Mobile Suit Victory Gundam

gundam-victory

fpastar020TO START

In 1979, Yoshiyuki Tomino inadvertently kicked off an entire subgenre of mecha anime with Mobile Suit Gundam (or 0079 as it’s sometimes referred to), deemphasizing the seemingly integral aspects of unrealism and ‘logistics that simply work because it’s a cartoon’ wanton disregard for physics and gravitas in favor of a more hard science fiction approach to mechanical warfare and dealing with living or fighting in outer space.  For the next decade, anime producers and directors would mimic and explore the things he introduced with that landmark show, creating works varying from Ryosuke Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms to Sh­ōji Kawamori’s famed Macross franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam went on, more or less, to be the subject of twelve more series and numerous OVAs, specials, & films.  Tomino directed the next three sequel series, up to Victory Gundam in 1993, continuing to work within the Universal Century timeline he’d created with the 1979 series. After Victory Gundam’s broadcasting, UC timeline wouldn’t be wholly revisited again in series format, as future directors and creative teams would focus more on alternate scenarios and universes that happened to feature Gundam suits.  For anyone interested in a guide to the Gundam franchise, I’ve written an overview and guide available here.

Victory Gundam, as it turned out, seemed to be the nail in UC timeline’s coffin, however.  Whether it was due to a shift in consumer desires or simply an inability on the staff’s part to connect with their audience is hard to fully determine at the moment.  I suspect that it had more to do with two specific problems that the show never found a way around.  The first amounted to the problem of depicting the horrors of war interlaced with a more light-hearted approach to character development, which ended up coming across as schizopherenic and jarring in execution.  The second problem was the show’s blatant incongruence between what seemed to be its underlying messages versus the overt dialogues and lectures that interrupted and bogged down the narrative on numerous occasions.  These ranged wildly in content, but the two themes that suffered the most regarded the ever-popular environmentalism spiel and the rather controversial and counterintuitive presentation of feminism and matriarchy.  It doesn’t help that, due to producer-meddling (which plagued the series throughout its development and broadcasting), the series kicked off with the fourth episode and treated episodes one through three as flashbacks.

I’ve structured this review to focus primarily on how badly Victory Gundam drops the ball on these fronts.  As such, there are going to be spoilers.

They were bathing together.  His teeth slipped.  Surely.

They were in the bath.  His teeth slipped.  Surely.

As stories go, Victory is somewhere between the gloriously entertaining train wreck that is Sunrise’s acclaimed 2006 series Code Geass and the crawling, glacially-paced and somewhat boring train wreck that Sunrise produced back in 1982, named Space Runaway Ideon.  For those unfamiliar with these shows, let it be known that Geass’ ridiculous writing made for some of the most outrageous leaps in logic and abuses of the suspension for disbelief, particularly in its second season.  Space Runaway Ideon, on the other hand—although gaining some notoriety as one of Hidaeki Anno’s influences to his magnum 1995 work Neon Genesis: Evangelion, remains somewhat obscure—embodies nearly everything wrong about Yoshikyuki Tomino as a director, showcasing sluggish pacing, weak and arbitrary characterization, and of course, one of the most notoriously violent series endings in anime’s history.

Victory Gundam (hereon abbreviated as VG for convenience) focuses on a young thirteen year old named Üso Ewin, who—similar to the Gundam protagonists before him—ends up unwittingly drawn into a conflict between Earth-based forces and space colony militants with a strong ideological bent.  And again, repeating the pattern laid down by those protagonists before him, he acts rashly in his initial acclimation of a mobile suit, and he continues to act rashly after obtaining the pilot’s seat for this incarnation’s Gundam unit—and all he really wants to do is go home; at least, to a point.  The series follows him and his childhood friend Shakti as they’re taken for a ride by a band of civilian guerrilla fighters opposed to the Zanscare Empire, meet new friends and enemies, travel into conflicts in space, and ultimately thwart the Empire’s dastardly plan to brainwash all of humanity into despondent slaves using some sort of psychic amplification satellite.  Along the way, Üso’s first crush Katejina Loos is captured by a remarkably ineffectual and somewhat pathetic Zanscare lieutenant named Chronicle Asher, cast as this series’ version of Char Aznable.  Over the course of the series, Üso and his band of comrades suffer through some of the most grueling twists of dramatic irony and punishment Tomino’s managed to dish out as a director.

