Every now and again, I feel the need to put out the feelers and sample the delights of a genre I tend to dislike, and this week my anime palette was drenched with mech in the form of Gundam Seed. Now, not only do I usually hate giant robots with a passion, but I am also completely baffled by the Gundam fanboys who get moist as they reel off the names of each unit and their special features. So, prepare yourselves for a review from an anime fan that couldn’t pick out a Gundam in a line-up filled with the Transformers...
Playing up to my extremely low expectations, the opening episodes see an Earth base attacked by the evil ZAFT and a young boy, Kira, jumping to the rescue by piloting a humanoid-shaped fighting unit. But wait! Not only does he successfully get the thing moving, but he also manages to completely re-write the operating system whilst in the midst of battle! The neighbours probably heard my moans of disgust that *this* passes for entertainment. Swallowing my pride, I continue with the supposed epic, cheered on by the lovable Gundam-a-holics.
As the show gathers momentum and delves deeper into the characters, the true heart of Seed shows through. I personally detest contrived coincidences and impossible superhero feats, so once the political drama that drives the series bursts forth magnificently from a mechanised egg shell, my interest was suddenly piqued. Blurring the already skewed line between good and evil, there comes a point where the viewer wonders which side they should be cheering for. But very much like real life, there isn’t always a definitive answer to this. In fact, the series almost feels like a history book on world events, with names and faces changed to protect the guilty.
Throughout Gundam Seed, there are far fewer epic mech battles than I had expected, with much time spent on gritty drama and a group of bewildered kids trying to come to terms with their situation. It also poses difficult questions about the effects of war, something that is given extra depth by the relationship between Kira and Athrun/Asran. If two close friends fight on opposite sides, what will happen as their colleagues fall around them? Although the resultant fallout is reasonably childish as the two bucks lock horns again and again, it is probably closer to the truth than an idealistic, hand-holding solution.
One thing I learned after watching this show is explosions in space are bright pink and look like giant poufs of candyfloss. Another is that people who are unimportant in war have heads like misshapen potatoes. Ugly characterisations aside, the scenery in Gundam Seed is beautiful – from a verdant off Earth colony, to the mundane and clinical interior of a war-class ship, the artists have certainly spent much of their time watching decade’s old sci-fi for inspiration. A big surprise for me is the minimal use of CG; instead of a willy waving contest using technological advances, the graphics remain true to their roots and only occasional gargantuan bases are rendered by pc. Sadly, my lack of Gundam knowledge meant the flashy battles flew over my head, along with bright green death rays, leaving me in utter confusion as to who was winning. Ah well, at least it looks pretty.
Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised: that seems to be the overriding theme of this review, and the sound follows suit. A host of beautiful opening and ending tracks were marred only by some bizarre lyrics. “Why do you, with your small hands, try to carry all these wounds on your back?”. A strong cast of seiyuu bring the animated personalities to life brilliantly. That is apart from moments of anguish the characters undergo, with forced crying that is almost painful to listen to. I understand that the crew are in the middle of a life or death situation, but the whining does become a little tiresome and spoils an otherwise exemplary performance.
Although most Gundam Seed fans seem to worship at the temple of Kira Yamamoto, I found the most believable characters came in the curvaceous forms of the leading ladies. Flay/Fray plays a tragically fragile role that stirs alternating feelings of sympathy and utter loathing for her selfish and manipulative games. It feels like a slow motion train wreck as she loses her sense of rationale, but like said accident, you find yourself straining your neck to get a glimpse of the gory entrails. Lacus seems at first to be nothing but pretty decoration to redress a typically male cast. Instead, she is admirably strong in difficult situations and posesses a sharper political mind than I gave her credit for. And lastly, Murrue Ramius is an excellent second in command, who squares up to her captain, giving the ships deck an interesting dynamic.
