DISCLAIMER: This review will a combination of a traditional text review and a film analysis based on a specific theme present throughout. As such, this “review” contains heavy spoilers. If you feel like reading my thoughts on the film without being spoiled, quickly scroll to the bottom of the review. Otherwise, proceed with caution.
Thunderbolt 2, Humanity, and the Consequences of War
The idea of being human has a myriad of components many would look into from a biological and philosophical sense. Some of the most commonly discussed components used as the defining factor for what makes someone “truly human” include: a sense of individuality and identity, the ability to communicate with people in a natural way, tact in regards to the dead, and the idea of dealing with trauma. The second season of Gundam Thunderbolt, and by extension, this film compilation of said season’s episodes, tackles each and every one of these facets naturally, without actively trying to dwell on it as the main selling point. As such, this integral facet of Thunderbolt 2 has undeservedly been ignored or brushed off entirely.
Before we dive deeper into this analysis, I feel we must first address the audiovisual component of this film, as regardless of your views on Thunderbolt as a whole, this is what the side-series is known for. We should also address some of the non-thematic additions made and any problems second season and this compilation of said season contain. Studio Sunrise, the main corporate entity behind this film’s production, did a wonderful job in creating another visually stunning work full of incredible and varied character designs, vibrant gunfire, blue flames, laser beams, and beam weapons, and the incredible new designs and updates to older models. The action is as stellar and destructive as ever, taking the carnage from the electrified and abandoned terrain of the abandoned Thunderbolt Sector of the first season, to a variety of mostly aquatic locations, whether they be attic or tropical. Whilst the Federation mobile suits of yore looked childish and out of place compared to both the Zeon suits and Thunderbolt Sector Federation models, each and every suit looks grittier and more at home with a carnivorous war environment.
The music, composed once more by Naruyoshi Kikuchi, is as fantastic as before. Like with the previous compilation film, it shuffles around the tracks to mixed results, often starting in the middle of the track, such as with the first two action scenes regarding the fantastic tracks “Thunderbolt New Theme” and “Groovy Duel”. Unfortunately, there weren't any new tracks added towards the end like “Ronald Reagan Other Side” was in the new footage found at the end of the first film. The wonderful jazz and blues tracks of the second season are as electrifying as ever, with vocal tracks being better than some of the first season’s, and non-vocal tracks that directly rival those of season one.
As for additional scenes, the first two tie into the analysis so we will save that for later. The third additional scene has Io being temporarily assaulted by Zeon forces who chained and dogpiled his mech, with it solely annoying him before he managed to break out and obliterate them. The final one has Bianca questioning to Cornelius why Io is going after Claudia, in which he responds that it's Io’s ex and they thought she was dead. It doesn't alleviate how silly it is that Claudia and Sergei (Karla’s superior) survived since while we already knew they were picked up somehow, it was still an unknown amount of time after surviving a situation they should not have survived to begin with. However, it was odd that Bianca didn't question it to begin with, so it’s good to see her do it here.
The English dub slightly less solid than last time. While we did see good returning performances from characters such as Io and Cornelius, and the background characters were largely better than last time, a few performances, such as Laura Stahl, were rather hit or miss, and the line changes were somewhat groan-inducing. The prospect of hearing “you selfish prick” being casually told in dub was burnt asunder. Additionally, Johnny Yong Bosch somehow does an inconsistent performance despite this being a reprised role. At least we seem to have got Patrick Seitz here, even as a background character.
In addition to the increased amount of new footage compared to its predecessor, the episodes of the second season flow better into a film than the episodes of the first. Even with the fact that there is no additional piece of music unlike last time where one was added at the very end, I would consider this to be the be superior compilation film of the two, regardless of if the content present in December Sky is overall stronger.
Needless to say, I feel that the sequel to the events of Gundam Thunderbolt is every bit as rich as the original, though in different ways. While Season 1 (and by extension, December Sky) was a savage and grueling endeavor and electrifying spectacle of sheer pain and misery for both sides involved, with the embodiment of this being the two ace pilots who were effective our main characters in the first season, season 2 is a more relaxed and humorous but still brutal spectacle of chaotic battles that ended in similar levels of sorrow for those we followed. Season 1 was a look into the sheer horrors of war and both the stakes people have put into the war with their personal lives, and just how far people are willing to go for the sake of winning a war. Meanwhile, Season 2 was a look into the consequences of such a war beyond it whilst looking into the various things that make people human. The fact that season 2 is only mildly less brutal and chaotic must be emphasized given the complaints of entertainment value being lost when the story takes itself too seriously, and that the story apparently was just boring exposition most of the time. Saying the former discredits Gundam Thunderbolt arguably even more than the second season, the primary target of these complaints, as season 1 took itself even more seriously as this unflinchingly brutal display of carnage and lights. Saying the latter is an exaggeration at best, as while the second season’s battles were not as beam and destruction-intensive and there is no raw rivalry, there was still a fair amount of fun, incredibly well-animated, and only mildly less flashy battles to be had. This isn’t entirely as strong as the first installment was, and it does leave with a lame cliffhanger, but it is most certainly a worthy successor to the original, especially this Bandit Flower compilation version. With that diatribe out of the way, the electrifying analysis begins now!