DEATH

Given Tomino’s penchant to blow away characters like they’re firecrackers in his darker works, as well VG‘s general reputation, I wasn’t totally surprised after the first member of the Shrike team bit the dust a mere episode or two after her introduction. The benefit to the high body-count is that the battles all carry a fairly hefty dramatic weight, especially since the audience understands that there’s no guarantee certain characters will make it back to the ship alive.

That helmet still has her head inside of it.

That helmet still has her head inside of it.

Or, you would think so. Unfortunately, the writing is such that death flags are raised so often and fulfilled so quickly that by the end of the series, you already know who is going to die and when with just a couple of clues (hint: if they mention forming a familial or marital bond for the first time, watch out). Also, much of this drama is boosted by episodic characters that appear once or twice and then never again, or it’s confined to background characters that only seem to hound the primary cast and function only to be villains until the script demands a little bit of exposition so that their deaths don’t seem totally justified. One of VG‘s nasty habits is reminding the audience that all of these nameless grunts have lives and families and that we should probably care about them, but this really gets in the way of the pacing and action—so much so that by the end of the show, Üso’s swallowed his naiveté and simply goes around blowing mobile suits away without regard to the pilots, in contrast to his earlier self mere episodes before. It could be argued that this shows his development as a character, progressing from a speechifying moralizing kid to a hardened soldier—and such arguments are probably sound—but at the same time, it also comes across as truncating dramatic flairs in favor of intensifying the action, which the final cour needed to do in order to boost the sense of apocalyptic urgency that VG was going for.

Some of the best deaths include being crushed by an enormous rolling fortresscycle, getting cut in half by a double-bladed beamdick, flying into a giant tire, and—on numerous occasions—having the cockpit get crushed around the pilot like a tin-can and/or vaporized via beamsaber.  It doesn’t help that the inconsistent approach to depicting these deaths only convolutes their respective impacts; it isn’t uncommon to see major characters who had been present through most of the series get little more than a final death scream before calamity consumes them, while minor, unsympathetic villains will receive whole episodes of development before their inevitable demise.

It’s all OK, though, see, because there’s something to do with rejuvenation, rebirth, motherhood, and the reality of warfare making mankind respect peace more… right?

WOMEN

I don’t think I’ve ever complained about this before, and I can’t imagine myself complaining about this ever again—and this isn’t really much of a complaint, either, given that the agenda is pushed well beyond reason and into the realm of the comical—but Victory Gundam has to be the single most misogynist anime I think I’ve ever seen. Women seem to fall into one of two categories in VG: totally and unexplainably psychotic, or utterly ineffectual; these opposites aren’t really what make VG so mysoginist, though, because, comparatively speaking, these two traits seem to be general problems that plague women in some 90% of all anime ever produced, to some extent.

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Queen Maria, the Frustratingly Ineffectual

But the issue at VG’s heart here is one of power. The ineffectual women, obviously, totally lack the power, means, or capacity to change their fates or improve the lives of themselves or those around them, and ironically, these figures happen also to be the ones most connected to motherhood and caretaking. Note Queen Maria, paraded around as a figurative mother of the Zanscare empire, not to mention the literal connection she has to Shakti—herself evocative of a young mother given her connection to Karl and the repeated imagery early in the series to archetypal elements of Earth, planting, rejuvenation, and natural growth. By contrast, those women WITH the power to significantly alter their surroundings also happen to be those characters that are the most unbalanced and extreme. Fuala, Lupe, Katejina, and to some extent, even the members of the Shrike team all exemplify this trait, using the mobile suits to pursue their own goals, whether such goals entail the ideals of their particular force, or the death of a uniquely irresistible infused thirteen year old boy.

On that note, the distinctly single-minded approach to combat that both Lupe and Fuala are depicted with in VG’s last half evoke some remarkably cruel imagery on this front. They’re so dead-set on killing off this little kid, but the reasoning essentially comes down to either a) some sort of twisted vengeance on Lupe’s part, or b) because, presumably, he’s a worthy opponent in Fuala’s case. Yet their obsession extends beyond that. It’s like their typical tsundere girls amplified tenfold until their dere-dere side can only manifest in the heat of battle and in their desire to kill Üso off. Their clashes end up becoming some sort of bizarre courting ritual with a boy that, had the frequent deaths and betrayals of the series not likely scarred him beyond hope of recovery, would only be on the verge of sexual awakening. And this isn’t even unthinkable considering that Lupe outright states how shotas turn her the fuck on in the very same episode she dies (might be the episode before her death, hard to remember). This isn’t even mentioning the clusterfuck of development that pops up with Katejina’s before & after transformation from off-putting girl-I-had-a-crush-on-as-a-boy to PSYCHO KILLER QU’EST QUE C’EST.

