THIS POST IS LOADED TO THE BRIM WITH GUNDAM 0080 SPOILERS. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT (BUT GO WATCH IT, IT’S ONLY 3 HOURS LONG AND IT’S REALLY GOOD)
Tonight I watched Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: A War in the Pocket with my mech-obsessed little brother, and it certainly was a great and fun show with a downer ending we saw coming from ten miles away, which has been the topic of most of the discussion I’ve seen about the show. While the ending was indeed sad in that poor Bernie had to die (at the hands of a woman he happened to be falling for, in a fight I described as ‘epic in all the wrong ways’), the series as a whole actually left me with a bit of an uplifting feeling. The pervading thought in my head as I watched the series was a moral question that the show was all too keen to answer.
In the second episode of 0080, young protagonist Al, who lives in one of the Federation colonies, hands over a whole ton of useful information to certain Zeon pilots – a practice he will continue through the show. After his first trade with Bernie, handing over his video card with important info logged on it in exchange for one of Bernie’s patches, my brother and I remarked about how this poor ignorant child had just lost his team the war. That’s how it seemed anyway – the kid just wanted to look at cool mechs, and the jackass he ran into used him to get info that he didn’t know he had. The video was useless to the kid in comparison to a tangible object, but maybe that doesn’t necessarily mean that the kid doesn’t know what he’s given the Zeon soldier. As the series continues, it becomes clear that, yeah, he does.
While the kids around Al and the general populace of the colony have been taught/raised to support the Federation (as would be true for normal citizens of any country), Al doesn’t really have a good reason to feel allegiance to the Federation. Most people would support their own country out of a desire to continue their current way of life, but Al is not really satisfied with his life. His parents have split up, and neither of them really ‘gets’ him – his mom is quite strict, and his dad is distant. At lunch, he lies to his father, telling him that his grades in math and science are good to satisfy him – he’s sort of keeping his parents at arms length (I should know, I did the same for my entire life, and always felt that sort of distance, like I loved them, but didn’t ultimately feel they were a part of my personal life.) He’s bored and not all that happy, and the only thing he particularly cares about is the coolness of mechs and fighting. At one point later in the series, he argues with his friends that Zeon is cooler than the Federation because they have the better mechs (though, as his friends know and he doesn’t, the Feddies now have a certain White Devil making quick work of every Zaku thrown at it.)
With no real feeling of being a ‘part’ of the Federation and with such an admiration for Zeon, of course he is going to support the latter. He does, actually, know that he is handing over important information. And as a matter of fact, he decides to become ‘a part of the team’ with the Zeon soldiers that he happens to join forces with. Many, especially his countrymen, would have called this betrayal. Just because he is a child does not mean that he doesn’t understand his position as a self-declared outcast. But ultimately, the fact is that he’d rather be with Zeon, and Al is one truly fearless motherfucker. Whereas an ordinary person, even a child, might be held back by social norms and their fear of losing what they have, Al charges forth with no doubt in his head. He would have thought ‘if I get killed doing what I set out to do, then so be it.’ He says something similar in the fifth episode when he tries to confess his knowledge to a police officer, though he is ignored for having cried wolf in the past.
When Al helps Bernie break into the Feddie base, he takes some extreme risks to get the information that they needed, and while he succeeds, he is scolded by Bernie, who is later scolded by his teammates. However, Bernie can’t help but ask ‘you really aren’t afraid of anything, are you?’ and of course, Al confirms that he isn’t. I certainly believe him. And from the way he reacts, I think that Bernie finds this quite inspiring. As did I.
Bernie isn’t aware, as the older members of his team are, that they are more or less going on this mission to die. They know – but they go through with the mission anyway. The captain is mortally wounded rather quickly. The badass younger guy takes out a lot of Feddies before he gets shot, and then, knowing full well that he is going to die, he proceeds to run at the Gundam with a bomb in hand and, even after getting shot a few more times, blows himself up to try and at least accomplish some of his mission. The fourth member of the team, piloting the mech that should be here to take out the Gundam, is instead destroyed entirely by the Gundam’s bullet hell. Bernie is the only survivor, but in the captain’s last moments of life, Bernie tries to lie to him that the Gundam has been destroyed. The captain remarks that he’s a ‘terrible liar’, but nonetheless seems a bit peaceful as he dies.
