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!
Take 1 — Shinn’s Feelings
Shinn (and Rey) get punished for freeing Stella; Captain Gladys orders them both locked in the Minerva’s brig. Athrun goes to see Shinn, sympathizing with him a bit, but mostly arguing with him about what on earth Shinn was thinking. He accuses Shinn (again) of acting solely based on his feelings.
Reaction as a fan: You know what, Zala? Let the kid act on his feelings. You don’t have the answers, either; I think we’ve established that. Only Kira Yamato seems to have anything resembling answers, and better than that, an ability to act quickly and decisively without undue angst-fests. And... gee — what, ultimately, has the Ultimate Coordinator chosen to follow as his guiding light? HIS FEELINGS. (Boil it down — that’s what it is.) So here Shinn is, finally beginning to seem like he might also possess what it takes to set the world right despite his anger management issues... and you’re ripping him up for it. DON’T PUNISH THE BEHAVIOR YOU WANT TO SEE, ZALA!
Reaction as a writer: Shinn is as unrepentant for his actions as always. He believes he’s right — and whether he is or not, he follows through on what he feels. He’s being a good character, making decisions and acting on them for better or worse, dealing with repercussions as they come, in the moment. He is moving the story, and this is what all good characters do. They don’t waffle and angst long enough to frustrate or bore the viewer; they do. What’s even more fun to note is that characters like Lacus, Murrue, Rey and Shinn seem to realize that exact point and adhere to it. They know one must do to achieve anything worth anything — whereas other characters worry and debate forever. I enjoy watching Destiny play with this theme.
Take 2 — Damn It, Neo
When Athrun confronts Shinn in the brig, he basically voices the problem I had in the last episode. Athrun points out that Shinn trusted the very people who harmed Stella to take care of her. He says Stella might just end up fighting again. In short, Athrun basically goes, “Uh, yeah, that was real dumb, Shinn.”
Neo Roanoke then proves Athrun correct. Not only does Neo choose to make Stella fight again, but also he puts extra effort into brainwashing her with sweet, sweet threats about dying if she doesn’t fight. Then he puts her in the hugest, most destructive mobile suit humanly possible (aptly named the GFAS-X1 Destroy).
Reaction as a fan: NEO, YOU JUST LET ME DOWN. This is some pretty awesome destruction you and Stella are now wreaking, and it makes the drama more intense, but like.... Really? I HAD FAITH IN YOU.
But I guess that’s my fault. I was weak to the fact that I’m sure you’re Mu La Flaga still, deep in your soul, and apparently THAT WAS MY MISTAKE. You crook!
Reaction as a writer: This is fine; it’s good drama, and yet... if Destiny didn’t make Shinn idiotically return Stella to Neo specifically to give Neo something to protect (his drugged-up charge) and a reason to eventually turn on the Blue Cosmos the way I assumed they must be doing... then... why did they make Shinn do something idiotic, again? I can no longer justify Shinn’s return of Stella now, even from the writing standpoint of “It was because the writers needed to focus on Neo’s character arc.” Stella is literally right back where she came from now, because Neo shows zero remorse about breaking his “word,” and it is 100% Shinn’s fault for being naive — therefore I can only conclude that yes, Destiny’s writers wanted — chose — to make Shinn look stupid.
Why do you want me to look down on your protagonist, Destiny? We’re supposed to like protagonists! We don’t have to like everything; it’s okay for us to think they’re stupid sometimes, but.... This stupidity of Shinn’s seems too difficult to overlook. His efforts to help Stella went to crap so easily, and Shinn should have considered that they would. The lampshade that is Athrun’s addressing the issue comes too late; it should have come before Stella was actually handed off back to Neo. So to conclude, Destiny’s writers made a terrible flub, right?
Maybe not? Let’s play Devil’s Advocate.
Maybe the writers didn’t lampshade and maybe they chose to make Shinn look stupid specifically to give us a guinea pig character through which the story can explore the quintessentially SEED theme of “act in the moment the best that you can, and if you make a mistake, cry about it/fix it later.” Couldn’t it be that? Murrue thinks like this. Rey thinks like this. Are they right in their viewpoints? Well, viewers don’t know for sure. It’s therefore worth considering that Destiny might be trying to SHOW us whether they are, show us the talk by making us watch someone walk the walk (Shinn)... and see if they can survive it.
So... maybe instead of get annoyed at Shinn or the writers, the questions we should be excited to ask now that SHINN DONE MESSED UP are, “Will Shinn be able to fix this mistake? Is it actually possible for him to prevent the past from repeating itself (i.e. prevent Stella from having to fight again)? Can this all come to a satisfactory, happy and peaceful conclusion... or not? Should Shinn have thought harder first (and proved that people like Lacus are actually wrong, and Athrun and the other angsters are right?)” THAT’S THE QUESTION, ISN’T IT. Gundam SEED is about the questions more than it is about getting answers.
