Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 16 – Sayla’s Agony

No, you aren’t misreading that title; this is episode sixteen of Mobile Suit Gundam. I know what you’re thinking: “What happened to episode fifteen?” Well, episode fifteen (“Cucuruz Doan’s Island”) was never released in America, at the request of Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. It’s not clear why Tomino suppressed the release of this particular episode, but it’s been speculated that it is due to embarrassment at its low production quality. At any rate, it’s not part of my blu-ray set, so I’m skipping it. Maybe some day I’ll be able to track it down and I can do a special post about it.

We open the episode with White Base arduously making its way through the desert. The crew is wiped out; they haven’t been able to contact Federation HQ, though apparently General Revil has somehow orchestrated a clandestine meeting between White Base and a Feddie soldier with important information.

The soldier does eventually show, though he’s badly wounded and barely able to pass on his message before falling unconscious. He informs Bright that the Federation is planning a massive offensive called Odessa Day, meant to strike at a major mining operation that Kycilia Zabi’s forces (specifically, a general named M’Quve) are using to supply valuable materials to Zeon. Odessa Day is five days away, and the White Base is expected to participate.

Everyone seems rather shocked by this news, as it’s the first time the ship will be participating in any actual military operations; to this point, it’s only fought when necessary to survive. There’s also the implication that the crew is being accepted into the military for real now–they’re no longer a ragtag group of Side 7 survivors, they’re an official Federation military unit.

But hey, all of that can wait–Chef Tamura has a more immediate problem that needs dealt with: White Base is almost out of salt!

Bright doesn’t have time for this, Tamura.

Apparently, in a recent fight (perhaps a fight that took place on an island?), the ship’s salt stores were blown up, and now the crew is in danger of having slightly under-seasoned meals.

Alright, alright, I know–salt is important. We need salt, as Fraw and Amuro discuss (because Amuro needs to EAT and he needs to eat SALT). It just seems so… random. If the writers needed White Base to be running low on something important, why salt? Why not, like, water? I mean, they end up resolving this issue by going to a lake anyway, so they wouldn’t even have needed to change anything!

Oh well, I suppose it’s not really important. What is important, though, is the return of Zeon’s Blue Giant. That’s right, this episode brings back good ol’ Ramba Ral! He’s still trying to track down the Gundam and avenge Garma Zabi’s death, though now he’s encroaching on the turf of fellow Zeon ace M’Quve to do so. This is important because Ral serves under Dozle Zabi, while M’Quve works for Kycilia Zabi, and both forces keep trying to one-up each other (recall Kycilia seeming to poach Char from Dozle a few episodes ago). We see this antagonism almost immediately, when Ral tries to call M’Quve and gets pawned off on one of M’Quve’s subordinates. The guy isn’t even actually busy–he just doesn’t want to talk to one of Dozle’s men. This in-fighting and factionism is a major problem within the Zeon war machine, and will end up costing the Principality dearly in the long run; what unfolds between Ral and M’Quve over the next few episodes is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout Zeon’s ranks.

So, who is this M’Quve anyway? We know he’s in charge of an important mining operation, and we know he considers himself too good to hang out with Ramba Ral. Surely he must be an intimidating figure!

‘Creepy’ is a kind of intimidating, right?

Yeah, he’s not quite what you’d expect given the build-up. I’m not just talking about the spooky skeleton face, either–he spends a good chunk of his first appearance talking about how much he loves this ancient vase he’s got with him. It’s probably meant to show that he’s a man of taste, but all it does is add to his weirdo vibe.

At any rate, as much as he disdains working with Ral, M’Quve does decide to throw the man a bone. M’Quve’s forces have detected the White Base changing course (it’s headed to a salt lake to replenish those oh-so-important salt stores), and he lets Ral know, hoping that once the White Base is destroyed, Dozle’s forces will pull out of the region and leave him alone.

White Base, meanwhile, reaches the lake they were looking for only to find that it’s gone. As it turns out, the lake changes position every five hundred years or so, because it’s… magic? I don’t know, this is probably a real thing that I’ve just never heard of, but it seems awfully contrived to me. What makes it worse is that they try to pass off their having the wrong location as being due to an outdated map, but all they say is that the map “must have been made before the war.” I’m sure it was, but this is rather famously referred to as the One Year War, so the map is, what, eight months out of date? Is that really enough time for the whole lake to migrate?

It’s about this time that Ral’s Gallop cruiser, currently being commanded by Ral’s second-in-command/lover Crowley Hamon, shows up. White Base has never seen a vehicle quite like this before; Bright wants to launch the Gundam, but Amuro suggests they wait to see what the Gallop is capable of before trying to fight it. Bright agrees, which I appreciate; he’s getting better at keeping his head in tense situations, and at listening to his crew.

Unfortunately, Amuro’s move to delay launching gives Sayla the opportunity to hijack the Gundam for herself. She’s realized that the crew hasn’t fought Char in the last five or so episodes, and she’s starting to worry about her brother, so she has the brilliant idea to steal the Gundam and strike up a conversation with the enemy soldiers that want to capture or destroy the mobile suit she’s in. Uh… maybe workshop that plan a bit more, Sayla?

Also, maybe make sure you actually know how to pilot a mobile suit before you steal one! Coming off the launch catapult, she immediately face-plants into the sand and is quickly set upon by Ramba Ral’s Gouf. She tries to fight back, but–having never actually piloted a mobile suit before–she’s a terrible shot. Ral closes in for the kill, but is suddenly driven back by the timely arrival of Amuro in the Guncannon.

Amuro has really come into his own as a pilot; he uses the Guncannon’s range advantage very effectively against the Gouf, keeping well away from the blue mobile suit’s deadly heat rod. Sayla, on the other hand, blunders right into the Gouf, still trying to find a Zeon pilot to chat with, and gets the Gundam’s foot lopped off for her trouble. Amuro manages to push Ral back again, and then both Federation suits are set upon by Zakus. Amuro takes his out quickly (much to the horror of Ral, who genuinely cares about the men under his command; RIP, Acous), but Sayla gets clobbered by the other one, which manages to shatter the Gundam’s cameras. She’s saved by Amuro once again, as he uses the bulky Guncannon to literally beat the Zaku into submission. Amuro brings the battered Zaku and its pilot, Cozun, back to White Base while Ral escapes and regroups with his Gallop.

Cozun takes his capture in stride, even seeming friendly with the White Base crew as they take him to his cell. Sayla takes the opportunity to ask him about Char, and is relieved to learn that the Red Comet has returned home to Side 3. She’ll have lots of time to celebrate this discovery in a cell of her own–she’s been sentenced to three days of solitary confinement due to her little stunt with the Gundam. She claims that she stole it “to prove a woman could fight as well as any man,” which is a pretty flimsy excuse, but everyone seems to buy it.

As the episode closes, the White Base finds the lake at last, and we can all rest a little easier knowing that they won’t run out of salt.

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