Mobile Suit Gundam, Episode 20: Hand-to-Hand Combat

Boy, this show sure is getting a lot of mileage out of that “mid-air docking” sequence, isn’t it? It opens yet another episode, with the narrator explaining that tensions are currently fraught on the White Base.

Despite this dramatic prologue, things actually seem pretty chill. Bright, Sayla, and Mirai are all just… hanging out on the bridge. They’ve got blankets spread out, pillows, Mirai is knitting–the whole nine yards. It seems like a rare reprieve for the crew. Apparently, this little rest was arranged so that two of the bridge crew–background characters Marker and Oscar–could get a bit of extra rest. In a perhaps unintentionally funny moment, Bright commends these two random guys for being “the hardest-working crew members” on the ship. I can’t tell if that’s meant to be a realistic statement about the value of the often-unseen people in less ‘exciting’ positions in the military, or if it’s a little joke on Tomino’s part (“You think Amuro’s overworked? These two guys we never talk about have it way worse!”). Either way, it made me chuckle a bit.

Another reason everyone is just sitting around? The White Base doesn’t have anything to do until Odessa Day; they’re just waiting for the Earth Federation to launch its attack. Until then, the crew is stuck out here in the desert, twiddling their thumbs.

Speaking of which, let’s check in on Amuro, who’s still in the brig. Ryu and Fraw come by to give him some lunch, but–surprise, surprise–he won’t eat. He’d rather mope about how no one on White Base likes him anymore. Gee, I wonder if that’s because you stole their giant robot and abandoned them…? Regardless, Ryu isn’t having any of it. He makes it clear that Amuro needs to get over himself, and he does it in the way we’ve grown accustomed to seeing: by punching Amuro in the face. It must be said that Amuro takes the punch quite well. Despite the fact that Ryu is a big dude and isn’t holding back, Amuro doesn’t show much pain; he even mocks Ryu, basically asking “Is that all you’ve got?”

At this point, Ryu brings up the fact that Lt. Matilda theorized (way back in her first appearance) that Amuro might be psychic. In the context of the scene, Ryu is pretty much saying, “Guess she was wrong about you, you little punk,” but it’s interesting that this line of dialogue has resurfaced; we’re getting very close to the point where Amuro’s newtype abilities will directly manifest, so there’s no way this reference wasn’t intentional. In fact, this episode lays a lot of groundwork for newtypes, as we’ll soon see.

Back on the bridge, Hayato and Kai show up to ask Bright whether or not Amuro will still be allowed to pilot the Gundam. Bright confirms that he’s decided to let Amuro stay on as pilot after all. He claims that Amuro’s actions post-desertion–the fact that he could’ve defected to Zeon and gotten a hero’s welcome by turning over the Federation mobile suit, but instead returned to the White Base–prove that there’s hope for the kid yet. Ryu, who enters at just about this time, agrees.

Meanwhile, Ramba Ral is gearing up for another attack. He’s down a few mobile suits after last episode, but he’s in luck: Admiral Dozle is sending him three Doms, a new, heavy-duty mobile suit that could turn the tide against the Gundam.

Plus, they really fit Ral’s aesthetic.

There’s a problem, though: Ral is still in M’Quve’s territory, and M’Quve doesn’t actually want Ral to succeed. He’s worried that the old fox has learned too much about Kycilia’s mining operation and will spill the beans to Dozle, ruining Kycilia’s plan to usurp control of the Zabi family from her siblings. Thus, he arranges for the Doms to be ‘lost’ on their way to Ral.

It’s not just Zeon being affected by infighting, unfortunately. As we return to White Base, Hayato, Kai, and two other crew members–Howard and Maximilian–abandon ship. Poor Ryu has to go chase them down. I feel for the guy; at this point, he’s the only pilot who hasn’t gone AWOL at least once. Heck, even Sayla took the Gundam for a joyride a while back! Ryu is the only responsible guy in the lot. It’s no wonder Bright has started to rely on him more and more.

