Sunday’s Wisdom #436: Peace is Not Given

“Peace is not something that is given to you.”
– Relena Dorland/Peacecraft, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz

Relena is a young woman who has already lived a storied life. From this life, where she has stood at the very forefront of humanity’s quest for peace, for an end to endless wars and senseless bloodshed, she has learned a thing or two about the very nature of peace itself. She has formerly believed, like many others, that peace is a natural thing, a thing which is simply given to them, and the absence of which is an act of deprivation by the hands of evil men. It is not.

When Relena speaks these words for the world to hear, she is admitting a truth which strikes a resonating chord in the people, a people who have paid for a peace which has been shattered, and who hesitate to stand again for fear of losing what they gained. But they must stand, or they will lose it anyway.

Peace is not a natural thing. War is what is natural and reflexive. Peace is anything but.

Peace is not something which is simply given, or even attained; it is made, built by human hands, shaped like glass in fire, and it must be protected by all of those who cherish it, every man and woman.

Peace, like love, is not something easy or cheap. It is even more expensive than freedom, for freedom is essential to both its making and its maintenance, as are truth, justice, and mercy. Thus, it must be paid for. And then paid for again, and again, and again.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but the unity of hearts and minds which are free, and so every individual who seeks it must be willing to stand up for it, even against impossible odds. Each one of us must acknowledge the humanity of the people on the other side, accept the importance of their story alongside our own, and somehow end our ageless anger and all-consuming feuds. In short, we must love each other more than we love whatever we are fighting over. And that’s just to start.

Peace is anything but natural, anything but given to us, and anything but easy.

Peace is mankind’s longest and most enduring quest. If it were easy, it would have been done long, long ago.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What’s Wrong with Suletta Mercury

As the latest in a very long line of installments to the Gundam franchise, The Witch From Mercury was all but guaranteed to at least begin with a substantial audience. The trick has always been to keep and perhaps expand that audience. Given the nature of the mid-season cliffhanger, I imagine said audience is not only still hooked, but will be ravenous for more when it resumes alongside the Spring 2023 lineup.

The mid-season ending was momentous. There was a bloody attempted assassination, the appearance of witches from Earth piloting their own gundams, the outing of a traitorous spy among Suletta’s friends, a son inadvertently killed his own father in battle, and, for the first time, Suletta’s hands are stained with the blood of someone she has killed. That last has put a rift between her and her beloved Miorine, as the latter sees her, her hand stained red with what’s left of a man she turned into pulp, still smiling, still goofy and clumsy, looking for all the world like she is completely unaffected by the act of killing a man.

There is no other word for it: she looks crazy.

It’s the sort of sight that leaves one wondering what’s wrong with Suletta Mercury, which, I have a sneaking, dread suspicion.

Now, the show has plenty of people who are perfectly capable of cold-blooded murder. The world of this story is clearly run by deranged elitists who talk forever about how much they must value human life, all while they use up and cast aside human lives like so much garbage, which they burn so no one can ever find the proof of their crimes. These are cold-blooded, conniving, ruthless killers who smile and shake hands with the people they are conspiring to murder. And at their command, hidden somewhere up their sleeves, are the witches from Earth, who are clearly, every one of them, unhinged. It’s part of what makes them so terrifying and unsettling.

Ever notice how innocence and insanity so often coincide?

But Suletta has always been the epitome of innocent and even naive up until now. She’s a clumsy, naive ditz who does not comprehend the cruelty of the world. She has never been malicious, and she’s gone far out of her way to do very unorthodox things because of how much she cares for others.

And yet she has just displayed an extraordinary lack of caring, the likes of which is not typically found in a story’s protagonist. She shows none of the usual human reactions to their first kill. She’s just proceeding on like everything is perfectly normal. Even stranger, this moment, with Miorine shrinking from Suletta’s innocent smile and her blood-soaked hand, it comes right on the heels of another moment where Suletta was the one horrified by her mother, who shot two men dead in front of her without hesitation or regret.

I noticed this seeming discrepancy right then, in the moment, immediately, and it puzzled me. This story hasn’t been one for making things happen just because. For all the intricate complications involved, it has been incredibly coherent and easy to comprehend. So how could it be that Suletta went from shrinking away from bloodshed, such that her mother had to convince her to get in her gundam and go save Miorine, to not caring about it or perhaps not even noticing it, all within a matter of minutes? How did she go from “gentle and sheltered” to “sociopathic killer” that quickly? What happened?

How did she come to resemble the insane witches from Earth so instantaneously?

The witches who also pilot gundams, yes?

Which is exactly what Suletta did between these two moments: she piloted her gundam.

Before piloting the gundam, Suletta balked at killing someone.

After, she thought nothing of squishing a man like a bug.

Like so.

But how could this be? How could simply piloting her gundam turn Suletta crazy like this?

Well, the story has illustrated that piloting a gundam comes at a cost.

Indeed, it’s not a new thing at all for gundams to demand something of their pilots. That cost might have been more abstract in earlier installments of the franchise, including all the sacrifices made in war, but it’s always been there. Successive installments made their gundams stand out more and more, set further and further apart from normal machines of war, and so they demanded pilots who could be pushed beyond a human’s normal mental and physical limitations. More recent gundam shows have pushed the pilots so hard that their gundams practically consumed them, a little more and a little more with each crisis, until the gundam itself kills them even before their enemies can. Now we have the gundams of The Witch From Mercury, which, it is outright stated that they kill their pilots, and we are shown how.

The GUND format, the system from which these gundams get their name, connects the pilot to their machine in a way which allows them to move it like their own body. It’s a potent advantage in battle, and it was originally intended to adapt humans in such a way as they could survive in space, basically by turning them into cyborgs. The humans who sailed the stars would be bionic, flesh and machine wrought together as one, responding to the brain’s every direction just like normal human bodies.

