Image source: 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト on Twitter

Conflict in Gundam has always been about fighting for what you believe in. But rarely has that belief been religious.

[Note: This article contains spoilers for the second season of Gundam Thunderbolt.]

Gundam Thunderbolt is a new addition to the UC Gundam canon—relatively speaking… The manga debuted in 2012. It tells the story of a conflict that took place over a new revolutionary mobile suit technology that could change the course of battle.

Called the “Reuse P (Psycho) Device” system, it’s a human-machine interface that links directly to a pilot’s nerves, allowing for an almost instantaneous response. The pilot literally drives the mobile suit with his mind. Unfortunately, the interface requires that the pilot’s arms and legs be, kind of, um, not there.

At the end of the first season, the Reuse P Device-equipped mobile suit, the MS-06R Psycho Zaku, was lost, having been crippled after a showdown with the FA-78 Full Armor Gundam. The second season reveals that the Psycho Zaku has since fallen into the hands of the South Sea Alliance, a third faction that is attempting to secede from the Federation. The second season revolves around the attempts by both the Federation and Zeon remnants to either reclaim the Psycho Zaku for themselves or destroy it.

In the Gundam universe, the South Sea Alliance was founded in order to establish a theocratic state with its religion, a sect of Buddhism, as the state religion. It holds the Far East, Mideast, and Indian Ocean regions under its control. Despite being anti-Federation, it is also opposed by the Zeon remnants due to its intentions to utilize and possibly mass produce the Reuse P Device technology. As a religious sect, it has followers in both the Federation and Zeon which has allowed it to obtain enough resources to produce its own hybrid mobile suits.

The South Sea Alliance is an interesting addition to the Gundam universe. This isn’t the first time there have been three opposing factions in simultaneous conflict—or even a faction which is made up of members from the other two—however, the South Sea Alliance is rather unique in that it is a faction that is both united under and driven by a religion.

Image source: 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト on Twitter

Despite its lengthy and complex/convoluted history, religion has never really taken a forefront in the UC Gundam universe. There have been times when religion or the existence of religion has been mentioned throughout various series, but nothing on the scale of the South Sea Alliance. The original Zeon doctrine, established by Zeon Zum Deikun, which theorized the emergence of newtypes was perhaps the closest thing to an overt religious belief serving as a driving force—but even that was gone by the time the original Mobile Suit Gundam series began, replaced by the Nazi-esque propaganda of the genetic superiority of the Zeon citizenry by Gihren Zabi. Since then, Zeon has always functioned under the idea of rebellion against oppression by the Earth Federation.

With the South Sea Alliance, there is potential to explore an extremely complex topic. If it’s explored properly, that is. Too often, when religion shows up in a story, it’s just background material, or singular stories about lone pious individuals and the need to believe in something, or plots involving fanatic zealots unafraid to die. Rarely do stories get to the subtleties of religion. Personally, I’m interested in understand the details of the South Sea Alliance religion and what role it plays in the Gundam universe. What makes it so appealing to members on both sides of a war that it would unite them—and convince them to shave their heads? What answers does it have for the war-torn world?

Image source: 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト on Twitter

In the latest episode of Gundam Thunderbolt, we see the Zeon remnants enter a South Sea Alliance-controlled area in order to extract a spy. We are shown some bits and pieces of life inside the region, but we have yet to really be shown the details of the religion that unites the people. There is only one episode left in the series, but I hope it will do justice to the topic of religion in the Gundam universe. Done well enough, it could open the door to more exploratory side-series like Thunderbolt.

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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Episode 7 can be viewed with English subtitles for a limited time at Gundam.Info. The final episode, Episode 8 is scheduled for release on July 14th.

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