After a somewhat lackluster episode last week, Mobile Suit Gundam finds its footing again with this week’s episode, “The Core Fighter’s Escape.”
It begins simply enough, showing the crew of White Base going about their jobs. It’s a quiet few moments, but this scene is effective at showing that despite the slapdash nature of the current crew, they’re actually doing an admirable job of holding things together. The ship is running well, and the Side 7 recruits seem to be settling into their positions.
On the command side, however, things are a bit more fraught. Lt. Reed is still on board, and he and Bright are having another disagreement, this time regarding the Side 7 civilians. Reed believes they should be dropped off immediately; Bright, on the other hand, doesn’t think it’s safe to leave them in Zeon-controlled territory. It’s nice to see this side of Bright; he spends so much time trying to project an air of authority to the crew, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s a decent, caring guy underneath his hard exterior. Of course, just because he wants to do right by the Side 7 refugees doesn’t mean it’s actually feasible; as Kai points out, they don’t have the supplies to feed all the civilians for a prolonged period of time.
For their part, the refugees don’t want to wait until it’s safe to be dropped off. They just want to set foot on Earth again. I spoke briefly about the resentment felt by early colonists a few episodes ago; here, it comes out in full force. One of the civilians references the fact that many of them were forced to emigrate to space against their will, and never thought they would see the Earth again. It’s not a plot point that gets a lot of attention right here, but it’s crucial to understanding the actions these people take–they have never viewed the colonies as their home, and they are desperate to return to Earth after all this time. That’s all very sad, but it doesn’t justify what they do next: take the three orphans (Katz, Letz, and Kikka) hostage and demand to be dropped off on Earth.
While all of that is going on, Amuro is up on the bridge, working with White Base engineers to figure out a way to break past the Zeonic forces and contact the Federation. Being the tech whiz that he is, he comes up with a way to add some extra juice to the ship’s launch catapult. This extra power should let the Core Fighter launch right over the opposition, allowing him to reach Federation HQ. However, it’s dangerous–Bright points out that the increased launch acceleration could be deadly for the Core Fighter’s pilot. Amuro volunteers immediately, despite the risk, and I have to wonder: given the obvious mental toll piloting the Gundam has taken on him, what are Amuro’s real reasons for volunteering? Is he genuinely confident that his plan will work (as he claims), or has he become, if not suicidal, then at the very least indifferent about his own survival? In this case, I’m more inclined toward the former; Amuro’s mental state is certainly deteriorating, but I don’t think he has a death wish.
Before he attempts this potentially deadly mission, though, he’s got to eat! After all, for a soldier, eating is like putting bullets in a gun!
Snack time lasts long enough for news of the aforementioned hostage situation to reach the bridge. On top of the three kids, the refugees have also taken Fraw Bow, who volunteered to enter their custody so she could keep an eye on the orphans. It’s a nice gesture, but let’s be real, Fraw–these folks might be idiots, but it’s not like they were ever seriously considering hurting the children.
At any rate, Amuro is completely unconcerned about the whole thing, which Hayato calls him out on. He claims that he’s confident that Bright can handle the situation, so there’s no reason for him to worry, but I don’t buy it. I might not think he’s depressed enough to be a death-seeker yet, but I absolutely think he’s depressed enough to be numb to Fraw and the kids’ situation. Despite Amuro’s emotionless demeanor, Kai manages to get a rise out of the young pilot by making some snide remarks, and Amuro snaps at him to act more like an adult before heading down to the Core Fighter.
Unfortunately for White Base, Char and Garma are monitoring their movements closely, and Char figures out what the Core Fighter is up to almost immediately. He quickly launches in the Komusai capsule to intercept. Incidentally, this scene only adds more fuel to my ‘Char and Garma hooked up in their Academy days’ theory; just pay attention to Garma in this scene. Look at the way he plays with his hair while noting, with obvious affection, that Char “hasn’t changed a bit.” They were definitely more than friends!
Char’s quick thinking isn’t the only problem for our heroes, though. It turns out Bright was right to be worried about the strain of the Core Fighter’s launch–the sudden acceleration caused Amuro to pass out. Oh, and of course, the refugees are just making things more difficult by continuing their revolt while the White Base is in the middle of an extremely important and delicate operation. Bright tries to talk them down and explain why he can’t let them land just yet, but these guys just aren’t having it. They insist that they “aren’t trying to be difficult,” which is so ridiculous I’m surprised Bright doesn’t deck the guy who says it. He might have, I suppose, if he hadn’t been called up to the bridge by a panicking Mirai, who can’t get a response from the unconscious Amuro.
