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.
The universe of the future is divided between the Earth Alliance and ZAFT. After a year of war, ZAFT attacks the neutral colony Heliopolis to steal five prototype mobile suits. The mission is a success, but a young man named Kira stumbles upon the fifth Gundam, and he may be the Alliance's only hope...
As a not-so-closet perv, I love watching anything involving panty-shots, handfuls of cleavage and an innuendo fuelled plot. Although most of my reviews will err on the risque, I also love the obscure, the twisted and things that make you think - drop me a line if you want to discuss any of them!