However, this system has never been perfected before. It may have thus far sufficed for replacing a few parts here and there, an arm or a leg or a pair of lungs, but something about a huge mechanical suit demands far more of the brain and body. As signals pass between flesh and metal, the physiological strain on the human nervous system actually damages the human body. Turn up the level of connection, and the suit becomes more powerful, but the damage grows worse and worse, until the human simply dies, their organs failing, their nerves wearing down, and their brain ceasing to function.

With one exception, or so it seems.

“Me? I’m special?”

From the start of the show, Suletta is held up as an example of the system’s improvement. After all, she’s a gundam pilot, and she’s achieved a level of connection unheard of for most, and she’s still alive and well. In fact, she’s been piloting her gundam since she was very young.

Starting with when she saved her mother and herself, and killed her first enemies, long before this moment with Miorine.

The prologue shows how Suletta bonded with her gundam when she was barely more than a toddler. In a moment of crisis, when the people around them were being slaughtered in the name of false ideals, Suletta and her mother escaped in a gundam which the tiny girl was piloting. A little child went into battle and shot down the enemy, probably without ever realizing what she was doing. She admired, with the joy of a child, the pretty lights made by their exploding mechs as they died.

Sound familiar?

Sound, perhaps, a bit like a girl smiling and cursing her clumsiness like she normally does, holding out a bloodstained hand as if unaware of the blood?

Sound, perhaps, like the crazy witches from Earth as they take enjoyment in killing people?

“No! It can’t be!”

It’s not exactly a unique thing in anime, to have enemies who are psychopaths, sociopaths, or other varieties of lunatic, but it might be more unique if, as I suspect, there is an actual explanation for it, and one which affects the protagonist as well.

In this case, that explanation involves the GUND format itself.

This is a system which interacts directly with the nervous system, ie, the nerves, the spinal cord, and the brain. In every other case, this degrades the body and eventually shuts it down, but what if that’s not all? If it interacts with the brain, then it can directly influence everything about a person: what they perceive with their senses, what they react to, how they react, their personalities, etc.

If her gundam influences Suletta’s brain in some manner, instead of taxing the rest of her body, and has been doing so since her childhood, it would explain why she is the way she is, so naive, so innocent and ignorant… so much less developed than her peers. She is far more childlike than others her age, no matter what she has already endured, and it manifests in numerous ways. She needs lists for everything she wants to do, she is forward and honest like one who hasn’t learned about lies in the first place, she makes strange and erroneous assumptions which cause her to act out, she bulls her way into situations even when she has no idea what she’s doing… the list goes on.

In short, I strongly suspect that Suletta is not so well as she seems to be at first glance. True, her body may be healthy, but what of her mind, her brain? If the gundam not only degrades the body but influences the brain itself, then Suletta has been having this go on since she was very little. She could be every bit as crazy as the witches from Earth, just in a slightly different way.

It would explain how she was able to kill someone without a care in the world about it, just like when she was little, even right on the heels of having been unnerved by the act of killing only moments prior.

It’s a typical format for promotional art, but now it feels a lot more ominous.

It explains the sudden shift in her behavior, and her personality overall. It explains why all the other witches are crazy besides just leaving them at being crazy just because. It even explains how she can be an unexplained exception to the rule of this lethal system, because, in truth, she isn’t. It’s also right in line with the recent trend of the franchise, where gundams kill their own pilots.

Most of all, it sets up what could become arguably the worst and most abiding tragedy yet produced by the franchise, where an innocent girl’s mind is all eaten up by her gundam, even if her body remains.

I could be wrong, of course. I rather hope I’m wrong. But soon enough we will know if I’m right, and if what is wrong with Suletta Mercury is, quite simply, her gundam.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Anime-ted Living, Discussion, My Fan Theories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

G Gundam: An Anime-ted Video Game

I’ve compared other Gundam related titles to Romeo and Juliet, an opera, and even the Bible, but I would have to say that what Mobile Fighter G Gundam most reminds me of is a video game come to animated life. Here, the characters are sneaking, trying to avoid detection. Here, the characters are fighting like action figures being smashed together. Here, a dramatic cutscene and a plot twist. Here, the characters are being exactly as they were designed to be, right down to their simplistic choice of dialogue. One stage after another, progressing towards the big finish and the happy ending.

That’s not a bad thing, I will emphasize, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either. Basically, if you want something realistic, this is not for you. But if you want something dramatic, something that has an undeniable resonance within the human soul, then this anime does have something for you.

The premise of the story is that all the nations of the world, or at least the rulers of said nations, have migrated to space colonies: Neo-Japan, Neo-America, Neo-China, etc. right down to Neo-Hong Kong (reflecting nations as they were thirty years ago). To avoid the catastrophic devastation of the 20th Century’s world wars, all the nations have agreed that they will compete every four years for the right to rule all of Earth and space. They each send a champion to Earth in a Gundam to fight all the other champions, never minding the ruin their tournament makes of the planet, and the last one standing wins. But something mysterious and nefarious is happening during the 13th tournament. A great evil is rising to threaten the whole of the world, the whole of humanity, and only the Gundams can stop it.

I remember enjoying this show quite a bit more as a kid than I do as an adult, but that probably holds true for most of such shows. There is a veritable bevy of flaws and critiques which I could level at G Gundam, and every word of it would be true. The premise is absurd, the world-building is lacking all realism, the high-fantasy level of martial arts is obviously impossible, the show is heavily formulaic, repetitive, and predictable, everything is far more dramatic than realistic, the lead hero tells the lead female to shut up far too often… and so on and so forth. And having everyone talk in unison so much is actually a bit creepy.

And yet it’s still fun!

I know that’s partially childish nostalgia speaking, but to this day I still enjoy many of the overly epic moments, and I think I have finally realized why.

I once read the words of particular author, who had achieved some success and renown, when he spoke of the principle of resonance. It is when the elements of any given story resonate within the audience such that a connection is formed, and that is when the deepest stories can be told and enjoyed. When there is resonance, I suppose all sorts of flaws can be tolerated and a story still be held up as worthwhile.

