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Gundam Thunderbolt is a fascinating series that shows a different side of war than we’re accustomed to seeing in the Gundam franchise. However, there is one topic in Gundam that is hard to avoid: Newtypes. And Gundam Thunderbolt has a new perspective to share there as well.
[Note: This article contains spoilers for the second season of Gundam Thunderbolt.]
In the continuing story of Gundam Thunderbolt, the Psycho Zaku—a prototype mobile suit with an interface that directly links to the pilot’s nervous system for near-instantaneous reaction time—has fallen into the hands of a faction called the South Sea Alliance. Both the Earth Federation and the Zeon remnants are attempting to obtain the Psycho Zaku and its interface technology, the “Reuse P (Psycho) Device” system for themselves.
The technology in question that the story centers around is something that could be much more practical in its military application than Newtypes. It’s accessible to normal humans (at the cost of their limbs, of course) as opposed to Newtypes (that are rare as hell and randomly occurring) or the artificially engineered Cyber Newtypes (that are reeeeeally unstable). As such, it kind of makes sense that the series hasn’t really delved that deeply into Newtypes yet.
In other UC Gundam series, often the main characters are Newtypes. They’re portrayed as sensitive, highly skilled, and most importantly, misunderstood individuals. Either that or Newtypes just don’t show up, period. Regardless, the worldview we’re shown is usually though the eyes of Newtypes. We are shown their hardships and how they are treated and they are subjects of sympathy from the audience. Combat is seen from their perspective, so watching a Newtype tear up the battlefield feels more like a power fantasy than anything else. Either that or we see character development as Newtypes fight other Newtypes.
Even enemy Newtypes are seen through the eyes of protagonist Newtypes, so there’s an inherent understanding. The only time we’ve really been shown the other side of the coin was a brief moment in Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in The Pocket where Christina Mackenzie, the test pilot for the Gundam Alex—a mobile suit specifically designed for the Newtype pilot, Amuro Ray—comments that the Alex is almost terrifyingly fast in its reaction speed. Like it was created for a monster.
Image source: BandaiChannel on YouTube
Our first look at a Newtype in Gundam Thunderbolt comes in the form of the Zeon pilot, Billy Hickam. Billy himself is an under-realized Newtype, having only been partially trained before the One Year War came to an end. That said, he exhibits the combat traits of a Newtype; seeing things before they happen, and predicting things with almost clairvoyant precision. We see that his squad mates trust his instincts, as everything he says comes true.
Still we also see that they consider his abilities unnatural and freaky, and there’s a sense of admiration and distance in how they treat him. We see that he is—much like the Newtype protagonist characters we’ve seen in other series—an outsider, not truly accepted into the main herd. But this time we’re seeing it from the viewpoint of normal humans. In the chaos of combat, he is exact and sure. He will tell people to do things almost randomly, and when they do, the results are exactly as he predicts. It’s understandable that he would be an object of awe and fear to normal soldiers. Then you realize that he’s not even a fully developed Newtype, and then it begins to make sense then reverence and terror fully developed Newtypes like Amuro and Char must have inspired.
And then we’re introduced to the leader of the Southern Alliance’s religious cult.
In Episode 8 it’s revealed that the leader of the Southern Alliance cult is a Newtype. And not just a Newtype, but a Newtype who is using his empathic abilities—that border on telepathy—to brainwash his followers. In previous series we’ve seen characters like Char and Scirocco use their charisma to charm people, but this is different. We see the cult leader standing in front of a huge crowd of people, with all of them under his spell. His abilities as a Newtype are affecting them and making them want to do his bidding. He has “saved” them spiritually, and now they are willing to do anything for him, including die in battle, which they do.
This is an eye-opening development. We see that Newtypes are potentially extremely dangerous beings. In retrospect, how the Federation and Zeon feared newtypes or saw them as weapons is practically understandable now. It makes sense that the Federation put Amuro under house arrest for years after the One Year War. The thought that if just one Newtype can do what is being done in Thunderbolt, imagine what an army of Newtypes could do.
I’ve always idolized the concept of Newtypes. A higher-evolved human with empathic powers who can find peace and understanding. Now, after Gundam Thunderbolt, I’ll never think of Newtypes the same way again.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Episode 8 can be viewed with English subtitles for a limited time at Gundam.Info. A new compilation movie covering Episodes 5 to 8, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower is scheduled for release in Japanese theaters on November 18, 2017.
Image source: 機動戦士ガンダム サンダーボルト on Twitter