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Attack the sides while I ram from the front!

April 23, 2011

“Wh-What is this?! One body… with two souls?!”

Fuala Griffon, Mobile Suit Victory Gundam

Victory Gundam is hands-down one of the most top Gundam series that a Gundam fan should watch at some point in time. If Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 was the defining series of the entire franchise, then Victory would be the n0-holds-barred series finale.

The plot of Victory Gundam is one that all fans are familiar with; perhaps for some, all too well. The series takes place well after Gundam F91, and features the Zanscare Empire, with the intention of conquering Earth, at war with the League Militaire. The Earth Federation is at its lowest, bogged down by indecisiveness, and the series showcases the opening days of the war in-between the desperate League Militaire and the Zanscare forces already on Earth. The main character, 13-year old Uso Ebbing, is caught up in the League Militaire’s combat against the Zanscare Empire and has to pilot the League’s Victory Gundam, their newest mobile suit, and forced to fight in order to survive against a zealous and technologically equal enemy. The series plot runs close to the entire length of the war, starting just right after Zanscare has secured a route from their Side 2 colonies to Earth.

The first point that marks Victory different from previous UC Gundam series is the time period. Victory is essentially the last story set in UC, where the Earth Federation is even more complacent and slow-to-react than in F91. A large part of the series is just the out-gunned League Militaire against anything that Zanscare can throw at them, and there is a conspicuous lack of a strong Federation presence against the Empire until late into the story. This leads to a powerful story start, where a sense of desperation against the enemy juggernaut is established and indeed, if it wasn’t for Uso, the remnants of the League that survived the early purge by Zanscare would have all kicked the bucket as well.

Then there is the piloting abilities of the named characters. They’re not that good that you can actually call any of them aces in the sense that they’re roving death machines, but they’re all worth their names and even the early battles go out of their way to show this. Tactics and tag-team attacks are actually used, to hell with fighting fairly, and both sides uses them; image the result when the League’s modest complement of pilots are outnumbered by Zanscare’s superior numbers and at-least-equal mobile suit models.

As well, early on through the story you’ll get an almost surprising amount of elaboration with Zanscare characters regardless of how long they stay in the show. In fact, Uso’s first battles with Zanscare pilots include plenty of dialogue on the Zanscare side, and this continues well into the series, showing that the pilots of the Empire do believe their cause to be righteous; some are fighting to unite the Earth Sphere under the Zanscare, other want to create a Zanscare territory on Earth where their families can move there and live in peace, and still others will willingly deny aid in order to fight one-on-one against Uso, and lose with enough grace to admit defeat; that last point is something that is rare in most UC works and lends itself to Victory’s world-building, suggesting that the overall thought logic of mankind in Victory is more slanted towards living a simple life.

Probably what made Victory famous was the sheer number of deaths and indeed, the number of people dying would make all the redshirts and civilians from Zeta Gundam, Double Zeta, Char’s Counterattack, F91, SEED, SEED Destiny, Wing and X cringe in terror. The only difference is that this time, plot armor is tossed out of the window for all characters or else given to the bad guys, with the League Militaire having to struggle with everything they have and more in order to win. As an example, Count Oi Nyung, the leader of the local League forces, dies just a handful of episodes into the show thanks to some effective espionage by the series’ resident Char-clone Chronicle Asher and the ruthless Zanscare man.

Through the impression that I got from the comments and thoughts of others before watching the series, Victory’s character deaths are far more well-explained than anything that is typical Tomino-directing in Gundam, ESPECIALLY ZZ AND 0079. Unlike the deaths in the aforementioned examples, these deaths are well-within the limits of explanations; for example, one of the characters, Helen’s death early in the story was when she was hit with a beam sabre from her opponent after smashing said opponent’s cockpit in. Dialogue later on indicated that the Zanscare pilot actually survived Helen’s attack with little injury while , which, if you think about it, punching a lightweight mobile suit with another lightweight mobile suit isn’t the best of tactics to ensure a sure kill. Numerous examples are scattered throughout the series’ run, and often are the result of the hard-pressed League Militaire getting hit more than they can take.

As a sub-point of above, many of Uso’s kills of named characters are well-executed with strategies in keeping with the Victory Gundam’s form; utilizing the Gundam’s Core Fighter system, Uso managed to execute a large number of maneuvers, with some of the more famous ones being discarding either the Chest Fighter (Victory’s arms and Torso) or the Boots Flyer (Victory’s hips and leg sections) for extra speed or distractions, and re-attaching them if needed or even use them to attack from another direction. Only in Victory you’ll find a pilot willing to detach his mobile suit’s legs, fly them through an asteroid field, and then nail the opponent in the face with those legs before running him through with a beam sabre from another direction.

In terms of animation, Victory Gundam started out with a lack of direction; in fact, it reminds me of Zoids Genesis, with the animation picking up in terms of quality once the story starts rolling. Well into the series, Uso’s battlefield exploits are epic in level and the animation reflects this well enough. If you’re watching this and expecting screenshots for QUALITY to use as images or just for laffs, then be prepared to look hard, because those are few and far between.

Of course, this being a Tomino work, some of his trademark “WTF moments” are still in there. Near to the end of the series, some of the deaths feel contrived and forced, and despite the overall coherence Victory keeps in its series, certain characters suddenly disappear and emerge with completely different personalities and some events happen with little to no foreshadowing; various theories have been made, but if one were to go by the show, the only logical explanation that can be given is that no one can predict what actually happens to a person’s psyche under extreme stress or  that they were “persuaded” to change sides, or else it’s “all according to plan”. Unfortunately, one or two of some of the dead people or faction-jumpers really deserve some fleshing out.

As for a definitive end, the main characters have one, but for the majority of the overall cast, do your best to forget about them, because their ends are so rushed that even some of the dead are ambiguous. Such is the post-Golden Age world that Victory is in, just surviving a war to go back to being a simple farmer would be the greatest accomplishment of the series.

Victory was made at the height of Tomino’s depression, or so I was led to believe; in this show the darkest hour of Universal Century has come and gone, and at the end of it there is a small ray of hope that there can be a peaceful life yet. But for post-Victory, there can be no hope of the sophistication and development enjoyed in early UC; those who survived the battles want nothing more to do with the outside world, and those who were in positions to change the future are already dead. If Turn A Gundam was the spiritual end to all things Gundam circa 2000, then Victory would be the definitive end to the UCverse. Not exactly a bright proposition.

Nevertheless, Victory Gundam is one of the must-watch of the Gundam metaverse. With Turn A, it is two sides of the same coin; Victory is Tomino’s best UC work to date, fleshing out the way things behave in UC to the smallest detail, and Turn A would be Tomino’s greatest achievement in all Gundam work, telling a tale of the end of a saga dominated by mobile suits. It might not have what you’ll call a happy ending, but it certainly brings closure to the open-end that was Gundam F91, and Universal Century Gundam in general.

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