This anime has its flaws and would be more fun as a game, but it still very much has elements which resonate with the audience. It speaks to the pride of warriors and nations alike. It speaks to the rising of each new generation to take the mantle from the old and safeguard all that we hold dear. It speaks to the harshness of war as it ruins the world, and the lifelong pursuit of peace. It speaks to the most ancient drives which are present in our stories, to overcome all obstacles and rescue the most beautiful woman in the world from the clutches of evil. That woman, the one who loves and supports the hero, she is the princess of every story, the holy priestess of life, the virtuous daughter of a wicked man, the pure sacrifice offered up by the deceptive wizard to a dark power which devours everything. And thus must the knight in shining armor ride his noble steed to rescue his lady love from the very heart of madness! Whoo!

And I just love Allenby! 🙂

There is indeed a reason why I still love so many of the pivotal scenes in this series. They may be ridiculous at times, and far more poetic than realistic, but I’m just a sucker for humanity’s most epic moments: when the heroes come together to fight a horde, set to a military anthem sort of song; when the lead hero overcomes his fallen, villainous master, and redeems him in the act; when the warriors of all the bickering nations come together as one force to protect their world. All of which, I will mention, have great background music. It’s not a masterful soundtrack by any means, but it certainly has a couple of powerful hits I still can’t get enough of.

Seriously, this would be a fun game to play!

G Gundam has many flaws, and it certainly is targeted squarely towards young, teenage men, rather than any adults. Though, on that note, there are one or two risqué moments which I am actually glad Cartoon Network censored when they aired it. Really, there is no place for bare physical forms, male or female, in a kids show. If that can be overlooked, however, then this is simply a fun ride with a simple tale as old as time.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #435: The Importance of Everyone’s Story

“Everyone’s got a story.”
– Feldt Grace, Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Season 1, Episode 24, “Endless Poem”

Feldt and her comrades have spent a long time together, both in conflict and when they’ve been relaxing, but somehow they’ve never learned of each others’ pasts. When they suddenly start sharing, Feldt is a little surprised and makes this observation as she sees her comrades in a new light.

It’s a universal truth, yet one which we tend to overlook far too often. We get caught up in our own lives, our own stories, and almost never consider or realize the significance of other people’s lives and stories. Somehow, we continually operate as if our story is the most important, and as if we know someone else’s story better than they do, all the better to judge them. But the truth of it is that we know less than we think, very little even of those close to us, and nothing at all of complete strangers. And when you get down to it, everyone has a story that is every bit as important as our own, as well as filled with things which would surprise us.

That’s one thing which Gundam 00 tries very hard to depict: the truth of everyone’s story, how little we understand of them, and how much we need to if we are to ever have peace.

In short, we must have an open mind when dealing with people, whether they’re our friends, or complete strangers, and especially when we find ourselves on opposite sides.

It is the tool of tyrants to teach their followers to dismiss any dissenting voice with labels and insults, to completely dehumanize each other at the slightest offense in order to justify being cruel to one another. It is foolish of us, in the extreme, to do so. That person who supports something which we oppose on moral grounds is is doing so for their own reasons, with a perspective that arises from their story, which we know nothing of. They have had their own hopes and dreams, their own pains and losses, their own upbringing and their own values. Who are we to judge them? No one. Just as they are no one to judge us.

No one can truly judge another without knowing their story.

Alas, judgment is one thing which humans love to do, no matter how abysmally dismal we are at it.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment

My Top Ten Hottest Gundam Girls

As long as there have been gundams, there have been gundam girls.

The gundams have given us giant mecha suits, sci-fi knights fighting epic battles both on Earth and in space, and the girls have given us something very nice to look at, to make all the space battles worth it! 😉

The women of the gundam franchise are a surprisingly diverse bunch, in every way. They come from different backgrounds, serve in different roles and capacities, some are pilots, some are princesses, some are soldiers, some are civilians, and their personalities cover a huge spectrum.

And, of course, they have all sorts of appealing appearances. Blonde, brunette, redhead, slim, voluptuous, pretty, cute, sexy… four decades on, there is a good range! Mind you, as the years have passed, they’ve tended to go more in the, ah, well-endowed direction, but there is no denying that the ladies of the gundam franchise have always been distractingly appealing in every visual way.

So as I decided to pick out my favorite gundams, I also decided to give a nod towards this other integral aspect of the franchise. Big machines and pretty girls, that’s what Gundam offers. …as well as, you know, intricate storylines with meaningful themes and lovable characters in general, ya know. 😉

To be clear, coming from across most of the series I’ve seen, this little list is not a list of crushes, nor even of the “best” girls, nor anything else except which ones happen to rivet my attention to them based on their appearance and only their appearance, their physical allure, how pretty, cute, and sexually attractive they are. Have I made myself clear? Good!

Now enjoy the show and feel free to comment on who you find to be the hottest in the franchise! 😉

10) Renee Costa
The Witch from Mercury

The latest gundam series is actually appreciable for at least toning down how overtly (and overly) sexy the girls are. Suletta and Miorine and the rest are nice enough to look at, but not distracting or bedazzling, ya know? It’s just not a priority with this show, and I find that somewhat refreshing.

Out of all  of them we’ve met so far, I’d say Renee Costa comes out on top. Small wonder she’s so popular with her schoolmates, with her looks, her elevated status and connections, and her fiery, aggressive personality. Out of the all-female crew which surrounds one of the male characters, she stands out.

Mind you, her arrogant attitude, especially how she’s bought into all that crap about being superior to other humans just because some are from space and others were born on Earth, is a substantial turn-off. She’s one of those girls which are riveting to look at, but the wise man keeps his distance.

