Even the Dolphins are Newtypes: After War Gundam X, Episodes 9-18

gundam x 16g

This is the closest we get to Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy territory.

Oh, Gundam X – it’s been a long pause, but Gundam ZZ seems to have driven me back into your arms for sake of a break. Well, and it must be admitted that I currently lack access to the new season because I don’t have internet at home and don’t dare watch the likes of Yuri Bear Storm at work, but I still believe I would’ve ended up with you again as I have only wanted Gundam lately. You, ZZ, 08th MS Team… it pains me mightily that I can’t have Reconguista in G in there. More generally, the mecha kick I had earlier in 2014 seems to have surged back, as I’ve picked up the first Fafner TV series (Hulu works at work!) and resumed Zambot 3 (Youtube works at work!).

But, Gundam X, back to you. This post IS about you, after all!

It feels odd to be writing this right after episode nineteen since I had planned to talk about what things the show doesn’t do right and why the show is a fairly lackluster one, but episode nineteen was great. Watching it, I thought to myself, “So this is what I liked about this!” Episode nineteen is the second half of a mini-arc involving the crew of the Frieden going to the sea after Tiffa has a vision of a particular place along the coast while dreaming. Episode eighteen is fairly silly – I can’t believe I’d forgotten that X was the series that brought us Newtype dolphins – although it does have a nice scene right at the end with Tiffa swimming with dolphins that feels like it fills out her character a touch more. Episode nineteen gives us a glimpse into Jamil’s past, and ends on a cathartic if not happy note. It’s hard to put my finger on why it works, since it should be too abrupt, and abruptness ruining the weight of deaths is something I’ve criticized in ZZ, but I think that we’ve learned just enough about Jamil’s past over the course of the show thus far that introducing another thread here that involves an old instructor of his works. We know Jamil was used cruelly in the war and can’t really use his Newtype powers anymore (when he uses a minor one early on, his ears start bleeding and it takes a while for him to recover), so a Newtype he knew having a cruel past, too, and present is easy to accept even when introduction to end is fairly short.

That being said, one of X’s issues is that it doesn’t develop things enough for them to have weight. A previous arc introduced another Newtype, Carris Nautilus, who is used, mislead, and angsty, and all I was was dismayed when the arc went on for an episode more than I had thought it would. I didn’t care about him at all, and the show’s contortions to try to make me were ham-handed at best. And then it did the death fake-out thing! Sigh. Really?

The cast at large doesn’t get much characterization, either. Episode seventeen does spend time with Witz and Roybea as they go about using their free time to do visiting of various people, but that they revert so easily to being assholes to other members of the Frieden robs this information of some of its weight. (Of course, that Roybea spends part of his portion of said episode being pissed off that his mother DARED to remarry also hurts any progress toward being a sympathetic character; the guy hasn’t been home in two years, and has four younger siblings, and his family is on a farm that gets attacked periodically by Vultures, but MOM HOW DARE YOU BETRAY MY DEAD DAD WHO CAN’T DO JACK SHIT TO HELP TAKE CARE OF THIS FAMILY ANYMORE BECAUSE HE IS DEAD! Dude, you’re an asshole.) But where the lack of development hurts most is with Tiffa, and while the later episodes in this set do move her a little forward, my knowledge of the remainder of the series is such that I know it won’t really get much better than this. Yes, it sweet to watch Tiffa and Garrod interact and have the tentative stirrings of romance, but it’d be so much nicer if Tiffa felt less like a cipher.

Speaking of Garrod, it’s interesting to see him in the context of Judau from ZZ. The two do have a bit in common, but there is a big difference – when Garrod does stupid things, it’s because he’s trying to help out or to save someone, whereas Judau does stupid things because he doesn’t care about anything other than his own wishes and wants. More simply, Judau is stupendously selfish while Garrod isn’t.

While I’ve frequently heard this show described as (and criticized for being) angsty, thus far I think it’s better put as being casually gloomy. In episode seventeen, Witz goes around visiting exes and admits to them quite matter-of-factly that he is doing so because in their post-apocalyptic world people die frequently, suddenly, and easily between the violence and the disease (its implied that when the colonies came down, they brought with them a lot of diseases that people on Earth hadn’t been exposed to before and so were very susceptible to them). The After War world feels a lot more chaotic from its lack of a truly monolithic enemy, or even of having a few factions struggling for control; there are references made to two organizations, but they are hazy at best, and it isn’t even clear whether one of them exists at all or not anymore. X feels more dog eat dog than the other series do with its somewhat tribal approach, where enemies and potential allies are all for the most part Vulture groups or specific towns trying to scratch out an existence. Episode nineteen does give us a surer look at a military faction with a lot of resources so we’re headed toward this being less the case, though, in terms of feel.

I’m roughly halfway through the series now and that fact makes me nervous since I shouldn’t be; this was originally supposed to be forty-nine episodes long, after all, and the pacing is not appropriate for that. What has been accomplished thus far? What is the true overarching story? X is ultimately a show about Newtypes with a backdrop of a previous disastrous war; Newtypes are obviously nothing new for the franchise, but with the Frieden’s goal being to gather Newtypes and ensure they aren’t used as military tools again, the focus is on them and not on a bigger conflict like in the UC series. But by highlighting how ugly and tough the world is, one can’t help but wonder what happens after the Newtypes are gathered – it’s all well and good to get them together, but then what? Will they build their own settlement? Have an enclave in one of the growing cities? Where is the world going from there?

So, X raises more questions than it has the ability to answer, which is where I think its value lies – not so much as a story by itself but in the setting it establishes and the ideas it suggests.

…like Newtype dolphins.

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