Bernie is told to get the hell off of the colony, because if the Gundam isn’t destroyed by Christmas day, then the colony is going to be nuked. There is no way for Bernie to beat the Gundam, and there is probably no one else who can do the job either. This colony is doomed and he knows it. He has no obligation to stay. No moral reason. No need. Al calls him a coward in a moment of selfishness, but it’s hard to blame Al for this, for reasons I will get into shortly. Bernie doesn’t have to take that crap, and he knows it, so he decides to leave anyway. Doesn’t matter where. But when he’s about to take off, he stops, contemplating, and overhears a conversation between a distraught woman and her boyfriend who started cheating on her and then, evidently, told her about it. The woman had planned to leave the colony, but the truth is, she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t really want to run away.
The question for Bernie is ‘what do you want to do?’ Block out everything for a moment. Block out the moral obligations. Block out rationality. Block out your dead friends and the colony and the kid, and just think. In your heart, do you feel that you will be satisfied when you leave? Even if you know that you took the best course of action for your survival, ask yourself – is surviving my main goal? Do I not care about something else more? Would it not be more worthwhile to do what will make me happy, even if I die for it? Bernie’s teammates died doing what they felt was right, but more importantly than their righteousness, it was what they wanted to do. The old bartender decided to stay on the colony that he loved, fully knowing that he was doomed, because he knew that he would not be satisfied with another kind of life. Al always fought for what would satisfy him, even if it went going against society and perceived morality. What mattered to him was that he could feel good about what he did.
Bernie didn’t have to die – this phrase has two meanings. Bernie didn’t have to die because it turned out that Zeon wasn’t going to nuke Side 6, so he didn’t actually have to engage the Gundam. However, Bernie also didn’t have to die because, and this is even aside from the fact that he could have left, because he actually found a possible means of saving the colony himself. He left this with Al, knowing that there wasn’t a high chance of his survival, even though he just as easily could have released the tape himself, as a far more credible source even, and lived. But Bernie didn’t want to live that life. It didn’t satisfy him anymore. He had a new dream, and a new life to live. To kill the Gundam – if he could just do that, then he could be satisfied – and if he died trying, then he could die with a smile on his face (not that his death gave him time to smile).
I admire this a lot. Not the self-sacrifice, but the self-honesty. The fact that sometimes, a risk is worth taking to know that you did what you wanted to do. He who never takes a step will never learn to jump, and it’s the duty of someone with jumping on the mind to do just that. The sadness of this is that there are things you may be ignorant of.
Al was all for helping the Zeon fighters, but it was only after their battle that he began to see just what the fighting he helped to bring about would actually cause – the death of many people. He sees these things up front, and it is after each revelation that one must ask again – what do you want to do? Because Al wants to save the colony, he tries to help Bernie kill the Gundam. However, after Bernie has been turned into a ‘hamburger’, Al finds out that Chris was the Gundam pilot. Had he known beforehand, he certainly would not have begged Bernie to kill her – and Bernie certainly would not have tried. This ignorance could also be considered part of the tragedy that brought Bernie to his demise, but we also must remember Bernie’s last request. ‘Do not hate the Federation or the Gundam pilot, and do not blame yourself.’
Indeed, as things change, what we want to do may change as well. It would have had they known about Chris being the pilot, but had they remained ignorant right to the end, and Bernie won, they would have been satisfied with what they’d done. If they had to find out about Chris, then they would have the same exact situation that Al find himself in after Bernie’s death – they would have had to move on. To not blame the world, and to not blame themselves. To simply know that, however tragic the outcome, they did what they felt they had to do. Al should never regret what he may have led Bernie to do – only be happy for Bernie that he died with satisfaction, and then try to find that satisfaction for himself.
Other great posts on 0080:
The Animanachronism does a through dissection of the final battle and how it epitomizes the series as a whole.
Ghostlightning talks about the heartbreaking Christmas of 0080, about how Al and Bernie are some of his good ol’ boys, and (briefly) about the sunken ship he had with Bernie and Chris (he is the failboat after all.)
That’s Not Kanon talks about the brutal sorrow of Bernie’s death, among other things.