It’s not that the male characters are bad, it is simply that they display generic characteristics that are blatantly abundant in this genre. Brave heroes who dive in last minute to save the day are as common as Simon Cowell tv productions. But overall, the honesty of the humans contained within this show is what keeps me coming back for more. Finding out what makes them tick, or why they react a certain way flows through the series in an extremely natural way. Gundam Seed also taught me another couple of important lessons: 1. In the midst of battle, you *will* have a relationship with someone 2. Somehow, you will be related to someone else on the battlefield (and probably given a giant mech to fly if your parents are important military figures)
Still adamant that I don’t like mech, I don’t think anything is going to change my mind about that; however, Seed has given me a new perspective on the entire genre. See past the silly boys in their big robot toys, and the heart of the series lies safely in the hands of a rich cast who display many faults, only to make you love them more. If the entire Gundam franchise were more focused on the convoluted relationships and intricate politics that make the show tick, I would probably be a huge fan. Although it isn’t the amazing piece of work promised by the fanatics, I still need to hold up my hands and admit to being wrong: Gundam Seed is actually pretty good, despite giant mech being rubbed in my face at every opportunity.
Just like walking into a McDonalds, approaching anything with ‘Gundam' in the title instantly brings to mind a menu of things to expect: a pacifist philosophy of war; robots piloted by teenagers; and of course, lots and lots of action. If ‘Gundam' is a fast-food joint, then Gundam SEED is the quintessential burger; needless to say, the part of me that has refused to grow up certainly appreciates what's for sale.
First of all, it wastes no time getting straight to the action; barely two episodes into the story, ZAFT has destroyed a colony and Kira is wreaking havoc in a new, custom-made mecha. Following that is a protracted chase across the galaxy, during which the crew of the Artemis spend their time dodging ambushes and worrying about low fuel supplies. Since I'm not a fan of the ‘race for the next space station' format, it was the strong character focus that kept me engaged during this phase; they may not be the most complicated of characters, but their intense development seemed far more interesting than their constant space battles.
The rest of the series is then devoted to portraying an intergalactic disaster for which nobody is ultimately to blame; it's a classic security dilemma where each side attacks the other because they fear being attacked first. Central to this theme is the conflict between Kira and Athrun, who are bound by duty to fight each other despite being best friends. I'm not sure how believable this is since the two spend more time trying to blow each other up than talking things over; even at the best of times their behaviour is stand-offish. Not to say that this is the worst contrivance in the world; at the least, the Kira-Athrun subplot provides for one or two emotional moments along the way.
The gist is this: Gundam SEED has nothing new to say about war or politics that we didn't know already. However, it manages to deliver a plot that is familiar in content and yet much better put together than a lot of similar shows. This undemanding style actually makes it easy to get absorbed in the story. My own addiction is a classic example; I knew it was bad for my health and that I'd regret it later, but before I was aware, I had watched thirty episodes back to back.
First and foremost, the CGI is great and generally blends well with the hand-drawn cels. Unfortunately, the special effects must have been allocated the lion's share of the budget; apart from bright explosions, Gundam SEED offers nothing but bland character designs and bog-standard backgrounds. On top of that, everyday movements look wooden whilst the action sequences involving the Gundams remain relatively fluid. If that weren't enough, the recycled use of generic destruction sequences during the battles is obvious.
Given that, Gundam SEED looks decent for its time, and certainly remains on par with the majority of anime being produced today; whilst I might normally be bothered by its inconsistencies, the CG sequences and well-animated action scenes keep it nicely above average.
Gundam SEED provides a small selection of different electro-pop opening themes, none of which can be called technically inventive; on the other hand, they are catchy and fit the epic tone of the series like a glove. Two of them even made it onto my mp3 for a while.
As for the voice acting, the Japanese performances are convincing, if not the most inspirational in the world; the actors must have been chosen more for their ability to work with a plot-serving script than their skill at highlighting subtle emotion. However, compared to the American voice actors, they are positively award-winning: Kira sounds just like a member of the Backstreet Boys trying to spell ‘emotional turmoil', and Lacus' ditzy intonations make me want to take my own ears off with an egg slicer. The only reason to watch the American dub is because you can't read the subs fast enough; even then I recommend using the pause button instead.