Humanization is defined as giving more human elements to something, usually in fiction. When used in regards to characters, it is often used to mean the idea of showing characters off as more human than simply a character that is written as a role in the narrative. Seeing realistic banter what they do in their free time beyond what is directly tied to the concept or narrative of the product in question, showing background characters doing minor yet real things, etc. Modern anime are occasionally criticized with not having much of any of this show off. Simply put, both Second Season and Bandit Flower have this in spades. In the events covering episode 5, we see two seemingly random soldiers exchange a quiet yet enthusiastic fist bump before flying into battle. In the events covering episode 6, we see Io and his new friend, Bianca, not only discuss Jazz, particularly in regards to famous Jazz artists and how the genre has evolved over time and what made it so special to begin with, but have a 96 second scene of them playing a favorite song of theirs. Said song brings back fun memories of the Thunderbolt Sector days back in the first season. We then see a soldier drinking and crying over the death of his six-month-old son whilst showing pictures of him to a comrade. He is one of the antagonists of this part of the story, as it is largely a battle between the Federation and members of a certain cult who salvages and reused uniforms and mecha of both sides of the One Year War of 0079. 10 minutes later, we see another enemy soldier move out, flicking a baseball player bobblehead he has stationed right beside him, only to later see an entire collection of them in his room at the end of the episode, or in this case, the events covering said episode.
Throughout the series, the banter between Io, Bianca, and Cornelius is shown to be charming and humorous. They act like real, sassy friends who have each other’s backs even with their misgivings with one-another, even discounting the fact that it is a given to survive in a situation such as war. The mildly agitated name-calling, the more friendly type of violence akin to lightly pounding bonking someone on the head with your fist or a plastic bottle or whatnot, and how open they are to each other about their hobbies and small requests. We did get to see the running gag of Io asking Cornelius for tissues back during Season 1 and December Sky, but the rest is completely new to this second season, particularly due to the inclusion of Bianca. It’s cute to see them warm up to each other so fast and get into long, passionate discussions about their favorite hobby in such a short amount of time, again, in the middle of what is effectively turning into a 3-way war.
Little touches like these add some minor depth to even the most insignificant of characters, making things feel more alive. They also freshen up the cast a bit more and make the time spent with them more fun as they know how to actually communicate like real people would rather than simply in a more constructed and narrative-continuing or character-justifying (the latter of which is never a good sign) type of way.
Referring back to the raw savagery that was the events of season 1, it was a standoff so devastating that major physical, mental, emotional, and even reputation-based consequences were inevitable to occur. When Karla had her mental breakdown towards the end of the time spent in the Thunderbolt Sector, it turns out that her mind regressed to that of a child as a result. Since Daryl’s mechanical hand resembles the mechanical hand of her father’s, he has to take care of her occasionally as a way of treating her mind so that it can become stable once again. During the Thunderbolt days, there was a mission where a bunch of teenage rookies was sent into battle to be mowed down viciously so that Io and others could break through into the Zeon ships. As a result, some of Io’s peers detest him. While he never has to confront them about it or even interact with them, it’s clearly something that will carry over to a possible third installment as they, over the course of the second installment, find themselves conflicted about him over time rather than simply resentful of him. Meanwhile, Daryl is considered a legend by some Zeon remnants for besting and capturing Io, including the Living Dead division. As a result, some members, specifically Billy Hackam, indirectly try to test him to see if he lives up to his reputation.
With everything having been said, it is only fitting that the main antagonist of this second installment is a cult wherein people sacrifice themselves for the same of a mission and one figurehead. This cult is known as the South Seas Alliance. Whereas episode 5 showed two kamikaze Zeon remnants cursing their superiors over the mission the more they thought of it, these cultists are more generally willing to sacrifice themselves. Clearly, some members were too scared to die, or at the very least, didn’t want to die until their contribution to the objective was fulfilled. However, there were plenty who actively suicide bombed themselves to distract the Federation or otherwise make way for their comrades. Not every member was entirely convinced, however, like Claudia, who felt entirely conflicted when Io tried and failed to get her out. The leader of the cult is a newtype named Levan Fuu, who was revealed to be a patient in a newtype facility created by an old lady who now runs the ship Io is working in. The awkward scene added in at the beginning was a younger Levan Fuu waking about the nature of sacrifice and humanity, whilst showing them with the necklaces we see in the show proper. This only makes him stronger of a character despite being such a non-presence until the very end as he is revealed. We already see what he has done, but to see that he developed this mentality due to his time in this facility helps make him more interesting, and made the idea of him becoming a real presence in a third installment all the more tantalizing. After all, he discovered what he believed people can do, and exploited that to turn his followers into mindless, self-sacrificing drones with no real interactions with each other whatsoever. How fitting that these nameless, hive-minded goons are mowed down by Io and Bianca, the diametric opposites of these people. How perfect that they were so easily scammed by one who claimed to be of their own. It's almost the perfect punishment for those who have sacrificed some of the most basic human qualities.
Gundam Thunderbolt Bandit Flower is very nearly the epitome of the human side of the Gundam franchise. While it may not hit as hard or be as brutal or tightly-constructed as the first season, what it conveys is equally interesting and it manages to continue to showcase some of the best audiovisuals in non-film anime. In many ways, Bandit Flower is the tragically underappreciated, definitive version of the content of the equally mistreated second season. With all that said, as always, I bid you adieu.