9) Lucrezia Noin
Gundam Wing

On the opposite side of the spectrum from Renee, we have one of my favorite gundam girls of all time. Though Noin also comes from a show where they did not overly prioritize the various girls’ looks, Noin is still very pretty, albeit in a more tomboyish fashion.

A female soldier and a leader, Noin is a kickass woman, strong and capable, steadfast and loyal. She’s obviously in love with one of the leading men, but she’s more than just a gundam pilot’s romantic interest. She stands up for what she believes in, puts her neck out for people in need, devotes herself entirely to her own ideals, and yet is remarkably calm and grounded. It makes her a pretty magnificent guardian and a most worthy ally, without even getting into her skills in battle as a mobile suit pilot, which are entirely on par with the gundam pilots.

Seriously, this woman  is one of the more amazing female characters in anime I’ve ever seen. Her pretty, pretty face is just a fabulous bonus!

8) Nastasha Zabigov
G Gundam

There is a reason why it was Nastasha featured in one of the brief moments in this anime that are not intended for children, a’la Sai Saici accidentally seeing her full, voluptuous figure (from the backside) as she bathed. And no, Sai, turning around and shooting at you for that particular trespass was not much of an overreaction.

Nastasha is a military woman, not entirely unlike Noin, but far more strict and, well… dominating in her demeanor. We might never see her fight, but she is clearly a capable leader, standing firm and rallying her allies to honorable victory even in dire, drastic circumstances. She knows a thing or two about loyalty and courage, rebuking one crew member for the shameful suggestion of abandoning their allies, and taking it quite personally when her own superiors show how little they trust her. This is probably what attracts her to her charge, the former space pirate who never took a life and was ready to die both to save complete strangers and to pay for a tragedy which he inadvertently caused.

All of that loyalty and force of personality wrapped up in such a mature, curvaceous package like Nastasha’s, with all that long, flowing hair? Yes, yes, I can definitely see the appeal, yes, I can.

7) Kudelia Aina Bernstein
Iron-Blooded Orphans

She might start out as absolutely the usual epitome of annoyingly naive, but dang, one’s eyes get glued to her. There’s the pretty face, the bright eyes, the slim but curvy figure filled out in all the right places, and, I confess, I’m a complete sucker for that long, shining, blonde hair.

I will admit, for growing up so privileged, she is surprisingly grounded and respectful – unlike others of such high station – and not afraid to get her hands dirty doing real work like cooking, even if she’s bad at it. She doesn’t want anyone to die for her, but she is also reasonable enough to respect when others willingly put themselves on the line for her. She keeps her innocence even as she loses her naivete, works as hard as anyone to do whatever she can, and pursues what she wants without becoming self-centered or ruthless. She truly is a strong woman.

And one heck of a beauty!

6) Rain Mikamura
G Gundam

I may prefer Allenby over Rain, but there’s no denying that Rain was drawn to be as femininely attractive as possible. And she occasionally kicks ass, too!

She’s a medic and a mechanic, the childhood friend and love of the male lead, who is very aggressive, stubborn, and hotheaded. She needed to be quite spirited to keep up with him, especially in high heels, as she brought class and sass and her utter devotion into the mix. She was, every inch, designed to be the beauty of the show, the girly girl with tricks up her sleeve, complementing her man’s aggression with her own kind of fire. Which occasionally erupted, and Hell hath no fury like Rain! 😉

Personally, I never found her hotter than she was at this moment in the second episode, no matter that she was shown pretty much naked towards the end of the show.

5) Christina Sierra
Gundam 00

They knew very well what they were doing with Christie. I swear, the only thing better than seeing her from the front is seeing her from the back, with that hair and her shoulders. Gets me every time!

It would be easy to think that Christie is flighty, being so outgoing that she gets a bit obnoxious with her overwhelming interest in cute clothes and cute boys, as well as her bright, bubbly demeanor. But as a member of Celestial Being, and part of the crew of the Ptolomaios, she is surprisingly capable and clever, and a good friend. When the situation was dire, and death was imminent, she tricked her friend into going to a slightly safer place, and with her last breath she wished only the best for others, and regretted a lost opportunity. No, she was never flighty, she just lived every moment to the fullest, and there’s something respectable about that.

I’m not sure I’d ever really get along with a girl like her, but I wouldn’t hate her, I think, and I’d find it very difficult to avoid looking at her.

4) Aina Sahalin
8th MS Team

Aina is probably one of the most classically beautiful women in anime. I mean, just look at that angelic face! With those eyes and that smile!

Aina is a soldier, accustomed to killing or being killed on the battlefield, but when one particular enemy chose to be a friend instead, she chose reason and care over mindless hatred. She is open and caring to the people around her, including the enemy who becomes her true love, her mentor who is as a second father to her, the soldiers around her whom others would use and cast aside in the name of necessity, and even a brother who goes mad and tries to kill her alongside everyone else. All she wants is peace, and she comes to care for her enemies as well as her friends. Alas, it is only after much loss that she gains her freedom to be a person instead of just some doll her brother keeps.

We generally don’t see much of Aina’s full figure (though there is that one moment in the bath) but she has the usual feminine curves, quite graceful and tasteful. Still, again, it is her face which sets her apart and propels her so high on this list. They did very well with that!

3) Lafter Frankland
Iron-Blooded Orphans

Feisty and sexy, both to an extreme! My kind of girl!

Lafter is arguably the best and fiercest member of her crew, as well as their captain’s harem of wives. Not only does she have a wicked figure, which she clearly does not hesitate to show off, but she is strong enough to fight on par with the best of her opponents single-handed. And seeing her with all of their kids, so gentle and loving, adds a warm, maternal side to her as well, which makes her ferociousness on the battlefield all the greater, as she fights to protect her family.

It is all the more endearing to behold her gradual, growing affection for one male character in particular, and one can’t help but think, just a little, “lucky bastard!” Which, of course, makes it that much more heart-wrenching as tragedy after tragedy destroys so many of our favorite characters, including this absolute bombshell. (grrrr!)

