Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 14 – Time, Be Still

I suppose the hot streak had to end eventually. After a phenomenal string of episodes, this week the show stumbles a bit.

We open with the Zeon equivalent of a USO camp show, only the guy on stage isn’t exactly Bob Hope; in fact, as we quickly see, several of the soldiers aren’t even bothering to attend this performance. Instead, they’re hanging out and discussing plans to get back to the Principality of Zeon–it turns out the guys in this neck of the woods really don’t like being on Earth. Luckily for them, an opportunity has presented itself: they’ve just learned the White Base is in the area, and they figure that if they can take out the ship’s infamous mobile suit, they’ll get to head back home. It shouldn’t be a problem, they think–according to their intel, the White Base only has one mobile suit, and it’s a ramshackle thing that was thrown together in a rush.

Uh… sure, guys. Sure.

Speaking of the White Base, it’s managed to rendezvous with none other than Lt. Matilda Ajan once more!

Fly me to the moon, and let me–oh, wait, wrong franchise…

Bright has a rather illuminating conversation with the Lieutenant, where she confirms what Amuro has suspected for some time now: the Federation isn’t all that concerned with helping the White Base. According to Matilda, since the ship has managed to survive this long, the higher-ups are content to sit back and see what else White Base is capable of–as Bright puts it, they’re guinea pigs, testing new mobile suits and unconventional tactics. The one concession Matilda makes is that the Federation is apparently intending on sending a new captain over eventually, once they can spare someone. In the meantime, though, Bright will stay in command. He’s even being promoted to Ensign!

This news might be a bit more exciting for the young Bright if Matilda didn’t follow it up by telling him that he’d have been executed if it weren’t for Federation bigwig General Revil, who seems to have a soft spot for the White Base. Yep, that’s right–the Federation actually wanted to execute Bright for ‘stealing’ the top-secret White Base and mobile suits, even though he really didn’t have a choice in the matter and has actively been trying to get them back to a proper military officer. Man, combine that with the awful soldiers we’ve met so far in this show and it almost seems like maybe this government isn’t so great, huh, guys? I wonder if that will ever come up in the franchise’s future…

Eh, probably not.

Amuro interrupts this enlightening dialogue because he’s hard-core crushing on Matilda, but she and Bright tell him to get to bed and he heads back to his room, dejected. Waiting for him in the hall is Fraw Bow, who is clearly jealous that Amuro’s got eyes for another woman; she walks off in a huff.

Also, just putting this out there? I’m pretty sure Fraw was going to try to seduce Amuro. She’s just waiting outside his room, late at night, wearing a big officer’s uniform like it’s a trench coat. That’s weird, right? I mean… nobody mentions it being particularly cold–in fact, I think the Zeons we saw earlier (who are in the same area) complain about the heat and the bugs in the area, so why the big coat? We can see that she’s wearing at least a green skirt under it, so maybe I’m off base, but the whole thing feels like she was originally planning to show up at his door and… well, the coat was going to come off, at the very least, you know? Only then he wasn’t in, and she was so mad that he was off saying hi to Matilda that she changed her mind.

The next morning, Lt. Ajan departs, and Amuro is so love-struck that he just stands there staring at her ship like a dope instead of eating breakfast like he’s supposed to, and yes this is a thing that the show goes out of its way to tell us because Amuro is so bad at eating food that even fourteen episodes in it’s still a topic of note somehow.

Anyway, a Zeon patrol spots Matilda’s Medea immediately and deduces that it must have been resupplying the White Base. The nearby base from earlier is quickly alerted, and the enterprising-but-misinformed young soldiers set out to bag themselves a Feddie mobile suit.

