Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 9 – Fly, Gundam!

Whoa, what? A Gundam recap post on a Friday? That’s right! I’ve been feeling down lately, and all my coping mechanisms involve giant robots, so I’m doing an extra recap this week!

Before we get started, I just want to appreciate that episode title (“Fly, Gundam!”) for a moment. It’s kind of a stealth pun, because it makes sense in terms of the episode itself (which features a fight scene involving the Gundam using its boosters to ‘fly’ around its foes), but it’s also the title of the show’s theme song. Neat!

Getting into the episode proper, we see Fraw Bow looking for Amuro, because she’s just remembered that Amuro Needs Food Badly. Yep, nine episodes in and “humans need to eat to survive” continues to be a plot point, for some reason. Accompanying Fraw is everyone’s favorite robot buddy, Haro. But there’s something different about the little guy today. Something… sinister. You see, to find Amuro, Fraw has to go up some stairs, and to follow her, Haro–who is normally just an adorable green ball–has to sprout arms and legs

I hate it. I hate Legs Haro.

Nowhere is safe.

At any rate, Fraw gets to Amuro’s room and it’s immediately apparently that he’s, uh… not doing too hot. We’ve seen his mental health gradually deteriorate over the last few episodes, and it seems he’s finally hit a breaking point–he confesses to Fraw that he barely sleeps anymore, and it’s clear that he can’t handle the pressure of being the Gundam’s pilot. Who could blame him? He’s really only a kid. I’m an adult and I can’t imagine having the level of responsibility that’s been thrust upon him.

Fraw is a bit less sympathetic, arguing that everyone on board is having to pull their weight and Amuro shouldn’t complain. On the one hand, I can sort of see where she’s coming from. She’s just a kid, too, and she’s not too far out from having watched her family get murdered on Side 7. From her perspective, it probably doesn’t seem like the two of them are that different–both got caught up in this war, and both have been helping on White Base. What she isn’t taking into consideration, though, is the form that help has taken. Fraw is bringing people food, keeping an eye on the kids, stuff like that; Amuro is fighting in pretty much every sortie. Amuro is risking his life–and, perhaps even worse, killing people. It’s necessary for White Base’s survival, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying; this is a teenager with no military training or experience we’re talking about. Fraw really doesn’t seem to grasp the enormity of what Amuro must be dealing with.

The stress and fear has begun to turn Amuro into a cynic, too; he’s now convinced that White Base is being used as a distraction, occupying Zeon’s time while the Federation develops even more advanced weapons. Luckily, that’s just his paranoia–er, wait, no, he’s pretty much right on the money. But, as we’ll learn later in the episode, there are at least a few people in the Federation who actually care about White Base, so it’s not quite as bad as he thinks.

Speaking of the Federation screwing over White Base, that’s what’s happening on the bridge. The ship is running low on ammo and supplies, but the communique the crew receives from Federation HQ basically just tells them to keep on truckin’. In fairness, the White Base is deep in Zeon territory, so there’s not much Federation HQ could do for them anyway, but still, that’s cold. It does serve to finally unify Bright and Lt. Reed on something, though: both agree that HQ kinda sucks.

Side note: I love how Bright snatches the transmission before Sayla (who is acting as communications officer) can read it. It’s a nice little character tic that shows how inexperienced and impatient he still is, and the annoyed look Sayla shoots him afterwards cracks me up.

We’ve strayed too far from the important stuff, though! Time to get back to what really matters: food. According to Kai, Amuro is getting too much food. Hot take, Kai! In all seriousness, though, Kai sort of has a point here. He’s annoyed that Amuro and Ryu get a larger ration than him; Bright’s rationale for this order is that those two are pilots and therefore need a higher calorie intake. That makes sense, but in Kai’s defense, he frequently acts as a pilot as well. Undercutting Kai’s argument a bit is the fact that he’s trying to make this point by berating the chef, who’s just following orders. Kind of a jerk move.

On the topic of food rationing, we see an old man steal food off of a child’s plate in the mess hall. Apparently not all of the garbage civilians left White Base last episode; some of them stuck around to deny children their meager rations. What a cool guy! Amuro notices and flips out, though notably it’s Fraw he yells at instead of the actual culprit. He returns to his room to sulk a bit more.

Back on the bridge, Reed is seriously considering abandoning White Base. He’s come a long way, hasn’t he? At first I chalked this strategy up to inconsistency (this is the same guy who wanted to court martial Bright for letting the Gundam enter a sortie, after all), but actually, I think he’s grown a bit. Serving on White Base seems to have opened his eyes to how badly the crew is being treated by the Federation at large; the fact that he’s now willing to abandon the ship in order to save the lives of the crew is kind of nice. Bright isn’t sold, though, and ultimately the two agree to send out a patrol before doing anything else. Amuro refuses to head out, mostly because of his emotional turmoil, but partly because he thinks it doesn’t make much sense to send out a patrol and potentially tip off Zeon as to their whereabouts. Good instincts, Amuro!

Since Amuro is being a grump, Ryu and Hayato go out on patrol instead. We haven’t seen Ryu much in the last few episodes, but here we get a reminder that he’s a decent guy; he understands what Amuro is going through better than anyone else on the ship, and gently tells Bright that they’ve been putting too much pressure on the young pilot. He’s a calm voice of reason that the crew needs.

His patrol partner Hayato, on the other hand, is still terrible. He apparently doesn’t even understand what a patrol is, as he advocates attacking Garma’s GAW as soon as it’s in sight. Yeah, Hayato, you guys have been on the run from this thing for days or weeks at this point, but sure–you and Ryu can take it out with just a couple of Core Fighters! Ugh.