2) Sumeragi Lee Noriega
Gundam 00

Yes, yes, I like big boobs, I cannot lie, and Sumeragi, like Christie, hails from the very height of Gundam’s recent veering into making them super busty. Topped off with that long, lustrous, thick hair, which I will never forgive them for cutting so short in the second season, and she very nearly took the top spot here!

The tactical forecaster for Celestial Being has both beauty and brains as she skillfully outmaneuvers the majority of their opponents, bringing calm composure to a crew that would otherwise be beset by panic and error. Still, she has issues, including losses in her past and a proclivity for drunkenness in the face of sorrow. And she can be quite cold-blooded, using the feelings one man had for her against him. It must be said, though, she does not run and hide from the truth or from the consequences of her actions. She would be the first one to put herself on the line in defense of her comrades, and she is layered and complex enough to stand as an independent woman who relies on those around her.

And did I mention that absolutely killer figure, and how she can weaponize her allure?

1) Amida Arca
Iron-Blooded Orphans

Seriously, a figure like that just cannot be challenged. Not on physical terms alone, at least!

The foremost wife of her captain, Amida is all class and power, with a perfectly-sculpted body and a sultry demeanor. Sleek, curvy, mature, and every bit as fiery as Lafter but more contained and directed, she is bold and amorous with her man. Physically strong, dangerous, and clearly resilient, as shown by scars which she is comfortable with and never hides, she is confident and a formidable presence on any battlefield.

Who doesn’t love warrior women? And this one’s got it all, the whole lustrous package!

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Anime-ted Living, Discussion | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gundam 00: Gundam’s Religious Text

People worship many things in many ways. Some devote themselves entirely to ideals and ideologies, to the good of their people or to the way of the warrior. Others invoke the name of God, a name that is so very often twisted by the mouths of blind zealots and self-serving heretics. Still others insist that there is no god in this world at all, and strive themselves to become the great power which directs the flow of the world, the fates of nations and peoples.

From its first moment to its last, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 easily has most religious texture of the entire Gundam franchise. The story, the themes, the characters, the setting (they dwell on the Middle East a lot), the soundtrack, everything is saturated in religious flavor, even how people speak. And this is the only Gundam series I know where they actually refer to God at all, let alone so frequently. Consisting of two seasons, for a total of fifty episodes, and a movie, Awakening of the TrailblazerGundam 00 tells a surprisingly tight and pointed story that stretches across every corner of the world and into space, with a substantial cast and epic battles which are but the prelude to a final, desperate struggle for both survival and peace.

It is, in a word, biblical.

Fair warning, speaking of all the religious touches in detail would spoil much of the show, and get a bit philosophical as well. Indeed, it would probably turn out to be a long essay, like one of those videos that goes for at least twenty or thirty minutes on YouTube, just talking about every single thing that evokes “religion” in this anime. I am not doing that here!

The premise of the show is that, a few centuries in the future, a massive ring of solar panels in space, supported by three orbital elevators, provides all the energy that the world needs. Thus, the superpowers of the world coalesced around the three pillars which control of the solar array. These form the three major blocks of the world, as humanity is beginning to reach out into space. Outside that, however, things are largely unchanged: some people live in plenty, some in deprivation, and war still plagues the world. Then the Gundams make their debut, appearing as if from nowhere on behalf of a mysterious organization called Celestial Being, swearing to eradicate war by force, and wielding technology that far surpasses anything their enemies possess. They challenge the entire world, and the world responds even as conspiracies move in the shadows cast by their shining power.

There are primarily four Gundams in the series, though a few others do come and go as the story progresses. Each of the “meisters” who pilot these Gundams has severe issues to deal with, and that’s before the plot continually thickens throughout the show. Through their various struggles alongside the crew of their ship, the Ptolemaios, they each develop in their own way, growing, changing, and ascending above their previous selves, and by their influence they take the entire world, the whole of humanity, with them. Humanity itself begins to change as it surely must to embark upon its inevitable expansion throughout the stars. This they do while wading through wars, peace, hope, despair, love, loss, revenge, betrayal, murder, deception, manipulation, and the unending struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Humanity’s great struggle for peace is one of understanding oneself, each other, and whatever alien entities it shall eventually meet.

Or so this anime would argue, at least.

When reviewing an anime, I typically just talk about whatever theme it seeks to present in its own terms, without offering much of my own commentary on the matter, or at least I try to. In this instance, however, I am going to be frank in my disagreement.

You don’t need to understand someone in order to love them, or even to do nothing more than refrain from killing them. If you do understand them, that won’t change whether or not they mean to kill you, and therefore whether or not you need to kill them in order to survive. And war has deeper roots in a desire for power than in a lack of understanding between any two sides. Indeed, the most fearsome commanders throughout history were those who understood their enemy perfectly, even better than the enemy understood themselves. “Know your enemy” is an age-old proverb for a reason.

Thus, I completely disagree with the relentless insistence that understanding each other is all we need to do to make peace. Understanding is important, but it is not “the answer.” It’s only one part of what we need.

Outside that, however, I can very much enjoy most of Gundam 00.

The cast is pretty big – far too big for me to go into them with the depth that any of them deserve – but, unlike SEED Destiny, the characters are all handled fairly well. Each of them has a story, and all of their stories are weaved together with admirable grace and skill. They really do drive the entire epic narrative, which is mostly coherent, directed, and well-paced. It never feels slow or monotonous, with all sorts of twists and turns, with great victories as well as tragic, terrible defeats. Intrigue abounds as powerful individuals compete with one another to work the will of their own vision upon the world around them. The line between enemy and ally can be so very thin!

