Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Gundam Reconguista in G
In the wake of the war-ravaged epoch known as the Universal Century comes the ReGild Century, a new era of global peace. A theocracy keeps things running smoothly, but when an amnesiac girl falls from the sky in a mysterious mobile suit, humanity looks upwards for the first time in ages and discovers that space is not quite as peaceful as they expected.
The confusion that is Gundam Reconguista in G begins with the name. The word comes from the Spanish reconquista, or “reconquest” in English, but has been altered for a hard “G” sound, as director Yoshiyuki Tomino told NEO magazine. In short, it's a nonsensical, made-up word that still has a basis in reason—a perfect metaphor for the entire show.
Gundam Reconguista in G is the most recent Tomino-directed Gundam show, his first one since directing Turn A Gundam in 2002 over ten years prior. Tomino's return from semi-retirement was highly anticipated, but the reception did not live up to the hype. While Reconguista in G was still airing, it endured criticism from the likes of former Studio Gainax president Toshio Okada. Eventually, Tomino himself gave it the most damning criticism of all: "I'd only get 15 points out of 100," he said of the plot. Just an episode or two is enough to clue you in on the problem here—there's a lot going on, but it's hard to tell exactly what or why.
Our story begins in media res and never quite explains the extenuating circumstances. We meet our hero, Bellri Zenam, a cadet in the Capital Guard Academy who is just beginning his practical training when class is interrupted by a pirate attack. The beautiful, vivacious pirate turns out to be Aida Surugan, who's piloting a unique mobile suit called the G-Self. Both Bellri and an amnesiac prisoner of war, known as Raraiya Monday, seem to be drawn to the G-Self in mysterious ways. In order to find out more about his own destiny, Bellri helps Aida escape in the G-Self—along with Raraiya and his pink-haired love interest, Noredo Nug. They embark on a journey up into space, and the stage is set for your average Gundam bildungsroman, where a bunch of teens discover themselves and battle for the barest excuse of a reason.
It's too bad that the plot is such a mess, because everything else about Gundam Reconguista in G is stunning. The world-building is a marvel. It's set in the fantastic yet immediately immersive ReGild Century, an ornate world of tropical palm trees and glittering lights, studded with classical Spanish imagery and Moroccan arches with detailed sparkling finery. The story begins in South America, further echoing the show's conquistador namesake. This locale also echoes the show's Gundam pedigree, alluding to the Amazon jungle (Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam), and the Guiana Highlands (Mobile Fighter G-Gundam, Gundam Build Fighters Try.)
But like the “ReGild Century” implies, this opulence is only a thin veneer over a dark reality. This society centers around His Holiness, a religious authority who commands the military and governs based on what is and isn't “taboo.” He tells people what's best for them, and vital information stays on a need-to-know basis even for politicians. This society is far from equal, including a lower class of “inferior” people called Kuntala who were once eaten as emergency food rations. A lot of main characters like Noredo, Manny Ambassada, and our Char-like masked antagonist known only as “Mask” belong to the Kuntala ranks.
But for a world with such black and white rules of what is good (religion) and what is bad (looking at the moon), characters move fluidly and without impunity across enemy lines. It's hard to tell why skirmishes are happening, who's participating, and what their motives are. Alliances are made and broken from episode to episode. Most notably, there's a scene mid-show in which all the main characters from each of the three (or is it four?) major fronts of the war all truce briefly and ride in an elevator together. In the next episode, they're all fighting to the death once again.
It's hard to tell why characters do anything, but it's very easy to like them. The art style is fluid and impressionistic, and characters exude personality with every gesture and physical tic. The eyecatches feature main characters dancing lithely, and you can see their personalities in their movement even if there's very little verbal backstory. There is nothing crisp about the art style, but it's mesmerizing all the same. Whether it's the characters themselves running and jumping or their mobile suits gliding or nimbly wielding weaponry, there's an elegance to this animation that I can appreciate even when I have no idea what's going on. Confusing battles are given true beauty with an orchestral soundtrack focused around one swelling ballad. Yugo Kanno (the other Kanno), best known for his soundtracks to Psycho Pass and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, is composing at his best.
In stark contrast to this elegance, however, this show's mobile suits are sturdy, stout, and compact, completely lacking the grace of other Gundam models like those from Gundam SEED, for example. They're tough and bulky, opposing the opulence of Reconguista in G's sartorial and architectural aesthetics. These mobile suits are ugly, and yet I don't hate them. They're the most bizarre, creative mobile suits the franchise has seen in years. There's an immense range of mobile suit types on display, and their transformations (I'm thinking of the Mack Knife and Elf Bullock) are wonderfully weird.
The plot experiences a tonal shift around episode 14 that leads to big changes for many main characters. Bellri begins the show as Tomino's most easygoing Gundam protagonist, lacking the occasional negativity of reluctant Amuro (Mobile Suit Gundam) and prickly Kamille (Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam). But while these earlier heroes appeared to have agency, Bellri just follows where his many lady friends take him. He's a modern hero for the harem age—more everyman male avatar than personality. This all changes halfway through, when Bellri learns the circumstances of his birth and decides to take fate into his own hands. Around the same time, Raraiya gets her memories back, and the previously childish girl all but forgets about her beloved pet fish and becomes a mature, competent pilot overnight. Now that Raraiya no longer needs a nurse, it's hard to justify why Noredo is still even traveling with this team. Along with Aida, these four are occasionally joined by travel companions who they will inevitably try to kill an episode later for reasons I can't understand. It's a good thing that this show's animation is so fluid, but it's too bad that its plot can be described the same way.
If you've seen Tomino's previous series, Turn A Gundam, you can begin to understand what's going on in Gundam Reconguista in G. In both shows, humanity has forgotten about that one time they colonized the moon, and now the Mooninites want to come back home. There are smaller connections to other Gundam shows as well, though they are brief. For example, one episode is titled “The Sound of a Newtype,” though the word “Newtype” is never uttered anywhere in the show—so only established Gundam fans, familiar with the terminology, will understand that reference. But even for Tomino fans, it's hard to tell if there's too much going on or simply no basis for the action at all. Don't expect the show's underwhelming conclusion, recut specially for this Blu-Ray release, to shed any light on things either.
Gundam Reconguista in G is a beautiful, expressive, and great-sounding show unfortunately burdened with a plot that makes no sense. The same way the Star Wars universe is better off now without George Lucas, this might be an indication that it's time for Tomino to step aside. It's undeniable that he's given us a gift, but maybe now it's time to let somebody else direct.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Engaging characters, expressive music and animation, immersive world-building that exudes creativity in every aspect from architecture to battle choreography
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