My Good Old Boys of Gundam

gundam-0080-eyecatch-2

[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 [->].

gundam-0080-04-al-and-bernie-sketch

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.

hamburger

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.

gundam-00-soran-ebrahim

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.

gundam_00_setsuna-daybreaks-bell

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:



Further Reading

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.

Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? Why are you reading this post?! Don’t know where to start? Find your Gateway Gundam!

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, comparative, fanboy, Gundam, Gundam 00 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to My Good Old Boys of Gundam

  1. Vendredi says:

    Very insightful. I think as compared to other mecha series, heck, compared to a lot of anime series, Gundam (at least the mainline series, if not the all of the side stories) is very much a series about growing up and adolescence – and that’s saying something, given how common a trope “coming-of-age” is in Japanese animation. Plus, dealing with death (especially the death of a heroic mentor figure) is practically a classic staple of the mecha genre.

    I’ve been hacking through Gundam 00 at tremendous speed – actually watching, now – after having followed it vicariously through the impressions of other viewers, and it is amusing to see the range of analysis across the board – it’s hard to tell whether there is truly a misunderstood gem in there or it just is that much of a troll. Maybe that’s a testament to Sunrise’s mastery, that you can’t really tell. At the very least, it’s entertaining.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thank you!

      I think War in the Pocket is one of the most fulfilling shows in all of anime.

      As for Gundam 00 there are readings that seem to have an agenda into making it fit in a world view that Sunrise isn’t capable of doing good shows, at least not anymore.

      Conversely there are readings that try to do the opposite, to oppose the widespread flaming of Sunrise through this show.

      The readings I particularly enjoy are OGT’s and omonomono’s who I don’t actually fully agree with, but it’s really good to appreciate different takes that explore different things.

      I generally try to avoid the polemics of ‘is this show good?’ Rather I find it good that Gundam 00 actually has a lot to read into.

      • Vendredi says:

        Thanks for the recommendations, I find for the most part I’ve been finding the more extremist points of view, but the ones you recommend are a nice middle.

        To comment further, I think part of what makes Setsuna/Soran rather unlikable is the guy really has all the emotional range of a robot – i guess he’s closer to a Gundam than he thinks? Hence it’s terribly difficult to empathize with him, which is aggravated by rather too-memorable one-liners such as “ORE WA GUNDAM” (which after a few episodes, is all that you can sorta remember him by).

        Heck, I felt even Orange Haro displayed even more character: perky attitude in the face of overwhelming odds, willingness to stick by Lockon (both iterations), even plaintive cries after the death of Lockon I. We even see the little guy rolling along beside Lockon at one point like a faithful hound (for some reason that scene made my jaw drop even more than any other) – and the machine has like three words in its vocabulary.

        Granted, as the series goes on Mr. Gundam does open up a little and loses some stiffness, but he’s still the stiffest Gundam protagonist I’ve seen since Heero Yuy. Which reminds me, I reallly ought to give Gundam Wing a rewatch after this…

        • ghostlightning says:

          Yes, his lack of emotion coupled with internal questioning makes him rather an uncharismatic lead.

          Probably one of his highlights was when he took leadership withing the Ptolemeios in the penultimate episode IIRC the same way Amuro did in the White Base heading towards their respective final battles. Perhaps it is a homage, but I do feel Setsuna showed a bit of character there.

        • I think what ghosty is trying to say is to take blog or forum posts that are extremely critical of Sunrise shows with a grain of salt. Especially if you are looking for a first impression.

          • Vendredi says:

            Oh, absolutely – to be honest, bipolar as they are Sunrise still shows an amazing range of stuff. Everyone tends to point to the mainline shows as examples of a Sunrise “decline”, but often miss out on a lot of other recent shows that have kind of gone under the radar, such as Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto. They’re really unpredictable in every sense of the word.

  2. Alfredo? As in the sauce? 😛

  3. DonKangolJones says:

    That’s a good bit of insight into 2 shows that I don’t think I could have strung together without the words Gundam attached. But those choices (0080 & 00 S1 & S2), show the small problems I had with 00. Eventhough 0080 wasn’t an “action heavy” mecha show, I still had emotional attachment to the characters. When it came to Setsuna and by extension 00, I had less empathy. And I guess it was just a matter of how charismatic he turned out to be. I could find myself rooting for a side, Celestial Being obviously. But if the main protagonist happened to die in the final battle, I don’t know if I would have been upset.

    I love 00 for being a very well done Gundam/mecha show. I just thought it lacked as much heart as a show like 0080, and the main character was less identifiable as in some of my more beloved Gundam shows.

    (By the way, though my list doesn’t say it, I did finish the series. I’m just slack at updating my list.

    • ghostlightning says:

      And I guess it was just a matter of how charismatic he turned out to be. I could find myself rooting for a side, Celestial Being obviously. But if the main protagonist happened to die in the final battle, I don’t know if I would have been upset.

      I speculate that quite a few people feel this way. In any case, you’ve articulated this quite well for me. How different/similar is Setsuna to another stocic Gundam lead character: Heero Yui?

      I’ve not seen Gundam Wing and truthfully I’m not that inclined to do so. Nonetheless I would like to see how they compare.

  4. DonKangolJones says:

    I would suggest you give Wing a try when you have time, just like I would suggest you do the same for ZZ. Overall, I would say the shows are not stellar. But they do have their moments. I don’t know if you’ve seen Full Metal Panic either, but I’m sure a comparison of Sousuke, Setsuna and Heero would be a fun one.

    And I like the use of the word stoic. One man’s stoic can be a another man’s robotic, just like one man’s innocence or naivete could be another man’s stupid or ignorant. Some people may appreciate the qualities, others may not.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Almost any show will have good moments. It’s actually quite an achievement to be unilaterally bad in every way over 50 episodes.

      I intend to watch those Gundam shows at some point, right now my huge backlog is getting bigger. I picked up a show I’d dropped: Eureka 7, and am bewildered at how I didn’t enjoy myself with it the first time around.

  5. asher says:

    *bump, two months later*

    It’s ironic that to make a character notable, s/he needs to have some kind of trauma in the past although it’s not something we would wish upon ourselves. What I noticed with Al is that despite not going through the whole Setsuna-ish childhood, his friendship with Bernie was enough to change him. I liked how at the beginning, it’s all just a game to him until the moment he realizes that the things that matter will be gone once the war sets in. I actually thought that the series didn’t really show the coping part but more of the “sinking in”. I liked his reaction during the school ceremony, where his friends were all about how the next war would be more fun while he’s just crying. For me, that spells realization there. What happens next would be intriguing, surely, witnessing the Gundam-Zaku destruction and knowing that he’s acquainted with BOTH pilots would psychologically affect him. I think he’d make an interesting pilot. : )

    As for Setsuna, I can’t help but compare him to Sousuke of Full Metal Panic–I find the latter’s depiction of warrior child better. HEck, I’m more biased for Sousuke anyway :p

    • ghostlightning says:

      A troubled past is a shortcut to make a character interesting, as in the case of Setsuna. Al is different in that his trouble is just about to start — and we get front-row seats to watch how his world gets destroyed.

      While I’ve read an opinion or two that don’t think highly of the video Bernie left Al, I think it’s actually very good. It’s important in assisting him to complete the events that happened. I especially like how Al never gives Bernie away to Christina. I think he was genuinely looking out for her feelings, and is a good sign of maturity. This, more than anything shows his growth IMO.

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