Welcome to another Gundam SEED Destiny Doubletake! Each post, I dive into an episode or two of SEED Destiny and present two “takes” from it — two commentaries on plot or character points that stood out to me. I then explore each point from two perspectives — a fan’s perspective and a fiction writer’s perspective.
Frongi, Gundam DEE CORe... LAUNCHING!
Big Take — Durandal’s Finally Becoming Clear
This is a recap episode. It focuses mostly on Lacus and her relationship with Kira (which makes my brain go nuts again wondering if the writers plan to kill her off). But it also includes some enlightening information, which I will summarize and attempt to interpret.
It’s revealed that a younger Durandal and Talia were once dating, but due to Coordinator birth regulations and Talia’s desire to have a child, Talia decided the relationship with Durandal couldn’t possibly work out — so she broke up with him. We also learn Durandal was close friends with Rau Le Creuset. The two of them had constant philosophical discussions about the nature of humanity and whether there was ultimately any point to life or hope.
Reaction as a fan: oH MY GOD — I THINK I FINALLY GET IT. The imaginary chess game between them.... Durandal and Rau are literally opposite sides of the board. Rau believed there was no point in living except to eventually die; Durandal believes people live in order to obtain their dreams and hopes. Rau thought human destiny was to repeat the same horrible mistakes over and over; Durandal believes that people can start over from scratch and correct their mistakes to achieve better results. AND THAT’S WHAT DURANDAL IS TRYING TO DO, RECREATING LACUS CLYNE, and trying to get the Minerva to act like the Archangel.... Heck, maybe Durandal was even sleeping with Talia again at the beginning of this show because he was trying to start over in his relationship with her, also. But holy shit, Durandal... please don’t tell me you helped START this entire new war just so you could try again?! In any case, I think you’re trying to fix things, and also give yourself another shot at your own happiness... but damn. TALL ORDER, DURANDAL. You’re pretty tragic, probably pretty misguided despite your good intentions, and still fascinating. Damn.
Reaction as a writer: I should have seen this coming a mile away. Destiny is using the Rau versus Durandal viewpoints to boil everything down to a basic theme that practically every anime touches on. The theme is hope.
Do we (viewers, characters, any person existing) collapse into despair, hate, negativity, and give up, or do we keep trying always, hoping to achieve our dreams and striving to think positive no matter what? EVERY GOOD ANIME RAISES THIS QUESTION — AND ULTIMATELY ANSWERS IT. The answer is always some variation of, “Don’t give up! The way to succeed at life is to keep trying and never stop working toward your dreams!” Even if the odds against you are ridiculous, do you admit defeat? Never! You pierce the heavens with your drill (Gurren Lagann), you keep training to become the number one hero (My Hero Academia), you repeat the same challenges over and over and over again (Madoka) until you can achieve the result you wish for! YOU GET UP AND TRY AGAIN NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU GET KICKED DOWN. Success isn’t about how many times you fail, it’s about how often you make the choice not to quit. This message is the ESSENCE of great anime. Of, arguably, every great story.
That said, I’m wondering why Destiny chose such a convoluted way to introduce this simple theme. And, now that they’ve raised it, I’m not sure how they’re going to follow through and keep building on the idea without losing us. The episode before this one left everything looking bleak. I’m rooting for Durandal’s positive worldview to prevail over Rau Le Creuset’s, but... Well, trying again is one thing, but you’ve got to keep trying differently. Isn’t the definition of ‘insanity’ when people try the same thing over and over, hoping for or expecting different results despite not having changed their approach or their methods? For Durandal to truly succeed here, he’s got to make sure not to repeat history too closely during his do-over. I think he realizes that... but so far, uh. So far, history seems to be repeating itself too dang closely — at least in certain ways — which suggests he’s insane and can only fail. I mean, we just had Kira and Athrun resolving to fight each other again. This whole thing is a history-repeating wreck.
Take 1 — Major Turning Point
Changes everywhere. The surviving Orb soldiers who were under Captain Todaka join the Archangel crew, pledging themselves to Kira Yamato and reasserting their beliefs in Orb’s ideals of peace/of fighting to protect the peace. Neo begins to seem dissatisfied with how hard Djibril is riding his ass; in a moment of reflection that is classic SEED, he asks aloud, “What is it we’re fighting for?” Athrun is an emotional wreck, but he reflects again — harder — on Kira’s beliefs versus his own. When Shinn finds out Stella will probably die, and that ZAFT wants to study her alive or dead for science, he doesn’t take it sitting down. Again, in a move that echoes the first SEED series, he chooses to follow his own moral compass and return the female hostage held by his military to the enemy’s side where she belongs (like Kira does with Lacus). Rey helps Shinn in his mission to return Stella; this is apparently the first time Rey has acted against protocol.