At the least Gundam SEED manages to develop a big cast that is both believable and memorable. One of them, Flay Allster, will even be remembered for the wrong reasons; her relentless conniving was irritating as hell, and not an episode went by when I didn't wish her an aneurism. Still, considering that she does everything out of fear, her behaviour also comes across as rather tragic. Amongst the more admirable characters are Mu La Flaga, the ace pilot with lots of experience to offer his struggling crew, and Murrue Ramius, whose subtle rivalry with her Captain brings a refreshing angle to the crew's dynamic. Out of all of them, though, Kira Yamato's emotional journey turns out to be the most interesting:
In the first episode, Kira is a nondescript, happy student who knows a thing or two about science; as events overtake him, he rapidly descends into a cycle of confusion, rage, and loneliness. The tragedy of his situation is that he hates war (surprise, surprise); but, since he is the only one who can pilot the Gundam, his friends depend on him for survival. To make things worse, his best friend is also his worst enemy, and some of the people he wants to protect don't actually trust him. As much as it lacks subtlety, Kira's development is still thoroughly engaging; watching every turn of events erode his humanity bit by bit makes his eventual cold-heartedness feel natural.
I'd warn anyone looking for an innovative portrayal of war and its effects to stay well clear of this title; keeping in mind that the story is about two teenagers piloting what are in essence giant Lego figures, Gundam SEED is unlikely to exude the necessary gravitas. While the series may be as substantial as a Happy Meal, it still provides more than a few excellent thrills along the way. Kids and grownups will enjoy it alike for its fast and easy plot; the juicy characters; and its bloated action sequences.
Notice: This review covers both seasons of the franchise. I won’t bother making two different ones for the same story.
Have no denials; SEED is the remake of the original Gundam and it is also the blueprint for the later 00. I was quite positive and enthusiastic about the original universe because it was the first mecha in general to be so mature and it bridged the mecha genre with space opera. The problem is that the maker, Tomino, didn’t try any harder afterwards. It’s not like it is illegal to rehash your own works and labeling them alternative settings or something, but he has done that, like, twenty times in a span of 30 years (including his other mecha shows as well) which tends to become tiresome after awhile. Other directors don’t do that so obviously, they keep experimenting, and they definitely do a lot better directing, yet Tomino is just redoing the same old formula with slight alterations. And sure, it sales like crazy, just like all of the identical mecha shows Nagai directed in the 70’s. That doesn’t mean they are great; they are simply easily digested and cool for the target audience.
The first issue I had with this particular retelling is in the animation. The style they used in the faces felt stupid to me compared to the original. I mean, lol, they look like the Smurfs! Am I really supposed to feel the same dramatic tension as before if everything now looks more childish?
Before you start nagging about me trolling about the animation, let me reassure you that I am not talking about the coloring or the robot designs. I admit that the technology improves and makes them look more and more fancier, more poser, and more cool to go buy the plamo. The thing is, they also start looking like a circus instead of just trying to tell a story. What the hell is wrong with the color palette? Red Gundams, Blue Gundams, Gold, Silver, Diamond, Pearl, POKEMON GOTTA CATHCEM ALL! Seriously, there used to be a lot less models in the original, each one having more significance. But now look at this mess, a new model every 5 episodes, with new power ups, new weapons, new boosters and whatever. Am I watching this for the story or the Playmobil variations? Yeah, it even fits the name, Playmobile Suit Gundam, you change one every month. Doesn’t that detract from the importance of the robot or even the pilots themselves? It all turns to a technology race, who gets to create or steal the latest model and blast to pieces the other side before the next model appears in 5 episodes to kick his sorry ass. It’s no longer about the talent of the pilot. It also turns to a fashion model contest, like, who gets to have the best looking one. My favorite is the PINK Gundam, because it was piloted by a pop idol… A pop WHAT???
Oh that’s right, now we have pop idols as well. With pink hair to boot. Singing about world peace on top of everything else. Why do I get the feeling Tomino ripped off ideas from Macross? Skip that, he really did if you think how he included aliens in his later 00 variation (and boy did they suck).
Furthermore, although SEED, like any other Gundam, had some of the best visuals of its time, this particular version was heavy on repeated footage. I could excuse that in the early 80’s because of the technology restraints but in the early 2000’s this is plain lazy and an excuse to save money out of a franchise that sales like crazy. I also never liked the way robots explode with pink smoke in this version; it made everything look gay. Heck, combined with THAT sort of faces it really was gayer. So no, in all the animation and artwork in this and most other series felt inferior to the original. And I don’t mean the number of polygons or the frames per second; I mean the aesthetic part about how serious everything looks. I didn’t like it that much.