Amuro launches in the Gundam to defend his beloved Matilda, even though she seems to be handling the patrol craft (which are called Lugguns, by the way–I don’t think I mentioned that last week) fairly well. He’s clearly just showing off for the Lieutenant. Unfortunately for him, while he takes out the Lugguns without issue, he isn’t prepared for the unarmed soldiers who ride up to the Gundam on hover-bikes. After last episode, he’s still struggling with the idea of shooting regular humans, without the level of abstraction that mobile suits provide; he freezes up when aiming at them, allowing them to get the drop on him and cover the Gundam in sticky bombs. They try to detonate the bombs immediately by shooting them (they don’t have remote detonators because, being a dinky squad on the very outskirts of Zeon territory, they aren’t outfitted with good gear) but Amuro manages to chase them off before they can do more than mess up the Gundam’s shield.

Of course, they don’t actually need to force the bombs to explode; they’ll blow up on their own accord after a thirty-minute timer. By the time Amuro gets the Gundam to a safe place and has the White Base’s explosives expert check the bombs out, eighteen minutes have already passed. The Gundam is too valuable to just leave behind, so the White Base crew is in a race against time to detach all the bombs before they explode. Oh, and that “thirty minutes” thing? White Base doesn’t actually know that. They know the bombs are on a timer, but they have no idea how long–the audience is only clued in because we see the Zeons discuss it. That means that our heroes think the bombs could go off at any second.

They decide that it’s too risky to have multiple people work on bomb disposal; better that, should the worst come to pass, only one life be lost. Bright, being a good captain (well, ensign–as this episode points out, he still isn’t technically the White Base’s captain yet), instantly volunteers himself for the dangerous job, but Amuro won’t hear it. He argues that since he is the Gundam’s pilot, this is his responsibility, to which Bright grudgingly agrees.

Things go pretty well until Amuro gets down to the last bomb. It’s located on the Gundam’s leg, and the mobile suit’s seated position makes it difficult to reach. Amuro drops to the ground begins frantically trying to dig it out, and the White Base crew–who have all been watching intently from the ship’s bridge–finally break down and rush out to help, Notably, pretty much all of our named crew members join in the effort, despite Bright ordering them all to stay on the ship (he intends to provide the aid himself). That little punk Hayato is, again, actually pretty helpful (he needs to knock that off, or I might have to reconsider my distaste for him), quickly hopping into the Gundam’s cockpit and raising its leg so that Amuro can reach the bomb. After all the detached bombs are loaded up, the crew drives them a kilometre out, abandons them, and drives back; they’re just in time, narrowly avoiding getting caught in the blast.

Meanwhile, the Zeons have been watching this whole ordeal through binoculars some distance away, and they can’t help but be impressed with Amuro’s quick thinking and nerves of steel. They take off their uniforms and drive up to the White Base crew, pretending to be civilians passing through so they can offer Amuro a few words of (somewhat sarcastic) encouragement.

“Nope, no Zeons here! Just a van full of totally normal guys, cruising through a warzone.”

Bright and Mirai aren’t fooled by this transparent lie, but it’s not like there’s much to do about it right now. The episode ends as they drive off into the horizon.

While the concept behind this episode was decent, the execution left a lot to be desired. It’s meant to be this tense, every-second-counts affair, but the stakes aren’t high enough–or rather, they’re a bit too high. I mean… the show is called Mobile Suit Gundam. I don’t think anyone really expected the titular suit to get blown up after barely more than a dozen episodes, nor was it very likely that the lead character would die in a fiery explosion. The episode’s conceit could have worked had they just tweaked it slightly, though. For instance, if the Guntank or Guncannon had been the one to get bombed, there would have been a bit more tension; they’re important enough that their loss would have a tangible effect on the White Base, but not so important that their destruction is inconceivable. I would have believed there was a possibility that they’d be destroyed. Along the same lines, if Bright had been the one working to clear the bombs instead of Amuro, I would have been more worried. Again, he’s important–arguably the deuteragonist of the series, even–but he’s not the Gundam’s pilot, so his potential death is harder to dismiss as a possibility. Basically, it boils down to this: everyone knows Amuro and the Gundam are safe, at least until the final arc or so, so if you want to build tension, you’ve got endanger the crew in some way, not Amuro.

What’s especially interesting about this is that the very next episode, “Sayla’s Agony,” actually does place another crew member in harm’s way to raise the stakes–but that’s a topic for next week!

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