Are we done yet?
I keep putting off writing about Zeta Gundam because there’s a lot to say about it, so I know that it’s going to take a long time to write this post. The other issue is that Zeta Gundam frustrates me intensely; it can sometimes be easy to write about a show one dislikes since dislike can be a strong emotion, but a frustrating show presents something a bit more difficult (although at this point I dislike Zeta, a lot). Part of my frustration isn’t quite the show’s fault, as its more a matter of being sold a false bill of goods by other anime fans – Zeta’s been held up for years as the high-water mark of the franchise, so my expectations were high going in. Even as I felt myself faltering early on, folks kept popping out of the woodwork to assure me that, yes, Kamille is terrible, but, but, but! It gets better! He improves! Just give it twelve episodes, fifteen, twenty-six… maybe the magic number is thirty-four, the next episode for me to watch! (I doubt it!) Although Zeta the show could be faulted for not being good, I can’t really blame it for the gushing others emit over it.
The other matter is that while I do not like the overall show, there are elements I really like about Zeta, and think it does shockingly well. The oedipal overtones of Kamille’s feelings toward Reccoa are wonderfully subtle, organically developed, and make perfect sense within Kamille’s circumstances and characterization. The moments when Fa connects with Emma and Reccoa, regrettably few as they are, are a great demonstration of sororal relations among women in times of strife (and all the more welcome since there’s a real dearth of this in the Gundam franchise writ large – Victory Gundam probably gives us the most of this but it has a decidedly negative opinion of the bonds between women!). And when Kamille does appear to make some forward progress and is decent toward other people, the illusion of his growth being real is pretty persuasive, even as I know an episode later he’ll be whining about how unfair it is that he has to pilot, that he’s been told he can’t pilot, that he’s supposed to pilot a different mech than usual, that he is expected to pilot the Gundam…
Before I get too negative, though, I also want to point out how much I like the little moments that seem to be entirely disposable that tend to surface in much of Tomino’s work. They are these tiny bits and pieces that don’t ultimately have an impact on the narrative or character development, but which to me fill out the story in the human sense. In one of the earlier episodes, a man returns to a security outpost where his fellow sentry is waiting for him to bring back dinner. The waiting sentry tears the bag open and utters in dismay, “You got chicken again?!” Tomino sometimes gets mocked for these seemingly goofy moments, but I like these realistic touches – I can relate to the dismay of a soldier bored with having the same food again and again. It’s a reminder that there are people with lives, thoughts, feelings outside of our primary cast who are involved with the conflict.
But, the good points just aren’t enough.
I am genuinely trying to limit my total word count since I could easily go overboard in spewing forth all the bile this series has engendered in me. It is a bit hard to know where to start. Maybe with the obnoxious fact that this is a show which gives us some genuinely decent female characters but can’t get over its own distaste for women, particularly when a woman is somehow interfering with Kamille being an entitled jerk? Fa frequently makes entirely reasonable points to Kamille but does so in a tone clearly meant to invoke nightmares in male viewership of mothers who try to get them to do something other than luxuriate in their own filth in front of computer or TV screens. (Sorry, Fa – your lot doesn’t get much better in ZZ.) Emma and Reccoa’s characterization is warped on short notice in order to have a woman apparently giving Kamille a hard time, usually when Kamille should just be shoved out the nearest airlock so he can experience his mother’s fate. Women and girls are mean party-poopers! Don’t they get that Kamille needs to be a man? Part of being a man is being slightly irresponsible, definitely intractable, and belittling women – why can’t they understand that? (Answer: Because they’re guuuurls!)
Haven’t even talked about Beltorchika yet! Beltorchika starts out decent only to become utterly vile within an episode. Her immaturity is repellant to an extreme degree, and she manages to even outdo Kamille in this regard. Her existence as a character isn’t helped by Amuro’s relationship with her as its very existence is baffling – why on earth does a person who had the hots for Sayla have a romantic interest in a young woman like Beltorchika? One never gets a sense of a reason for the relationship on Amuro’s part; instead, it’s simply that the narrative demanded it. Beltorchika exists solely so that Amuro can realize that his avoidance of the war is a shirking of responsibilities on his part, and so that Mirai can tell the girl off for selfishly clinging to Amuro instead of letting him do his manly part and fight. Thus, this also allows for the sending a message about proper roles for girls and boys, and wives, since Mirai is the good little woman raising the kids while her husband spends literally years away from home.
