What, exactly, can be said about the experience of watching Victory Gundam for the first time? Is it even possible to say something about the Gundam series that ultimately drove an ever more increasingly depressed Tomino into the hospital for severe depression after years of battling Sunrise execs for more creative control over Gundam? Is it even possible that I even might have something to say with regards to the fantastic, schizophrenic mess that is Victory Gundam? I’ve watched nearly 30 episodes at the moment, and yet I still haven’t seemed to find words to frame the experience, even if I’m quite liking what I’m seeing. For, inexplicably, despite all the insanity, the persistent invocation of Tomino ex machina, the utterly weird mechanical designs (a Mobile Suit in a tire?), the rampant deaths, and the utterly bizarre humor, Victory Gundam is fast becoming my favorite UC series, insomuch as it is a “UC” series. Well, okay, for the moment, at least, until I can revisit First Gundam, Zeta, ZZ, and Char’s Counterattack.
I’m also tempted to replace “despite” with “because of”, but I think that’s simply because I lost sanity a while ago. Or gained it. Or something.
At its core, when it’s not trying to do everything else, Victory Gundam is the tale of young children drug almost forcibly into the service of the guerrilla League Militaire. Usso, at 13, is the youngest Gundam protagonist yet, and due to being a Newtype (apparently one born on Earth, too; this is probably due to the hinted-at notion that he is Char’s grandson) is far more effective in the League Militaire’s new unit, the Victory Gundam. I find him to be, if not one of the most likable Gundam protagonists, at least one of the most sympathetic. He feels bound to protect his childhood friend (can it really be a childhood friend if they’re both still children?) Shakti, who clearly loves Usso, although Usso himself would deny both her feelings and his own. Even (and especially) as he insists on saving her from any mild discomfort through the most reckless means available to him.
Usso and Shakti are probably the sweetest couple I’ve ever seen in a Tomino work; I’ll leave the “believable” for others to argue, but I do think that a large factor in how much I like Victory is the dynamics between these two. There may be better relationship portrayal in Gundam X [->] and others, and there certainly is better in a lot of other series that don’t have the word Gundam in the title, but something–perhaps the youth of the participants, perhaps their simplistic naivete–touches a button that I didn’t expect Victory to touch. Of course, this is Victory Gundam, and so I am merely waiting for when–not if, my heart laments, but when–Shakti will be killed in some horribly brutal and meaningless way.
Which brings us to the staggeringly high death toll in Victory Gundam, and its quirky schizophrenic approach. The League Militaire has some of the highest death rates in Gundam history; I forget how bad the casualties were in Zeta, but hardly five episodes can pass in Victory without at least one (and usually two or more) named characters dying, usually horribly and without a real reason. Early on, the branch of the League Militaire Usso travels with gets reinforcements in the form of two more Victory units and the Shrike Team, an all-female Mobile Suit unit whose members all inexplicably have the hots for Usso (who, apparently, is the biggest playboy of the Universal Century at age 13). It’s hardly spoilers to say that they immediately start dying (I think one of them dies the very next episode) since, with the vast number of them introduced all at once a seasoned Gundam veteran will pick them out as cannon fodder right away. Mysteriously, however, the band of kids that follows Usso and the adults (mostly Marbet and Oliver) who shepherd them around have had almost no losses.
All this death, destruction, and public guillotine use (I don’t think they could have possibly picked a scarier instrument of execution than the guillotine for me) adds up for a fairly grim, depressing, tragic series. But there are frequent interludes of amusement, intentional or no. I’ve never really remembered having a problem with Tomino’s admittedly bizarre sense of humor, although at times I don’t know if I’m laughing with him or at him (presuming he laughs, of course). For instance, the whole episode will be grim and serious and yet, at some point, something like this will happen:
which leaves me with little recourse but to be vastly amused both at the bit of comedy itself, but even more, it seems, at the absurdity of inserting a moment of humor at an incredibly odd moment. Usso’s harem-esque antics, while being amusing in the “oh you 13-year-old playboy you” way, also tend to be the only time where he’s closest to realizing he likes Shakti in that way.
On top of that, the mechanical designs are certifiably 100% stranger than G Gundam‘s. G might have the Nether Gundam, the Tequila Gundam, the Zeus Gundam, and the Nobel Gundam, but Victory has insectoid Mobile Suits (these are the most normal-looking ones), Mobile Suits that are in giant tires, Mobile Suits that are actually motorcycles, and, my personal favorite, the Victory Gundam itself, trying to impersonate a Valkyrie as best it can [->] (My favorite is actually when the Top is gone, but the Boots are there).
The result, then, is a bizarre mish-mash of moods and concepts; certainly an acquired taste, even to the seasoned Gundam palate. I’d hardly recommend it in general to anyone, Gundam fan or no, but that’s more because it’s so bizarre. Maybe it’s because I tend to pull for the oddballs and wild-cards; maybe it’s because I’m beginning to forgive Tomino my past grievances against him, or because Victory‘s just more my style, since it was made in 1993, much closer to my favorite Tomino works (Turn-A and Overman King Gainer); maybe it’s the totally killer first opening theme [->], which immediately became one of my favorite Gundam OP sequences, both musically and visually; maybe I’m simply deluding myself. I can’t deny, though, that, rather than the grudging, obligatory task I was half-expecting Victory to be, I instead found something oddly compelling, even gripping. I’ve gone through these episodes much faster than I thought I would, with only a slight break for vacation in the middle. It’s a flawed package and it’s not for everyone, but I quite like it, flaws and all.
Now watch me eat my words after I finish the series. It’s been fairly evenly uneven thus far, so I’ll probably be okay, but one never knows with Tomino sometimes.