Defining Gundam Reconguista in G

We muddle through like children, making our way through paths of war and peace.

G-Reco 232.jpg

In the first episode of Gundam Reconguista in G, Aida Surugan, a space pirate (a space pirate!) at the time, utters what may very well be the show’s most memorable line.

The world… is not square!

Regardless of whether this exclamation is literally true or not within G-Reco‘s universe, one senses that its meaning dwells somewhere beyond the world of fact in the land of metaphor and subtext. The world is unfair. The world is not balanced. It could be either, both, or neither. And, considering the the lack of context surrounding the line (in the scene, it’s unclear if Aida is responding to something her opponent at the time, protagonist Bellri Zenam, has said or just howling a war cry), it’s unlikely we’ll ever know what Aida was trying to communicate in that moment. Despite that—or perhaps because of it—the line remains solidly ingrained in my memory of the show, much like the triumphant chorus of the ED song.

Gundam Reconguista in G

I highlight this moment because it is, in many ways, representative of G-Reco as a whole—joyfully energetic, challenging to understand for lack of explanation, and unavoidably memorable for its weirdness. Like the show itself, it possesses an abstract sense of denseness ill-fit to the abruptness of its occurrence, leaving a feeling like you’ve grasped only a part of the meaning before the moment is torn away from you and replaced with the next instance of now-baffling randomness. Even the show’s ending, in theory a home for conclusiveness, flits so quickly between its final scenes that it feels as if it has been cut off before the true ending [1].

I say this all with a purely descriptive intent; to evaluate whether or not the strange nature of Gundam Reconguista in G makes it good or bad (although I certainly have my opinion) is a lot less interesting than trying to capture an articulable way of expressing the show’s fundamental character.

G-Reco has been accused of being a lot of things, and to some degree nearly all of these descriptors are true. The anime has characters, themes, robot fights, and great music. It’s got fantastic character designs by Kenichi Yoshida and a gorgeous and inventive setting. It even has a plot, even if said plot is often obscured by the way G-Reco hops and skips between all these different aspects of its whole self. G-Reco is, simply, full of all of the pieces of itself. It’s a mecha-of-the-week battler, a war story, a reflection on the relationships between generations, a slice-of-life show set in space, an 80’s comedy, and many other things as well.

What’s most fascinating about G-Reco is that it never spends enough time with any of these aspects for them to assert themselves above the overall medley of elements. Themes that appear in one scene are brushed away in the next for the sake of a mecha battle, not returning again until episodes later. Character arcs flicker in and out of existence, grabbing the spotlight for a short time only to vanish minutes later as their replaced with status-quo camaraderie. Odd bits of humor slip into tense plot-relevant political faceoffs, weaving into a strange counterpoint rhythm that, whatever else it may be, is undeniably marching to its own beat.

One metaphor for understanding G-Reco that I find particularly apt is to think of each of these different shows that exist within it as a different language. G-Reco is a veritable polyglot, careening from one method on communication to another at what seems like random from the outside, yet contains an odd sort of internal logic beneath the external chaos. While one might argue that G-Reco‘s fluency some of these language is less refined than in others, it’s difficult to get away from the impression that G-Reco makes sense to itself—and that whether or not we can keep up with it is a concern it leaves up to us.

Thus, due to the variable nature of G-Reco‘s communication, not only is applying the simple good-bad binary an uninteresting question, but it’s also a rather fruitless one. G-Reco is so offbeat, so idiosyncratic, and so flexible that trying to describe it holistically winds up being a frustrating, if not outright impossible, task. Attempts to package an assessment of the show often end up relying on prior reference points, but most such exercises seem to me to wind up mischaracterizing the show.

As a case study, I’ve seen a few reviews of the show that call the main quartet of the show (Bell, Aida, Raraiya, and Noredo) a “harem.” And while, yes, the structure is there, to assess this construction as a harem strikes me as an absurd attempt to pigeonhole this part  of G-Reco into a space it only superficially resembles. Noredo may harbor romantic interest toward Bell, but Raraiya spends half the show mentally ill and the other half as a competent pilot and friend. And while Bell’s relationship with Aida begins with his crush on her, it evolves into something entirely different at the show unfolds. This harem might look like a duck, but it certainly doesn’t sound, act, or feel like one.