Fuala Griffon, the Delightfully Insane

Fuala Griffon, the Delightfully Insane

Of course, none of this is even going so far into the disagreeable and retarded Freudian aspects critical theory that would start bitching about how the mobile suits are themselves masculine symbols and the fights in the sky are just the macho men waving their giant mechanical phalli around. Throw women into that picture and VG becomes a very puzzling commentary on feminism (futro-feminism? Ha!) that seems to be at once a glorification of women empowerment and an inadvertent ridiculing of such empowering attempts through a uniquely male lens.

Either way, the dichotomy presented effectively states that, although motherhood is glorified through purer symbols of untouchable grace or innocence à la Queen Maria & Shakti, such women are ultimately only good for taking care of kids because they make really idiotic decisions and they’re very easily manipulated. At the same time, the women that take control of their lives and pursue their goals are really only doing it to get male attention, and half of them are crazy bitches that are so off the hook that it’s a wonder we’re supposed to take their development seriously at all.

That said, Katejina was still hot as fuck, and I think VG’s seeming disregard for her consistency or the logic behind her actions only makes her even more irresistible as a sex object.  The very idea that this is possible seems to simultaneously reinforce and demolish whatever hope of a coherent feminist slant this series tried to run with.

Moving on:

LOGISTICS AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Apparently, reactors going detonating on Earth cause high-yield explosions comparable to thermonuclear bombs, which are harmful to the environment—however, it’s completely OK to cause hundreds, if not thousands, of such explosions within the Earth’s magnetic field and leave the debris scattered about the system.  This is the section where, normally, one would simply remind oneself that VG is merely a cartoon and we aren’t supposed to take it seriously.  But VG’s wanton abuse of the audience’s capacity to suspend disbelief on this front is so wonderful that it deserves note.

What's better than mobile suits in unicycles holding hands?  Mobile suits in unicycles holding hands with MISSILE PODS.

What’s better than mobile suits in unicycles holding hands? Mobile suits in unicycles holding hands with MISSILE PODS.

Continuing on, it seems that no matter how many pieces of V Gundam and the V2 that Üso uses to bomb enemies with, there’s always a fresh supply of new ones waiting to be launched for more expendable docking procedures.  This gets out of hand quick, when by the second half of the show, there are at least three or four Gundam units in regular use and they’re all doing this shit by needlessly wasting whole suits for little to no perceivable gain. The viewer effectively has to take it for granted that the sacrifices in sheer cost and time are worthwhile, yet nobody bats an eye when e.g. Marbet kamikazes her unit into an enemy vessel after bailing out—despite her suit not even being damaged in the least—or when Üso, as per typical Üso, dive-bombs his legs at somebody or randomly throws his arms in front of lasers or beamsabers. For a show that seems to bring up the question of manpower, diplomacy, and supply chains, you’d think there’d be some attention given to where the hell all these Gundam suits are coming from and how the fuck this small and civilian-comprised band of renegades can come up with the dough to keep replacing so many huge sophisticated components and parts. And, if it turned out that the Gundam suits were easily mass-produced, why the Federation isn’t totally equipped with these suckers since they seem so obviously superior to almost every other gruntsuit on the field.

Although I’m mostly complaining about VG’s logistics, I think also that there’s a certain charm to be found in its total abandonment of reason and consistency. It’s as if some of this shit was thought up by the kids that many of the toys were marketed to in the first place; it follows logic like “if it’s a light, it’s also a laser canon” and “if it shoots through space, it explodes or makes something else explode”. The whole concept of beam rotors enabling flight like a helicopter (no seriously what) when they’re obviously working off of the same principle as beamsabers or their beamshields utterly baffles the mind, but it works when you think about how you played with action figures and transformers as a kid (assuming you did that sort of thing, of course). I could totally see a seven-year-old version of myself imagining a shield comprised of spinning lightsabers, and of course it could double as a rotor back then. Things like physics don’t have any bearing on the cool factor. And this is just one example; VG is a show that has rockets bouncing off of laser beams, giant robots shaped like unicycles for mechs to ride inside of that also shoot lasers from their shields in the shape of giant “O”s and “V”s, and battleships mounted on top of enormous motorcycles.