Shinn is our protagonist. Therefore he is the vehicle through which we should see the series’ biggest questions explored, the perspective through which the show’s themes must ultimately be addressed. Maybe the writers got sloppy; they could have still had Shinn make a giant mistake without us looking down on him so much for it (lampshade — I can’t say it enough!)... but that he DID make a mistake seems ultimately key, necessary for the entire story. I’m gonna choose to forgive it.
Bonus Take — “Not Obsessed”
Shinn’s relationship with Stella is murky. It’s clear he sympathizes with her, but it’s not clear if there’s any romantic attachment present or not — until his brig conversation with Athrun, when he finally says, “It’s not like I’m obsessed with her or anything, but...” (but I had to free her, etc. etc. because of moral reasons).
Reaction as a fan: I’m going to believe you mean that, Shinn, and aren’t just in denial. I’m going to believe you simply sympathize with Stella as a fellow human being and are a nice guy... not that you are in love with her.
Reaction as a writer: Shinn hasn’t known Stella long. And Stella, thanks to all the drugs in her system, is reduced to the brain-capacity and mannerisms of a small child when it comes to social interactions and normal life things (swimming, twirling around for no reason, etc.). Yet she has the body of a grown woman. Shinn can’t want to tap that, right? If he does, that’s... uncomfortable. Stella doesn’t have the capacity to consent; she’s completely naive, and if Shinn doesn’t take this into account, then he is a giant creeper. And a creeper protagonist would not be cool.
I have been assuming Shinn’s not a creeper. While Shinn blushed to see Stella naked (he’s a teenaged boy, of course he would!), he turned away to give her privacy. He’s never gotten sappy with her or tried to kiss her. I have genuinely believed his attachment to her has been simple and innocent — based out of pity, human compassion... and heck, maybe he even protects her because Stella’s childishness reminds him of his dead little sister... and he never got to protect Mayu. But these are all massive assumptions of mine. So on one hand, I’m really glad Shinn directly addresses his feelings toward Stella in this episode and hints that they AREN’T sexual. On the other hand... a hint might not be enough, especially this far into the story.
I’m sure there are viewers less forgiving than I am, who have assumed from the get-go that Shinn must be hitting on the childlike airhead with the nice boobs. In which case, why haven’t Destiny’s writers specifically addressed this relationship and its parameters more clearly? If it’s not that Shinn’s a creeper, it would have been useful to show us that earlier. It would have been super easy to, say, draw parallels between Stella and Mayu, to make it evident to everyone that Shinn thinks of Stella more like a sister and a victim, less like a sex object who’s an easy target because of her mental state. But Destiny hasn’t done this... and the whole topic is only barely touched upon while Shinn justifies himself in the brig. Again, Destiny... do you WANT me to dislike your protagonist, or...?
To be clear, I think it’s FINE if Shinn and Stella eventually do develop a romantic relationship. But if so, it needs to be executed over time and not creepily.
BONUS Bonus take — More Shower Scenes
Gundam SEED set a precedent for showing us characters during their showers. Gundam SEED Destiny has apparently taken that precedent like a challenge and raised the amount of shower scenes by what feels like a massive percentage. This episode, it was Neo’s turn to show us his nakedness.
Reaction as a fan: I like these scenes. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy them. I’m looking — because who isn’t? But I’m almost sick of these scenes now.
Reaction as a writer: It’s great to give viewers something they like. But as a writer, you’re not supposed to forget that every scene you include needs to have a PURPOSE. In SEED, the purpose was mostly to show us not only that characters were attractive while wet, but also that they were struggling, angsting, considering the war’s events deeply. The scenes were gratuitous, sure, but not overdone, and thus they were okay. But Destiny has gone overboard — so now I can’t take the shower scenes seriously any more. They seem to have no purpose other than to be gratuitous — and gratuity alone is not enough reason to justify their inclusion on the screen. We also need substance, purpose, and if there are so many of these scenes now, well.... You can’t honestly ask me to believe that the purpose every time is to show a character musing, struggling? Not EVERY character angsts in the shower! That’s just plain unrealistic.
At the least, you can’t tell me Neo was angsting in this scene, or even struggling. If he was, we would have also seen it evident in the rest of the episode. We didn’t; Neo has zero visible remorse about tossing Stella right back into battle. Meaning... his shower scene? It is pointless. (For an example of a decent shower scene in Destiny, see Lunamaria’s. It happens while she’s talking to Meyrin about relevant subject matter — therefore, it can be said to serve a purpose.)