These misses exist in more comprehensive attempts to define the show as well. While the series’ detractors are by far the most numerous and vocal camp, generally their responses seem to be predicated on unmet expectations. They came for a serious war drama (or maybe just for a comprehensible story); they got G-Reco. Are they wrong for desiring either of those things or for being disappointed by what they found instead? Maybe, maybe not. On the other hand, we find some proponents of G-Reco talking about it as if it were a misunderstood masterpiece, from Gen Urobuchi’s breathless praise of the show as a “story that renounces stories” (a position expanded on in this video) to Wave Motion Cannon’s convincing yet likely overgenerous argument that the show’s challenging execution harmonizes with its thematic concerns.

Gundam Reconguista in G

Although some strike me as nearer to the mark than others, none of these interpretations seem to fully account for the full range of G-Reco‘s identity. However, it’s within these descriptive struggles that I think the answer to defining G-Reco lies. The fact that it consistently defies attempts to wrap it up with a neat little bow and call it ‘X’ is what makes it what it is.

Gundam Reconguista in G is a show of novelties. Its defining feature is its ability to create an unbroken sequence of unique experiential pockets (like this one).

The name of the main Gundam in G-Reco is the G-Self, a name that invokes the idea of personal identity. However, this Gundam frame’s primary gimmick is the collection of backpacks that modify its abilities—a brilliant ploy for increased the number of Gunpla that can be sold for the suit and a perfect microcosm of the show itself. Like the G-Self, Reconguista in G is a chameleon, and the way it’s constantly code-switching means that the experience after each particular shift feels unique because of the resultant disconnect. It treats all of its component aspects—trivial details, dialogue, characters, thematic concerns, etc.—like novelties to be held before the audience’s eyes in a never-ending parade of glittering toys.

I could go on with examples that reinforce this point, both in terms of execution and recurrences of it within the show. For example, the heart of G-Reco‘s cast is the crew of the Megafauna, a collection of characters that recalls the Gekko State from Eureka 7 in more than just their character designs. Although the Megafauna (as well as the Klim Nick’s Salamandra) are ostensibly affiliated with the Amerian State, both ships—notably serving, although not captained by, young aristocrats—consistently pursue their own agendas, even if they sometimes are following orders. There’s an anti-establishment flavor to these units, something that’s reinforced by the mercenary way the Megafauna picks up and loses cast members (Lieutenant Kerbes, the Towasangan Ringo, Manny). In the wider plot, too, alliances and priorities are always shifting, often without clear explanation. Solidity and consistency are not part of G-Reco‘s vocabulary. All is novelty.

Is this a gimmick? Is an emphasis on novelty merely a stylistic distraction that belies true substance? In the case of G-Reco, the novelty is the substance of the show. These are the terms of engagement.

And now, with this definition in hand, we can finally turn our attention to the real evaluative question. The question is not whether Reconguista in G is good; rather, it is whether novelty is an aesthetic of value. Different priorities are of course valid—if you need a show to have a clear plot to consider it worth your time, G-Reco will ultimately disappoint—but my feeling is that such rigidity is inherently opposed to creation as flexible as G-Reco. Again, to gauge the show against certain established standards isn’t wrong per se, but it certainly feels like a mismatch weighted entirely against G-Reco.

To conclude—I think, given the right approach, Gundam Reconguista in G speaks well for itself as a show worth watching. Early on it’s entertaining simply because how nonsensical it is, and then as the story rights itself a bit you realize you’ve already been trapped by how charming the characters are. There are also these little arcs where the show builds up some legitimate narrative momentum within and across episodes, although it’s equally punctuated by weird stalemates when no one is really doing anything. But, no matter what else is happening, the perpetual rotation of show languages is on—and that approach, for its novelty if nothing else, make G-Reco something worthwhile to me.

