You're a real Goufus Custom
I originally posted this on Mechatalk.net in a thread about what makes a good combat scene. Since I was recently mulling over Gundam 08th MS Team, I felt the need to show how obviously smart I am and debunk the idea of the infamous Gouf Custom fight as a "good combat scene."
Personally, I've always felt the Gouf Custom battle was the best example of how not to do a combat scene. Now I generally place a lot of emphasis on the characters within the robots as it is what ultimately drives the drama. Norris himself is like a hollow echo of the character he's obviously meant to imitate and that's of course Ranba Ral. Norris is essentially a blank slate with none of the motivations of Ranba Ral other than some token scenes with Aina. This one of many things that hurts the overall confrontation with Mobile Suits. Unlike Amuro and Ranba, Shiro and Norris are very loosely connected through a typical shallow anime romance (between Shiro and Aina of course, not that Shiro x Norris wouldn't be ten times more interesting). In the end my lack of connection to the characters made me lapse into one of the worst things about watching a show, which is pedantic nitpicking.
One of the major points of the Gouf Custom fight is to establish Norris as a cut above your average pilot. Since his previous encounters with Shiro were fleeting and frankly pointless (looking at you, Zaku fight) this is really the only moment he gets to shine. I do feel there are some problems with the presentation. 08th MS Team in general is plagued with its own sense of faux-realism that neither seems practical in the context of Gundam or even in the face of common sense. In fact our heroes seem to stumble through victory more through a shared ineptitude between themselves and their opponents. So much of what is shown is characterized by someone standing around and barely reacting to a situation. See that one Zaku in the designated abandoned city level just walk slowly out past a building and then get shot by Shiro who is right just ahead at an intersection. It's a far cry from the New Yark fight that's for sure.
So with Norris's big debut, he makes a grand entrance by getting his squire to help him pretend he can voice control his MS to make it walk dramatically to the open air elevator, which always adds ten cool points to presentation. So now we're in the classic escort mission where the three Gundams (because we can't have any of the other teams do anything) have to protect a bunch of Guntanks. Now here's one big problem. The Guntanks are never really seen being able to move much at all. In fact most of the time they seem to teleport around depending on where Norris needs them to be for some dramatic kill. They're barely seen fighting back, running away, or even struggling to survive against this Gouf Imitate. They are supposedly the most important thing about this battle and they're treated like set dressings. This hurts the presentation as the audience doesn't get a good sense of where Norris and the 08th MS Team need to move around. For this kind of battle you need to plan things out carefully through story boarding and possibly some extra notes.
Probably the most egregious moment in this entire fight shows is during the final dramatic showdown between Shiro and Norris. Each has their respective melee weapon drawn and are ready to reenact the Gundam vs. Gouf fight because when your narrative is faltering, just borrow from your forebears. Now I don't take issue with the cliche sword clash because it is pretty kewl most of the time, but it ends with Norris managing to "win" due to the strangest situation.
So the last Guntank is sitting behind a building, just watching Norris and Shiro duke it out? Why is it there? Was it trying to help out? Why even bother peaking out from behind the building in direct line of sight with the guy trying to kill you? Even if the building couldn't hide the Guntank entirely, wouldn't simply backing up behind the building shield the Guntank from the like five or six super deadly bullets that made it handily explode?
This leads into one of the bigger problems with the fight. Norris is again supposed to be like Ranba. Yet whereas in Gundam, the Gouf was an extension of Ranba's sheer gravitas and charisma amongst the characters and audience. He and the Gouf had an air of confidence and menace that genuinely frightened Amuro, who had previously been relying on the Gundam's outstanding abilities to save him from death. However the superiority of the Ground Gundams is never established and they never touch on their connection, if any, to the original Gundam's reputation as "the White Devil." In fact them being Gundams is largely cosmetic, which I find a confusing idea. And again, much of their previous victories and losses game through contrivances and a lot of bad decisions. Which brings me back to my biggest point: Norris isn't winning because he's a better pilot, he is winning because everyone else is setup to fail against him.
The Gouf Custom and its pilot do not seem to be reflections of each other's character. In fact most of what the Gouf Custom does stretches the apparent "realism" of the overall story. As an animated series, Gundam is of course not bound by any laws of physics. However even in the OYW setting there is a sense of weight and practicality to almost every move a Mobile Suit makes. It's why scenes such as Amuro and Char fighting in the Texas Colony still hold up as an excellent combination of style mixed with realism. Even as these two machines bob and weave through sword thrusts they have a feeling of weight that exudes a sense of physical power. By contrast the Gouf Custom seems to perform feats that seem too extreme and out of place. For example, despite it's presumably immense size, it seems to be capable of swinging around on its grappling hook like some Jonesian adventurer. This is true even when whatever it grabs onto, be it a crumbling piece of building or a flying jet fighter. Anything can support its weight. It stretches the "rule of cool" to the point of "well someone thought this might look cool even if it makes no sense in context." As the fight wears on, the Gouf Custom seems to employ tactics and movements that we've seen in earlier Gundam series, which only hurts the presentation as it makes one wonder why the Gundam team neglected to do any of these things. Again it paints the image of Norris being an average pilot who is decimating people who are said to be experienced veterens.
In the end the real goal of the battle was to force Shiro to kill Norris because it would push Aina over the edge if she lost someone who (we are told) was very close to her. While Norris's death does seem to affect Aina, the fact she never connects his death with Shiro's actions makes the whole thing seem like cheap drama. As the fight eventually ends with the escape shuttle being shot down by a nameless GM Sniper, the whole battle appears completely pointless as the audience was given little chance to truly connect with Norris. We're meant to care about him because Aina cares, but she abandons her love for him as soon as Gihnius takes center stage as villain. So all we're left with it a somewhat pretty looking battle that is just as pointless and unfocused as the rest of the OVA.
Now you may argue that soldiers make mistakes often and that it's part of the OVA to have people messing up all the time. However one must remember to have consequences for mistakes. There are very few lasting impacts made by the mistakes of Shiro and his team. Despite their position as frontline fighters, their Gundams are repaired into working order between episodes with little consequence. Sanders's and Karen's Gundams are both repaired offscreen just for them to do very little during the Gouf Custom battle. Perhaps if they had sustained lasting damage their relative inaction would be more acceptable during the battle. In the end we're wondering just why any of these characters are in this fight outside of them being the main focus of the OVA. There's little basis of comparison to the other MS teams because they do nothing of note.
If I had to compare Shiro and his gang to another common soldier turned robot pilot, I'd pick Shin Kudo from Macross Zero. Despite being shot down twice (possibly three) times during actual combat, Shin constantly struggled to adapt to his new environment of jet with arms warfare until he started learning from the world around him. He showed that even in the most desparate and bizarre situations that he could use the resources available to him to achieve his goals. Be it exploting a feature of his VF-0D to fight an underwater enemy, flying his burning Gerwalk into another Gerwalk to cause it to crash, or hopping on a mysterious flying totem to save the girl the guy is remarkably competent even when his whole world changed over the course of a week. Shin isn't a particularly unique character in terms of looks or personality, but his actions show again and again that he maintains the basic idea of a protagonist who struggles against an increasingly hostile world to an eventual end to his plight. He is a common soldier and a human being who when thrown into a jet with arms, manages to come out unscathed by the skin of his teeth not because the plot demanded it, but because the situation forced the character to adapt to using his common sense. Likewise Shin rival, Nora is shown to be better than him in terms of experience and conventional tactics but Shin's resourcefulness constantly pulls him through situations where he should be all rights be over his head. Additionally, he has a fairly genuine connection to Nora which is forged through the course of the story.
|Posted 17 January, 2012 - 10:56 by VF5SS|