After a strange, kind of middling episode last week, we return with a bang as Mobile Suit Gundam starts to set up new conflicts and new adversaries for the White Base. As supplies run low, a detour puts the White Base on a collision course with Ramba Ral!
We take a look at Mobile Suit Gundam‘s sixteenth episode, “Sayla’s Agony.” Will you be able to survive?
1. The Weariness Of War
Something I appreciated about this episode is how it opened with the acknowledgment of the weariness the crew of the White Base are feeling. Even though they’re past the dogged pursuit by the Zeon forces that took them from Side 7 to Earth, they’re still on a trek across the globe to Federation HQ with enemy forces at every turn. That level of constant vigilance takes its toll and we’re beginning to see everyone, not just Amuro and Bright, at their wit’s end.
This ties into the supply shortage that I’ll talk about in a second, but I find it really cool that the storytelling of this series takes into account the daily pressures of this kind of life.
2. Joining The Offensive
This episode, we get the news that the Federation are looking to bring the White Base into the fold of military and use it in the upcoming offensive against Captain M’Quve’s mining installations. I’m really excited about this prospect because, thus far, the White Base has been a really isolated entity and while we’ve seen the Zeon forces working together in a massed offensive, we’ve seen very little of the Federation side of things.
3. M’Quve And The Mines
Speaking of M’Queve, I love that this show has no shortage of Zeon officers to take the spotlight. Garma’s death left kind of a Zeon vacuum and while I thought Ramba Ral would be the one to take his place, we actually get to see who Ral is working with. Ral is, in his own words, a guerilla soldier. He goes where he’s pointed. But M’Queve is clearly a more scheming and plotting kind of mastermind and while his introduction and the tease of what’s going on in his minds is setting up a longer term storyline, I appreciate that Gundam is starting to plant those seeds.
4. Sayla’s Revelation And A Mobile Suit Punch Out
The real meat of this episode comes into two parts. The first is Ramba Ral’s offensive against the White Base, utilising a new kind of assault vehicle combined with flanking manoeuvres from two Zakus and his own Gouf. Just as the White Base prepares for combat, Sayla commandeers the Gundam and heads out to meet the Zeon attackers, apparently hoping to talk with one of them. What follows is a pretty stark and harrowing Mobile Suit battle the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in the show thus far. Sayla, despite spending time in simulators, has never piloted the Gundam before and gets bodied by the Zakus easily.
Having Amuro piloting the Guncannon shows off just how awesome an arsenal the White Base has that isn’t strictly the Gundam while forcing him to rely on alternate tactics. With little close combat support, Amuro has to drive off Ral’s forces from a distance. It’s a knock down brawl of a combat that’s largely played without score to emphasise the starkness of the fighting. I loved it and I know I praise how often Gundam experiments with action, but it makes these admittedly few and far between Mobile Suit punch outs all the more weighty.
The second part of the meat of this episode is the explanation of the title. Sayla reveals that Char is, in fact, her big brother. Something that’s been hinted at since, I think, the second episode. With Char in Zeon limbo after failing to protect Garma, I’m interested in seeing where this goes.
5. Salt Shortage
Finally, I want to talk about the importance of the small details in Gundam. Most of this episode deals with either the foreshadowing of the conflict with M’Quve and setting that up or the attack by Ramba Ral and how that ties into to Sayla’s storyline. But the throughline for the episode, the one connecting tissue, is that the White Base is running out of salt. It’s the kind of thing that I expected to be mentioned in passing as a way of noting that they’re running low on supplies. No, the chef returns more than once to reiterate how important is that this one small detail could run out. Without salt, bland food in the commissary would deplete morale. Without seasoned food, what little nourishment they get will affect the crew’s health.Continued below
Then the episode moves to solve this problem, finding a salt lake to replenish their supplies, but in taking that detour they attract the attention of Ramba Ral. It’s the smallest of small details, but it’s those small details that Gundam builds its episode structure on.