This, of course, shouldn’t be assumed to mean that G-Reco has nothing else to offer besides being a novelty. Despite its inconsistent presence, the show’s commentary on heritage between generations (even as rehashes of ideas from previous shows) is compelling, the characters are a lot of fun to watch on their own terms, there are tons of great mecha battles throughout the rich world of the Regild Century, and pondering the show as a medium by which Yoshiyuki Tomino is engaging with the current realities of the anime industry and the world around him is fascinating. The defining feature of this show may be its novelty, but the quality of the distinct parts perhaps speaks for themselves, even if they don’t work together in a conventional way.

Gundam Reconguista in G


[1] Tomino said in an interview with the French TV channel Nolife that he didn’t think 26 episodes was enough for the story, but that he knew from the start how much time he would have.

11 thoughts on “Defining Gundam Reconguista in G

  1. Hm. I’m torn as to whether or not this is a show I would enjoy, especially since I am one of those people that usually does prefer a coherent plot, at least to some extent. But I also value shows that try to do stuff that’s different and unique, sometimes even if that comes at the expense of a coherent plot. Either way, great post and a very interesting read on a series I’d never heard much about before. Cheers!

    Like

    • The first episode alone is great fun (and very indicative of the tone of the rest of the show), so if you’re intrigued you could also try it out just to experience the craziness. Beware, though, you might find yourself hooked like me haha.

      Thanks for reading~

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “While the series’ detractors are by far the most numerous and vocal camp, generally their responses seem to be predicated on unmet expectations. They came for a serious war drama (or maybe just for a comprehensible story); they got G-Reco.”

    Unmet expectations and how they shape people’s responses to art are a fascinating aspect of popular media consumption to me. If you think about it, people nowadays are used to being able to customize most of what they consume to their own preferences, from “have it your way” fast food, to the apps they put on their phones, to reality TV show narratives being shaped by viewer votes, to gacha games like LLSIF and Pokemon Go where players seeking out and collecting specific characters and/or items they want is one of the main selling points. So it seems to me like today’s consumers are so used to being empowered that even when presented with a finished product like an anime series, they’re too preoccupied with thinking about all the ways they’d change it to suit their own personal expectations and preferences (if not already outlining their new fanfiction that “fixes” the obviously awful canon pairings), instead of just relaxing and opening their minds up to the creator’s vision and message.

    Coincidentally I was already thinking about that earlier in the day, even before your post went up, because I’d been listening to a vlog discussion about the Crunchyroll award nominees. The two guys discussing it were happy to see Joker Game get nominated for Anime of the Year and a few other categories, and they brought up unmet expectations in relation to that show. People expected it to follow the usual anime structure with a serial story arc and consistent central cast. Instead they got a very episodic series with different characters taking center stage in almost every episode, and a lot of people didn’t like that. Aokana had a similar problem, with most of its critics either being upset because it didn’t slavishly follow the visual novel’s story, or because they expected a VN-style romance and got a sports anime instead. Both of those were shows I liked a lot better than most people seemed to, but I also didn’t have specific expectations for either of them. My biggest concerns were whether they were crafted well and successfully entertained me, which they were and they did.

    Anyway, hope you don’t mind the digression, but since I haven’t seen G-Reco that’s about the only thought I can contribute. I have read some reviews and seen quite a wide range of opinions on it, from “overlooked masterpiece” to “total garbage.” From your own thoughts it sounds like the truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in-between. I think my favorite summation was by Ollie Barder at Forbes.com, who said G-Reco’s biggest fundamental problem is that it’s ultimately, “A simple story, told complexly.”

    Like

    • That’s an excellent take on the show from Forbes, although whether the story is “simple” or not… well, I have some doubts about that. Regardless, I certainly appreciate the sentiment.

      I think your thoughts on expectations and reactions are spot on. I do wonder, though, if part of this is related to all the self-selection that goes on in today’s mediascape. There’s so much stuff coming out that people have to narrow down what they’re even spending the time to initially investigate, and so anything that slips through that filter and still manages to be not quite what a viewer wanted is perhaps rejected all the harsher. Maybe. I’m just pondering here.

      Like

  3. You know, with that other post of yours (about that one scene), you’re doing a good job of presenting this show as one I should at least try. 🙂

    Like

      • I’ve watched 4 episodes in one go, and I really like it. There’s always a lot going on in both the back- and foreground (not many anime use the foreground like that). There’s almost always movement, and it’s colourful and fun to watch. I also see no problems with the story so far; it’s building up well.