It’s not “perfect,” mind you. There are a few things which are handled a little clumsily. The “observers,” for instance, are there for one episode and never mentioned again. The entire character of Andre Smirnoff would have been better left untouched if not for the necessity of someone in his role at one or two pivotal moments. And how, how, how did the English dub fail to pronounce “A-Laws” correctly after the Japanese dub got it right? Speaking of, they probably should have just left the bit with the singing children in the original dub. Say what you will about the Japanese voice acting industry, at least they have pleasant singing voices. 😉

Still, I would say such flaws are at least within tolerable parameters, so to speak.

All in all, this is just a very well-done anime, telling a good, well-crafted story in an engaging, interesting way. The characters are lovable and understandable, the fights are exciting, the plot is intriguing, the animation is out of this world, and the music is masterful.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #434: Ending Vengeance

“Someone’s killed for killing another. Then that guy is killed for killing him. How is that kind of twisted thinking ever going to bring us peace?”
– Cagalli Yula Athha, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED
Episode 31, “Grieving Skies”

Cagalli says this in the wake of one of the saddest moments in anime, a moment where two best friends divided by war have finally been pushed by rage and loss into genuinely trying to kill each other, and it seems one of them has succeeded. They tried, both of them, to avoid that awful confrontation, but in the chaos of battle, each of them has cut down the other’s comrades, something which they just could not let pass, and so they were driven to it.

That is the nature of war, where one wrong is done and the need for reprisal grows until two people who could easily have been friends in another life are stuck in a scenario where they must kill or be killed, or see their friends killed. It’s a hellish mess.

Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: it is integral to civilization that when one person kills another, or harms them in other ways, there must be severe repercussions. Otherwise, there is no justice, and a society without justice is doomed.

But war… war is something else entirely.

War is almost always brewing in the form of tensions and pressures and movements that build for years on end, but it almost always begins officially with a single inciting incident, often some tragic event. With the first drop of spilled blood do people cry for retaliation, for justice, for the enemy’s complete and absolute destruction. Ancestral feuds claim more and more lives, and each life taken renews the hatred and the thirst for blood, until the original cause of the fighting is lost in an unending recitation of who the other side killed.

No words can capture the pain of losing a loved one, nor of knowing they were willfully taken by someone who still walks free and breathing, entirely unpunished. I do not dare pretend that I can even begin imagine such agony, not in any way that truly comprehends. I can speak of it only as a largely distant observer, but even then, I know that it consumes. That is the danger of it: that it consumes oneself, one’s life entirely, and all of one’s loved ones as well.

Thus, I do not, in any way, mean to say that murderers should go unpunished, or that wars should not be fought to put right what has been made wrong. I mean to say only that there comes a point when it must stop. The bloodshed must end. It must be made to end. We must, at some point, say, “This is enough, and too much.” Simply because killing someone who has killed someone else just makes for one more person who someone on the other side believes needs to be killed for killing them.

There is no hope for peace without sometime, somehow… letting it go. Stopping. Refusing to spill blood for blood, no matter how much it hurts. Choosing the path of, “No more.”

To force the cycle of vengeance to end, those on opposite sides must forgive each other for past hurts, or at least learn to live together.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment

My Five Favorite Gundams

In the continuing spirit of Mecha March and with so much of Gundams on my brain that I’m looking forward to the end of Witch from Mercury if only to get a little break from the franchise for a bit, I could not help but think about which gundams are the best. I don’t just mean the most powerful, the ones that would win in a fight. By that measure, one could just pick whichever one has the latest, most overpowered cannon. I mean the ones that speak most of power and personality, both the suit itself and the pilot within.

In short, after a binge of much of the franchise, seeing more gundams than I care to count, I asked myself which ones felt the greatest to me. Which gundams are my personal favorites?

I thought to make a Top Ten list, but when I got down to it… well, I didn’t really have ten that stood out so much to me that I could call them a favorite. The gundams in 8th MS Team are all identical, for instance, and those in Gundam 00 were ultimately too similar and too easily replaced with newer models. And I dislike the tragedy of Iron-Blooded Orphans too much to have a favorite gundam from that show. That left me with five shows I’ve seen to choose from, so I simply selected one favorite from each, and ranked them.

Thus, without further ado, from a franchise that has stretched for over four decades, I present my five favorite gundams!

5) The Freedom
Gundam SEED

It may have eventually been destroyed in battle and replaced, in the trend of SEED: Destiny to just slap bigger guns on everything, but the Freedom will always be awesome.

It is given to the lead protagonist, Kira Yamato, as he makes his return from the dead, and his return to the battlefield. He has, up to this point, been little more than a boy struggling to keep a few people safe in a situation far beyond his control. But when he gains the Freedom, he is gaining a new, clearer resolve, and actively working towards something better. This could not be made any clearer than how he did, regrettably, take lives with the first gundam he piloted, but never again. He led the way on the path of forgiveness, tolerance, and the holding of human life as sacred.

Thus does Freedom soar among the stars and descend to the Earth below, just in the nick of time to protect Kira’s comrades. He fights with new power, soon establishing himself as probably the single most formidable figure on any battlefield, and with it he works to save lives. The Freedom is an angel, complete with wings and cosmic fire, working to save humanity from inevitable destruction.

4) Dragon Gundam
G Gundam

G Gundam has an absolute plethora of gundams to choose from, but Dragon Gundam stands out in every good way: sleeker than the brutes, fiercer than the more refined, less stereotypical than the Shining or Burning Gundams, and possessing a wider armament than most.

It’s a perfect representation for its pilot, Sai Saici, as well as his home nation of China. He is youthful and strong, a disciple of the Shaolin Temple, with the mischief of a monkey and the fury of a dragon. Driven by the hopes of those who came before, especially his father, Sai Saici carries on his shoulders the inheritance of his ancestors and the pride of his nation. All this, while he is still growing up.

And he is the only enemy ever to force the lead protagonist into a draw. No one else can make that claim, even if both of them have their share of losses. Truly, the Dragon Gundam and Sai Saici are ferocious indeed!

