By Andrew Osmond.
Anime Limited is introducing the Gundam franchise into Britain with a mix of old and new releases. The new Blu-ray of the very first Mobile Suit Gundam series gives us its genesis in 1979. Meanwhile, Gundam: The Origin (which Anime Limited distributed for Bandai Visual) and Gundam Reconguista in G were both made for the franchise’s 35th birthday in 2014. Gundam: The Origin, which we’ve talked about elsewhere, is a prequel to the original series, featuring many of the same characters. But Reconguista also has a link to the past; it was written by the venerated Yoshiyuki Tomino, who created the first Gundam and therefore the whole franchise. Tomino is also credited as Reconguista’s Chief Director.
Despite that, it’s a bit debatable if Reconguista is “really” a Gundam show at all. Tomino has said he planned it as a stand-alone series, not linked to the franchise – indeed, Reconguista was meant to be the start of a new mecha franchise of its own. It was the Sunrise studio, Tomino said, which ruled that Reconguista should be a Gundam title. More controversially, Tomino has said he did not make Reconguista for fans of his previous Gundam anime, but rather for new generations, for the older fans’ children and grandchildren. It’s tempting to compare this to comments by George Lucas at the time of Phantom Menace, but Tomino would probably not like the parallel. Moreover, it seems hard on the poor senior Gundam fans; the first Gundam told them they were Newtypes, but now Tomino consigns them to the scrapheap!
Gundam or no, the final Reconguista has fighting mobile suits galore, including a central “hero” robot, the G-Self, which is designed very much along classic Gundam lines, down to its blue-and-gold colours. Once again, we’re in a future world, though it’s rather a mishmash. The hero’s home nation is a powerful Catholic-style theocracy with a Pope-like ruler, although state worship is bound up with an SF object – a space elevator, called the Capital Tower, through which energy is drawn down from heaven to Earth. As with the space colonies of the first Gundam, Tomino is using a concept that bridges sci-fi and serious theory. Space elevators have been postulated for decades, popularised by authors such as Arthur C. Clarke; they also figured prominently in 2007’s Gundam 00 (not by Tomino).
Reconguista’s world comes with surprise additions such as cute cheerleaders and immobile phones. They’re at least partly rationalised by one of the cardinal rules of this world; to avoid technology which might lead to humanity repeating its historic mistakes of the “Universal Century.” That was the era where Tomino set his original Gundam stories, long past but not forgotten. Like many of the Gundam shows, Reconguista has characters and plot twists that clearly echo the original series, as well as the franchise’s basic furniture – not just the Gundam itself, but also a cute spherical robot called a Haro (you can find its twins all over Gundam) and the fan-beloved “Minovsky particles,” as essential to Gundam as photon torpedoes are to Star Trek.
The characters of Reconguista, though, reflect changing trends in anime. The hero, one Bellri Zeman, is a precocious, self-confident, lip-licking eccentric bordering on idiot savant. He takes pretty much every development in his stride – at least in the early episodes, until he trips up badly. You could compare him to the leads in shows like K, Gatchaman Crowds (a girl) or Eden of the East. You might even link him to Tori in Sunrise’s loony comedy Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, which similarly mashed up world history. If that sounds too irreverent, then Reconguista is often tongue-in-cheek, even campy; for example the build-up to a jungle battle in part 3 is interspersed with wacky reactions by the local wildlife. Tomino also seems to poke fun at his reputation for ‘real robots,’ showing that the mecha chairs double as toilet seats for the pilots; even Bellri discretely relieves himself on screen.
The plot involves a conflict between Bellri’s home country and another nation, whose pirates attack in the opening episodes. Bellri is not drawn into battle as a matter of survival (as were the characters in the original Gundam) but rather out of random-seeming curiosity and his strong attraction to a captured girl pirate, Aida. She’s one of many nubile females in this show; there’s also a childish mystery girl with amnesia, a favourite anime type. Again it reflects changing trends – the original Gundam was much less girl-heavy – though there’s room for a masked male adversary, called Luin Lee or “Mask.” He, at least, is squarely in Gundam tradition. Any character wearing a mask automatically invites comparison with the uber-adversary in Gundam, Char Aznable from the original series, although Lee clearly isn’t a Char-level genius; rather, Char is what Lee aspires to be.
We later find out (small spoiler) that Lee is from a despised lower caste in society, with echoes of Soylent Green and also Japan’s real-life underclass, the Burakumin. Tomino has said he was inspired by another real-world issue, the energy crisis, as highlighted by the Fukushima meltdown. The website rocketnews.24 reported that, “Tomino is pinning all of his hopes on the next generation of grown-ups, claiming that the issues raised in Reconguista, regarding how resources are procured and used, will raise young viewers’ consciousness of these problems. “In 10 years, you’ll see them starting to take action. I think I’ve sown the seeds for that.”’
Any British anime fans who haven’t seen any Gundam before may find themselves reminded of the SF anime by the Bones studio, especially Eureka 7. The characters look similar; moreover, Reconguista has a Bones-ish primary-coloured look, and two of the main girls have pink and orange hair respectively. It’s a case of the child teaching the parent, for Bones is Sunrise’s progeny. The younger studio was founded by three former Sunrise staff-members in 1998.
But more specifically, Reconguista’s character designer and chief animator was Kenichi Yoshida, who handled the characters throughout the Eureka 7 franchise (including the film and the quasi-sequel Eureka 7 AO). Tomino worked with Yoshida on a previous Sunrise mecha show, 2002’s Overman King Gainer, but Yoshida’s epic stint on Eureka presumably helped him get the Reconguista gig.
Oh, and for anyone wondering, the word “Reconguista” is derived from the Spanish Reconquista, which refers to a long period of European history but also means “reconquest,” to claim back what was seized. As for its relevance to the Gundam series… Watch the show.