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"Gundam SEED Destiny": It's Time For...ADVENTURES OF THE MINERVA! YAY!

After three volumes of plot-maneuvering in order to get the world of the Cosmic Era into the next great war, Gundam SEED Destiny has finally reached the point where it can take a breather before the next big event. Unfortunately, that breather occurs now.

Last time, Athrun visited the PLANTs to see what they were gonna do about the war, and was convinced to rejoin ZAFT, receiving the Savior and a full-time FAITH membership (i.e. he gets to wear the pin now, unlike in SEED) in return. Meanwhile, Kira and the Archangel decide to get off their butts, and their first mission is to kidnap Cagalli. Obviously, Cagalli’s not too happy about this, as she is convinced that this is the best thing for Orb, thanks to Yuna and Shinn. Kira opens her eyes and says that things might work themselves out for Orb in the short term, but others outside Orb will suffer. Elsewhere, Athrun somehow makes it to Earth without recharging the Savior (Freedom, I can understand, but Savior?), and heads for Carpenteria, where he is informed of recent events at Orb. With Athrun now on board full-time and as the lead pilot, Lunamaria goes into full-on fangirl mode, as Shinn continues to get more angsty, and Meyrin gets depressed about not being as open or as curvy as her older sister. Athrun quickly assumes his duty as Commander, which leaves Shinn upset that a former Orb officer is now his superior, even if said officer was a former ZAFT hero. Athrun believes he knows how to talk to Shinn and to get him straightened out, but will his words break through?

Aside from Athrun’s return to the Minerva, not much else happens on this volume. And even then, Athrun never does get to show off his brand new Mobile Suit, the Savior. Sure, it gets a couple fights in Phase 15, but most of the spotlighting goes to Shinn, while Athrun merely keeps everyone else busy. It’s kind of a crappy way to introduce a very cool Gundam, but I guess since Athrun got to show off his skills in the Zaku during Volume 1, the writers felt that was enough to establish Athrun’s superior skills, so they decided to show his excellent piloting skills through more subtle means than the total beatdown Shinn and Kira are prone to. However, though Athrun’s battle skills are ignored, his people skills aren’t, as some of the best moments on this disc are his interactions with the various members of the Minerva crew. Whether it be with Luna when he goes to configure the Savior (resulting in one of the more infamous fanservice shots), or his interactions with the various ZAFT leaders, Athrun really does manage to steal the show and assert his place. However, the highlight is easily his discussion with Shinn in Episode 17, as it perfectly describes the angry young pilot, and the two paths he has to choose between. This conversation is one of the keystones of the series, and for good reason.

Other than that, this is a pretty boring disc. After Kira convinces Cagalli that marrying that idiot Yuna is a bad thing to do, they basically just sit at the bottom of the ocean and wait for their chance to strike, though it does lead to a scene where the crew discusses what side of the war they should take, and Lacus displays obvious disgust for Meer, who’s performing a live concert on the PLANTs. There’s also the start of the full-on bombardment of random Mobile Suits and Armors. First there was the Zamza-Zah from last disc, but here we have the Babi, which is ugly as hell; the Gells-Ghe, which is basically the Zamza-Zah after it eats, and then vomits, a Dagger; and the new EA grunt units, the Windams, who are basically streamlined Daggers and every bit as flimsy. This starts a rather annoying trend of having atmospheric battles take place in the sky rather than the ground, making me believe that the writers still think the Minerva is in zero gravity. I mean, come on, there is no way you can expect me to believe that these gigantic Mobile Suits that weigh tons upon tons can fly endlessly in the air without touching the ground once.

While the battles may be getting even more unrealistic, at least some of the other goings-on are still worth watching. Athrun goes all Bright on Shinn, which is always a fun scene to watch (and if you have no idea what that means, watch more Universal Century Gundam), and it was nice to see Neo and the druggies after their disappearance last volume. We also get a more-condensed version of SEED‘s Desert arc, except without the charismatic antagonist (because the EA can’t have any sympathetic higher-ups apparently), and with a little girl instead of Ahmed or Sahib. Coniel is a decent character, but she feels ultimately useless in this mini-arc, even more useless than Marco from the last series. Then again, this little stretch in and of itself seems to exist only to stall until next volume, when Durandal comes to Earth with a shocking revelation, and the first appearance of a certain orange-haired ZAFT pilot. When you take that into account, these episodes aren’t all that bad, just horribly generic and underwhelming.

The animation goes up and down depending on the scene. The Savior gets a few new shots, but even in its second and third battle it’s already getting repeated animation, which is inexcusable. This is made up by Athrun fighting mostly in Savior’s Mobile Armor mode, which makes its battles more of a dogfight than a normal Mobile Suit battle, which is a refreshing change of pace. Impulse, however, gets the short end of the stick, as its fight during Episode 16 is almost an exact copy of its fight during Episode 12 of last disc until Gaia enters the scene. Some of the animation there is well-done, but for some reason the animators can’t seem to keep the Impulse on-model. Abyss, meanwhile, has some really nice animation during its underwater assault in Episode 16, and the climax of the battle in Episode 18 is also pretty well animated. The transfer is about usual for SEED Destiny, but I really wish Sunrise would choose a different studio to do the animation or at least allocate more budget to it.

In the voice department, Matthew Erickson has settled in as Shinn and is quickly getting the hang of the role, though he sounds a bit more confrontational in the English version than he does in the Japanese version, where he sounds more annoyed than anything. Luna’s fangirl-ness is a lot brighter and peppier in the dub, and anytime I can hear Brad Swaile’s Auel is a good time, as his voice is just awesome. The Japanese track is about the same as usual, though I will say that Athrun sounds more definitive in the Japanese version than in the English dub. Music-wise, “PRIDE” continues to be an awesome opening, and I do like how “Life Goes On” has different lead-ins. While I like “Reason” as a song more than “Life Goes On,” I will admit that “Life Goes On” works better as an ending. We also get a bunch of new music cues, and much like previous background music, these notes continue to shine brightly and are a joy to hear. You may not like the animation, the plot, or the character designs, but nobody can say that SEED Destiny has crappy music.

On the extras front, we get the same old, same old: The textless version of Ending 2, plus the same trailers to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Planetes that we’ve gotten on the other two volumes. I know Bandai has had a lot of shake-ups and is pretty much dead as a company, but can’t they at least borrow Manga’s 2nd GIG promo or update their old promos to advertise the Anime Legends boxsets? At least the coverart is a perfect example of why the R1 covers are so much better than the R2 covers, as this shot of Abyss is simply awesome, though I do wish they’d get rid of the “:04″ on the bottom corner (or at least the semi-colon). The back cover description also has a few errors in it, as it doesn’t mention Cagalli even once (though they still say “her”) and the description itself doesn’t flow very smoothly. Meanwhile, the DVD menus continue to rock. I particularly like the sound clip that Bandai chose for whenever you go to the Episode Select screen. It’s a fun little extra that really works.

Overall, this is the breather time of the series. Only those who have watched the previous 14 episodes should pick this up, as it’s only stalling for time until the big battle coming next disc.

Episodes on Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny Volume 4:
Episode #15: Return to the Battlefield
Episode #16: Struggle in the Indian Ocean
Episode #17: The Soldier’s Life
Episode #18: Attack the Lohengrin

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