Year 70 of the Cosmic Era, the economic friction between genetically enhanced Coordinators and unmodified Naturals has erupted into a full-scale conflict. The Natural-dominated Earth Alliance struggles to catch up with the Coordinators' superior technology and has secretly developed five Gundam mobile suits at a neutral space colony. Through a twist of fate, a young Coordinator named Kira Yamato becomes the pilot of the Alliance's prototype Strike Gundam and finds himself forced to fight his own people in order to protect his friends.
Gundam SEED has a very special place in my heart. Not only was it one of the first anime I watched, but it was the first war philosophy anime, the second mecha anime, and the first Gundam anime I saw. It told me a story I hadn't heard before, showed me fights I hadn't seen before, and bonded me with characters that were new to me. My feelings for Gundam SEED are rooted heavily in nostalgia, and I've rewatched it several times to hammer the point in. To date, I still consider Gundam SEED to be one of the better war anime I've seen, and I would recommend it to any Gundam fan. Gundam SEED Destiny, in constrast, was a massive disappointment. I wanted to like it, and at points I did, but ultimately it was a huge sham. A repeat of much of the story (and all of the themes) from Gundam SEED, told from the perspective of a new terrible protagonist and set in a world where these problems were supposed to have been solved. As if the premise and execution weren't ridiculous enough, I had to watch many of my beloved characters (Athrun, in particular) revert back to their original angsty selves and completely ignore their development from the first season. All of this eventually wrapped up into more-or-less the same ending as Gundam SEED had, leaving the entire experience pointless and frustrating. The only saving grace was the epilogue, which tied everything together nicely and left me with a good amount of catharsis. So here I was, some seven years after I first saw Gundam SEED, and once again I felt the urge to revisit one of my old favorites. However, this time I decided to do so via the movie series, which condenses the events of the original TV series alongside a couple of new and reworked scenes. Naturally I was disappointed when the whole thing ended up feeling like a worse version of Destiny. Gundam SEED did not have an award-winning story, phenomenal fights or terribly original characters. Rather, Gundam SEED was a complex and very full package of many elements given the ability to evolve and grow throughout its 50-episode duration. The character interactions and the seemingly repetitive battles all served to hammer the "War is Bad" message in as deeply as possible. Despite the inherent hypocrisies of the main cast using violence as the means to peace (which is a central theme of most Gundam series), I still grew to like many of them. By the final episodes, I was completely in love with Kira and Lacus, I enjoyed Athrun and Mu, and I sympathized with Rau and Natarle. These characters meant something to me, and so for the same reason I hated their personality resets in Destiny I also hated their butchering in these movies. I'll be blunt: these movies are terrible. They take the basic Gundam SEED story and rip most of the important details out, which would be sort of disappointingly acceptable if in the end we were left with at least a shell of the original series. However, not only are the details and intricacies removed, but the remaining major events are chopped up as well. I would have absolutely no idea what was going on or who any of the characters were if this were my first exposure to Gundam SEED. A random collection of teenage soldiers shows up and attacks a space colony, stealing a couple mobile suits and blowing up the rest of the colony "just cuz." The protagonist, Kira beats up a couple of mobile suits on land and then is suddenly beating up more mobile suits in space. The difference between Coordinators and Naturals is never explained. No one bothers to discuss why the Archangel and the Earth Forces were on this neutral Orb colony, nor even what Orb is nor where the colony is located. And so they float through space after a single battle, end up at the wreckage of Junius Seven for no reason, and meet Lacus. Then there's another fight with an Earth Forces fleet that we'd heard no mention of until then, and Kira gives Lacus back to ZAFT. Following this is immediately another big space battle, suddenly over Earth and with a different fleet. By the way, at this point we still have no idea what the Archangel is doing nor where it's going. Anyway, the big space fleet gets blown up and the Archangel goes down to the surface, where it's suddenly fighting more mobile suits in a random desert. Then Cagalli (who's had maybe 20 seconds of screentime before this) suddenly shows up, befriends Kira and gets her resistance buddies to fight some random ZAFT guy with him (again, for no reason). Then it ends. That's the first movie. After watching this, I can safely say I know nothing about any of the major characters, let alone the story. The character who gets the most screentime (and ironically, the only character who receives any development) is Flay, and even then we can sum her up as, "shallow girl has bad things happen to her, so she's an even bigger b*tch to everyone else." This is not how anything is supposed to be. For this first part of the series, Kira is supposed to be an overly-compassionate pacifist who is constantly torn between his desire to avoid war and his need to protect his friends. He fights internally with himself, falling even deeper into despair once he confirms his best friend Athrun is the ace soldier for their enemy, ZAFT. He is forced to bear the hatred of everyone around him; the Earth Forces hate him for being a Coordinator whom they must rely on, while ZAFT hates him for fighting against his own people. Even so, he agrees to continue piloting the Strike because he knows if he refuses then all his friends will die. As he fights, he notices that there are both good and bad people on both sides of the fighting, and he realizes that they are all just being used as tools by their respective governments. These feelings climax in the meeting with Andrew, where he resigns himself to killing good people simply because other people have decided that they are arbitrarily enemies. And of course, all this lays the foundation for his upcoming confrontation with Athrun. That's who Kira is and how he's supposed to be, but we get almost none of that with this movie. Few of the details, none of the complexities and zero growth. And he's not alone; the rest of the cast all get similar treatments, with the aforementioned exception of Flay (who was never a deep character even in the original series). I understand that this is a movie, one that is supposed to compress about 20 episodes worth of content into 90 minutes. But this could have been handled "successfully" in two different ways: By removing the depth and character interactions, instead focussing solely on the plot. From the original invasion of Heliopolis by ZAFT up to the defeat of the Desert Tiger on Earth, the goals of the two militaries could be followed and explored without digressing much to explore the characters. By saying "screw the plot" and using the movie as an exploration of Kira's character and philosophies. Though this would leave us with a messy and fractured story, we would at least gain of better understanding of him, his friends, his superiors, and Athrun. For extra benefit, dig into Athrun as well and help us to understand who ZAFT and the Coordinators really are and why they're fighting. So with these two possibilities in mind, it almost blows my mind how the producers could manage a 90-minute film where not only do I have no idea what's going on, but where I know nothing about the characters as well. This is a failure, plain and simple. Newbies to the Gundam franchise should ignore this like the plague, and I cannot even recommend it to Gundam SEED fans as a nostalgic experience. At the moment I have no plans to watch the other two movies.
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