*Spoilers for both seasons of Gundam Thunderbolt*
The phrases "Robots are cool" and "War is hell" are nothing if not ubiquitous with Gundam. Anyone who fancies himself even a remote fan of Gundam can tell you that. Yet, while most war stories opt for the "war is hell" angle, there aren't that many of them that really feel...human. Sure, we can have something like "Apocalypse Now" and "Saving Private Ryan" which accomplishes that, but most of the time, we get "SEED Destiny" and "00 Second Season" which have it's characters come off as more "idiot/asshat tools for a broken narrative" than truly human characters that make us feel something good.
Gundam Thunderbolt has always felt human. Yes, it still goes the "robots are cool" angle Gundam and most mecha anime in general have as their bones, and yes, there is a lot of sick jazz to really get the adrenaline pumping when action takes place, but Gundam Thunderbolt feels truly human about expressing war and its combatants, and this second season is no exception. Yet somehow, a lot of people fail to realize this, seeing it as nothing more than pretty action romps with little substance. While in the surface Thunderbolt is another epic war series full of some of the flashiest visuals you will ever see in anime, it presents everything more realistically than dramatically, all the while making perfect sense, effectively becoming more dramatic than most of its much longer brethren. So, how does Gundam Thunderbolt go about being human, and what does this Second Season do to strengthen such a human feel? Well, let's find out, shall we?
It's one whole year after the One Year War, and now Zeon remnants have aligned with this strange religious cult known as the South Seas Alliance to take down the feddies. Once again, we have two stories, two main perspectives to follow, Io and Daryl. The interactions they have with their crew are excellent and really bring the best out of everybody in terms of expressing their character, and their battles are as exciting as always. Then in episode 6, we receive a reminder of just how human this show really is after the epic reestablishing episode 5 did and was meant to do. One Zeon troop lost his newborn son in debris and is now fighting out of grief while all we see is a scene of him crying while swiping through pictures of him and his wife right after her giving birth. Next we see Commander Bull, and in one moment, he flicks the head of a bobblehead baseball player with pictures of him and his son also being in the amphibian mobile suit he’s piloting, and in another scene, him getting ready to shoot himself in his room full of more baseball bobbleheads. I love this kind of human storytelling placed on even grunts we’ll never see again. Whereas any other Gundam anime would've shown them fighting while shouting about their children or not even showing bobbleheads, this one does, and I'm really thankful for it.
Everything this anime teases us with even slightly is tied up perfectly beyond the main plot. In episode 5, we see the old hag chairman (or whatever position she holds) having a sort of incense necklace and in the finale, it turns out this was from her Newtype Facility that the original cultist, Levan Fuu was from before he began his cult. After an awesome session of playing the song “Groovy Duel” before a mission in episode 6, Io and his new jazz aficionado friend Bianca say they'll do another session, and in the next episode, they remark on how they never did and how they'll do that right after the operation that lasts from then to the end of this finale, except it's gonna keep going because this show burns us with a cliffhanger. Before that, a few things I wanna clear up, as well as one minor gripe.
Some people have accused the Groovy Duel scene of being nothing but filler. That is not true. That was there to quickly reinforce that this hobby of Io’s and Bianca’s they share wouldn't be just a one-off aspect of them that never came up again, unlike most anime that have character mutually involved in a hobby unrelated to the show’s narrative. We already know that about Io, but we didn't know that for Bianca, and it was fun to see them do it and then Io reminiscing about episode 1 of last season where he was in space combat before his suit got sniped. I'm also glad that episode 7 reinforced this, though after episode 6, that was set in stone about the two and their friendship. A few issues come up though. Well, actually just one. Apparently, Claudia survived getting shot being in the ship that got destroyed and somehow she was reduced by the South Seas Alliance. How? It's a dismal plot point and a big issue with the second half of the season, but it's not enough to derail my experience with the show.
Io is just as cool as ever, especially in his new Atlas Gundam, and it's nice to see him really worry about Claudia once she shows up, though I already covered him last time. His chemistry with Bianca is damn fine though. Speaking of, Bianca is officially the best girl in Thunderbolt. Going through a lot of crews and being an awesome jazz aficionado was damn fun to know about her, and overall she’s very fun and full of jabs. Some of my favorite moments of her include her threatening to drop Io by calling him a selfish prick and asking if he wants to take a swim when he complained about her being late as his Mobile Suit’s footstool in episode 8, and her covering her head and apologizing after seeing Cornelius grind his knuckles on Io’s head for messing up his mobile suit and saying that she was guilty of it as well. Speaking of, Cornelius is here and doesn't do much but hey, fun to have him and the tissue gag back.
Like Io, Daryl is back and we don't really need to delve much into him this time, except for one thing. Remember when Karla started going crazy and screaming her head off in episode 4 last season? Well, as a result, she has reverted to her prepubescent stage mentally and thanks to the whole 3 metal fingers resemblance her father had to Daryl, he has to pose as her father while she is in recovery, which is insanely bittersweet. His crew and their interactions are pretty alright as well. We don't need to touch up on Claudia either. She’s basically the same except with new people and we already covered that. Including those two soldiers from episode 6, we have a really wonderful and rather human cast. Hell, their dialogue is often great too, especially Bianca’s. I love when a series a built a bit on its old cast while making the new guys just as great, which is surprisingly hard for Gundam sequels to do if Gundam SEED Destiny and 00 Second Season have taught me anything.
The mobile suits and new Gundams like the Atlas Gundam, all look damn amazing, and some of the Feddie suits that didn't look quite right in season 1 now look perfect here. The stellar action is fun and flashy as always, like when Daryl pulls off a maneuver that involves boosting into his Frizzy Yard cloak and it looks shimmering with the red protective cloak and the blue-ish booster flames, and the battle at Ao Boa Qu in episode 5. Despite the mildest of weird CGI, this probably even tops or at least definitely rivals season 1 for the title of best looking Gundam anime. Hell, the Groovy Duel sequence was pretty well animated, and contrary to some people’s belief, has no reused footage other than Io simultaneously reminiscing on the battle in episode 1. Needless to say, this ONA is as eyegasmic as it was before. It is Gundam Fucking Thunderbolt, after all.
Naruyoshi Kikuchi comes back for this season as well, delivering another round of great scores. The elephant in the room is “Pretty Song” for being so upbeat and so different from any kind of music from the series, and it's definitely a cute song, no pun intended. Others such as the episode 6 and 7 ED themes I can't currently find a name for, as well as “Groovy Duel” which rivals “Thunderbolt for Main Theme” from season 1 in terms of being real blood-pumping jazz. I also like the song "War of Sara Yoshida" from episode 8. Now I wish I could find the names for more of these tracks since there amazing and I do like more of the ED themes of this season than those of last season.
With magnificent action and equally fun jazz and music, this series more than satisfied the adrenaline-inducing action junkie in me. With brilliant and real dialogue and subtle and true displays of humanity, I could only appreciate this series even more. It more than fulfills its duty as a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, which is unfortunately rare for Gundam sequels. Even if you don't agree that this series or even this season is great, at least we can all agree on one thing: it's leagues ahead of that piece of shit Twilight Axis which aired alongside this. With all that said, I bid you adieu.