The only Gundam protagonist who wears a fanny-pack.
Yeah, yeah, so its been a while. Lot of life changes coming down the pike, and been doing a lot of overtime at work since some things have to be closed out before the fiscal year ends next week. I also have started and failed at many, many Turn A Gundam posts, as it seems, tragically, that I’m completely unable to commit all my feelings, thoughts, etc. about that show to written word. Given how much I love the show, this feels a bit tragic. Luckily, there are other Gundams out there I am capable of writing about, and, hey, guess who finally decided to re-watch After War Gundam X again?
Of Gundam TV series, Gundam X is one of the most obscure, and possibly THE most obscure. Its the only series other than the original to get canceled, and when it ended Gundam disappeared from the airwaves for a few years. Sunrise for its part likes to pretend it never existed at all; there was never a re-master, while even the likes of the popularly-reviled ZZ got a re-master. They’ve also never been interested in releasing it overseas, as indicated by polite but firm denials of a chance of it getting licensed out (at Anime Boston 2013, an audience member at the Sunrise panel asked about it, among other Gundams that’ve never seen an American release, and while they didn’t rule out Turn A and ZZ, they were quite happy to say no about X).
Of course, of those who have seen it, I think most would tell you that there’s good reason for Sunrise to shut their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and loudly hum whenever anyone mentions it, as the prevailing opinion is that the show is crap. However, I myself enjoyed it when I first saw it, enough so that I placed it as one of my favorite Gundam series. But! I was also eighteen years old when I saw it about eight years ago. At this time, I was also enjoying Kanon (2006), and I positively shudder to consider what it would be like to re-watch that.
So, here I am, re-watching Gundam X. But, wait, actually, all of that was meant as a build-up to actually giving a rough overview of the show’s premise itself, as I don’t think I can assume that everyone is terribly familiar with it. Gundam X is the show that asks, “What if they did drop most (all?) of the colonies?” The show begins with fifteen year old Garrod Ran stealing a mobile suit, fifteen years after the Seventh Space War that resulted in the dropping of colonies and the deaths of most of the earth’s ten billion-strong population. While a hard number isn’t given in-show, its safe to say that at the high end its a nine digit population total. But Garrod voices a distinct lack of interest in piloting himself, as he states that pilots just get themselves killed mostly. Of course his life is changed forever when a shady man hires him to retrieve a girl named Tiffa from the land-ship Frieden, something which ultimately results in his becoming the pilot of the titular Gundam. Also: there are Newtypes.
I’ve watched the first eight episodes, which covers the above, as well as having Garrod fail to integrate fully with the Frieden crew; oddly enough, turns out post-apocalyptic orphans don’t immediately do well when working within a group. One of the common criticisms of the show is that the characters are unsympathetic and unlikable, and in the past I disagreed, but on re-watching I’m really struck by just how little there is to grab hold of in the cast so far. They largely range between merely unsympathetic to actively repellent, with only Garrod, Frieden captain Jamil Neate, and crewmember Toniya Malme standing apart, and that’s also considering that Garrod is frequently fairly irritating.
Even with the annoyance factor, though, I like Garrod on the whole, largely since he’s got good characterization. If Heero Yuy is the badass character a fourteen year old would create as their self-insert, Garrod is much closer to what one would actually expect from a fifteen year old in a post-apocalyptic world. The sorts of skills he displays fall just within the bounds of believability for a kid in his environment, even when he does manage to steal a mobile suit in the very first episode. His difficulty in working with the rest of the crew of the Frieden, and his difficulty in apologizing for what he’s done wrong, also feel pretty spot-on, as he stutters and stumbles before fleeing the scene several times without having actually said, “I’m sorry.” That he opts to go out on a personal mission to harvest scrap metal and parts from a nuclear power plant so he can present his gatherings as an apology also feels like an organic development for himself as a character, and his lack of understanding about the dangers of such a facility helps to develop the world of Gundam X (nuclear power plants still have a lot to be harvested from them since most people are too afraid to go near them, but Garrod also doesn’t know how dangerous they are since people just avoid them wholly). Garrod’s brash and loud, but when other castmembers deride him for not being able to be a team player immediately, I was fully on his side.
