Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 19 – Ramba Ral’s Attack

We open once again with the mid-air docking sequence; the narrator reminds us that Amuro isn’t having days like this any more, and says that the young pilot is having feelings “similar to regret.”

On the White Base, Bright chats with Ryu and Mirai about how to deal with Amuro. Bringing Ryu into the ‘inner circle’ is a nice touch on Bright’s part–Ryu has worked with Amuro directly more than anyone, and he seems like a level-headed guy who gets along with the rest of the crew. This bears out in his advice, as well: he asks if the issue of Amuro is being considered separately from the issue of the Gundam. It’s about time someone brought up the fact that their best giant robot is gone! Anyway, he, Bright, and Mirai agree that until they see what state Amuro and the Gundam are in upon their return, there’s not much to discuss.

Meanwhile, Amuro has blown into a desert town and stopped at a bar for some food and water. The town looks decimated and I’m not entirely sure how this place is staying open, but apparently they’ve got enough to scrape together a few decent meals–around fourteen of them, in fact, because who should walk through the door but Ramba Ral, Crowley Hamon, and their men!

Hamon orders meals for the thirteen Zeons and an extra for the ‘kid at the bar,’ AKA our boy Amuro. This leads to a tense moment in which Amuro, knowing that these people are his enemies, tries to refuse the gesture and leave without letting on that he’s a Federation mobile suit pilot. Unfortunately for our hero, Hamon and Ral are nice folks; both of them quickly take a shine to the young man and are quite insistent that he eat.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…

While all of this is going on, Fraw Bow is still driving around in Speed Buggy looking for Amuro. Suddenly, it strikes her–of course! Amuro needs to eat! She should go somewhere with food!

Ah, so here it is. We finally get the payoff to almost twenty episodes of buildup: eating has betrayed Amuro at last.

She heads to the town Amuro is at (again, I’m not sure how anyone figures out this town has a working diner–the place is trashed and the only people we see are our principal characters and the one dude working the bar) and promptly gets captured by Zeonic soldiers. They bring her to the bar just as Amuro is trying to make his exit, and he can’t contain his surprise; Ral immediately figures out that Amuro and Fraw are acquainted. He also figures out that Fraw is a Feddie thanks to her uniform, so it’s not hard to put two and two together regarding his dinner guest.

The tension in this scene is truly excellent. It’s such a strange situation that you’ve got no idea how it’s going to go! It was tense enough when it was just Amuro trying navigate past the Zeons, but the inclusion of Fraw Bow elevates it to new heights. It calls to mind the recent ‘bombs on the Gundam’ episode, which was undercut by the stakes being too high for defeat to be reasonable; this, by contrast, hits a sweet spot because we think, well, Amuro has already abandoned White Base–maybe he really could get captured now. Now Fraw Bow is here–what might happen to her? Maybe Amuro gets away, but she doesn’t. Maybe he has to take extreme measures to save her. We’ve seen him kill outside his mobile suit, and we’ve also seen how the people around him react to seeing that–what if he has to kill Ral in front of Fraw and it taints their relationship? There’s a dozen different possibilities for how this could play out, and most of them are unpleasant.

It turns out we needn’t have worried though. Ral simply lets them both go, apparently because he’s a nice guy who wants to keep his war on the battlefield and not at his dinner table. Of course, there’s more to it than that: he knows that the only Federation forces in the area are the White Base that he’s hunting down, so he has Fraw tailed in order to find the ship’s location.

Amuro and Fraw hop in Speed Buggy and take off, pursued at some distance by a Zeon named Zeygan. In the car, Fraw somehow finds a way to focus this whole ordeal on her childish crush: she tried to hold hands with Amuro while they left the bar, but he didn’t want to, and she gets pouty about it. Look, I remember being a teenager and having crushes and all that jazz, but really? Do you think this is an appropriate time to whine about it, Fraw Bow? “Amuro, you keep getting farther away from me!” Yeah, Fraw! He left the White Base! He’s “getting farther away” from everyone, that’s the point!

He parts ways with her and she continues on to White Base, with Zeygan following behind. It’s not long before Ral has the ship’s location; he deploys in his Gouf, along with a soldier named Stetch in a Zaku II fitted with missile pods.

We get a brief scene of Ral testing his mobile suit, which just looks… Gouf-y.

Amuro sees the mobile suits go by as he relaxes in the sand and realizes that Fraw must have been followed. He runs off to retrieve the Gundam from wherever he’s stashed it–apparently he’s gotten better at hiding it since last week.

Ral and Stetch begin their assault on White Base, and they do a pretty good job without Amuro there to defend it. Ral closes the distance quickly, leaving the long-range Guncannon and Guntank at a severe disadvantage. Stetch proves to be a decent pilot in his own right, disabling the Guntank with a well-placed missile. Unfortunately for him, the White Base is making a quick escape (thanks to Mirai) and he needs to rush off after it before he can finish his fight. This gives Ryu the opportunity to un-dock his Core Fighter from the Guntank and fly off to find Amuro, leaving Hayato behind in what’s left of the Guntank as a sort of stationary turret. Hayato accomplishes nothing for the rest of the fight, but that’s to be expected–after all, he’s Hayato.

