The current partnership between Sunrise and Anime Limited for Gundam in the UK was foreshadowed by the surprise licensing of Reconguista in G in 2014. One of two television series created for the franchise’s 35th anniversary, the 26-episode series saw the return of original creator Yoshiyuki Tomino as writer and director. Stewardship has been handed over to a rotating list of new talent, so it attracts much attention whenever the originator himself returns. The problem is that you can never quite be sure which Tomino you’ll be getting.
Although Gundam is a beloved icon in Japan, Tomino has emerged as a controversial figure through criticised productions in other series, seemingly contrarian opinions on other’s work and a wildly varying attitude to the Gundam fanbase. He may very well say he loves it one day and the next complain that the fans are losers. It’s hard not to view him as akin to the likes of Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas as someone who created a smash sci-fi hit, but overrates their own ability as a result.
Reconguista occurs in the Regild Century, a timeline that follows the original Universal Century’s fall. Where exactly is a bit muddled; the show was marketed as being the bridge between UC and Tomino’s planned franchise bookend Turn A Gundam. However, after it was finished, he independently declared it in fact occurs after Turn A. Going much further into it will only serve to confuse this review, so I’ll just say I’m open to either but have a preference for it serving as a bridge.
The end of the UC saw massive fall out from the various Earth vs space wars, with humanity even falling into mass cannibalism to survive. As such the modern era has prospered due to the enforced religion known as Su-Cordism. The destructive technologies of the UC are locked away, with the citizens of Earth receiving advanced photon batteries from space via the Capital Tower space elevator. Although the Capital Guard serves as a police and security force, the long-running understanding of war has been lost with humanity’s previous decline.
Bellri Zenam is the prodigious son of a Capital Tower official. While attending a training session for Guard cadets aboard the elevator, he intervenes in an attack by a pirate using a mysterious white mobile suit. Bellri becomes smitten with the female pilot who angrily declares the Capital have enforced a monopoly on photon batteries while the rest of the world suffers. At the same time, the emergence of a Capital Army, fully intended for an apparent war, plants further doubt in Bellri’s mind.
It’s a bit hard to explain and review Reconguista because you can make it sound far more coherent than it actually is. One of the things I admire about Tomino’s directing style is how he tries to go for natural, ‘raw’ staging as opposed to the very coordinated style we’ve seen in more recent shows. However, in the past, we’ve seen this style balanced by other talents which stop him from proceeding unchecked. Here, Tomino is writing and directing and the result is akin to George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels. The world of Reconguista is a welcome change from stale patterns of the franchise, yet done in a way that still feels recognisable as Gundam. The problem is that Tomino presents the story in a way that is sloppy and inconsistent, with ideas often awkwardly pushed in ways that feel like a random mood struck him for that specific episode.
Bellri himself is a perfect example of this. The archetype Gundam protagonist is a tortured young man who matures as he is forced to take on responsibility in war time. This protagonist type evolved across Tomino’s various UC shows and resulted in something far less damaged in Turn A’s Loran, who balanced angst with greater optimism and sensible action. Bellri is optimistic to the point of feeling uninvolved. He ends up siding with the pirates early on in the show but his conflict about now having to fight against his former Capital Guard allies is non-existent. There’s an episode in which he unwittingly kills a prominent mentor and sobs about it but afterwards it’s never mentioned again, nor do other Guard members hold him to account. At the same time the show manages to make his guilt over killing the mentor of Aida (the female pirate) a recurring plot thread. Some of this can be explained away by the show’s rather fascinating exploration of a period in which understanding of war and its costs have faded to the point it’s misunderstood as an advantageous game; more often, it feels like sloppy scripting. Along the same lines, there’s an episode late in the series where Aida is stunned by the criticism that her concerns about her country are just her parroting what she was raised with. The character displays a certain degree of cockiness but the accusation and reaction feel forced for a character the show has been treating as inspirational. Similar moments occur elsewhere, feeling less like character arcs and more like writer impulse. These issues would probably stand out less for me if not for the fact Tomino declared the show wasn’t aimed at long time Gundam fans but new younger viewers to make them aware of what he sees as the problems of the world today. If that’s your mission statement, it calls for far more precision.
