Gundam Reconguista in G, or G-Reco, sees the mega-franchise’s founder Yoshiyuki Tomino return to the director’s seat and boy is that a loaded statement. Jean-Karlo and Nicholas attempt to figure out what the hell is going on in a show that features a religion centered around elevators.
These movies are streaming on YouTube
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
What’s this!!! This thing has more power and more armor than a mecha, it’s completely different! This is no Zaku, this can only mean… IT’S A GUNDA—!
By god, we’re doing it. Eight years later we’re somehow, inexplicably, covering G-Reco. May God have mercy on our souls.
Specifically we’re talking about the first 2 (of 5) recap movies, which were very suddenly released into the wild on Gundam.info’s YouTube page this week. And lemme tell ya, getting surprised with G-Reco out of the blue is truly the only way to experience it.
Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino has set himself apart as being a very opinionated storyteller. Much like Captain Jack Sparrow, even if you don’t like his works you probably have heard of them, at least. The likes of Aura Battler Dunbine, Space Runaway Ideon, and Overman King Gainer are nevertheless influential even if they don’t always hit their mark. And, y’know, Mobile Suit Gundam has been the anime equivalent of Star Trek since the ’70s. It may lack much of the flashy flair of modern Alternate Universe Gundam like SEED, 00 or G Gundam, but make no mistake—this new G-Reco isn’t just for show.
I have a…complex relationship with Tomino. For one, the first thing by him I ever saw was Garzey’s Wing, at once the best and worst possible introduction to the man’s signature style. Worst because it sucks unholy ass, and best because it partially inoculated me to the bizarre way this dude directs anime.
Tomino cares very little for traditional sensibilities in storytelling. This is a guy who thinks killing off the entire cast at the very end of the show is perfectly reasonable and will not hesitate to do it as a matter of fact. He’s also very unafraid of very bizarre turns of phrase.
Boy is he! About half my G-Reco experience is keeping a running list of the proper nouns and/or names in these two films. I sincerely think somebody needs to publish a Tomino-to-Human dictionary some day.
But it’s not just the Proper Noun soup, it’s Tomino’s entire approach to directing and writing dialogue. Characters will hurl non-sequiturs at each other in place of conversation. People will break in and out of tears at the drop of a hat. We’ll see characters react to and comment on things off screen and never see them. The first five minutes introduces an important piece of in-universe terminology and then doesn’t explain until half-way into Movie 2.
His naming schemes are also pretty out-there, he of the infamous names “Bright Noa” and “Char Aznable”.
I could not tell you if this is a name, a curse word, both, or neither.
I will say, for all my issues with these films, the design and animation work are not among them. Kenichi Yoshida is now 2 for 2 on great character designs in unconventional mech anime, and while the action can be inconsistent, the fights look fantastic when they want to.
With all this preamble, we ought to fill folks in on the story. Taking place long after the Universal Century (the mainline Gundam timeline), the Earth has kinda-sorta-not-really settled into a peaceful-ish situation. SU-Cordism, a religion that worships the Capital Tower space elevators, reigns supreme and has banned all technological progress. Meanwhile, a war rages between Ameria and Gondowan for photon batteries, the main power source in this universe. And the only place these can be recharged is the Capital Tower.
That’s a lot of vital information, which is fittingly communicated piecemeal across these two movies + some additional wiki surfing. Anyway, into this precarious situation drops the G-Self, a shockingly high tech mobile suit none of the countries have seen before, piloted by Raraiya Monday, who would be very important if her brain didn’t get turned into scrambled eggs 30 seconds into this movie.
Smash cut to a bunch of teenaged pilot candidates, featuring this ball of sunshine: Bellri Zenam, or Bell for short. He’s a prodigious pilot, having been skipped up two grades. He and his fellows are candidates for the Capital Army, a peacekeeping group that helps protect the Capital Tower from space pirates looking to plunder photon batteries.
When suddenly: Cheerleaders!
Specifically one cheerleader, Noreda Nug, a girl with a dank name whose main job is to get jealous over Bell talking to other girls, and eventually babysit Raraiya while she recovers from oxygen deprivation.
