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"Gundam F91" Misfires Too Often

It’s a bad time to be a Universal Century fan. Your original series bombed on television, your movie had several questionable dub errors, and your most-requested title had more delays than the average Nintendo 64 video game. But you’ve got to admire that fire that resides in the original Gundam universe and how it refuses to go out. To tide us over until the rest of the Universal Century sees the light of day on DVD, Bandai has decided to focus on the final (for now) Gundam movie: F91.

Things are going just swell in the year U.C. 0123. That is, if you don’t count the rogue pirate group Crossbone Vanguard trying to overthrow the government and the Earth Federation being, well, the Earth Federation (you’d think after Char’s Counterattack they’d have changed at least a little). Young Seabook Arno is living peacefully on Frontier IV, one of the newer Sides, when it is attacked by the Crossbone Vanguard. In the ensuing panic, Seabook loses track of his would-be girlfriend, Cecily Fairchild, and escapes in a lifeboat with his little sister and a bunch of other refugees to the nearby colony of Frontier III, where they run into a Federation warship nicknamed the “Space Ark.” Inside is housed an incomplete Mobile Suit that the acting Captain names Gundam F91. When he discovers that his mother made the Mobile Suit, Seabook ends up piloting this war machine against the Crossbone Vangard to protect his new friends, all while searching for a way to bring Cecily back. That’s not going to be easy, as Cecily’s father, Iron Mask, is the head of the Crossbone Vanguard, and has his own intentions for the future of mankind.

This movie is kind of the oddball of the Gundam world. It was released in the period between Char’s Counterattack and Mobile Fighter G Gundam when the creators were trying to expand on the Universal Century but at the same time adopting “history repeats itself” as a theme. As if that wasn’t enough to twist the plot into hopeless convulotions, the movie had been set to be a full-fledged series like the original Gundam and Zeta Gundam, but instead ended up condensed into a movie. And so what could have been one of the more enjoyable Gundam installments ultimately became a rushed, and eventually forgettable, experience.

That really is the biggest downside to this movie. It goes by way too fast. In one scene Seabook is piloting the Gundam around beating up bad guys, and in the next he’s in an entirely different colony searching for Cecily. It’s supposed to be a few days later, but there’s no way for us to know that unless you count “day” turning to “night” in space as a big clue to the passage of time. According to the timeline, the movie spans about a month or two, but it seems crushed into two or three days. A narrator to explain what is going on would have helped. So would an occasional onscreen clue as to the date. As it stands, the film’s considerable potential (especially with the open-ended ending) is completely wasted because of the format. And Iron Mask is one of the corniest antagonists ever in a Gundam installment. With his metal mask (which produces one of the funniest moments in the film as an idiot sniper tries to kill him by shooting at his head), his pompous dialogue, and his flower-shaped Mobile Suit (no, I am not joking), he seems to be a desperate attempt by Tomino to create another Char-but-not-Char. As you may have perceived, it’s a miserable failure. The absurd scene in which he survives a trip through open space with only his mask and a regular military uniform also doesn’t particularly help the film’s realism.

Visually, the F91, with its blues, grays and purples, looks a bit darker than Char’s Counterattack, which favored reds and oranges. The Mobile Suits themselves are more detailed, but overall the animation is still very similar to Char’s Counterattack. I figured that since Bandai made this thing a 2-disc Special Edition they’d go all out on the transfer. Unfortunately it could’ve been much better. At times the film looks very clean and bright, such as the very beginning, but most of the movie has that washed-out look that makes everything seem paler than it really is, which might turn a few people off. As for the Mobile Suit designs, the creative staff thankfully doesn’t have nearly as many oddities as in Zeta Gundam, except the aforementioned Flower Mobile Suit. Thank the stars we don’t have any Baund Docs cluttering up the scene. The actual Gundam is yet another RX-78 clone, but it does have its own visual uniqueness to it, what with the front vent, the fins on the shoulders, and the beam rifles on the back. One thing I do like is the fact that Bandai actually went in and replaced the Japanese credits with English translations, rather than going the cheap route (as they do with Gundam SEED and Endless Waltz) and leaving the Japanese credits alone. Kudos for that, even if the end credits are a bit sped up.

Sound-wise, the series is rather standard. There are three different options, with the first disc offering both English and Japanese in Dolby 2.0 and the second disc offering a 5.1 Surround Sound English version. Since I don’t have a Surround Sound system, I can’t tell how well it works. I’m kind of surprised Bandai didn’t get Michelle Ruff to sing the theme song (as the Japanese singer sounds a lot like the popular VA). The rest of the music fits the action nicely and serves its purpose. Nothing more, nothing less. As for the voices, almost all your BangZoom favorites are here. Michelle Ruff (Elie on Rave Master, Fujiko in Lupin III) plays Cecily, and Abe Lasser (Puppet Master in Ghost in the Shell) ends up behind Iron Mask. Steve Staley (Shiro, 08th MS Team) voices Seabook, which made me wonder if Shiro and Seabook aren’t somehow related. They reach even higher above their standard level of excellence in the film presumably since they were given the chance to rehearse, which is almost unheard of in anime nowadays. While anime fan favorite Wendee Lee makes an appearance and Joshua Seth does about half a dozen random characters, Steve Blum is nowhere to be found. The Japanese cast is good but no one stood out to me.

I ended up wondering why Bandai made this thing a Special Edition. It certainly isn’t worthy of the title extras-wise. The featured extra is the feature-length commentary with Sunrise Producer Nobuo Masuda, English Producer Eric Sherman, and ADR Director Tony Oliver, who plays Azuma in the film and is well-known among fans as Lupin on Lupin III. They don’t talk about the film very much, instead often going on about voice acting in general or the world of Gundam in general. It does offer some neat tidbits but the commentary is far from perfect. Only about a third of the feature actually talks directly about the movie and most of that time is spent noting how rushed it is. And that’s only when they’re talking. There are several spots in the movie where no one talks at all and it happens way too often. It’s pretty obvious that none of the three are used to doing these things or we’d have a fuller commentary. As for the other extras, we have trailers for this movie, which is actually really nice, Gundam SEED and Gundam Battle Assault featuring Gundam SEED for the PS2. Then the standard Gundam Encylopedia, bios for the main characters, a screen shot gallery and an image gallery of random Gundam warehouse pictures, which range from a 6-foot-tall Zaku to a life-size version of a Gundam’s head. Sadly, there are no captions to explain what these pictures are. Given all this (except for the Encyclopedia, all the extras are on Disc 2), I find it odd that Bandai went ahead and made this a 2-disc Special Edition. People expect a 2-disc release to be loaded but in this case everything could have easily fit on one disc.

Overall, this is a very weird release to judge. The movie isn’t horrible but it’s not very good either. And the extras seem nice but aren’t nearly as good as what anime fans have come to expect from such a release. If you are a Gundam fan, though, you should grant it a rental at least.

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