Just a side note, because if you aren’t actually watching the episodes, this is probably not entirely clear: the Gundam, Guntank, and Guncannon are all basically different ‘armors’ for a Core Fighter to wear. Each machine is broken into three parts–the legs, the Core Fighter, and the torso. The Core Fighter joins the legs and torso together and serves as the cockpit of the full mobile suit. The one slight exception to this is the Guntank, which has two cockpits: one in the Core Fighter, which controls the machine’s legs/treads, and one in the torso, which controls the cannons. So in this particular fight, the Guntank’s treads are damaged by Stetch’s missile, rendering it immobile; Hayato then detaches the Guntank’s torso from the rest of the machine, which allows him to still use the Guntank’s cannons from his current position while also freeing up the Core Fighter to take off. Make sense?

What an elegant and sophisticated machine.

Ryu quickly locates Amuro, who has engaged Ral’s Gallop in the Gundam. They don’t really address what the Gallop is supposed to be doing right now with regard to Ral’s greater strategy, but I choose to assume that Amuro has successfully prevented it from offering backup to Ral and Stetch. Now that Ryu is here, though, Amuro heads over to White Base while Ryu keeps the enemy vehicle occupied.

I love that Amuro immediately leaps to White Base’s aid. Even though he’s mad at them, even though he abandoned them, he does not hesitate to put his life on the line for them. It’s like I said last week–this isn’t a military unit, it’s a family; just because they’re fighting doesn’t mean they don’t care about each other.

While Ryu was off tracking down Amuro, Stetch caught up to White Base. He attempts to fire a rocket point-blank into the ship’s thrusters, but he gets too close–Mirai shifts into high gear and the heat from the engines blows Stetch away, giving Mirai a confirmed mobile suit kill. She keeps up her hot streak when Ral jumps onto the ship: she quickly does a barrel roll to shake him off, despite the danger to herself (there’s no way for her to ‘strap in’ at the controls, so she’s just got to hold on tight while the ship is upside down). Yet again, Mirai saves the day!

Mirai Yashima, hero of the One Year War

As Ral recovers from his tumble, Amuro shows up. It’s time for the showdown: Gundam vs. Gouf! Amuro nearly empties his beam rifle’s clip at Ral, but every shot misses; Ral notes that the Gundam’s firing is so precise that it’s easy for his computer to intuit how to dodge the shots. Visually, he appears to be dodging with absolutely minimal movements. Amuro tosses aside his gun and pulls out his beam saber, charging Ral, who abandons his shield and readies a beam saber of his own; he stands his ground as the enemy mobile suit approaches.

What I love about this fight is the way it portrays Ral as an almost samurai-like figure. He dodges efficiently, in the manner of a true martial artist; he holds his blade ready before him and strikes what seems to be a decisive blow against his enemy when they clash. Visually, it’s like Kurosawa with robots. When it turns out that the Gundam is alright (Ral only struck the shield thanks to a clever feint on Amuro’s part), the duel continues, and it looks very much like a traditional sword fight.

The imagery here is truly striking. The careful choreography and allusion to samurai tropes emphasize the skill of these two warriors; this is a style of combat we haven’t quite seen in this show so far. At a certain point, both pilots have struck blows to their enemy’s midsection, exposing the interior of their cockpits and allowing them to see each other. They both recognize each other from their run-in at the bar, and at this point the duel becomes personal. No longer is this simply a battle of opposing factions–now it is a true test of skill between two men who have taken each other’s measure face-to-face and, it’s implied, gained some level of respect for each other.

Amuro is ultimately the winner of this fight, though it’s a close thing; Ral manages to escape his Gouf before it explodes, and leaves Amuro with a parting taunt: “It was not your own power that won this battle, but the performance of your mobile suit!” This serves to reinforce the nature of their newfound rivalry: for Amuro, this is now a matter of honor. He must prove (to Ral and to himself) that he is the better pilot. On some level, he needs to feel worthy of piloting the Gundam.

Framing it like this now (which I believe is the intent of the episode and the way the duel is presented), I wonder if there’s a deeper reading of the series to this point as a samurai narrative–Amuro serving as the dedicated warrior, with Bright as a sort of shogun figure; certainly the Gundam has design elements meant to evoke the samurai. If so, I suppose this whole ‘desertion’ arc could be seen as a sort of ronin period for Amuro.

Or maybe not. I’m an American, so most of of my knowledge of samurai is based on pop culture stuff, and I don’t have the time to research it more deeply right now. This has definitely got me thinking, though…

At any rate, Amuro finally returns to White Base in the aftermath of this fight… and is promptly thrown in the brig. He begs to be let out, but honestly, what were you expecting, kid? He breaks down alone in his cell, and the episode ends with him vowing to defeat Ramba Ral–at this point, I think proving that he is the true pilot of the Gundam is the only thing the kid is living for.

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