Between Raraiya and the other cheerleaders, I wanna take a moment to applaud G-Reco for its wide diversity in character design. There are more people of color in these two movies than I’ve seen in several months of working for this column. A lot of this feels like Tomino’s attempt at portraying Americans, and I appreciate that he has put effort into ensuring that people of color are part of the story as villains, heroes, and people in-between.
In a genre that has a very
bad habit of forgetting to place people of color in the future, I appreciate the effort. Claudia LaSalle would be proud.
On the topic of details, some of my favorite stuff in these movies is actually the tiny extra details spared to the mechs. They’re of course outfitted with a ton of different weapons, but there’s also neat inclusions, like how they all come equipped with retractable, omnidirectional airbags because pilots don’t believe in seatbelts.
It was a nice touch! Definitely some well-thought-out engineering that helps make these bipedal mechs more believable.
Though it’s not all practical. Like these fucking ostrich walkers everyone uses instead of cars for some reason. It reminds me of the mobile, AI-controlled rotary payphones in the original Macross
as just some wonderfully absurd retro-futuristic design.
We even see later on that they have Segway technology, but everyone just hops aboard the Birdmobiles, seemingly just for the fun of it.
I appreciate that they’re called “Shanks”. I know it’s weird, but it feels like such a fitting, well-worn name for these things. What else would you call them? What else would people call them after having used them for so long? Again, Tomino’s writing is weird, but you can’t fault him for his worldbuilding, hare-brained as it might be.
It’s unique, I cannot deny. I just wish the actual nuts and bolts plot points (not to be confused with Nuts, which are an important plot point) were communicated in a way that doesn’t require a Tomino Decoder Ring to figure out. Like when our actual female lead arrives, inexplicably in the G-self, for reasons that get explained half off screen.
This is Aida Rayhunton, who denies being part of the Amerian army. But she actually is. She also denies being a Princess of Ameria. But she actually is. And she denies any proper link to the G-Self, which… is actually true. She has it, but she and her countrymen know about as much of it as anyone else does.
She also claims to be a mobile suit pilot, and even has her own special robot that the army keeps ready for her, but across both these movies she just gets her ass absolutely handed to her on a silver platter every time she sorties.
The Capital Army imprisons her, but during another raid from space pirates Bell goes and rescues her because… actually, I’m not entirely sure. He’s a bleeding heart and he didn’t want her to get hurt in the crossfire?
Thus begins the greatest mystery of G-Reco: Why does anybody do anything that they do? There is a very broad trajectory of motivation for the cast at large, but in any given moment I couldn’t tell you precisely why anyone is fighting anyone else outside of Space War.
Like right after this Bell boards the G-Self, fights and accidentally kills Aida’s CO, and then goes to eat breakfast with his mom.
Again, Tomino can be weird with his characters. Character intentions and desires make sense when you finally have the whole picture, but they go about it in weird ways. Or worse, characters will exist to symbolize one of Tomino’s beliefs, which can be just weird. So bizarro emotional whiplash like Bell flippantly having breakfast after killing a man is par for the course.
I mean if we wanna talk bizarre, how about this little detail:
I have no idea what to say about the Gundam Toilet other than that it must have one hell of a bidet at its command.
If you think Japanese toilets are next-level, imagine taking a crap inside a mobile suit…
And then imagine having to do that surrounded by women. (Normally, you have to pay a lot of money for that!)
In a way I admire the sheer balls Tomino has to take one of the most beloved and iconic pieces of anime history—that he helped create—and ask “but what if you could poop in it?”
And then made presumably thousands of people watch it happen.
Like there’s no reason for this. It never comes up again. Bell just suddenly gets the shits from breakfast and has to drop a 00 in the cockpit.
This is the kind of thinking you can only attain when your soul is no longer weighed down by gravity.
Also this happens while they’re fighting Klim Nick, which is a real name and also the best character in this thing. Mostly because I finally have context for this meme:
Spoilers: his reason is most likely just “The Pope Said So”
Also there’s a Pope.
