By Andrew Osmond.
Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower is the sequel to a previous film, Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky, which is available from Anime Limited and covered on this blog here. If you’re broadly familiar with the Gundam franchise, then you can enjoy Bandit Flower’s action without seeing its predecessor. However, the film bring back several characters from December Sky, so it’s best to see that first. Spoilers for December Sky follow in the next paragraph.
The first film took place during the One Year War, a terrible human spacewar (as depicted in the original 1979 Gundam series). December Sky focused on a bitter personal feud between two combatants; jazz-loving pilot Io Fleming, fighting for the Earth Federation, and Daryl Lorenz, a paraplegic – later quadriplegic – on the Zeon side, who starts as a sniper but through suffering becomes a full-fledged mecha pilot. In a fiery climactic battle, Lorenz triumphed over Fleming, who was captured by the Zeons. However, as December Sky’s coda shows, Fleming was later rescued, battered but unbroken.
Bandit Flower takes up the story about a year later. The One Year War is now officially ended, with the Federation as the official “victor.” However, many of the Zeons haven’t accepted defeat, seeking any way to continue the struggle.
Whereas December Sky took place in deep space, Bandit Flower is set on or above a scarred Earth; in the clouds, on Arctic snowfields, in icy oceans – which feel very like outer space – and later in tropical jungles. The story continues to follow Fleming’s and Lorenz’s exploits: both men are still committed to the fight. However, a big difference this time is Bandit Flower shies away from having the characters quite meeting in combat, though they’re often in different parts of the same battles. Instead, the film – 20 minutes longer than its predecessor – involves Fleming and Lorenz in new teams and missions, their stories joined yet separate.
Bandit Flower is a more conventional Gundam anime than its predecessor, which emphasized the trauma and madness of war in ways which took it close to the nihilism of Genocidal Organ. There’s still trauma in Bandit Flower – an early scene has a soldier sobbing over a photo of his baby, a casualty of war – but December Sky was so bleak that Bandit Flower is cheerful in comparison. As with more traditional Gundam anime, there are mecha fights over a range of terrains, and cocky protagonists jeering over their enemies’ imminent deaths. Even the Federation carrier Spartan resembles the heroic White Base ship from the 1979 series.
There’s also a new character, a cocksure, red-haired Earth Federation woman pilot called Bianca, who bonds with Fleming over their shared love of jazz. She’s not at all unusual for a mecha anime, but she seems to be from a different reality from the characters who fought in December Sky. She actually enjoys the battles in themselves, rather than as a defence mechanism against trauma. In purely anime terms, it’s hard not to feel an echo of a certain redhead mecha pilot in Evangelion, though Bianca’s far more adult (and Asuka was blocking trauma).
Still, Bandit Flower acknowledges the earlier film. For one thing, we see that the women who went through the events of December Sky, unlike Bianca, were profoundly marked by their experiences, though in different ways. And if Bandit Flower doesn’t feel like a “Vietnam film” in the way December Sky did, then the sequel still has scenes set in an Asian-looking jungle – with, pointedly, a scene where a desperate peasant girl tries fighting back against the hi-tech warriors who light up the jungle like the Fourth of July. Indeed, one guru-like figure who stirs up grass-roots insurrection feels like a cinematic nod to Captain Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
Bandit Flower ends with the conclusion of a battle, but not the war; the rather abrupt finish plainly implies the story will continue. Both the Gundam Thunderbolt films are based on a manga by Yasuo Ohtakagi which is still continuing as of writing. However, there’s been no announcement of any more Thunderbolt anime yet, probably because there are so many other Gundam anime being made at the moment to tie in with the franchise’s fortieth anniversary. With luck, Thunderbolt will continue in anime before too long. If not, we’ll just have to settle for the manga translations being published in English by VIZ Media.
Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower is released in the UK by Anime Limited.