As for our other two decent characters – Jamil’s a partially disabled Newtype veteran of the Seventh Space War who can only use his abilities at the cost of extreme pain. His whole drive is to find any remaining Newtypes so he can gather them together and prevent them from being exploited once again by the military. He also punched Garrod fully in the face when the latter was being a brat when Tiffa was getting medical care. Toniya is the only crewmember to seek out Tiffa in order to make her feel more welcome and included with the people of the Frieden (although how this is executed is a bit cringe-inducing, but I’ll get to that later).
Everyone else? Well… I like Tiffa, but there’s also not really anything to her to this point in the show, other than her being poorly socialized and a bit eerily otherworldly. Then there’s Sara Tyrell, the vice-captain, is shitty to Tiffa simply because Jamil gets hurt when they’re trying to get Tiffa back from the evil laboratory, and also because Tiffa put on lipstick when Garrod was out chasing the nuclear power planet… and, uh, the girl didn’t have any idea that that was what was going on. Mercenaries Roybea and Witz kick the shit out of Garrod a few times for not much more than shits and giggles, Roybea drops lines like, “You’re cute when you’re angry.”, and Witz has anger problems. Enemy Olba Frost is creepily obsessed with Tiffa (“I love you enough to kill you.”), and his elder brother Shagia dresses like he got lost from a Dracula production. Would-be femme fatale Ennil El attempts to seduce a fifteen year old. The ship doctor was inoffensive until he pretty much told Tiffa that her own sorrows didn’t really matter at all and she needed to put Sara and Garrod’s feelings ahead of her own since she was wrong in the first place… wait, wrong about what? Apparently wrong about putting on lipstick at Toniya’s prompting once.
…which I might as well address now. Garrod is all down and bummed out because he keeps screwing up. Toniya approaches Tiffa to teach her how to use make-up, but then goes from here into a thing about Tiffa putting on make-up to cheer up Garrod, complete with a line about how she should smile for him. I can appreciate Toniya trying to be decent to Tiffa, but the idea of a girl as decorative art is cringe-worthy. Then this is followed up with Sara telling Tiffa, “You disgust me.” when catching her with the lipstick on, which itself neatly dovetails with a madonna-whore dichotomy the show seems to be setting up early on. Tiffa, of course, is the madonna, whereas mobile suit pilot Ennil is the whore who pursues Garrod after an information broker offers her a pair of photos of the Gundam X and its pilot. She attempts to seduce Garrod after she wins the Gundam X in an auction (yes, Garrod auctions it off, which brings up the question – is it dumber to bury a Gundam in a hole or to sell it?), but he thinks she’s just trying to kill him so she won’t have to pay him for the Gundam. Folks, if someone thinks you’re trying to kill them when you’re actually trying to seduce them, they’re probably too young for you. But I digress – cleavage-baring, sex-having Ennil is a pretty strong counterpoint to the excessively shy Tiffa, and it isn’t a contrast I’m terribly fond of in my media.
(By the way, here’s some screencaps of the not even slightly subtle seduction scene:
Poor Garrod’s not really ready for showtime, it would seem, as it only takes about a minute for him to discharge a round.)
As it stands, its a bit hard to see what it was I enjoyed about this series previously, although I’m also not even a quarter of the way in. Garrod’s clumsy crush on Tiffa is endearing in a mild sort of way, but most of the characters suck. I think ultimately this is one of those shows where the concept is itself much more interesting than the execution, and by concept I really just mean the whole fact that we’re in a world where the colonies were dropped on the planet. I did expect this to be the case, though, which is why I held off on re-watching for so long. Seeing Gundam Wing again and discovering I loved it to bits nudged me in this direction, as with that, too, I was expecting to find it totally terrible, but it seems lightning won’t be striking twice. But, well, hey, thirty-one more episodes to go! It could certainly turn over a new leaf.