Image source: 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト on Twitter
Gundam Thunderbolt’s newest supporting character is far more interesting, complex, and stereotype-breaking than I ever expected.
[Note: This article contains spoilers for the first season and for episode six of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt.]
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt tells the untold tale of conflicts that took place behind the overarching One Year War of UC 0079-0080. While the first season covered the battle of the Thunderbolt Sector at the end of the One Year War, the second season enters into the aftermath and the continuing conflict after the end of the war.
The experimental mobile suit, the Psycho Zaku—a mobile suit that is connected directly to the pilot’s nervous system to enhance the suit’s reaction speed to the absolute limit—has fallen into the hands of a religious faction and the Earth Federation has sent a special unit to either retrieve or destroy it.
Among the crew is Io Fleming, the only pilot who has first-hand experience fighting against—and losing to—the Psycho Zaku. Alongside him is a newly introduced character to the series, Bianca Carlyle.
— 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト (@gundam_tb) April 27, 2017
When we are first introduced to Bianca, we see that she is a bright, spunky, energetic character, with a cheerful attitude and a similar love of jazz that has become Io’s calling card. It looks at first like the series is setting her up to be Io’s love interest and your typical jovial-yet-capable female pilot to contrast Io’s hardcore and—let’s face it at this point—murder-happy attitude. However, as the episode progresses, we begin to see that this is not the case.
The first hint we see that the series may be subverting our expectations is in the collage of tattoos that decorate Bianca’s body. Bianca has tattoos engraved in her skin as trophies of all the different operations she has taken part in. From the fact that she literally has trouble finding a spot where to add a new tattoo for this latest operation, we see that this is a woman who has been in some shit. While there may have been an operation or two where she was in the rear as support, it seems highly unlikely that every operation was like that. The fact that she was part of Operation Star One (the Federation’s mass offensive against Zeon) and Operation Chenbro (the operation to take the Zeon stronghold of Solomon) shows that she was involved in some of the biggest battles of the One Year War.
Still, at this point we haven’t seen her in action. The fact that her personality remains cheerful and open leaves us with the possibility that she still falls into that stereotypical anime girl trope we see all the time.
And then she gets into her mobile suit…
Image source: 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト on Twitter
Without going into detail, Gundam Thunderbolt completely subverted my anime expectations with a female character who is every bit as broken and twisted by war as Io Fleming is. Bianca isn’t your typical anime girl soldier, she’s a soldier who just happens to be a girl. She’s not your stereotypical heavy-duty “don’t treat me like a girl” character or your fighting manic pixy dreamgirl character. She’s someone who fights to kill. Not necessarily because it’s to defend anything or get revenge, but simply because the people she’s fighting are on the other side. It’s pretty much, “I don’t give a shit whatever reasons you may have. You’re either with us or against us… And if you’re against us, I will kill you.”
There’s real weight to Bianca’s character. You see that despite enjoying music and making casual conversation with the other crew members, at the end of the day, she is first and foremost a soldier in a war. She’s not in it for the thrill of action or a challenge like Io is, she’s in it because that is who she is. This is her place in life. Even if she ends up as a romantic interest for Io, their relationship will always be secondary to the fact that she’s a soldier.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt is a heavy and realistic story in a world of giant robots. It is the most realistic Gundam series I have ever seen and I love that it has equally realistic characters to match its tone. The series has two more episodes to go and I cannot wait to see where the story is going to go.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Episode 6 can be viewed with English subtitles for a limited time at Gundam.Info. Episode 7 is scheduled for release on May 31.