Speaking of Bright, we get an illuminating scene with him and Mirai, where he admits that he wasn’t entirely truthful earlier about his reasons for keeping Amuro on the Gundam. He says that while Amuro was gone, he couldn’t shake this feeling of dread and unease that settled over him; he didn’t feel safe without the young pilot around. This is the first clue that Bright is a newtype–not a particularly powerful one, but strong enough to sense Amuro’s importance to the White Base. This episode is great at starting to layer this stuff in, though it won’t pay off for several more episodes.

Ryu catches up with Hayato’s group and confirms what I’ve said since the beginning: Hayato is garbage. The kid claims that with Amuro still around, his “reason to fight for White Base is gone.” In other words, he only helped out around White Base because he wanted a shot at piloting the Gundam; now that he knows Amuro is sticking around, he doesn’t want to be on White Base anymore.

Ryu tries to slap some sense into the deserters, but before he gets much of a chance, the group sees tanks in the distance–Ramba Ral has decided to launch an attack, Doms or no Doms. Ryu rushes back to White Base, and Hayato’s squad decide to follow (even Kai).

By the way, the tanks Ral uses are called cuis, and they are bonkers weird.

As Ral’s forces approach, Bright orders Sayla to launch in the Gundam. Er… maybe not the best choice, considering what happened last time she took it out, but I suppose with every other pilot either off-ship or in the brig, options are limited. Amuro, for his part, seems to innately sense that Ral is on his way (foreshadowing his newtype abilities yet again), dressing up in his military uniform; he is soon released so that he can man a turret in the fight. To his credit, despite his earlier attitude and grudge against Ral, he does not complain when he learns that Sayla is in the Gundam. Quite the opposite, in fact: he actually gives her some tips over comms, helping her take out Ral’s one remaining Zaku.

As it turns out, though, the Zaku isn’t the real threat. No, the real threat is that Ral’s men are equipped with jetpacks, and the cuis get close enough to White Base for the soldiers to board the ship directly. Luckily for our heroes, Ryu, Hayato, and the others make it back onto the ship in time to provide backup, and Mirai figures out the enemy strategy with enough time to arm the bridge crew. When Ral’s forces land, a tense firefight ensues across the ship.

There are a few interesting things about this fight. First off, the helmet Ral dons evokes samurai imagery yet again. The Zeon commander also reunites with Fraw Bow briefly; he comes across her in the hallway and knocks the pistol from her hand, growling that “if [she] were armed, [he’d] have to shoot her.” It’s nice to see that, while he wasn’t above having her followed to find White Base, he has no intention of killing a young girl, regardless of her affiliation to the Federation.

With the Zeons onboard the White Base, there isn’t much the Gundam can do, so Sayla returns and disembarks from the mobile suit. Here’s where things really get interesting: Sayla runs into Ral on the ship, and he recognizes her instantly, calling her princess. It turns out that Sayla–or Artesia, as Ral knows her–is the daughter of Zeon Zum Deikun, founder of Zeon, and Ral knew her as a child. Finally, some more illumination into Sayla and Char’s complicated past! Unfortunately, this enlightening moment is interrupted by Ryu’s arrival, driving Ral off in a hail of gunfire; both men are critically injured in the shootout, and Ral escapes onto the ship’s second bridge… just as Bright had planned.

Bright’s getting pretty darn good at this strategy stuff: he set things up to drive Ral and his troops onto the second bridge, which could then be destroyed by Amuro in the Gundam. The plan goes off without a hitch. Ral, wounded, defeated, and trapped, has no choice but to admit defeat. However, he chooses to end things on his terms, blowing himself up with a grenade rather than allowing himself to fall into the Federation’s hands. This calls to mind seppuku, the style of ritualistic suicide performed by disgraced samurai, thereby completing Ral’s allusion to that class of warrior.

Before his death, though, Ral managed to get one last message out to his beloved Hamon, urging her to retreat in the Gallop. She doesn’t listen; instead, she charges White Base, only for the vehicle to be taken out by a well-placed beam javelin toss by Amuro. However, the bridge of the Gallop can apparently detach and fly under its own power, so Hamon and the last of Ral’s troops live to fight another day… and by ‘another day,’ I mean ‘exactly one week from now.’

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