Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 13 – Coming Home

Time to sit down with another episode of Mobile Suit Gundam! Don’t get too cozy, though–our buddy Amuro is in for another rough week.

You wouldn’t guess from the opening scenes that this episode would be tragic; in fact, it seems like the White Base is on vacation. It’s landed on a beach, and the crew is taking the opportunity to relax for once. Sayla and Mirai are sunbathing, while Hayato and Ryu practice judo (and I hate to admit it, but Hayato is pretty good–he manages to flip Ryu, a man who is the size of roughly four Hayatos put together). Amuro, however, is nowhere to be found. As it turns out, his hometown isn’t far, and he has headed out to visit his mother.

There are a few interesting things about this opening scene that illustrate what life must be like in the colonies. First of all, Sayla and Mirai both comment on how weird the sun is; they’re used to the artificial lighting of a Side, and having a big ball of fire moving through the sky seems unnatural to them. Kai also provides some insight in this scene; he’s surprised that Amuro has a home here, as that makes him one of the “Earth elite.” Even after Sayla explains that it’s only Amuro’s mother who lives here, and he himself lived in a colony most of his life, Kai insists that just having a place to go on Earth makes Amuro elite. It’s a good reminder of the stark disparity between earthnoids and spacenoids. It’s also telling that this opinion comes from someone who is actively aiding the Earth Federation; sure, he was forced into it by circumstance, and sure, he’s a bit of a cynical jerk, but Kai is still a willing Earth Federation soldier at this point. If even Earth Federation supporters are upset with the colonization process, one can only imagine the rage felt by many in the Principality of Zeon.

Although Kai’s line is small and fairly inconsequential to the episode, it causes the viewer to reflect–however briefly–on the ingrained conflict between earthnoids and spacenoids. Here, it is easy to sympathize with the spacenoids: they are cast-offs, exiles, politically and economically inferior to earthnoids. Is it any wonder that some rebelled? Is Zeon truly the villain here? While the answer is, ultimately, yes–Zeon is often a not-too-subtle allegory for the Axis powers, as Gihren reminded us recently–the show is taking care to present both sides with a degree of nuance. Zeon, as an organization, is corrupt due to the influence of the fascistic Zabi family, but there are individuals inside it who may have noble goals; it began, at least, with an earnest desire for equality for its people. The Earth Federation, on the other hand, may be the ‘right’ side insofar as they have not committed the atrocities Zeon has (they haven’t done anything on the scale of the colony drop), but they were ultimately responsible for the conditions that gave rise to Zeon in the first place.

This episode does a particularly effective job of pointing out the darker side of the Earth Federation, too, as it appears they’ve taken over the small town where Amuro once lived. He enters his mother’s house to find it completely trashed, with a small crowd of drunken Federation soldiers making themselves at home. They claim the house was abandoned when they arrived, so at least they didn’t force Amuro’s mother out; the leader of the squad even apologizes to Amuro for wrecking the place. That’s small comfort to the kid, though, especially when one of the soldiers starts mocking him about the fact that his mom might be dead. Amuro grabs one of his old toys off a shelf and flees.

Okay, I have to talk about this toy for a second. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting element of the episode because it serves as a symbolic representation of Amuro’s childhood, but visually it’s just… lacking a certain something.

It’s no Haro, that’s for sure.

I mean, come on, we’re far enough in the future that there are space colonies and giant mecha, but kids are still playing with creepy wooden dolls? Seems weird to me.

We are also treated to a flashback to when Amuro left as a child. Going into space was, of course, Tem Ray’s idea; he wanted to see the construction of Side 7. Amuro’s mom wasn’t on board, so she stayed behind. Now, I don’t have kids; I have no idea how I would deal with a situation like this as a parent. I’m also not sure what traditional parenting roles are like in Japanese culture, or what they were in the ’70s when this show was being produced. All of that said, both of Amuro’s parents come off pretty badly here. Tem is basically yanking Amuro out the door, saying, “Hey, space seems pretty cool. I’m going there, and if you want to see your kid again, you should come too,” which sucks. On the other hand, Amuro’s mother’s reaction is basically to say, “Eh, I don’t really feel like going to space. I think I’m just going to stay here. See ya, kid!” I wish we had a greater lens into these two’s marriage so we could have an idea of how much that played into the decision for both of them; based on what we know of Tem, I’m guessing this was not a particularly happy union, which could have had a hand in Mrs. Ray’s choice to stay behind.

Back in the present, Amuro comes across a woman selling food out of a stall. A couple of Earth Federation soldiers are there, and they take some of the food without paying; when she insists they pay her, they throw the money on the ground. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Amuro, and he absolutely clobbers the dude who threw the cash–good on him! Unfortunately, the other soldier charges over to help his buddy, and they both team up to kick the crap out of the young Gundam pilot (who, I’d like to remind you, is about fifteen years old at this point). Real banner week for the Earth Federation Forces, huh?