Reaction as a fan: BRB, I’m emotional. My crying started when Cagalli and the Orb soldiers all broke down (if everyone else cries, how can I not cry too?), got worse while Stella was dying in her hospital bed, and peaked after Shinn returned Stella to Neo and ran back into the Impulse cockpit sobbing. This episode was a wham to the feels.
Reaction as a writer: Characters’ hearts and minds are changing or about to change now in big ways. Loyalties, certainties... those might start to shift, too. The evidence of change is everywhere in this episode. We even have our conceptions majorly modified as viewers when Shinn mentions of Athrun offhandedly, “That guy really isn’t that strong,” because we — or I, at least — finally understand how powerful Shinn truly is. His talent as a pilot eclipses Athrun Zala’s (and maybe even Kira’s; it remains to be seen).
In short, a new paradigm within the show has just launched. Patterns of thinking and acting will shift dramatically from here. Kira stressed it again, after all — that no one can keep repeating the same choices, or they’ll just make the same mistakes. It’s about the right timing for this development story-wise, too — not just because this is roughly the middle of the show, but because in episode 28, the story hit a wall. (Remember the hopeless chaos?) If something didn’t change, the story would have ended there, in flames. So these developments are great. I’m pleased and proud of the writers for sowing the seeds of a shift in one neatly-packaged episode. This stuff is exactly what will propel the story into its next major phase, enabling it to keep going successfully.
That said, here come my HUGE ISSUES.
Take 2 — Shinn, What Are You Doing
So Shinn doesn’t want Stella to become a lab experiment on the ZAFT side as well, right? He frees her by returning her to the “Neo,” she’s always calling for. He makes Neo swear not to involve Stella in war anymore. He wants Stella to go somewhere to live a peaceful life away from mobile suits and death. Pretty idealistic request/desire — and coming from Shinn Asuka, of all people, who until now has scoffed at the idea of trying to forge a peaceful world!
Reaction as a fan: That is incredibly sweet of you, Shinn. Again, I am crying. But. Uh. I thought if you released Stella — and especially if you wanted her to live peacefully — you would... take her anywhere but back to the Earth Forces. You’re just going to believe Neo when Neo promises not to force Stella to fight any more? I can believe Neo, because he’s started to question a few things, and I’m still 100% sure he’s Mu La Flaga in there (a good guy) somewhere, but... YOU don’t know that. This move of yours is therefore naive. Even if you made it with the most adorable of intentions.
Reaction as a writer: This is not satisfactory writing. You never want a character to do something so strange that it feels out of character or stupid. Has Shinn defied orders and acted on his feelings instead of on protocol before? Yes. Is it good to see Shinn opening up more to the idea of peace and its necessity versus war? Sure. But to show that by making Shinn do something so obviously foolish, and when he has said he wants to protect Stella to boot.... Shinn has been a pain before, and naive, but never flat-out clueless like this! That he doesn’t even CONSIDER that taking Stella back to the people who forced her to fight might be a bad idea seems unrealistic to me considering what I’ve seen of him. It breaks my suspension of disbelief and takes me out of the story. It means the writers neglected to pay attention to character consistencies for the sake of making plot happen instead. (Because Shinn can’t ACTUALLY be that stupid, right? If that was how stupid the writers were planning to make him from the beginning, why wait until the series is half over to reveal it to us?!)
My guess is that this idiocy occurred because the writers wanted to give Neo something moral to struggle with. Maybe they figured giving Stella back to him would make great fodder for Neo to muse, “Hmm, how do I give this girl a peaceful life if I’m working for Blue Cosmos?” Well, that’s great, Destiny, great fodder — but don’t make Shinn look like an idiot for the sake of providing us with that conflict! HE IS YOUR PROTAGONIST, ISN’T HE?! How many times must I remind you that we aren’t supposed to hate protagonists? (We can love to hate them, like with Light Yagami, for example, where we can still relate to them or cheer for them despite their being awful people. But we can’t plain loathe our main characters; we can’t disrespect them — or we’ll stop watching the show, because we won’t remain invested.)
The issue could have been fixed with a well-placed lampshade. If Shinn had just thought to himself, even in passing, “Gee, I hope this Neo dude doesn’t betray me, because that would suck; oh well, guess I’ve still got to do this and just hope,” instead of blindly trusting Neo’s word... I wouldn’t have had a problem. Uggh.