After that I will talk a bit about the sound part and more specifically about the soundtrack. Damn, so many different openings and so many different songs, and they are all pop full of teen angst. And sure, the target audience is blood-boiling teenagers and the ballads of the original universe would probably feel out of place. At the same time, this is exactly what makes the whole thing sillier as the feeling of the original was a lot more mature and serious, while this is like dancing drunk in a nightclub. Me no likes pop, but I do admit they are catchy and very memorable for their (inferior) kind.
As for the voice acting, ok, aside from the occasional THE CHARACTERS DON’T MAKE SENSE trademark of Tomino, I guess they were ok. Full of corny ideology and screaming, the cornerstone of teen angst. I can’t say I hated it or anything, it was actually fitting the feeling of the show.
And now the story part. I will not repeat what I said in my review of the original since IT’S THE EXACT SAME STORY LIKE IN ALL GUNDAMS! Something about a war between the space colonies and Earth, as well as the racial hatred between normal humans and a new breed of space-people. There are lots of twists and turns to this and I guess the overall story is quite amazing… with the exception of the pacing. It is mostly slow and has long summaries and even lots of recap episodes. Add to that repeated footage in battles and imbalanced power levels amongst the stats of the robots and the pilots (one moment they have a hard time beating one huge tank, the next they easily defeat three of them).
It could easily be told in half the time, yet look at that THEY MADE A SECOND SEASON! Yup, SEED DESTINY came around a few years later and tried to stretch to double a story which was already stretched more than it should. The result was plain terrible and was considered one of the worst sequels of all time; a huge contrast to how Zeta Gundam was perceived as a much better sequel in the original universe (although it too suffered a lot from the Tomino syndrome). The pacing was awful, the story was going in circles, the new characters failed to be as captivating as the first. The only bright part in it was the introduction of a bunch of warmongers, who constantly spurred conflicts so that wars will never end. Too bad it didn’t last too long and the rest was mostly boring and a rehash of something we saw one year earlier. So what could have been an amazing 25 episode show unfortunately was stretched to last a hundred.
The characters are… well… colorful. The teen angst goes off the scales and there are lots of twists and turn-heels, as well as lots of romance and out-of-screen sex. On a basic level there is so much variety, coloring and development, that you will definitely find someone to root for. And they are not immortal either; about half of them are dead by the end of the show, proving that this is really war and not Bleach. The problem is again Tomino’s bad habit of throwing turn-heels and mood swings every two episodes, as if everybody has permanent PMS. It becomes irritating since you just can’t get to know someone before he starts backstabbing his buddies for a handful of peanuts. Teen angst at its best.
The second season screwed up big time by replacing the interesting chemistry of Athrun and Kira to this emo idiot called Asura. That guy was a bigger murdering asshole than even Sasuke from Naruto and he received such a bad fame from the fans, the scriptwriter rushed to replace him with the original heroes in the second half. I see how they tried to repeat what happened with Amuro and Kamille in the original series but phailed hard.
There is definitely value in this anime, even if doesn’t deserve it. It sold too well and rekindled the interest of the fans in the mecha action. At the same time it is nowhere near as well directed or that artistic as some other Gundam series, such as Turn-A or 08th MS. So not really recommended.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (good looking)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (great)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 7/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (very slow)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 1/2 (so-so)
Conclusion 2/2 (solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 1/2 (typical)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (everybody has some)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 4/10
Historical Value 2/3 (very famous)
Rewatchability 0/3 (now that 00 is out, no reason to do so)
Memorability 2/4 (a gayer rehash but that is all)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
Art 0/1 (looks gay)
Sound 1/2 (good songs but the dialogues are usually meh)
Story 1/3 (great concepts but presented in a very slow way)
Characters 2/4 (they are ok but nothing much)
This is just one anime that everyone should watch - it has such a great and deep meaning. I couldn't stop crying when watching this!
This is the first and only gundam I have ever liked. I have seen tons of the others and this one is the only one that made me understand why people enjoy it. I loved the characters, the conflict in the story, the resolution of the conflict, and everything in between. The charcters are diverse and realistic in the sense that none of them come off as perfect. They make mistakes and learn from them. They grow. The story is never boring and moves along at a good pace. no jumping and skipping, everything is explained so there is no confusion. the art was good, not great but good, the sound was good, again not the highlight but good. All in all a definite must see.