Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 5 – Re-entry to Earth

Most of this episode is a prolonged combat scene, with a lot of jumping around between combatants, bridge crews, and other characters, so apologies in advance if this post is a bit jumbled.

As you may remember, we ended last episode with White Base narrowly escaping a Federation base and heading for Earth. As we begin this episode, we rejoin the White Base as it flees Luna II alongside a Salamis-class cruiser. Inside, we get a glimpse of the civilians White Base has been ferrying since leaving Side 7. It’s been easy to forget over the last few episodes that in addition to characters who joined the ship’s crew (like Fraw, Hayato, and Amuro), there are many other colonists aboard the White Base who are simply waiting to reach somewhere safe enough to depart.

Among these folks is an old man and his grandson. The kid has a toy car that’s busted, so tech genius Amuro steps up to fix it. This is a brief sequence, but it’s important. Up to this point, the show has focused on younger characters: Amuro and the other Side 7 conscripts are all in high school, and even the ship’s authority figure, Bright, is only 19. This is important because it means they’ve all grown up within the Universal Century – that is to say, they were all born after the establishment of the space colonies. None of them understand what the world was like before the Sides existed, nor the politics behind them.

This is a topic that the original Mobile Suit Gundam doesn’t delve into very much, but has been expanded on in later series and supplementary materials. The long and short of it is, while many people did go to the colonies by choice, others were forced to move to them due to Earth’s ballooning population. There’s a lot of resentment among older colonists regarding colonization, which will become more prominent as we see more of these civilians in later episodes.

It’s this kindly grandfather character that gives us our first peek at the hard feelings shared by many of the older generation of colonists. He tells Amuro that he is excited to show his grandson Earth, and that he will not leave the planet again. In fact, he goes so far as to say that he would refuse to leave even if the Federation ordered him to; he wishes to be buried on Earth, no matter what. This, as we will later discover, is not an uncommon sentiment among older colonists. It’s a very different view of the Earth/colonies conflict than we’ve yet seen; compare it to Amuro’s seeming indifference or Bright’s boyish excitement about leaving Earth for the first time. Mobile Suit Gundam is, to a degree, a show about generational divides; as Tomino himself put it, the show explores the idea that “Adults are the enemy.” While this idea would be expanded upon later as the Newtype mythology began to emerge, the seeds of that theme are first planted here.

Speaking of things being planted, the grandfather mentions that he was a coffee farmer in South America before moving to the colonies. As an interesting aside, this minor detail actually holds some historical relevance; there is a long history of Japanese immigration to Brazil. Notably, Japanese Brazilians have traditionally had trouble being accepted in either Brazilian or Japanese culture, often being considered foreign to both – a parallel, perhaps, to the difficult adjustments faced by the first generation of colonists in the Universal Century. In the era of the One Year War, these men and women who were born on Earth but live in the colonies don’t fit neatly into the ‘earthnoid’ or ‘spacenoid’ categories that define the Earth Federation/Zeon conflict.

Moving away from the civilians and onto White Base’s bridge, we find out that the ship will be escorting a small capsule of crew members from the Salamis onto Earth. The man in charge of the Salamis (one Lieutenant Reed) doesn’t have much faith in Bright or the rest of the crew; while he isn’t openly hostile just yet, he addresses Bright as “kid” rather than his actual name or rank. Perhaps dealing with this guy has put Bright off his game, as the now-captain of White Base makes the foolish prediction that Char probably won’t attack the Federation forces as they’re re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. An attack during atmospheric re-entry? It’s far too risky! Even the great Char would never attempt such a thing!

Bright… come on, man. Never, ever assume Char isn’t going to attack.

Sure enough, we immediately go to Char’s Musai, where he’s laying out his plan. These cuts are almost a running gag at this point! Before Char talks about the attack, though, he gives us the necessary exposition to create the episode’s tension: atmospheric re-entry is very dangerous, because mobile suits can’t actually survive it. That means Char’s team has to strike quickly and return to the Musai or else they’ll all burn to death as they get sucked into Earth’s gravity.

The Salamis capsule launches and begins its descent, along with White Base. Bright, despite his earlier confidence in the ship’s safety, makes the wise decision to have Amuro ready in the Gundam just in case. It’s a good thing, too, because the kid has to launch almost immediately; Char doesn’t mess around, starting the attack as soon as the re-entry process begins.