Again, Tomino has never hesitated to put his opinions out there, and weirdo that he might be he tends to have his fingers on the pulse. The original Mobile Suit Gundam was all about how the oligarchy of the world would never
accept or recognize colonial independence without a ton of war and bloodshed to convince them, also space colonists are kinda-sorta the next step in Human Evolution vis-a-vis the whole “souls not weighed down by gravity” thing. Reconguista in G
is about how technocracy is simply a tool of the ruling class to maintain their political and economic interests in place, as well as a convenient tool to dictate world policy. After all, if Capital Tower allowed solar energy, they wouldn’t have a justification to establish the Capital Army in the face of the growing war!
…Hehehe. He said “nut”.
We also later find out that “Kuntala,” a pejorative thrown around through basically any scene in Capital Tower, refers to lower class people whose ancestors were apparently used as food
back in The Bad Times. Which is almost dark enough to make me feel bad for giggling every time I heard it.
This is where our Char-archetype, Luin, comes in. An instructor who was also friends with Bell, Luin fights as Commander Mask in an attempt at redeeming the social standing of the Kuntala. In a world of demagogues, Luin genuinely believes in his cause and is quite unflatteringly broken-hearted when his first mission ends in the deaths of his fellow Kuntala.
Unfortunately for Luin even the Capital Army’s new Not-Valkyrie transforming mobile suits can’t hold a candle to the G-Self. Also Bell gets kidnapped and just kind of starts using the G-Self to fight for Ameria. Don’t ask me to explain why. Maybe he just likes their vibes or their cool chairs.
One factor is how fast the Capital Guard starts revealing their true colors once the pirates have hold of the G-Self. Bell may have grown up under SU Cordism doctrine, but he has strong moral fiber.
Though again, we run into the issue of motivation. Bell and Noreda have several conversations about taking the G-Self and escaping to return home, seem to agree on it at multiple points, and then just…don’t? Like they keep getting distracted by Raraiya’s cool fish, which is also helping fix her brain.
Yeah, that feels like something left behind in the TV version of G-Reco. That whole sub-plot is just forgotten and Bell just… decides to fully ally himself with the space pirates. Though Aida might have to do with that. See, Bell went and killed Cahill, a pilot working for Aida and also apparently her betrothed. Aida, against her wishes, is forced to forgive Bell for it, even though she really doesn’t want to.
So I presume Bell appreciates the gesture from her?
I guess! Either way it sets up Bell as a reluctant freedom fighter all the same. And thus he’s positioned to fight Captain Mask for pretty much the rest of Movie 1 and a good chunk of Movie 2. That’s the other thing about these “films” is that being strung together TV episodes means weekly episodic plots just bleed into each other in a way that can be pretty disorienting.
There’s a detail about the connection between Mask/Luin and Bell that I appreciate. So, the mobile suits in this universe can generate Minovsky Particles, a long-running part of the Gundam universe. These interfere with communications equipment or radar. In the case of G-Reco, the only way around them is direct contact with the enemy mobile suit to form a direct connection. This not only ensures pilots not recognizing who they’re fighting until the last minute, this is also a cute contrast; you can’t communicate if you’re coming at someone with the intent to kill.
It’s a nice little metaphor, but nobody seems to take much from it when their reaction to every foreign flying object is to shoot first and ask questions in therapy. Aida very nearly murders Bell’s mom when she hops a space glider off of the Space Pope Station, for instance.
I was so ready for matricide to happen. I was pleasantly surprised when Bell’s mother survived.
Gotta keep her alive so we can have amazing lines like this:
“Rude” is one way to describe it, Ms. Nug.
The answer, as is always the case in anime, is that something screwy is going down on the moon. That’s presumably where Raraiya and the G-Self are from too, but it’s anyone’s guess what the story there is. Also in the middle of all this they drop the fact that Bell’s possibly adopted? Sure that won’t have any implications later on.
Meanwhile, the Capital Army has fully gone rogue and broken the church’s taboo on technological advancements in updating the Mack Knifes—all in an attempt at capturing the G-Self.
