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"Gundam SEED": What Are You Doing on an "Empty Battlefield," Gundam?

OK, you’ve got a mega-hit franchise that has revitalized interest in your company, you’re making tons of money off the various soundtracks, and you’re about to unleash this monstrosity overseas, with the sequel series already in production. What do you do to tide over your audience until said series debuts? Well, you take a chunk of the series, cut out a bunch of clips, put them all together, add in a few new scenes, and call it movie, of course!

Cover art for Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: The Empty Battlefield.

The year is Cosmic Era 71. Genetically enhanced Coordinators now inhabit a new type of space colony called the PLANT. Un-modified Naturals, who reside mostly on Earth, are envious of the Coordinators’ awesome abilities and decide to start a war. Unfortunately, that war even reaches neutral territory, such as the space colony Heliopolis. There, a young teen named Kira Yamato is caught in the middle between the Earth Alliance and ZAFT. Not only does he find his old friend Athrun Zala working as a ZAFT soldier, but Kira suddenly finds himself inside the Alliance’s brand new Strike Gundam, and he’s the only one who can pilot it. Now, Kira must try to put aside his friendship with Athrun in order to protect his friends, but a certain psycho hottie and a pink-haired songstress are going to turn this young man’s world upside down.

Those who have already read my reviews of the Gundam SEED TV series know that I enjoy the series very much. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still entertaining, and its sequel series, Gundam SEED Destiny, blows me away with every new episode. But since this is the 21st century update of the classic Mobile Suit Gundam, it’s only fitting that SEED would get its own movie trilogy, like the one that gave Gundam its early success in the 80s. Unfortunately, the first SEED movie isn’t handled half as well as the first MSG movie. This release covers the first twenty-one episodes of the series, up until the final battle between the Archangel and the Desert Tiger, Andy Waltfeld. That’s right, twenty-one episodes covered in 95 minutes. Obviously, certain plot points are going to be cut to save time, but with some clever editing and script-writing, it might have been possible to weave all those episodes together so that it doesn’t feel too rushed or incomplete.

Unfortunately, though, the creative staff of SEED didn’t seem to know how to do that. Because of the movie’s quick pace, several entire episodes were dropped, including Episode 5 (which had the first battle between the Strike & the other four Gundams), Episode 6 (The Artemis episode), Episode 14 (where we find out about George Glenn & the Bloody Valentine tragedy), and Episode 18 (when Desert Dawn attacks Andy after the destruction of Tassil).

Some people wouldn’t really care, since the first half of SEED moved at a very slow pace, but after watching this movie, I’ve decided that those slow episodes really helped. The conflict between Naturals and Coordinators (including info on what Coordinators actually are) isn’t given more than two lines of exposition, which will likely confuse those new to the series. Athrun didn’t get a whole lot of screen time in the first half of the series, but here he’s almost an afterthought. Yzak, Dearka, and Nichol, with most of their battles cut, barely get any screen time, let alone development (Dearka has all of three lines in this entire movie), while Mu La Flaga is reduced to the Archangel’s whipping boy out on the battlefield. Even Kira’s friends get very little development, as we don’t even hear their names until the movie’s half-over! This movie might have worked better if the staff had rewritten the series from the ground up in a way that combined plot points and made the movie flow faster. It’d also help if they had at least an extra hour to play with.

Kira Yamato may be amazed at the Strike, but that’s nothing compared to the awe-inspiring Freedom.

There are some good things about this movie. The new scenes (which stand out since the animation looks glossier and is in widescreen) do add a bit of depth to the series, though all the shower shots got annoying after a while. We also get to see more of the Kira-Flay relationship (including what they did soon after landing in the desert) and a few new scenes with Cagalli. And Rusty, the guy who was supposed to pilot the Strike, not only gets a face but a voice as well, which was sweet. There’s also some Newtype-flashes added to the battle between Rau Le Cruset and Mu to show early on that they are, in fact, Newtypes.

Animation is basically the same as the TV series (since 85% of the footage is from the series), but the new scenes have some pretty good animation. Thankfully, most of the horrible digi-pans from the series were axed along with most of the stock footage. This movie is in widescreen, so Sunrise has added two black bars to the top and bottom of the TV footage. While most of the time I don’t really mind this, as usually there aren’t any important details that are lost, there are some shots where cutting off the top of the screen loses some details (such as the words “Phase Shift” lighting up whenever its activated). Video transfer is the same as the series, as are the untranslated credits, though they do subtitle the “Heliopolis” writing near the beginning.

Most of the voices are carried over from the TV series—and unlike the series’ clip shows, where lines would be changed or have a different pitch, most of the readings here are exactly the same. However, there was something strange near the end. When Cagalli rides out on the Skygrasper, she has a different voice for only one line. I don’t know if it was Vanessa Morley (Cagalli’s normal English VA) or not, though it sounded a bit like Jillean Micheals (Aisha’s English VA). The only new voice here is Rusty, who is given a decent sound. (Oddly, he has more lines than Dearka. The guy just can’t get any respect no matter what happens.) As for the Japanese version, it’s basically the same as well. “So Much Together” and “In This Quiet Night” make their movie debuts, and those who need their T.M.R. fix get a new song in “Zips.” While it’s not nearly as good as “Invoke” or “METEOR,” it’s still pretty fun to listen to. But, much like the series, “Zips” doesn’t get any subtitles, so anyone who doesn’t know Japanese has no clue what the lyrics are saying. (But since when does that stop anime fans?)

When the series went to DVD, we got some cool extras like term definitions, music videos, clean openings and closings, promos, and Mobile Suit info. It wasn’t much, but it was pretty decent for your typical anime DVD. Well, apparently Bandai thinks we’re spoiled, because here we only get three commercials, for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Planetes, and the Playstation 2 game Mobile Suit Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam. That’s it. There’s not even an insert. And while I do appreciate that Bandai made the release look special with its shiny cover, the material sucks up light like a black hole. You can just barely make out the screen shots on the back!

If you’re new to the Gundam SEED series, I’d suggest renting this at least. SEED fanatics already own it, but unless you absolutely must have Rusty, Kira & Flay doing the nasty, and a shot of Cagalli’s behind, you’d do much better collecting the ten TV series volumes instead of just the movies.

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