Possibility is bewitching.
I re-watched Gundam F91 the other day, having originally seen it in 2007. I think its probably just about the worst place to start with the franchise; sure, it could look like a decent entry point since its a two-hour long, self-contained story, but if that’s where a person started with Gundam, it’d probably be where they stopped, too. F91 is a complete mess that rivals the Zeta movies in terms of choppy incoherence. It is a truly bad film, although its got lovely animation and some really beautiful shots. As I watched the first hour, I was puzzled, and a bit dismayed – I’d expected to not like it as much as I had when I saw it first, but I was struggling to understand how I could’ve possibly liked it at all. But then as it burrowed through the second half, I slowly found my way back to myself in 2007, and when the credits rolled, I had reached the same sentiment; I like F91. It’s a complete mess, but I like it. And, to me, the fact that I like F91 is why I’m a Gundam fan and not just a person who is a fan of specific entries in the franchise.
This is harder to explain than explaining why I like F91, which is something, honestly, that is pretty straightforward. It isn’t that F91 made me a Gundam fan (it didn’t), its that I don’t think I could like it without being a Gundam fan. (And I would like to lay stress on the fact that I’m only speaking of my own self – I’ve seen enough of the ugly infighting and attempts at boundary-drawing in English-language Gundam fandom over the past decade to find even the idea of trying to say what is versus isn’t a Gundam fan repellent.) From a dispassionate viewpoint, its positives couldn’t even come close to balancing out – let alone outweighing! – its negatives. So, if I like it, its from having an intrinsic affection for this franchise, even after having endured the nightmare that was Victory, even after having dragged myself inch by inch through ZZ. I was born under a bad star named Gundam!
As for liking F91, well, probably the biggest thing is that to me F91 represents a possibility. F91 was planned as a full TV series initially, only to be whittled down to mere bones because of massive issues among the staff. Knowing this explains a lot about this movie – really, how the thing could feel like its missing entire sequences of events, and is plagued by a persistent sense that things keep happening just outside our frame of vision. Events leap around, and the viewer is only filled in by a quick line from a character stating that something occurred (for example, you might have one scene in which the lead male is about to clash with a rival – scene cuts, and suddenly the guy is walking around a colony that has banners of the insurgency everywhere, and someone remarks, “You’re a real natural for this! You completely clobbered him!”). “We skipped a scene!”, my husband insisted, commandeering my laptop, but, no, we hadn’t; the movie had.
This also means that F91 is extremely frustrating. There was the possibility there for a good show, but instead we have a bad movie. But the possibility for me overrides the frustration. Cecily Fairchild and Seabook Arno exist, and they’ve got interesting story elements around them, and they care about one another, and, somehow, that’s enough for me to be glad it exists versus it not ever having existed.
I also like F91 because it does have a lot of good elements. Cecily’s great*; she’s tough yet she suffers from the same flaws that you’d expect of a teenager in her situation. Seabook isn’t, admittedly, as interesting, but he’s a few years older than the typical Gundam male lead, and as a result never descends to the depths Amuro, Kamille, and Judau all manage. And despite the truncated story, somehow the movie manages to sell their chaste romance better than a lot of UC does with romance storylines, and enough so that the final scene, of Seabook trying to find Cecily after she’s tossed free of her mobile suit in space, has weight to it.
(*OK, look, I think Cecily is hot as hell, something that, ok, fine, was alright when I was nineteen but is starting to become less so considering that she’s a minor… but, damn, Cecily is hot! I’m convinced, by the way, that she’s a descendant of Juri Arisugawa.)
Speaking of Seabook, he’s one of the only Gundam protagonists who has parental issues who gets the chance to work the issue out, and its such a relief. Seabook’s mother, Monica, is an engineer who left the family to go work, as it turns out, on a Gundam. Seabook and his sister feel hurt by her apparent abandonment of the family, and even after they realize what she was doing and state that they understand why she did it, its a rough family reunion when their mother manages to make her way back to them. But instead of going the Zeta route (i.e. “UGH mom, ugh, you’re the worst IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT THAT DAD CHEATED you had the nerve to have a job I HATE YOU MOM oh my god mom is dead MOM YOU STILL SUCK THIS WAS ALL YOUR FAULT I HATE YOU even though dad wasn’t the one who was gonna bail my ass out THIS WAS ALL YOUR FAULT.”), Seabook does come to accept the choices his mother made, as does his sister, and also truly understand that it wasn’t a rejection of her family. One of the later scenes has Monica observing a battle on the bridge of the battleship and remarking the the captain that her son seems to have a natural flair for piloting, although, “It’s probably just my silly pride as a mother.” The captain insists that, no, she does have something to be proud of in Seabook. And the final scene where Seabook tries to find Cecily? It’s his mother who helps him to do so.
But, as long as we’re within striking distance of my having mentioned it, another point in F91’s favor is that it has a large female cast, and a female cast that is good and feels important within the story. Being a female Gundam fan can be extremely trying at points, especially so when dealing with UC, as it so frequently is hostile to women and girls (Victory Gundam is fifty episodes of why women shouldn’t be allowed to have political/military power!). Getting so many women in key roles in the cast in F91 is huge, particularly as they largely avoid the pitfalls that plague even the good female characters of earlier UC entries. And they get to have their own relationships with one another, and not solely in the form of jealousy. Cecily’s mother, Nadia, leaves her husband and brings Cecily with her ten years before the movie starts, because she has fallen in love with another man, but also because she wants to get herself and her daughter away from the toxicity of her domineering family. When Cecily gets sucked back into it all, her mother takes a risk and returns to her family to help her daughter break away again. (It’s worth pointing out that between this and Seabook and his mother, this is the only Gundam entry that examines relationships between lead characters and their mothers; mothers in Gundam are generally dispensed with pretty quickly, whether its by killing them, having them go mad, or just quietly ceasing to pay any heed to them.)
And yet, and yet! It’s just not enough to make F91 good. It isn’t quite tragic a truth, but it is one that burns a bit. I like these elements, and I like F91, but I could never tell another person to watch it. It isn’t fair to tell someone to watch something that will never be whole.