3) Aerial
The Witch From Mercury

Technically, Aerial is practically the only gundam in this show, thus far, or at least the only one we’ve gotten to know, but I still have a certain appreciation for it, unlike, say, Barbatos from Iron-Blooded Orphans.

Gundams in this universe seem to have a tragic backstory, wherein the technology behind them was originally intended for medical purposes, to enhance humanity that they might endure the rigors of space and venture out into the stars. That tech was taken by the military and used for obvious purposes, with little to no regard for how the system could strain and even kill the pilot. Some influential fool took issue with that and murdered the people who were trying to perfect this system, but at that very hour, hope was found as one gundam bonded with an innocent little girl and they escaped destruction. Thus was Aerial born, to safeguard its pilot, who became known as Suletta Mercury.

Suletta is a girl who seems quite simple and ignorant at times, but always steps up to do what she feels is right, even if she’s obvious very nervous about it. She is stronger than she seems, not to mention more dangerous, though also, perhaps, more fragile as well. She’s far too trusting, for certain, but she cares about what matters most, and she is relentless, as unstoppable as any force of nature, and those around her can’t help but want to be bathed in her light.

Aerial, in similar fashion, doesn’t look like that much. It seems stripped down almost to its most basic framework. But it is surprisingly potent, both powerful and adaptable with its “bits” that configure into various weapons, including a potent shield or a swarm of powerful blasters that barrage its foes, completely annihilating them. And yet it could be so easily broken… but still endures.

Although… I have a certain suspicion, which I will not elaborate on in this post. For the time being, I simply enjoy how adaptable and resilient Aerial is.

2) Bakunetsumaru
SD Gundam Force

These gundams may be robots instead of mecha suits, but, still! A gundam is a gundam! 😉

As such, there isn’t anything to say about a pilot, so, this is brief! Short and simple!

Bakunetsumaru is the flaming samurai from the land of Ark! A Musha Gundam, he is a living machine, right down to being able to feast on rice balls. Brave and noble, he desires peace but fights with all his might to protect his homeland and his allies. He is, in fact, so strong and pure that he can even don the legendary armor of fire for a time. Nothing fazes him! …except ghosts! Which, really, can one blame him for that?

He may be young and occasionally hotheaded, but there is no doubt that Bakunetsumaru is a true and loyal friend.

1) Deathscythe
Gundam Wing

The most awesome of them all, in my opinion, and certainly a fan favorite! I particularly liked the upgraded version, with the flaps that spread like the wings of a bat, though the movie version, with literal bat-like wings, was a little too on the nose, ya know?

The pilot, Duo Maxwell, is a ruthless, gung-ho warrior, striking from the shadows and from the darkness of space, screaming into battle, taking no prisoners and leaving death in his wake. Well-named is he, the Shinigami, the God of Death (or “the Great Destroyer,” depending on how the dub is tweaked for kids). Strong of mind, of will, of body, and of opinion, he is lively and stubborn, incapable of staying quiet in the face of horrendous wrongs. Thus does he reap the deaths of his enemies with a vengeance!

The concept behind Deathscythe’s design couldn’t be any clearer, taking obvious cues from the Grim Reaper. This is no angel or machine of war or even a noble warrior, merely a deliverer of death, with all the terror that inspires. Muted in coloring instead of being needlessly flashy, it moves unseen until its blade is unleashed. And then, it is already too late, the only thing to do is die.

Duo and Deathscythe even once fought a well-matched pair of mobile suits who, lacking pilots, were programmed to move like two of his strongest comrades.  It was a hard fight, but the moment he found his footing, Duo completely annihilated the both of them with his scythe. That was seriously badass! And it was in defense of his lady love! Whoo! How can you not love that, eh?

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Anime-ted Living, Discussion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Operatic Saga of Gundam Seed

The Gundam franchise is entirely about mecha, sci-fi warfare on Earth and in space, and such subjects of philosophy as war and the human condition, with an ever-increasing number of repeated tropes, such as a masked antagonist, or the spherical Haro robots. And yet, for all these commonalities, the various series which make up the franchise can be startlingly different from one to the next. 8th MS Team, for instance, has some interesting details that add realism to the texture of the story. But realism went straight out the window with Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, as well as it’s sequel, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny. And where 8th MS Team is Gundam’s Romeo and Juliet, the two SEED shows feel more like an opera (or two), right down to the soundtrack.

Gundam Seed is basically a story of the importance of forgiveness in the pursuit of peace. It most primarily – though definitely not exclusively, with a cast as big as this – follows two young men, Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala, as their childhood friendship is torn apart by the anger, bloodshed, and sorrow of war, and then reforged in a bond of comradeship. Though they both try to avoid it, they end up hurting each other severely, and must learn to forgive and work together in order to stop an absolute genocide and save the human species itself. This, as forces of nihilistic hatred and prejudice seek to tear Earth and space apart, to leave only ruin and graves in their wake.

It’s not a perfect series by any means, being a bit melodramatic, unrealistic, and clumsy with its oversized cast, but it told a progressively more gripping and relevant story, with powerful themes, lovable characters (galore), and well-earned laughter and tears.

Then came the sequel.

Destiny picks up the story sometime after the nigh-apocalyptic events of the first series and delves ever further into the violent heart of human nature as well as greater and greater acts of mass destruction that make the events of the first series pale in comparison.  It deals again with the forces that seek to divide and destroy, but it also examines its own stereotypical ideals of heroism, as well as the human tendency to elevate ourselves and our idols to the status of infallible gods who always know what is right, and the conflicts which invariably result from the collision of human desires.

That is all some fairly hefty philosophical subject matter, no? It proves to be both a strength and a weakness of this particular anime. It delves into some very deep topics, but it lingers far too long on them. Not only does it repeat the same things over and over and over again, it keeps going back to replay those same clips an insane number of times. It gets especially bad in Destiny, which keeps shoving recap episodes into the lineup, going over everything that has a happened again and again and again, as if anyone who has watched the show that far along would really need it. And then, with all of those episodes and all that runtime devoted to recounting everything that we have already seen happen, we finally get to the end of the show and they don’t even properly resolve everything!

