Gundam: Reconguista in G, or G-Reco, is the first “typical” Gundam series on TV since the very unpopular Gundam AGE (discounting the sidestory OVA Gundam Unicorn). “Typical” here means a full-length televised program, with a science-fiction plot (for although Gundam Build Fighters is now in its second series, it is nowhere near comparable to other franchise entries being a “games” animé taking card-game animé cliches and applying them to miniatures gaming). Yet, three episodes in, G-Reco is interesting in a way few Gundam series really are; it would have been easy for it to rest on its laurels with franchise recognition, to go through the motions in uninspired ways – as parts of AGE did. AGE too often dressed interesting concepts in uninspired, predictable execution that robbed dramatic turns of any emotional impact and made much of it feel empty. It was unable to, arguably, properly stand as its own series and simply repeated – via its three-arc structure – expected developments in increasingly ineffective ways.
G-Reco sets out apparently cleaving closely to Gundam tradition – it has a strong-willed young child as the lead, who by various unexpected means acquires a Gundam, and ends up fighting with some reticence. Authorities are shown to be variously well-meaningly evil, ineffective at everything and generally not to be trusted (series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino professes that a “philosophy” being presented in Gundam is to encourage young people to be circumspect of authority), while the organised military are over-fond of their toys but unable to back this up with competency when it counts. But it is the characters which populate this world – and the world itself – that stand out and are exciting. The protagonist, Bellri Zenam, is “reticent” not in a petulant way, but because he is simply well out of his depth and relying on instinct tinged with self-preservation. He begins the series as a trainee mechanic, working the space elevators Earth relies on for resources, and within three episodes is running away with the woman he tried to steal a Gundam from without really understanding what is going on.
In some ways the natural comparison here is Eureka Seven; a young boy follows vague instinct and an uncertain sense of love and duty into a weird world of counterculture and rebellion – or maybe Overman King Gainer, in which the stakes are comedically lower. In this case, he is “pursuing” a “pirate”, Aida Rayhunton, who is clearly more than she seems and who is definitely not going to be “pursued” as a love interest so easily. Both Bellri and Aida are apparently unusual in being able to fly the Gundam, and it passes ownership between them throughout the opening arc; on her own, Aida would be a perfectly reasonable Gundam protagonist, being an equally impulsive and strong-willed character as Bellri, being quite willing to fight and cynical both of the enemy and her own side (in episode 3, she talks about her rescuer, Nick Klim, being out to “use her”), and ultimately being a good pilot.
The Eureka Seven comparison, however, does not put Bellri as Renton – even though he encounters a mysterious girl “falling” into his life in the unpredictable Raraiya Monday – he is Dominic, arguably one of the most interesting characters in Eureka Seven. He begins the series wanting to work for the authorities, becoming a maintenance worker on the elevators that maintain society, and initially wants to pilot the Gundam to protect this from Aida and Nick’s faction; he “steals” it from Aida as she is handed over to the authorities, and fights Cahill (Aida’s captain) in his first sortie. This initial “proper fight,” after the early skirmishes against Aida in the first episode, is very good; the Earth forces are fought to a standstill by Cahill in scenes reminiscent of F91‘s excellent opening battle, and Bellri takes the Gundam to turn the tide. He kills Cahill, and it is there that the story really becomes interesting. Seeing Aida mourning her dead superior officer, he becomes more focused on her well-being than his duties, and so when Nick subsequently tries to rescue her by force he is there with her. Yet this is not a simplistic humanising arc – were Bellri a civilian, like the traumatised Amuro early in Gundam or Renton when he finally realises he has killed in Eureka Seven, the Gundam tradition would be to have that completely shake his confidence and make him not want to fight.
Bellri, though, is if not a professional soldier in the way his comrades Luin and Cumpo are still a military man and expresses his concern for Aida in very professional, almost callous terms given a childish naivete. He reminds her that Cahill killed many of his own people in the battle, and that he only fought to defend what he was supposed to defend – and never really shows any sign of wanting to stop fighting. This fanatical approach to encountering a Gundam – wanting to help everyone involved with it from Aida and her loss to Cumpo and his research – puts him beyond idealism into pure protagonist material.
Obviously, by the end of episode 3, he is leaving his army to go and join Aida and Nick – and how this plays out in episode 4 will be the turning-point of the series – but it is his maddening, quite infuriating to everyone, enthusiasm for piloting mechs that defines him. He has a kind of blithe attitude that people, generally, should be helped; he helps Aida initially because he is worried about her, brings Raraiya along because she will be safer that way, kills Cahill because he has orders to and it will stop the fighting and so on. It is this geniality that sets him opposed to the rest of the setting, and is even shown in his politics; he talks about the lessons of the Universal Century’s past wars being all a result of mismanagement of resources – no human factor at all. Indeed, this blithe sense of fairness and doing the right thing that consistently shows in his character makes him quite different to many Gundam protagonists – it is a misconceived selflessness rather than an accidentally useful selfishness. Comparing him with Gainer Sanga from King Gainer is interesting; both characters will put aside personal qualms about the politics or motivations of something if it is the “good” thing to do. Yet King Gainer actively avoided killing in its war story; G-Reco does not, and uses it as a way to test Bellri. He kills Cahill and at no point apparently believes that there was an alternative – and cannot even, apparently, understand why Aida is upset.
Were Bellri less interesting, and his initial unsteady status something more predictable, G-Reco would be much the lesser. Instead, it is a series that takes the undimmable enthusiasm of a robot pilot and shows it as something that other people – less single-minded people – have trouble dealing with. Bellri throws himself at problems against all advice and G-Reco is about other characters catching up with what he does – his alliances form as his conception of “the right thing” aligns with others’, and his will to help provides people with the help they need. A character so irrepressibly helpful is a very nice archetype for a Gundam series and it is this infectious energy that makes it so entertaining to watch.