are quite aware when others are looking at them and treating them differently. Because of this, adolescents can feel self-conscious and embarrassed whenever their loss and its implications are mentioned. They can go to great lengths to avoid talking about the loss or at least do everything possible to devalue the significance and importance of the loss.
It is important to remember that adolescents may want to express their grief but the fear of what their peers may think is an even stronger concern and can prevent normal expression. Adolescents assume that if fears and inadequacies are admitted, they will be considered unacceptable by their peers.
Al’s silence highly contrasts with his outgoing and aggressive energy prior to the trauma, and perhaps matches some ot the things described by the excerpt. Soran’s is highly unobservable, primarily because we see him a bit later — when he’s a then 16-year old Gundam Meister. The highly abnormal circumstances of his life/lifestyle make identification of the symptoms described above quite difficult.
Thanks to asherlangley [->] who supplied the psychology journals I read for this post.
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