I wasn’t really feeling their predecessor, the Elf Bullocks (I swear to god I’m not making that name up, Editor), but the Mack Knifes are actually just goofy enough to work for me. They’re like Power Ranger
mobile suits that turn into those spinner toys you get at the Dollar Tree.
Personally I say let the Amerians keep the G-Self and its novelty backpack attachments. Let me get a transforming action figure of these guys.
I’m a sucker for robots with long blocky legs that also serve as wings (see: Beast Machines Buzz-saw, who I sadly don’t own). If I had any skill with painting, I’d get myself a Mack Knife Gunpla and turn it into a Mack Knife Custom in neon blue-and-pink. It’d be incapable of doing anything but sitting sideways in chairs and binge-watch tokusatsu and VTubers three times faster.
So anyway, the stage is set for a climactic battle between the forces of the Capital Army and Ameria, buuuuuuut we don’t actually get to see that yet. Unless you want to hunt down the TV series. Instead Movie 2 ends with Bell winning a minor skirmish by kicking Luin’s robot in the dick.
We also seem to finally get some insight into Raraiya: space is her home, it seems. What that means, we’ll have to either wait and see or just watch the G-Reco TV series.
So all in all this has been a…I guess interesting journey? If nothing else I can’t say I was ever bored with G-Reco, even if the viewing experience sometimes felt like trying to play cat’s cradle during a boxing match.
I won’t pretend G-Reco is the most sensible thing or that I had an easy time making heads or tails of it. But I will say that I have a ton of respect for Tomino as a creator: this is unmistakably a story with his fingerprints all over it. He isn’t some old environmentalist bloviating over his pet topics while trying to bludgeon you with how cartoons used to be made, dammit, while he puffs on his cherry cigarettes. He doesn’t even care about what other people are doing. He’s doing his own thing, and the result is… I think it’s beautiful? This feels like meeting up with a longtime friend whose first reaction is to tell you to go fuck yourself, but you know he only says that to people who he’s known and cared for for years—like you. And I feel like Tomino’s hitting all the marks here. The strife between a rogue band of pirates against a religious dogma that’s lost control of itself rings true in an age where we need sustainable energy as of seven years ago but the powers that be refuse to do it. The future generation is our only hope, and it’s our goddamned fault that this weight is falling onto them.
I cannot in good faith demand anyone to watch this right now because yes, Tomino and his decisions are weird. But when you speak this clearly, this from-the-heart, this confidently… I can’t help but respect you.
Goddammit, he put a toilet in a mobile suit and you will watch people use it twice.
Personally I can’t say I got a lot out of it outside of sating some curiosity. Whatever the series is/was trying to say just feels to obscured by its delivery to really land. But by god there ain’t anything else like this being made right now, so maybe I’m just on the wrong wavelength.
I’m a weirdo who tends to prefer genuineness and honesty of voice to polish. So I can see a lot of people getting weirded out by G-Reco’s sensibilities the same way I would imagine people getting turned off by the original Mobile Suit Gundam or Ideon: Be Invoked or stuff like that. Like, yeah, sure: I can only recommend this to people who want to freebase Tomino. If you’re interested in Gundam, frankly, you’d be best served watching Iron-Blooded Orphans or G Gundam because those are so much easier to consume. But Tomino’s voice is so clear here that I’d at least ask people to look into the G-Reco movie on a lark. At the very least, it’s stunningly pretty.
Hey, I get ya there. I’m a die-hard Shoji Kawamori stan and am perhaps the only person on earth who will defend (parts of) Earth Girl Arjuna after all. If nothing else I appreciate such a unique, idiosyncratic voice still being present in the modern industry. Just uh…maybe pass out a Cliff Notes guide alongside the next film screening, please.
For how anal-retentive I am, I am okay with all this jargon being thrown around. Like Joe Dirt said to Kicking Ass, née Kicking Wing, “Don’t focus on the wrong part of the story”. But again: I won’t blame people for feeling lost. You’re talking to a degenerate that likes RUSH.
Some of us need Tomino training wheels, and that’s okay. So, until next time, Gundam fans!
And for the love of God Gundam, give us a courtesy flush!