In part the story feels like Tomino’s response to the success of Gundam Unicorn, with a young man drawn into the role of a Gundam pilot by a mysterious woman and forced to take a whistle stop tour of the world. It really is the sandbox of Reconguista that Tomino has created that is the most engaging part, which makes it a shame the toys within are less engaging. Unicorn as an influence feels likely to me because elements of that story get emulated here but then fizzle out with no real conclusion. Seemingly out of nowhere you get successes like Manny, a girl in Bellri’s group of friends who independently chooses to improve herself in response to the developing situation. It’s especially welcome as even modern, younger Gundam directors often still struggle to move their female cast beyond ‘cute support character’ or piloting anything that doesn’t look like it was designed for Barbie. The show certainly has no shortage of at least quirky characters but ones I find difficult to discuss in a critical review.
Mecha designs take a fresh new direction, breaking free of certain stale trends. Although they retain some UC influence the designs here are far more organic within an aesthetic to showcase their usage of photon power (primarily so the model kit line could utilise various clear plastics). The main Gundam, the G-Self, and its siblings buck trends and settle for a look which suggests they’re inspired by more by ancient legends of the white mobile suits than hard data. Tomino has played with this notion since F91 and it’s become a meta joke in the franchise, so it’s nice to see it used here to offer original designs. The same can be said for the non-Gundam units. My favourite is the Grimoire used by the pirates, with its spherical cockpit and seeming inspiration from the Scopedog of Votoms fame. Maybe that’s cheating when talking about originality but I’ll take it over the billionth Zaku wannabe (which its successor essentially is). The G-Self takes advantage of SEED style backpack upgrades, starting with a flight pack and adopting others along the way. The technology that allows this is a subtle metaphor for the themes of the story though the packs themselves are generally one hit wonders. The overall design style of the show is sketch-like, looking like classic Japanese paintings and prints. It’s an apt style for a director who has made no secret of his distaste of modern anime design trends, with the rich and diverse colours dazzling on this Blu-ray transfer.
The only audio option is Japanese. A number of famous and respected talents fill the cast, though then-newcomer Mark Ishii portrays Bellri. This might help him as he gives a distinct performance that feels very much in line with the show’s eccentric DNA, while the more established cast mildly sound like they’re chafing against the script.
The only on-disc extras can be found on the last of three discs and amount to clean OP and ED animations and a collection of the eye catches. Sadly only the second OP is represented. For whatever reason, both of the show’s OPs mainly use clips from the show, so while pleasant enough they don’t stand out compared to others. The ED is firmly original, if admittedly limited, animation and fits the comedic tone of the series. This is also reflected in the eyecatches which depict individual characters dancing. In terms of physical extras you’ll receive another art box and nine high quality art cards. With Japan favouring multiple volumes for initial home media release, a lot of great cover art could have gone to waste so Anime Limited have wisely opted to represent it all via these art cards. Even then, some of it makes the transition due to the two Blu-ray cases featuring reversible sleeves. The choices for these make a bit more continuity sense than the ones seen on their release of the original series, seemingly due to this being an outright licensed title vs other Gundam shows being a partnership. The art box uses the well-known promotional art of Bellri, Aida, and the G-Self in space which we ourselves have frequently used as an article splash.
The UK release of Gundam has regrettably stalled this year, so I feel a little awkward saying I can’t give Reconguista a complete recommendation. While the show has its charm I feel it fails in its mission of being a gateway for new fans, requiring a familiarity with Tomino’s quirks and failings to get comfortable with. The show looks great and this is a high-quality home media release, but it asks a lot from audiences and doesn’t necessarily pay it back. Long term Gundam fans will probably accept it but newer audiences are probably best trying the original or one of the multitudes of other Gundams available to view on YouTube/Crunchyroll/Daisuki first. At the same time, this whimsical Gundam tale might be perfectly timed given the hellish ride the past year has been.
Gundam Reconguista in G is available to purchase on Blu-ray from Amazon UK.