Gundam-related foresight aside, Bright still hasn’t gotten the hang of commanding during combat yet; he gives good orders, but he’s prone to panicking at the slightest provocation. In this instance, it’s because the White Base’s missiles aren’t firing as quickly as he’d like (because the two guys assigned to missile duty, Ryu and Hayato, have no idea how to work them). Thank God Mirai is around to keep him grounded.

Speaking of Mirai, let’s take a minute to appreciate how awesome she is. She’s a young girl from a wealthy family who barely has any experience flying, but she’s stepped up every time the White Base has needed her. This episode presents her with her most difficult task yet: handling an atmospheric re-entry. She’s got to be under an incredible amount of pressure; after all, if the ship doesn’t re-enter properly, everyone on board could die. And yet she is cool and collected the entire time, even helping Bright calm down. Even when the Salamis capsule is damaged by a Zaku and the White Base has to maneuver the pod into its hangar mid-flight, Mirai handles everything like a pro.

Yes, that’s right, Lt. Reed’s capsule is damaged by a Zaku. That ought to tell you that Amuro isn’t doing so hot in this fight. It’s not entirely his fault – he’s trying to take on four Zakus at once, one of which is Char. Still, he can’t seem to focus on a single target long enough to be effective. He also wastes his bazooka ammo early on, leaving him defenseless except for the Gundam’s head vulcans. Admittedly, he does use those little machine guns to take out one of the Zakus, so ‘defenseless’ probably isn’t the right term. Either way, it’s not long before the White Base deploys a new armament for him. What’s the new weapon, you ask? Why, the Gundam Hammer, of course!

The Gundam Hammer is a massive ball and chain that the Gundam can swing around. That’s it; it’s just a big spiky ball that the Gundam whips at people. It’s worth noting that in the movie compilations that followed the original series, the Gundam Hammer was left out, as Tomino felt it was too unrealistic for the franchise. Still, as goofy as it is, I can’t help but love it.

Amuro uses it pretty effectively in this fight, too, managing to take out one of Char’s men with it. Overall, this battle is perhaps the most brutal in the series to date – the grunt (if he got a name, I missed it) who gets taken out by the Gundam’s vulcans has a very upsetting death scene, begging for Char to save him before his Zaku explodes. Krom (the pilot who gets killed by the Gundam Hammer) doesn’t get a prolonged death scene, but, I mean… he gets crushed by a giant-robot-sized spiked ball. That can’t be a pleasant way to go. For their part, the Zeonic forces get a few good licks in as well; they completely wreck the Gundam’s shield and, as previously mentioned, damage the Salamis capsule enough to force it to dock with White Base.

Speaking of which, Lt. Reed – now on board the White Base himself – is less than impressed with Bright’s performance, threatening to court martial him for sending out the Gundam and risking its destruction on re-entry (because Amuro is still out there fighting even though he should really be retreating to the ship). Bright rightly retorts that if he hadn’t sent the Gundam out, White Base would’ve been overwhelmed by Char’s forces. Good for you, Bright! It looks like the Wakkein debacle from last episode has taught him to stand up for himself, even against superior officers.

Of course, Bright’s defense doesn’t make up for the fact that Amuro spent too long trying to take out Char and now he’s stuck in Earth’s gravity well, along with another Zaku. Char, on the other hand, retreated to a re-entry capsule launched from his Musai. He watches as his soldier, Crown, burns up in the planet’s atmosphere; it’s easily the worst death in the series to this point, with Crown begging for help even as his mobile suit deforms and collapses around him. Char can do nothing but assure Crown that his sacrifice was worth it, as he kept Amuro busy long enough to consign the Gundam to the same fiery fate.

Ah, but Amuro has a trick up his sleeve: the Gundam’s big, chunky manual! Luckily, it’s got a whole chapter on atmospheric re-entry, and guess what? The Gundam can survive the process without issue thanks to the heat-proof film stored in its crotch.

Yeah, seriously, that’s how the episode resolves. The Gundam just happens to have a big ol’ blanket in its crotch compartment that protects it from the effects of re-entry. It’s… pretty anticlimactic. It should come as no surprise that this element was also omitted from the film compilations.

As the episode closes, we learn that White Base has gone out of the frying pan and into the fire. They may have survived Char’s attack, but it put them far enough off course that they’re now deep in Zeon-controlled territory, and they’re about to be assaulted by an old friend of Char’s: Garma Zabi, youngest son of the Zabi family that rules Zeon. It’s a brilliant play on Char’s part, and we’ll see the results next episode, when Garma strikes!

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