This sort of absurdity is thrown into a mix consisting of complete and wanton waste of valuable resources—between the loss of pilot & soldier life on the front lines that VG makes an arduous effort to drive home, and the significant loss of material wealth in the form of cities being blasted out of existence, mobile suits used as bombs, pieces of suits thrown in front of blasts with blatant disregard for whether it could be repaired or, god forbid, saved and used to a greater effect later. It’s this latter sort of waste that flies in the face of VG‘s strong environmentalist push; we’re lectured to as viewers from the first episode about how the Earth remains in a state of near-apocalyptic abandon due to things like radioactive fallout and trashed-up landscapes & oceans–and yet, in spite of an entire arc consisting of “we can’t destroy their reactors because it’ll cause harm to the Earth!” tediousness, primary characters on both sides of the conflict throw around mobile suits and reap destruction like it’s no big deal. One of the first things about caring for the environment I ever learned as a kid had to do with conservation, yet there’s nothing remotely conservative about VG with regard to its scope for sheer needless waste.

CONCLUSION: Gundam and Bright Noa

A surprisingly accurate depiction of the Captain

A surprisingly accurate depiction of Captain Bright

Given that VG seems to have been the last post-CCA work chronologically in the UC universe until the Unicorn OVA adaptation, I have the distinct impression that its inanity, insanity, and absurdity are the reasons for the franchise switching to AUs for the next fifteen years. I mean, granted, the relationship it shared with early-UC is tenuous at best outside of passing reference to the legendary WHITE BASTARD MS and the fact that the feddies still dress exactly the same as 100+ years before. Why change a uniform that isn’t broken, I guess, but still… you’d think some regulations would change over the years. That said, it still doesn’t seem UC at all; F-91 and Victory being grouped under the “late-UC” nomenclature also implies some sense of unity between the two, but that’s wrong, too. For all intents and purposes, early-UC, F-91, and Victory might as well all take place in isolated continuities.

And I guess that brings me to my final complaint. Gundam seems to suck without Bright Noa. 0080 and, purportedly, 8th MS Team notwithstanding, Captain Bright seemed to give some levity to the conflicts in MSG, Zeta, and to some degree, even ZZ—while in CCA he was there more or less to provide some familiarity to the conflict. But in the series, he’s present to keep shit in order, and he’s the quintessential “I’m just here to do my job” guy that also happens to be the guy most often left hanging by the higher-ups for no good reason. But simply because of this, and because he keeps trying, he ends up being one of the most sympathetic and relate-able characters out of the whole franchise—a real underdog unsung hero that the primary protagonists could never hope to be simply because of their circumstances and their larger-than-life actions. If Gundam is a story about surviving through militaristic combat during, because, and/or in spite of warfare, Bright Noa’s example is easily best fulfillment of that tale. Characters like Amuro, Kamille, and even Üso (fuck Judeau, but he’s in the same boat) trod the hero’s path, whether willingly or not, which forces them into a realm more resembling myth. Noa’s the guy with his feet on the ground, trying to figure out how to proceed realistically while these insane Newtypes buzz around blasting their beamspam overhead.

But there was no such character in Victory, and if memory serves, there wasn’t one in F-91 or any of the pre-2000 alternate continuities, either. I’m curious to see if such a character shows up in post-2000 Gundam shows, but I’m not sure when (or if) I’ll get to them.

At its heart, Victory Gundam tries very hard to be so many different things, and it does have a certain charm to it as a result.  It’s the kind of show that mercilessly slaughters its characters, often for no reason, in a world dominated by “the coolest weapon is the most powerful weapon” principle, with tons of counterintuitive shit about feminism and motherhood thrown in for the hell of it, floating in a sea of debris.  And it almost works, but it’s so backwards in its execution that it really only ends up being entertaining because it’s a failure and because it misses the mark so many times.  But that’s okay.  It’s Gundam.  It’s almost expected.

Gundam Victory: this show is so retarded but it’s so much fun for all the wrong reasons.
VICTORY*/10

*tl note: “VICTORY” means 4

Turns out, I finished VG almost three months to the day that Xard made his post. Really only linking it to make it easier on anyone interested in finding it again, since it’s buried in a locked topic someplace deep enough that google had a hard time digging it up.

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About Merridian
Merri lives with his wife in the USA. He is a happy human being. He wrote for Forced Perspective while the project was active, and he is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of QNUW. His newest project is YNRI // Transcendence, dedicated to poetry, short fiction, and artwork.

3 Responses to Mobile Suit Victory Gundam

  1. DanglingPointer says:

    Very well written! I couldn’t agree more!
    Can I guess that MSG 79 is your favourite?

  2. Pingback: So You Want To Get Into Gundam – q n u w

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