The crew springs into action, launching a missile barrage in an attempt to cover Amuro. Something to take note of: despite their earlier interaction (and his general bad attitude), Kai is the first one to man the missile controls. I find it interesting that he is always quick to step up–even though he usually complains about it later. Though the show is still in its early stages, it’s already clear that Kai has some hidden depths.
The missiles don’t do much good, as Char is able to avoid them easily at this range, but it’s okay because Amuro finally comes to. He’s able to fly circles around the Komusai in his Core Fighter, as the former is simply an armed atmospheric re-entry capsule while the latter is an actual fighter jet. However, Zeon has also deployed a significant number of Dopp aircraft, so Amuro is going to have to return to White Base anyway. Well, it was a nice try, buddy!
Seriously, though, I think that’s a really interesting choice on the writing team’s part. We’re still early into the show–it’s episode seven of what was, at the time, supposed to be a fifty-two episode series–and already, the protagonists are losing. Up until now, they’ve been at least moderately successful in their endeavors; escaping Side 7, attacking Char as he resupplied, getting out of Luna II, getting back into Earth’s orbit, and surviving Garma’s initial assault. None of these were complete victories (at the very least, they never defeated Char), but the White Base has always more-or-less come out on top. This time? No dice. Their plan didn’t work, Amuro almost died attempting it, and at the end of the day they’re back where they started. Tonally, I think having a loss this early in the series is important; it reinforces the ‘war is hell’ theme and shows that our heroes are not unbeatable.
Of course, not everybody appreciates the seriousness of this defeat. Kai makes the mistake of cracking a few jokes about it, and gets cracked in the jaw himself for his trouble. Bright doesn’t tolerate that kind of talk on his ship! Fists of fury aside, Bright handles this engagement better than in previous episodes. Perhaps Reed’s presence is taking some of the pressure off of him (as Bright no longer bears the burden of sole command), or maybe his anger at Kai helps focus him. Either way, this fight goes fairly well, all things considered.
Granted, Amuro might disagree with that assessment. The Core Fighter can’t stand up to this many enemy ships, so he’s got to bring it back to White Base and redeploy in the Gundam, then fight off Zeon in freefall–something he’s never had to do before. He is understandably freaked out, but Sayla manages to calm him down. Soothed nerves are no substitute for experience, though, and he does miserably in his fight with Char (who has brought his custom Zaku). Char nearly blows the Gundam’s head off before a well-placed missile barrage gives Amuro the cover necessary to get out of there and make his way back to White Base.
It’s in the middle of this pitched battle that the civilians intrude on the bridge to make things even worse. Not content to merely take hostages in the middle of a tense operation, they’ve chosen to escalate things and stage a sit-in protest on the bridge during combat. Oh, but they don’t mean to be difficult! Geez. Maybe Reed is right; just boot ’em all off right now and let Zeon deal with them.
As Char lands on Earth and watches the White Base escape, he gets a message from Garma–the Zeons have analyzed combat data and figured out how the Core Fighter works (specifically, that it can dock with multiple suits, not just the Gundam). Char is less than pleased to learn that he has yet to see the Federation mobile suit’s full potential.
Back on White Base, Bright is actually nice to Amuro for a change–no Tough Love Dad today! He must’ve used all that up smacking Kai around. Amuro would probably be happier about this turn of events if he weren’t distracted by the refugees, who are still cluttering up the bridge, literally sitting in his way. He (rightfully) tears into them when they imply that the White Base crew is being selfish by not landing and letting them depart. Considering how on-edge Amuro has been of late, things might have turned ugly if Mirai hadn’t stepped in right then and handled things like a pro. With only a few words, she deflects Amuro’s anger and orders the civilians off of the bridge–to which they actually comply. Watching these episodes again, I’m realizing that Mirai is the unsung hero of this series.
That’s all we’ve got this time, but the preview clues us in that the civilians are about to get what they want. Next episode a temporary ceasefire will be called–but despite that, the winds of war continue to blow…