Gundam Reconguista in G the Movie is for children.
That’s not my review. That’s straight from the mouth of Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino.
When Reconguista in G the Movie I Go! Core Fighter premiered at Anime NYC 2019, Tomino made a rare US appearance to introduce the film. “I want you to know that this is something that I created to make you reminisce about the expectations and hopes you had as children,” he said. “[W]atch it, and then when you go home tell all your younger siblings how wonderful Reconguista in G is.”
Now that Reconguista in G the Movie I Go! Core Fighter and Reconguista in G the Movie II Bellri’s Fierce Charge are streaming online, I can see what Tomino was trying to say. The Reconguista anime was already Tomino’s most optimistic story set in the Gundam multiverse in years, and the newly comprehensible movies emphasize his hopeful directorial outlook. But it’s so deeply influenced by Tomino’s oldest Gundam tropes that it’s hardly what I’d recommend as an entryway to the Gundam franchise. Kids don’t have the Gundam literacy to interpret the movies’ constant shorthand references to earlier source material. And while the newly revved-up pace could keep a child’s attention, the constant and jarring tonal changes don’t give viewers time to process or react to the story’s most poignant scenes. The movies are an improvement in coherence over the TV series, but they also suggest that coherence wasn’t the whole problem the first time around. These films make Reconguista in G easier to digest. But their abrupt emotional shifts keep this ambitious story from living up to its full potential.
To review these films is to review only a partially finished work, as they are only two of an eventual five that will compile the Reconguista in G material into a new and improved format. As a result, there’s very little here that will be new to fans of the TV anime. Instead, it’s the essentials of the anime tightened, edited, and rearranged for clarity. And by “essentials” I mean multiple instances of pilots using the cockpit toilet, and I’ll give you that, Tomino, that is the kind of juvenile humor that would appeal to kids. But seriously, the editing has done a huge favor for the original show in making it easier for viewers to understand the plot.
When I previously reviewed Gundam Reconguista in G the TV series, my biggest critique was comprehension, and I wasn’t alone. Even former Gainax president Toshio Okada said of the show: “I can’t figure out what’s going on.” Tomino’s noncommittal response to this and similar criticisms was self-deprecation, but the movies show how much of an impression these comments made. Reordered scenes make instances of cause and effect much clearer, indicating a character’s motives before they switch sides. This does lead to a lot of expository conversations with Tomino’s typical proper noun soup; in fact, this movie practically invents its own lexicon. Fortunately, there’s no vocab quiz at the end.
The story’s time and place—the Regild Century—occurs hundreds of years after the events of the Universal Century, which is where a lot of previous Gundam shows occur consecutively. A religion revolving around the space elevators which deliver batteries to Earth has taken control and brought peace to humankind, just so long as nobody looks too closely at the moon. But when people break the religion’s taboo and break out a telescope, they notice there’s a lot going on up in space. If you’ve watched another Gundam title before this one, it’s enough to give you a clue to what comes next. From the emergence of multiple warring factions with ever-shifting allegiances, to the idea that living on Earth and in space produce different human mindsets, to a masked antihero who is sure to be a thorn in the primary protagonist’s side: these are all narrative concepts which Tomino has been exploring for the better part of four decades. It couldn’t get clearer than early in the first film, when characters encounter a hangar full of some of Gundam‘s most recognizable mobile suits. Even though the story takes place long after the curtain has fallen on other Gundam sagas, the movies share many narrative similarities with them.