Every quality story has a moment after the climax, the descending action that ties everything off. In Star Wars, there’s the medal scene after the Death Star is destroyed. In The Princess Bride, Wesley and Buttercup have their true love’s kiss and then the grandfather says goodnight to his grandson. In The Dark Knight, Gordon tells his son what must happen as Batman flees into the darkness. And in most Gundam shows, things are similarly resolved in one way or another. Occasionally, there is some follow-up, either a movie or a special episode, but the show will at least tie itself off. But Destiny? Not only do they cut out when a mere five minutes more could have told us what happened, but when they got around to adding a special episode that tells us what happened, what did they do with it? Another recap episode! (you know that urge to flip over the table? …yeah.)

So, not exactly the best-planned anime out there. It tried to do quite a lot while also trying to do as little as possible. That carried through with its themes, with the structure of its narrative, and most everything else as well. This includes the truly massive cast, which left the plot trying to be everywhere with everyone all at once, and thus left us with precious little coverage of those most pivotal, emotional, significant moments for any character in particular. That was especially true in Destiny, though Seed was not entirely great at it either.

Then there were the mobile suits, of which the Gundams were always at the forefront of things. And new ones always managed to keep popping up as if straight out of holes in the ground. Good for the toy companies, but ironically bad for how seriously I could take this show. Seed was all right, but Destiny went way overboard. I mean, one can only try for so long to sell each new suit as being the ultimate suit, especially when some of the innovations really didn’t make that much sense. I mean, the one that launches in parts that assemble together on the battlefield? Really doesn’t make sense, no. What made that one so powerful? At least the others all had innovative, game-changing technology.

Which reminds me of one particular gripe I had about Seed: the significance of Lacus Clyne. Oh, she was pretty, adorable, and a saint, as well as the daughter of an important government official. But she was also primarily a singer, with no authority of her own. So, somehow she is able to just walk into where they keep a top secret new Gundam and hand it over to Kira, no questions asked? And then her fans follow her to rise up in rebellion against the genocidal tyrant who rules over them? Ok, I could buy how they used her name and image in Destiny to placate and distract the populace, but you won’t find me following a pop star to war.

Really enjoying Seed and especially Destiny requires overlooking most of the details and just enduring whatever they decide to put up on the screen. For talking so much about deep philosophical principles, it actually requires turning one’s brain off a bit, and just feeling everything. Which, I will admit, I can do sometimes, but not all the time, and for two series that each span fifty episodes? Nope. Sorry, can’t do it quite that long.

Really, I only managed to swallow Destiny in an all-out binge, and only because I was interested in all of the old characters from Seed. The new ones mostly didn’t grab my interest at all. One more peril of such a bloated cast: the newbies need to measure up to the old guard in some way. And these newbies, with just a few exceptions, did not. I was particularly annoyed with Shin Asuka, that swaggering, self-centered punk who was the new ace, the new “protagonist,” who couldn’t see past the end of his nose.

I would prefer to judge Seed and Destiny entirely apart from each other, but I suppose that would be going a bit too far. I would give the first series significantly higher marks and consign the second one almost entirely to the abyss.

Rating: making a compromise between the two, 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #433: The People on Both Sides

“Even though we’ve divided ourselves into enemies and allies, both sides have good people. Reasonable people.”
– Aina Sahalin & Shiro Amata, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 8th MS Team
Episode 8, “Duty and Ideals”

Aina and Shiro are from opposite sides of a bitter war. But at this point in the story, they’ve come together twice to save themselves and each other. This has been noticed now, and they are being interrogated by the people they answer to. Though they are in different places, and in slightly different circumstances, they are saying the same thing, beginning with this quote and culminating in a hope for peace.

For as long as there has been war, there has been a need to dehumanize the enemy. It has not always been much of a stretch, given how inhumane people can be. Conquering hordes have been rightly infamous for burning homes and sanctuaries, stealing gold, food, and other goods, tormenting their fallen, helpless victims, and most especially for the violation of women and girls. And that’s skirting around even more monstrous acts of cruelty and barbarity which would make even the forces of Hell shrink back in shock. With such awful truth made bare throughout history, it is small wonder how easy it is to see an enemy as a monster, and how needful it has been, as well, for how else can ordinary men slaughter them as they need to?

And yet, history also makes manifest that “the enemy” is every bit as human as oneself. Warriors of every age have shown each other a measure of honor even as they have fought to the death. Mercy has been granted, unlikely friendships and alliances have been forged, and some of the most dangerous, blood-soaked armies in the world have held themselves to certain codes of conduct. And the greatest, most stalwart soldiers of today have as their backbone a code of integrity which enables them to be brutal when needed, and then to swallow it all and move on to live in peace.

Even in the Hell of war, it seems, people have tried to be better than their base nature would make of them.

The enemy may be monsters, but not all monsters are evil. Dangerous, yes, but not evil.

This truth is what holds back some of mankind’s most savage impulses. Indeed, it is often when people forget this, forget that their foes aren’t evil, that they descend themselves to commit the very same depraved acts of cruelty, barbarity, and evil which they see their enemy as being guilty of. After all, if the enemy is all evil, then surely it is no evil thing to destroy them, right? To do to them as they have done to others, and worse? That’s supposed to be a good thing when the enemy is evil, isn’t it?

Ah, but it is not.

Not only because two wrongs do not make a right, and not only because one cannot commit atrocities without staining oneself, with no regard for one’s justifications, but also because, quite simply…

Both sides have good people.

And, yes, they have evil people, too. But it is the goodness that we have a harder time remembering, and greater need to remember on occasion.

Whatever the conflict, both sides are just… sides. Nothing more than sides, with strengths and flaws, pros and cons, good people and bad people.

We’re all just people, in the end.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment