‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Zabi . . .

msi-whodoyouthink

. . . if you think you’re in London?’ (It was almost certainly unintentional, but I’ll take what I can get – and besides, any comedy which has a credit for ‘the Yokel’ deserves some recognition.)

MS IGLOO or, as I like to refer to it, Mobile Suit Gundam: Peenemünde, is a real oddity. Its purpose, as far as I can make out, is to show off the animators’ skill in the production of fully computer-generated mechanical design porn. This makes for storylines which are, judged by normal criteria, probably rather dissatisfying: each episode introduces a weapon, together with a character who operates it, but the weapon is always destroyed and the new character is always killed. However, since the main reason to watch this is the mechanical design porn, the pre-arranged outcomes aren’t really an issue. Indeed, once you know how it’s going to go, you can take a kind of detached interest in the execution.

The first MS IGLOO tied its six stories together by featuring the same group of Zeon military scientists testing a selection of prototype weapons. Family history (a grandfather – from the richer and better-educated side of the family – worked in scientific intelligence during the war), as well as a taste for books like like Most Secret War and Eric Brown‘s Wings of the Weird and Wonderful, left me predisposed to enjoy this sort of thing.

IGLOO II switches sides to follow the Earth Federation. The original Mobile Suit Gundam covered the Feddies’ own prototype weapons program quite well, which may explain why IGLOO II has, so far, focused on ordinary Federation soldiers using rather inadequate equipment. This does not, however, mean that it’s necessarily more realistic.

Actually, I don’t like to assess any kind of story on its realism – I think you can always pick holes in fiction – and I prefer to check if a story sets out to be convincing and, if so, whether or not it succeeds. If it gets to the point where we start wondering about realism in the first place, there’s probably something wrong.

One term I am happy to apply to certain types of mecha action is ‘gritty’, but IGLOO II isn’t that either, because it uses visions of the same god of death (or reaper, or whatever translation of ‘shinigami‘ you want) to connect its episodes, instead of repeated appearances by the same team of weapons testers.

msi-deathgod

Commenting on Ghostlightning’s first post about the show, I suggested that her supernatural presence conveniently lowers our expectations of the CGI: CG mecha frequently look ethereal, but the sight of a genuinely ethereal character makes the show’s tanks and Mobile Suits seem more solid by contrast.

After watching the second episode, and musing for a little while on mortality (always a healthy activity) because Ghostlightning took it as one of his themes, I thought of another use for the death god. I’ve already said that IGLOO‘s episodic stories have an established pattern which (with one exception) always ends in a character’s death. It’s not much of a stretch, then, to see IGLOO II‘s Death God as, among other things, a reminder that death is the inevitable result of each episode’s pattern – which then makes the characters’ struggle against her a struggle against IGLOO‘s format itself. This isn’t a word I normally deploy, so I could be misusing it like a general forced to pit Type 61s against Zakus, but – is she entirely diegetic?

I find this idea at the same time amusing, and boring. It’s always amusing when you can draw a connection between the plot, and the characters who don’t know that they’re part of that plot. But this also seems a bit too easy, a bit glib. I’m not sure where to go with ideas like this one . . .

9 responses to “‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Zabi . . .

  1. Whatever, I still like the whole MS Igloo concept and think that 2 continues what made it interesting. Considering it was never supposed to leave the Bandai mueseum in the first place and it was a fluke that it even became popular enough to get as far as it did I tend not to judge it too harshly for it’s episodic slice of military life followed by prompt death format.

    It’s like watching a Keyani series only with the process put into hyper acceleration. We know the type of story Key likes to write, we know that somewhere along the line one or more of the girls we like are going to die or meet some sad fate, but we watch them anyway because we want to see how they get from point a to point b and what happens inbetween. Some of us also claim they try not to get too attached to it all because we know what lies just over the horizon, but you always see that one guy who fails at it miserably and falls completely for the stories inevitable climax/hook. I think MS Igloo 2 is aimed at this type of viewer recognizes the formula, but will allow themselves to be taken along for the ride.

    I also think the Death God concept is supposed to be layered and probably has several meanings ranging from the characters coming face to face with their own mortality and a potential struggle against their fate as determined by the director. These are dead men walking and for the most part they know it, they simply have a role that they need to act out and then they can “embrace” the death god.

    I sort of think that’s why they made her appear as a woman that wraps herself around people and who waits out her time patiently while in some cases appearing to actually help people in fulfilling their roles. Take for example how she appeared in the White Ogre’s camera just before Yandel fired his last shot at his Zaku and took him out and how she was speaking along with Yandel as if influencing his actions.

    The death god could also be seen as symbolic of the tragedies of war and an attempt to personify that which we cannot normally see, but is robbing people of their lives at an accelerated pace. She arrived with the Zeon and has been lurking around the battlefield ever since while doing her thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the last episode she ends up leaving with Zeon and following the Federation into space for the final battles. The death god doesn’t appear to choose sides, though her fortune seems to favour the doomed on occassion.

    I agree with you on the whole realism thing. Some people I’ve seen let realism become their sole judging tool for whether a mecha series is good or not and really it should be more complicated then that. Mecha anime would fast become boring if every show was like Votoms or Macross Frontier so there has to be some room for liberties to be taken.

    Speaking of characters vs. mecha, there was a good discussion from the Gundamn!@mahq podcast that asked the question as to what was more important in mecha anime, characters or mecha and after they finished talking it out they arrived at varied ratios stating that both were fairly important among other things. In this case though I think it’s clear that aside from the “character” of the death god, the mecha make MS Igloo 2.

  2. I’ve yet to see the second episode, though I’m glad that I have it waiting for me.

    I particularly enjoy how Zeon insistently puts its faith in the development of mobile weapons as a silver bullet in winning their conflicts. And the fist MS Igloo works well to establish that particular value system among the Zeeks.

    ONCE THE BIG ZAM IS MASS PRODUCED is probably my favorite Gundam /m/eme.

    Pardon the tangent, I see this realized in Gundam 00. Technology keeps determining the conflict over any other factor. I think it’s convincing, the way you’ve explained the term vis-a-vis being realistic. My wish is that instead of Trans-Am turning the mecha pink and 3x faster and stronger, actual but more subtle upgrade features are implemented (I remember Stardust Memory NICE PUN).

  3. I always felt like the deployment of all those weapons in the first Igloo were less trying to find a silver bullet, more just trying to throw every possible weapon they could muster against an increasingly powerful Federation military, as I believe at least a few episodes had the twist of them having no real real intention to ever mass produce the weapons.

    I like Igloo 2 a lot, although I could do without the Shinigami nonsense. More Zakus stomping on Type 61s and dudes charging Zakus with pistols though, that stuff is great.

  4. @ Kaioshin: The comparison to Key’s Bad End stories is a good one, and you’re right that there’s a similar pleasure in the process of getting from the beginning to the end. Some of the differences are instructive too: in my (admittedly limited) experience, Key’s Bad Ends have some cause within the plot, or at least a cause tied tightly to the story’s themes, IGLOO is big on senseless deaths.

    It’ll be interesting to see the series go into space (as I hope it will, eventually) and to see the death god go with it. I seem to recall that she showed up in the targeting system of Barberry’s anti-MS weapon in the first episode, so maybe we’ll see more of her on computer screens and in cameras in future.

    The realism thing’s an interesting one. No one would accuse GaoGaiGar, for example, of realism, but it does have a pretty consistent set of rules. The first episode establishes its habit of scaling things up to make weapons, for example, with heat and cold beam weapons created by just piling up lots and lots of microwaves and freezers respectively. It felt like there were consistent rules about the required amount of emotion that the heroes need to overcome an obstacle, too.

    And yeah, the mecha make this anime – and you won’t hear me complaining about that!

    @ ghostlightning: 00 has – I think – a fairly solid set of rules and expectations as to the flashiness of its new technology, and I suspect it’ll be in the Trans-Am style right to the end. Personally I loved the fact that turning red made them 3x faster, but I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

    @ Sean: I think one of the reasons that the Peenemünde joke attracts me is that there are attractive parallels with German weapons development in the closing phase of WW2. I’m not an expert so I may be wrong, but as far as I understand it it was a mix of fanatics who thought that new technology would turn the tide, people who were just throwing whatever oddities and prototypes they had into the breach and some people who were genuinely interested in the science.

    The Zaku has been one of the real stars of the second ‘season’, hasn’t it? I love, how for the first two episodes at least, they’ve been the biggest, scariest things on the battlefield by some margin.

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  6. Pingback: THAT Animeblog - MS IGLOO 2 - The Type 61: This Tank is FIGHT!

  7. I usually avoid computer graphics like the plague, but the concept of Igloo is too interesting to be ignored. I’ll have to heck it out.

    • It’s definitely worth trying. I think the CG work isn’t too bad on the Mobile Suits, but certainly in the first Igloo the CGI human characters were just unsettling. I’ve seen a lot worse, though: most of the time, there’s a sense of weight to Igloo‘s mecha, which is hard to achieve with CGI.

  8. Pingback: Life in an IGLOO « Gundam Resonance

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