        Thanks for the recommendation. 😀

        Like

  4. To put it simply, G-reco is very “Tomino”. This show essentially everything Tomino love to do crank up to 11, without caring about any conventional narrative rules. It love it, while many don’t for that reason. There’s “The Wings of Rean — Tomino Interview Part 2” translated on 4chan that explains his approach( please take it with a grain of salt though,since it’s 4chan):

    “………….I don’t really look that far ahead into the series while I’m making it. In a series, the first three episodes, represent the introduction. From there until the end of the three month broadcast period (approximately 11 to 15 episodes), you line up episodes that create a variety in the work such as tearjerkers and battles. during that time, I think of how to make each episode enjoyable, generating the audience interest towards what’s to come”
    ………………………….
    The logic in the story is already there at the basic plot stage, so the scenario is a task meant to pack the composition from start to finish. But a mediocre writer will attempt to create literature with a scenario. He fills it up with words. And then he dwells on the dialogue. But for forty years now, I’ve believed that to be wrong…………. I don’t dwell on dialogue. I just bring in the necessary words to ultimately fit the visual pace and express the characters. I will not create a work in which you can understand the content of a movie by listening to the dialogue
    ………………………
    on the second episode of The Wings of Rean, and taking that as our subject matter, it means the following. Aesap suddenly attacks Hip Kurene Castle and closes in on Sakomizu. Upon first seeeing him, Sakomizu shouts something like, “You pawn of Amahlgan, attacking with a stolen Aura Battler!” a surpised Aesap responds with, “Why can’t you speak Japanese?!” At that point Sakomizu answers “Oops!” and asks “Who are you?” This is structure. Interesting, isn’t it? Although this kind of fun doesn’t seem logical, it actually is.

    — What you mean is, in that one scene, elements which represent the entire story are inserted not by explanation in words but by means of structure.

    Tomino: That’s right. That’s why when Lyukus is also there. When Lyukus thinks “Aesap is trying to kill my father,” Sakomizu, with his arm already wounded, says something along the lines of, “I like you, Mr. Suzuki. will you succeed the Kingdom of Hojo?” In this interval you could even add a scene of a naked Kottou and Codour fleeing from a destroyed room. Situations with structures like these are movie-like, and you shouldn’t chase after them with words.”

    Like

    • It is very Tomino indeed! I’ve only seen Turn A and the original MSG films myself of his work, but G-Reco without a doubt inherits something from the Tomino that made those shows.

      Fascinating interview, and I do think in G-Reco Tomino effectively achieves this aim of creating something that cannot be understood just by listening to dialogue. He’s a very interesting creator, that’s for sure.

      Like

      • You should definitely watch more Tomino anime, especially the forgotten 80s mecha like L-gaim, Xabungle, Ideon, and Dunbine. Those shows have a lot of dated elements and some questionable themes( especially treatment of female characters), but they are the foundation for future anime works and a fascinating look into the mind of an exceptional creator. It’s a shame that people look at Tomino like a joke now, since he basically built the modern anime industry. Aside from Tezuka and maybe Hayao Miyazaki, nobody is more influential than Tomino in the anime world.

        Like

  5. I really do appreciate stuff like this on shows I wouldn’t likely give a chance otherwise. I tend to be pretty forgiving when watching things (probably overly forgiving), but when something seriously violates what I normally value in a show, I tend to be pretty unforgiving and ignore any other attributes I could glean from it (see: Gatchaman Crowds, Love Live). Having watched most of UC Gundam and Ideon, I can say with reasonable confidence that Tomino falls into this category for me. I really can’t stand the way he writes characters, and the completely different way he seems to view and approach writing a story tends to grate on me. However, I get really frustrated when I see people write off a show because it doesn’t meet their established expectations for what it should be while refusing to meet it on its own terms, and reading this made me realize that I basically have been doing that with Tomino shows. I don’t think this will make me love the show or other work of his in the future, but I would much rather glean value and ideas from something than cynically and myopically write it off, so I might give it a shot with your points in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s