Luckily, the woman Amuro was defending convinces the soldiers to leave, and it turns out she knew Amuro when he was a kid–he was friends with her daughter. She fills Amuro in on what’s happened since he left. The One Year War has hit the town hard; it was caught up in the fighting, and many residents–including this woman’s entire family–were killed. Not Amuro’s mom, though. She’s still alive, helping tend to the injured in an old church not far away. Amuro immediately leaves to find her.

Meanwhile, White Base’s vacation is cut short when a Zeon patrol flies over the area; Ryu deploys in a Core Fighter to take them out, and actually does pretty well in the ensuing dogfight. He takes out one of the two patrol craft and damages the other, but doesn’t seal the deal; Hot Dog Patrol (yes, that is the real codename of this patrol craft) gets away. Worse, Ryu can’t pursue, as his Fighter took damage in the battle and needs to return to the White Base ASAP.

Speaking of Core Fighters, Amuro parks his at the aforementioned church, but is approached by refugees asking him to move it. In a marked change from the refugees on the White Base, though, these folks are actually incredibly reasonable about the whole thing–they explain that Zeon patrols the area and that if they see the Federation ship outside the church, they’ll come in and wreck stuff up. They’ve got a good point, and they’re very polite to Amuro when asking. It’s nice to see some civilians with a decent head on their shoulders for once.

Among the civilians, as promised, is Amuro’s mom. The two have a sweet reunion, although it’s cut short when a Zeon patrol lands to investigate the area; turns out the Core Fighter wasn’t hidden fast enough. Amuro pretends to be a sleeping patient to trick the soldiers.

Nothing to see here, folks!

Unfortunately, now is the moment Bright chooses to contact Amuro about Hot Dog Patrol’s escape. The Zeons hear the communicator and go to Amuro’s cot to investigate. Unfortunately for them, he’s starting to get the hang of this whole soldiering thing, and manages to shoot one through his blanket as they approach, which promptly scares the other one off.

Now, one might think that a mother who just witnessed this would be relieved that her son was safe. Not so for Mrs. Ray! She’s disappointed and disgusted that Amuro could shoot another person, calling him “cruel” and a “disgraceful child.” For real, lady? First of all, as Amuro points out, if he hadn’t shot that guy, he probably would’ve been executed. Second, how can she be surprised? He told her what happened on Side 7, so she must realize that he’s killed people in self-defense before. Even if he didn’t explicitly explain how his first outing in the Gundam went down, he’s wearing an EFSF uniform and arrived here in a fighter plane! He’s clearly a soldier–what did she expect him to do when confronted with enemy combatants?

Look, I understand that this isn’t the life she wanted for her son. No one would be happy to see their kid shoot a man. But to call him cruel and disgraceful for defending himself? That’s a bridge too far. Furthermore, she talks about how he “wouldn’t have hurt a fly” as a child, which… how long ago was that? She has no idea what her son has been through or how he’s grown; the boy she remembers no longer exists, and not just because of the trauma he’s endured throughout the series thus far. That child was simply erased by time. Did she expect him to stay an innocent little boy forever?

What really irks me, though, is that she blames all of this on Tem. She thinks that Amuro only turned out this way because he was raised by a man. Let’s be clear: Tem Ray was not a good father to Amuro, she’s right about that. But letting Tem raise Amuro alone was her choice. She could have come with, but she didn’t. From what we saw, she didn’t even put up much opposition to the idea. If she’s disappointed in how Amuro turned out, she needs to take responsibility for her part in that.

Of course, mama drama isn’t the only thing Amuro needs to deal with right now. He’s still got that emergency call from White Base to deal with. He sets out in the Core Fighter to track down the escaped patrol craft, as well as the base it was headed to.

White Base sends out Kai in a Gunperry to deliver the Gundam parts, and Kai and Amuro decide to try docking the Core Fighter with the Gundam in mid-air. This turns out to be ill-advised, since they attempt this untested procedure while flying directly over an enemy encampment that has plenty of weapons pointed right at them. Amuro still manages to pull it off without sustaining too much damage, though. He then goes nuts on the whole base, utterly destroying it. Back on White Base, Bright is pissed; not only is he frustrated about the mid-air docking debacle, he’s (rightfully) furious that Amuro wasted so much ammo on a small, not-particularly-important encampment.

With the enemy destroyed and the Gundam and White Base reunited, it’s time for Amuro to go. Bright comes to collect him and, despite his anger at Amuro’s earlier actions, the White Base captain speaks very highly of Amuro to Mrs. Ray. I’m not sure if Bright’s just being polite or if he sensed some tension between the Gundam pilot and his mother, but either way, it’s a nice move. Amuro, knowing that his mom will never accept his new way of life, leaves her the doll from earlier, symbolically choosing to leave his childhood behind; he salutes his mother, turns, and heads back to the ship that is now his home.

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