Hoo boy. This is a weird one.
Right off the bat, this episode is a bit different than others we’ve seen. First off, the usual opening monologue (“It is the year 0079 of the Universal Century…”) has been slightly truncated; that’s a minor note, but I thought it was interesting. Secondly, once the episode proper begins, we find ourselves not on White Base or checking in with Char but instead approaching the space colonies of Side 3, better known as the Principality of Zeon. As the viewer is drawn into the colony and its capital, Zum City, narration explains some of the details of the colony itself and how these structures work in the Gundam universe. It doesn’t get terribly detailed, but it’s a nice touch that adds a hint of realism to the story.
Inside the colony, Zeon’s ruling family, the Zabis, have gathered to mourn the death of Garma, their youngest member. This is the first time we’ve gotten a good look at the Zabi family as a whole. We’ve had a few brief glimpses of Dozle, and we heard Garma talk about his sister Kycilia a few times, but this is her first on-screen appearance. It’s also the first time we spend an appreciable amount of time with the family patriarch, Degwin. Most importantly, though, we are finally introduced to the most notable Zabi: Gihren, who will quickly establish himself as the true villain of the series.
You can immediately tell Gihren is a bad egg. The Zabi family reactions to Garma’s death are varied: Degwin has clearly fallen into a deep depression, Dozle is highly emotional, and Kycilia–though maintaining her composure–also seems saddened by the news. Only Gihren appears entirely unaffected. Family tensions immediately become apparent as the four discuss how to handle Garma’s death: Degwin wants to give his son a quiet, private funeral; Dozle is more concerned with punishing those responsible for the death (including Char, who he feels “failed to protect” Garma–you don’t know the half of it, Dozle); and Kycilia and Gihren are pushing for a big state funeral. Even though Gihren and Kycilia superficially agree, though, they’ve each got very different motives. Kycilia simply feels that a big funeral is what her brother deserves as a member of the ruling family. Gihren intends to use the funeral as a propaganda platform to rile up Zeonic soldiers. That’s not a hidden agenda, either–he outright tells his mourning father that this tragic death is a great PR opportunity.
Garma’s family aren’t the only ones grieving. His girlfriend, Icelina, is out for Federation blood; she manages to convince a Zeon soldier to let her aboard a Gaw–one of three that are heading out to avenge Garma’s death.
With all that out of the way, we finally get back to White Base. Now that the ship is close to Federation airspace, the remaining civilians are preparing to depart. Amuro and Ryu are working on the Gundam’s beam sabers; apparently, they’re supposed to be able to extend into beam javelins, but there was a safety catch or some such that Amuro has now disabled. The relative peace is interrupted by the arrival of the three Gaws, and Amuro and Ryu launch in the Gundam and Guncannon, respectively.
The pair make short work of one of the three Gaws. It’s honestly a little weird–we just came off a multi-episode arc where being pursued by a single Gaw was a scary prospect, but now White Base can repel three of them with ease? Admittedly, the whole “being in Zeon territory” thing was more the issue than the Gaw itself in previous episodes, and the White Base has recently been resupplied on top of that. The Gundam has a shiny new toy in the form of the beam javelin (which is really more of a beam trident), as well. Still, watching Amuro carve through one Gaw before hopping on to the next just makes me wonder why everyone seemed so desperate a few episodes ago.
In fairness, Garma’s Gaw was also a bit more threatening because it had Char backing it up–and unfortunately for White Base, he shows up here, too, though not in a mobile suit. Char swoops in in a plane and bombs one of White Base’s engines, forcing an emergency landing.
The crew handles the crash-landing well; special mention goes to Bright, who immediately checks to make sure everyone is okay and praises Mirai for handling the situation with aplomb. Good captaining, Bright!
Meanwhile, up in the sky, Ryu gets blasted by a Gaw and falls down to Earth; Amuro leaps off a different Gaw and helps the Guncannon land safely. Ryu is damaged but more-or-less okay.
Now, this wouldn’t be a proper Mobile Suit Gundam episode if some idiot refugees didn’t make unreasonable demands and muck everything up for White Base, so naturally the remaining civilians decide that now is a great time to leave the ship.
Now. After the ship crash-landed during a sortie.
Did I mention that White Base is currently in the middle of the desert, with no towns or other signs of civilization in sight? And that there’s a massive sandstorm happening?
Yeah, seems like a great time to leave the ship!
Bright, because he is far too kind, tries to talk these fools out of wandering into the desert to die, but no dice. He warns that the ship is under fire and they’ll probably be shot, but they argue that since they aren’t part of the military, Zeon will leave them alone! Because it’s very simple to tell who is and is not a crew member on the ship you just shot down, especially when a ton of people all start pouring out at once and you can’t see very well because of the goddamn sandstorm.