I like Mirai a lot, mind you – the way she steps up in Mobile Suit Gundam initially when White Base desperately needed help during an on-going attack demonstrated strength of character on her part. And while I’m partly miffed that in Zeta she’s become the proper housewife, I’m okay with it since she has her own agency and she hasn’t been reduced to a fainting damsel. She nixed her engagement to marry Bright, she’s determined to protect her children from harm to the point of placing herself in physical danger, she’s competent, and she’s resourceful. She does conform to gender stereotypes in giving up employment outside the home, but one gets the sense of her having made clear choices she wanted to rather than feeling like she had to. Put a bit differently, Mirai is a rounded character, so I’m willing to accept that she’s taken the path she herself desired.
To go on a tangent, the issue with female characters who marry and cease to work outside the home isn’t exactly that act itself. The issue is that it is so frequently the de facto norm in anime. Taken as a whole, the message then is that this is the acceptable option, while continued employment after marriage, or even dispensing with marriage altogether, is not. This isn’t helped by depictions of working women over the age of twenty-five being obsessively focused on their lack of a husband, by the way, or of mothers having jobs in anime often serving as shorthand for them being bad mothers… something which, by the way, Zeta itself reinforces with Kamille’s mother.
Kamille’s mother is an engineer who, like Kamille’s father, is a member of the Titan’s organization. Although Kamille’s dad is pretty bad, it’s mom who gets blamed for some of dad’s bad behavior, specifically that he is conducting an extramarital affair with a younger woman. When he brings it up, Kamille explicitly does so by expressing anger with his mother for not doing anything about his father having a girlfriend. Kamille doesn’t comment on the obviously active role his father plays in the whole thing, given that dear old dad is the one committing adultery! But, nah, its mom’s fault. She cares too much about her job! Ugh, mom, stop wearing military uniforms, put on a damn apron, and make some dinner! And it is mom, by the way, who goes to bail out Kamille’s stupid self when he gets in trouble for attacking a Titan officer at the very start of the series, not dad. But I guess mom would nag him (UGH) whereas dad wouldn’t if dad had been the one to make the attempt, so, yeah, ugh, mooom, the worst.
This brings us usefully to Kamille. Kamille is horrible. One of the big issues I have with Zeta is that we go from our central rivalry-type dynamic being between Char and Amuro to it being between Kamille and Jerid. It is a steep decline, as neither of them are nearly on part with the former pair. Jerid, although I do not like him, does mature and develop across the series thus far, which does give him an edge over Kamille, who does the one-step-forward, two-steps back thing constantly. Admittedly, Amuro does this a bit as well in MSG, but Amuro is depicted in such a way that he seems like a decent person at heart, whereas Kamille isn’t. Kamille is a kid with serious anger problems who is awful to people because he’s an awful person*, Amuro is a kid who gets into funks because he’s scared. I’ve been told that by the end that Kamille’s characterization becomes a criticism of the Newtype, but, well, we’ll see. As it stands, I don’t like Kamille, and I don’t think that’ll ever change. In fact, I even like Judau better than Kamille! (Somewhere, hundreds of UC fans are shrieking and tearing their hair out in agony at the very thought that someone could.)
*SPOILERS FOR GUNDAM ZZ!!!: Brain damage is the best fucking thing to ever happen to Kamille! Fa must’ve known this’d be the case to stick around with him while he was comatose, and then when she had to keep looking after him in a tiny apartment while he had seizures and flashback-induced fits.
As a complete aside, what is up with all the male Titans having Peyton Manning foreheads? Damn, you could land a fighter jet on those things if they tipped their heads back! Wild. Maybe it’s a recruiting requirement, like how you can’t be over a certain height to be a tanker in the U.S. Army.
So, there it is, there it is. I’m committed to finishing it even though I don’t find the prospect alluring, which may be a bit surprising given my vocal commitment to dropping things that I don’t enjoy (and Victory Gundam is very much responsible for that). I’m not interested in being a Gundam completionist (five episodes of Seed was more than enough, thank you), but… oh, I don’t know, the stature of Zeta I think compels me to finish it off. I suppose I also can’t help but keep hoping it does improve. I might take a break and just watch Char’s Counter-attack, though, to rejuvenate my will toward UC. The MSG movie trilogy seemed to do just that after I closed out ZZ. I know, I know, it’d be out of order, but, hey, I watched ZZ before MSG or Zeta, so it isn’t as if it’d be the first time I did so.