The Thinking Person’s Giant Robot Space Fighting Show

And now, a break from Video Games.

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While everything mentioned in last week’s post still applies going forward, given how events are still unfolding and the drama continues with seemingly no end, it’s time to look away from video games for a bit and see what else is on the landscape we can get into.  Aside from the odd foray into Everquest Landmark, I’ve been avoiding gaming mostly this week.  My plans in that game are so ambitious.  It’s a terrible shame I’m so completely incapable when it comes to actually working on them.  (Anyone want to help me build a school for adventurers?  And by help, I mean do most of the work for me, as I’m a terrible builder.) This week has been devoted to old anime and re-watching old Gundam series that I loved.

My favorite is probably the 2007-2010 series Gundam 00 (prounounced Gundam Double O).  As it’s premise, Double O asks the question, what happens when the nations of the world are challenged by an outside 3rd party to put down their weapons and end war?  And if they refuse, then to get the hell beat out of them by this said 3rd party?  I love this notion of using fighting to end fighting, because it is so completely flawed on so many levels.  But what’s really surprised me about the series is that far from wrenching the world around this philosophy to try and make it work, the writer of the series, Yōsuke Kuroda doesn’t shy away from any of the actual problems that such a premise might cause on multiple levels.

While Yōsuke has significant anime writing credits to his name, it’s hard to determine his pedigree just from his body of work.  Still it’s obvious Yōsuke has some significant poli-sci and world history chops under his belt and it shows in the scripting.  The political ramifications of the protagonists (in this case the Gundam pilots and the organization that backs them, if that wasn’t clear) are both varied and well-executed on.  Combat takes place all over the world, and focuses for quite a while on the Middle East.  Funny, it’s like that place has fighting going on in it all the time.  As the nations of the world react to the protagonists and their directly confrontational methods for ending war, we see some very complicated fallout from those actions.  For example, while conflicts decrease overall across the planet, hatred for the protags increase significantly, and blame gets placed on them for everything from random terrorist attacks throughout the world, which aren’t their fault, to collapsing the economies of countries who’s primary exports were war and war machines, which is their fault.  Kind of hard to make any money when all your war equipment is suddenly obsolete.

One of my favorite parts of the series is how the everymen characters in the show get a significant amount of time in the first half of the season to just be happy, healthy, young adults.  While the show cuts to these characters and you can see the setup coming a mile away, most of the diversions were played for comedy to help lighten the tone of an otherwise very serious and dark show.  When the conflict enters directly into their peaceful lives in the second half of the season and completely ruins them, the contrast to their earlier selves is powerful and direct.  Losing that lighter tone as the series progresses really takes the series to a darker place.  Especially when the protags themselves get called out for being hypocritical war-mongers and they start to question if they were set up from the very beginning to be the fall guys as the world begins to reform itself.

Sadly, all this really interesting conflict and the smart ideas in the show fade away, as the season climax builds towards a more conventional story as an evil backstabbing traitor tries to sieze power.  From there it becomes a survival story of how the protags deal with that betrayal, (SPOILERS!  Not all of them survive), how the protags fight off the world powers that have significant and not completely unjustified hatred for them, and also stop said traitor from taking control of the whole world in the process.

The show gets hard to follow in spots, especially around the traitor’s activities and the lead up to his betrayal and attempted coup.  While all the threads are there and can be seen in a second watching, it can be hard to keep up with it in the middle of giant robot battles in space, especially with all of the other character arcs going on.  Keeping track of the political machinations of the main nation states is also tough to keep up with, and you can tell even the writers had some trouble keeping it all together when bad guys show up to attack the protags out of the blue, mostly because the story needed them to be attacked and not so much because something happened that led up to it.

The show also gets somewhat heavy handed as it moves through the season with it’s changing the world meme.  Not the least of which because it’s clear on the outset that the world is heading towards Fascism as a result of both the protags and the traitor’s actions.  While the second season picks up with this thread and runs with it, that season moves much more into a hero’s journey story arc and away from the hard sci-fi which was a main driver in the first season.  That’s disappointing, especially given the wealth of good characters that existed in season one that have to be jettisoned to make room for this journey.  My favorite was Christina, one of the bridge officers of the protags space ship.  She was smart, very clever, fun, ethical, and had her stuff together, but still flawed enough to be believable.  She had a particular character moment early on when she freaked out and froze in combat, nearly getting her ship and teammates killed.  It was too bad (SPOILERS!!!) she was murdered at the end of the season to give the empty pink-haired girl with the personality of a paper plate something to be sad about in Season Two.  Especially since she was replaced with a NEW girl who was clearly a filler character.

While an argument could be made that a smaller cast would have meant a tighter arc, having 25 episodes a season gave plenty of time for the main characters to stretch their legs and get some solid development in.  Secondary characters as mentioned tended to get fewer arcs though as the number of characters on both sides were more then many of the previous Gundam series I’ve seen.

Mech designs in the show were really fun and I really liked the different direction they went with these machines as opposed to the more traditional and blocky mechs that showed up in the second season.  If you’re a tech guy (and I am), the tech used in the series was interesting because it went away from things like traditional jet engines and into actual sci-fi territory that was both intriguing and different.

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All told it was a really fun series with a really interesting take on the traditional theme prevalent in most Gundam TV series (war is bad).  While the writers chicken out on going all in with it’s premise at the last moment, they work right up to edge to see what kind of a story and world they can create.  The results are a world that felt much deeper and more real then any of the worlds in other Gundam TV series.  While I would have liked to have seen more of this story explored differently in the second season, it still flows logically all the way to the end of season two, even with it turns into hero worship.  Some characters don’t get the attention they deserve, but given the size of the cast it was impossible for all of them to get screen time anyway.  The consequences of the protagonists actions flowed logically and the actions and reactions of the world and characters to them wove a great socio-political-war thriller, that ends on a bang with high-character drama.  If you’re looking for a more thinking person’s giant space robot fighting show to watch, you’d be hard pressed to do better then Gundam 00.  Highly recommended.

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