Naturally, Char–who has landed his plane and gotten out to observe the White Base–sees people abandoning ship and starts firing. Bright (who is way better to these refugees than they deserve) selflessly charges out and returns fire; he actually almost hits Char a couple times, and once Hayato and Kai start shooting too, Char’s got no choice but to fall back.
Meanwhile, Amuro just absolutely shreds a second Gaw with his Beam Javelin, and the third Gaw starts to go down after a bout of concentrated fire from the Federation mobile suits. This is the carrier that Icelina is on, and we get some evidence that her and Garma were a good pair–she tries to ram the Gundam with her plummeting ship just like the young Zabi did. Sadly for her, the result is about the same as last episode: no luck. At least this time the whole ship doesn’t explode! It just plows into the ground and kills almost everyone on board.
Amuro, thinking the battle is over, hops out of the Gundam to do some emergency repairs (he took enough damage in this fight that some of the limbs are seizing up), but it turns out Icelina survived the crash. Seeing her opponent outside his mobile suit, she crawls out through the Gaw’s broken windshield and aims a pistol at Amuro, screaming that she’ll have her vengeance… and then she slips and falls from the wreckage as Amuro watches. She hits the ground and dies instantly.
This is such a strange moment for this show. I feel like I never hear people talk about it, but this stands out to me as one of the definitive episodes of the original series. It is at once a very ‘commercial’ episode (there’s a big fight scene with the Gundam and Guncannon, and the Gundam has a cool new weapon that was almost certainly added to sell more toys) and one of the darkest in the series. As I talked about last week, Icelina, for all her faults, is not evil. She’s young and naive and fell for the wrong guy. She’s misguided, but it’s easy to understand how her grief could push her to take the drastic measures she takes here. While she is the antagonist of the episode, her death is still tragic and senseless–she doesn’t even die at the Federation’s hands. She just… slips.
Garma’s death is universally considered a landmark event for the series, but it’s usually lauded merely as an important step in Char’s character development–we see him fully commit to the betrayal of a supposed friend; it changes our view of the character and crystallizes our doubts as to his true allegiances within Zeon. While that’s undeniably a huge facet of what gives that moment its punch, “Icelina–Love’s Remains” hugely deepens the significance of the event in a myriad of ways.
We see a grieving Zabi family, and we realize that–while the narrative plainly casts them as villains–these are people, and the death we celebrated last week affects them deeply (er, except for Gihren, at least). We see them not as dictators or military leaders but as a family unit–Dozle breaking down in front his siblings, Degwin rocked to the core by his loss, Kycilia soldiering on through the grief, and Gihren coldly manipulating the situation. We learn so much about them here through their reaction to the news and their interactions with each other; later developments are deftly foreshadowed in the way each Zabi’s personality asserts itself in this time of crisis.
We see Icelina, a relative innocent, caught up in a battle she frankly has nothing to do with. Over the course of her short two-episode arc, we watch her become a casualty in a war she doesn’t care about and barely understands. Garma wasn’t exactly a prince–he was entitled and arrogant, among other things–but he wasn’t a monster, either; falling for him was not so great a sin that Icelina should have to die for it. She went too far, of course, but ultimately she thought what she was doing was right–and yet all that righteousness got her was a shallow grave in the desert.
Lastly, we see Amuro: the final ripple, a tangent to a tangent of Garma’s death. Despite being the Gundam’s pilot, Amuro hardly had anything to do with the young Zabi’s demise; Char led Garma astray and the White Base shot down the Gaw–Amuro just happened to be there at the time. Despite this, he’s the one Icelina ultimately targets. Amuro has no idea who this woman is; he has no frame of reference for why she’s seeking revenge, beyond the fact that she was in a Zeon ship. But he can see she’s not a soldier, and he watches her die–not in an abstract way, like the pilots of mobile suits he’s gunned down (understanding that he has killed them without seeing the bodies) but directly.
There’s a famous line from the Street Fighter movie where the villain, M. Bison, is confronted by a vengeful Chun-Li. She explains that she hates him because he killed her father, and is shocked to find that he doesn’t even remember doing so. It’s not that Bison didn’t do it and Chun-Li was chasing the wrong guy–it’s just that Bison kills so many people, Chun-Li’s dad doesn’t stand out in his memory. As he says, “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.” It’s meant to be a chilling moment showing how callous Bison is. Here, we get a very similar situation, but from a more heroic perspective: Garma’s death was the most important event of Icelina’s life, but for Amuro, it was just another battle. I don’t know that it’s ever directly addressed again after this, but I think that realization–the idea that every time he fights, he could be destroying the lives of people who aren’t even on the battlefield–hits Amuro hard, and is one the main catalysts of the major breakdown he’ll soon have.
And that’s it. That’s how the episode ends–with the White Base crew burying a young girl in an unmarked grave in the desert, as Amuro soberly wonders why.