(This post contains spoilers for
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin)
Truly anytime would be good to talk about Captain Ramba Ral, but we felt particularly compelled recently. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin collected vol. 3 retells his story in glorious detail. Gundam Build Fighters features Ral in parody as a Gunpla enthusiast and mentor. And to top it all off it is “Movember,” certainly Ral’s moustache is worth celebrating during this time!
Without a doubt that is Ramba Ral’s most famous catch phrase. But if that meme was all there was to him he would not be the iconic character he is today. While there is always a Char clone in almost every Gundam TV series after the original Ramba Ral has lesser but still rather pervasive legacy. We see characters like Andrew Waltfeld, Suberoa Zinnerman, and Sergei Smirnov in the franchise trying to capture some of that lightening in a bottle that was the original. A likeable enemy commander who forms a bond with the protagonist which makes their later confrontation all the more painful and dramatic. Characters who echo like this through the ages always come from primally powerful personalities that stay with audiences when they go on to make their own projectors.
Ramba Ral is one of those characters who ingrains himself onto your psyche.
In Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, much like the original telling, Ral has presence. As soon as Ramba Ral appears the air changes, you can tell immediately that he is different from Amuro’s opponents thus far (Char, Garma); Ral is part of the old guard, a clear veteran of war.
Ramba Ral is the most important sympathetic Zeon solider we meet in the series. While we do see one or two low-level Zeon soldiers with souls most of the soldiers the White Base encounters before Ramba Ral are jackbooted thugs, fanatical zealots, decadent fops, or unquestioning drones. Ramba Ral clearly used to be an idealist who sided with the more liberal Zeon Zum Deikun as opposed to the fascist Zabi family. He even protects Zeon’s children Casval and Artesia who were targeted for death at the risk of his own life.
But when it is clear that the Zabi’s are the new world order in the space colonies Ramba Ral does the best that he can to work within the new power structure no matter how distasteful it might be. When Amuro stumbles upon Mr. Ral and his soldiers they are looking to destroy the White Base to avenge the death or Garma. While Ral and his men have won some significant battles few others could have pulled off the stigma of siding with the Deikun family means that have the stench of traitors around them. They are hoping by taking down a threat as significant as the Gundam and the Trojan Horse so they can finally clear their names.
We see a loyalty from Ral’s men in a commander they can trust. Ral is a commander who pushes his men but also uses them to their best potential. They also clearly know that if the higher-ups gave him what he needed he could do more but he is the sort of tactical genius who can weave gold out of straw with the scraps they give him. If they give their commander their best he will do everything to make sure they all do well.
Even when Ral and Hamon mean the clearly suspicious Amuro they treat him warmly as they see a likeable spark in the boy despite the fact that he has Federation ties. Even when they are fighting in the mobile suits with their very lives on the line Ral speaks to Amuro more like a mentor then an adversary. You get the feeling if they met under other circumstances they could have been friends.
Even Ramba Ral’s death is meant to be a lesson for Amuro as much as anything else. A final lesson on the true savagery and tragedy of war.
I haven’t actually figured out yet if Gundam Build Fighters is for children or not, but even if it is, Ral’s presence is clearly for adults to enjoy and get a kick out of. In its parody of Ral, he has the inexplicable ability to pop-up whenever often as a narrator of sorts. At other times he is just there to add a bit of levity to the situation.
Ral is actually quite close to his original version but on a completely different scale! He is a fatherly figure that helps awaken Iori’s true fighting spirit, just you know in the world of plastic models. And he has some great lines which is just made better by him being brought to life by the original voice of Ral.
In Gundam Build Fighter Mr. Ral reminds me of Stalker from G-Gundam. He is the commentator character that can pop out of nowhere and just start explain what needs to be clarified for the audience. He also is always there whenever someone needs a character to pick them up off their feet. At first China is a bit suspicious of the strange man who pops out of nowhere to talk about Gunpla. By episode six they are practically exposition buddies.
It is as if Build Fighters Ramba Ral can finally be the kindly uncle character who helps out the protagonist he was always meant to be.
I’d be remiss to not to discuss Ral’s mustache after mentioning it in the introduction. It adds a bit of flair and rather reminds me of my own father’s mustache in the late 80s. That fatherly part is important since his brief, but essential, interactions with Amuro fall right in line with that feeling.
While Ramba Ral had a short but memorial role in the original TV series he is considerably more fleshed out in The Origin manga. I am curious to see the time that he spent with a young Sayla and Char as that was a time that was referenced in the anime but never really shown. Hopefully that time spent together will not only tell us more about how Sayla and Char became who they are but also give a little better insight into the man behind the mustache.