Let’s meet the cast. The hero is Bellri, a 16-year-old cadet at the Capital Guard, which is charged with protecting a space elevator called the Capital Tower. His foil is Aida Rayhunton née Surugan, a space pirate in direct opposition to everything he stands for (and he just can’t stop thinking about her!) Both teens have a mysterious connection to the G-Self, the sky blue, spiky, and sparkling central Gundam of the story, which succeeds in looking distinct from other iconic Gundams in the franchise. (The credit goes to Akira “Akiman” Yasuda, who was also a mecha designer for Code Geass.) There are no actual children in this children’s story, but there’s an amnesiac captive named Raraiya with an erratic, childlike personality. (There’s a lot more to Raraiya than we see in these first two movies, and her physical similarity to Lalah, one of Gundam‘s most famous Newtypes, is no coincidence.) The eclectic ensemble cast includes Klim Nick, another pirate who viewers will remember from Reconguista’s most famous English-language meme (“I’m a genius! Oh no!”) which has regrettably been cut from the film. Some of these characters clearly have Gundam Names™ (when Aida Rayhunton introduces herself, Bellri’s instructor claims: “You just stuck two names together!”) Other names are easier to remember: the masked antihero is called simply by the English word Mask. I can’t help but laugh at that; after decades of clones of the famously masked Char Aznable, Gundam finally distilled one down to its most basic attribute.
The films follow these characters as they live through the life-changing events of all-out warfare between factions on Earth and the moon. Though the movies now follow a logical order of events, there’s still a TV show’s worth of material to cover. Thus, both movies rely on a generous helping of Star Wars-style wipe transitions in order to leap from scene to scene. This can lead to some incongruent emotional shifts. In the second movie, when Bellri rescues Aida in the jungle, their chill moment visually overlaps with the death throes of a defeated enemy who sunk into quicksand just moments before. In another scene, Bellri is wracked with guilt and grief after he unintentionally uses the Gundam to kill a former ally in self-defense. In the following scene, which seemingly takes place the next morning, he’s his regular self again. In exchange for speed and comprehension, the emotional tempo of the show has become even more capricious in the films. Some scenes are bright and hopeful, a refreshing tone reminiscent of its sunny cousin, Turn A Gundam. But the primary content hasn’t changed, which means there’s plenty of “war is bad” reminders, such as several violent off-screen deaths. Though they’re not shown, they might still be too much to handle for some kids. Not to mention a few of the odder plot points, like the existence of the Kuntala, a class of people who were historically eaten as food. It’s unclear if that’s a metaphor or not!
The films are strongest in their audio-visual elements. Kenichi Yoshida‘s hand is evident in the fluid character design and breezy key animation: it’s easy to love these brightly-colored protagonists who skip easily across the screen. There are a few odd choppy moments where the G-Self appears to have been jerked around the screen to create movement, but the characters don’t struggle with this occasional mecha issue. The mecha designs are also some of Gundam‘s most unique. I’m a big fan of the Mack Knife, which splits its legs TIE fighter style to soar through the sky, and the Montero, which cuts an imposing silhouette with rare double shields. I’m hoping that the films revive interest in the Reconguista line of Gundam models and finally introduces a Master Grade G-Self. A lot of creativity also went into the settings: from the ornate glitz of the Capital Tower (why did they have to spend so much time at a section of it titled, in English, the Under Nut?), to the European capital vibe of Sankt Porto, to the lush jungles of one of Gundam‘s most enduring locales, the Guiana Highlands. And while the tone shifts an awful lot, Yūgo Kanno‘s sweeping orchestral score brings a fantasy quality that complements the atmosphere. Together, these visual and audio elements lend the story an ambitious high-fantasy feel. This world is vibrant and ripe for exploration, and it’s almost a tragedy that the show is simply retreading the same old conflicts and crises that have characterized so many previous Gundam titles.
More importantly, it doesn’t matter how good the films look or sound if they aren’t accessible without prior Gundam familiarity. Everything is happening very quickly, and there’s no getting around just how dense this material is. “At least things make logical sense now!” is not high praise. The dialogue can be poetic at best and obtuse at worst, and the exposition can only do so much when every plot point is a reference to an earlier Gundam concept. If the idea is to come in knowing nothing about Gundam, it’s not going to work. Sorry Tomino, Reconguista in G the Movie is not for children. It’s for people who already like Gundam.