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