Naturally, the Gaw has noticed the Core Fighters too. Char’s incredible tactical acumen has returned after a brief hiatus last week, and he immediately figures out that the White Base has sent them out on patrol and the Gaw crew could follow them back to the ship and take it out. Garma insists on leading the charge, as he’s still eager to prove himself to his sister Kycilia. He hops into a custom Dopp and heads out towards the Federation patrol with a small complement of fighters.

Now that there’s a real fight brewing, Bright is desperate for Amuro to get in a mobile suit, but the kid is still not interested. This is a rough scene. Amuro is on the verge of a breakdown, and admits to Fraw and Bright that he’s scared all the time and can’t stand being the Gundam’s pilot. Bright, on the other hand, is just desperate for the Gundam to get out there because without it, White Base is toast. At one point, Amuro aks Bright, “If you want the Gundam to fight so bad, why don’t you pilot it yourself?” I found Bright’s response (“Don’t you think I would if I could?”) particularly moving; it’s a reminder that, of the crew members we see regularly, Bright is one of the only ones who is actually here voluntarily. He chose to be a part of this war because he believes in the Federation’s cause. It also reminds us that the weight of command lies heavy on Bright–I believe that, if he didn’t need to stay on board to captain the ship, he really would try to pilot the Gundam himself.

This poignant back-and-forth is followed up by the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The iconic

BRIGHT SLAP!

Dang, Bright! You hit him! Not even his father ever hit him!

There’s a popular belief among Gundam fans that the Bright Slap transforms protagonists into Men of Destiny. That may be true later on, but here, it’s… not very effective. If anything, it just pisses Amuro off even more. There’s also an uncomfortable element of toxic masculinity to it; Bright claims that you “can’t be a real man” if you haven’t been knocked around a bit. Um… that’s not cool, Bright. In fact, this scene in general deals a lot with being “a real man” in some pretty unhealthy ways–Fraw Bow reinforces the idea as much as Bright does, essentially telling Amuro that “a real man” wouldn’t have the symptoms of trauma Amuro is suffering.

Ultimately, Amuro does choose to get back into the Gundam, but it’s not because Bright slapped him or because Fraw questioned his manhood (though I suspect she thinks she’s the one who got through to him). No, what it boils down to is an offhand line from Bright that Amuro could have surpassed Char as a pilot. That, more than anything else, is what fuels Amuro in this scene: he just wants to beat Char.

While all of this is going on, Garma has been leading a successful assault on the White Base, nearly taking out one of its engines. The Guncannon and Guntank have deployed, but are ineffective against the Dopps at their current range. Unfortunately for Garma, he doesn’t have Char’s knack for dissecting the White Base’s plans; he thinks the Gundam’s absence is due to the mobile suit having sustained damage, and is confident that it won’t deploy. Back on the GAW, we see Char actively attempt to sabotage Garma by covertly disabling communications between the ship and the Dopps. This is a big moment–we’ve known that Char was planning to betray Garma for several episodes now, but this is the boldest step he’s taken so far; this could easily get the young Zabi killed.

Amuro finally launches, and it turns out there’s an upside to his intense anxiety: he spent all those sleepless nights formulating new battle strategies. Here, he lives up to the episode title by using the Gundam’s boosters to “fly” (actually just jump really high, like old-school Superman) around White Base and take out Dopps. It’s quite an impressive showing; he was already an ace pilot before this (one needs five confirmed kills to reach ace status), but if he hadn’t been, he’d earn that distinction from this fight alone. He even manages to critically damage Garma’s Dopp, though he doesn’t quite seal the deal.

Garma tries to turn the situation to his advantage and lure Amuro back into the GAW’s range so the large ship can shoot down the mobile suit. It almost works, too–Amuro is so focused on finishing off the damaged Dopp that he doesn’t pay attention to his location. Unfortunately for Garma, he can’t radio in to the GAW to fire thanks to Char’s sabotage, so the plan falls apart. Ah, well; chin up, Garma, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, because a Federation ship shows up just in time and warns Amuro off before he enters the GAW’s range.

Garma is livid when he returns to his ship, insisting that communications or no, Char should have sent him backup. Char knows how to play Garma like a fiddle, though, and appeals to the Zabi’s ego to placate him. It’s really quite impressive how good Char is at manipulating this whole situation to his own ends.

Meanwhile, back with our heroes, that Federation ship I mentioned earlier turns out to be an emergency resupply for the White Base. The woman in charge is none other than Lieutenant Matilda Ajan, one of the best side characters in Mobile Suit Gundam! She’s come to White Base on special orders from General Revil, who’s a pretty big deal in the Federation. In addition to bringing much-needed supplies, Lt. Matilda and her squad are picking up Lt. Reed and the remaining Side 7 civilians, meaning those guys will finally be off White Base. If that’s not enough to make you love Matilda, I don’t know what is.

It also doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous. Amuro is smitten with her instantly (the narrator notes that it’s the first time he’s encountered “the scent of a woman,” which… okay, kind of weird phrasing, show). They don’t interact much, but one of the few lines they share is extremely interesting: Matilda notes that, with his combat prowess, Amuro “might be an esper” (that is, someone with psychic talent). This might be an early hint towards the Newtype mythos that developed later in the series; notably, the first explicit manifestation of Amuro’s Newtype abilities several episodes from now will also involve Lt. Matilda. Of course, the use of the term ‘esper’ rather than ‘Newtype’ implies that the writers hadn’t really nailed down that aspect of the show yet, so maybe it’s not deliberate foreshadowing at all. Either way, it’s interesting!

That’s all for now, but next episode is a big one, with huge repercussions for Garma Zabi. Tune in next time to learn Garma’s fate!

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