"Gundam MS IGLOO": More Milk from the UC Cash Cow
If you look at the Gundam landscape here in America, what little there is consists mostly of Cosmic Era stuff. While that’s fine for fans of the various SEED series, there’s still tons of Universal Century stuff that hasn’t been seen outside of Japan. Problem is, America hates the Universal Century. But does that stop Bandai Visual? Hell no!
Mobile Suit Gundam: MS IGLOO is a side-story series set during the One Year War chronicled in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. The story focuses on a ship known as the Jotunheim, a former transport ship drafted into military service. On board are a crew of scientists and technical officers who form the 603 Technical Evaluation Unit. Their job is to test out and correct whatever weapon Zeon wants them to test next. Head engineer Oliver May can’t stand to see his test subjects die one after another and slowly becomes more and more depressed, while Special Operations Lt. Commander Monique Cadillac continues to rub people the wrong way. Naturally, the two begin to fall in love, though it’s very, very subtle. The ship is captained by Martin Prochnow, who can’t decide if he’s happy or depressed that Zeon has finally accepted the ship as a military vessel. He’ll have plenty of time to decide, as the team trudges through the Battle of Loum (where the Zakus first debuted) all the way through to the final battle at A Baoa Qu and Zeon’s ultimate surrender while trying to merely stay alive.
After a steady diet of Cosmic Era and other Alternate Universe Gundam, I found it rather refreshing to get back into the traditional UC timeline, and one not so lolicon-ish or just boring in general. And with about a gazillion side-stories based just on the OYW, and 95% of those focusing on testing out prototype Gundams during the last quarter of the war, I needed something different. I needed a Gundam title that lacked a Gundam. Thankfully, I got one here. Even better, the first two episodes take place in the early days of the war, which is something we rarely get to see anymore. The first episode actually isn’t all that good until the main battle starts. May & company have pre-defined roles and don’t really escape them, which is bad since their pre-defined roles are exaggerated in the typical AU Gundam way. However, once the actual battle begins things get interesting, what with the giant laser cannons and all the battleships firing on each other (the latter of which I always love), but the real spotlight is when none other than Char Aznable and his Zaku squad come storming in, with Char proving why he’s so badass. It’s plainly obvious this scene was made just for Char fanboys, but it’s hard to do Char wrong, so I don’t mind too much.
The rest of the episodes continue the whole “test a weapon that’ll never see the light of day” routine, though each episode has its own little charm. Episode 2 actually has a tank (of all things) fighting against a squad of Zakus, which is something completely different from any other battle in Gundam. Seriously, when was the last time a tank or a tank-like weapon actually did damage against a Mobile Suit? And no, the BuQUEs from SEED don’t count. Episode 3 introduces the Zudah, the only weapon to make additional appearances beyond their debut episode, and while it’s a rather decent design, it just doesn’t have the same charisma as the Zakus and the Gelgoogs. I will say, though, that the space battle where the Zudahs fight off the GMs in low orbit is a really damn good fight and yet another highlight on Volume 1. That seems to be the pattern here: the first half of an episode is okay, if a bit dull at points, but once the battle begins in the second half, the episode ramps up the goodness factor and becomes awesome.
Volume 2 skips to the end of the war, first with 603 trying to shoot down Federation shuttles launching out of Jaburo. This isn’t really all that interesting except for, you guessed it, the battles, though this time it’s mainly the Ze’Gok flying through the atmosphere and zooming every which way. Bonus points are awarded for a killer design that I’d actually buy a model kit for. The final two episodes are sort of a two-parter, mainly because a new character is introduced in the second episode and actually survives. Unfortunately, said second episode is dulled down a bit by the ending. I mean, I don’t mind the Oggo vs. Ball battle since the puny little Balls need all the support they can get (even though this doesn’t trump Shiro’s Ball piloting skills in 08th MS Team), but all the melodramatic weeping over comrades dying is beyond old hat now, especially with all the characters dying in the previous four episodes. The final episode is pretty cool, in that it shows off stuff that was developed in the previous episode (whereas the weapons from the other episodes were dumped soon after), but since the characters are off in a sparsely populated area, we don’t get to see the main forces, including the White Base, Amuro’s Gundam, or Char’s Zeong, at all. I know the whole point of the series is to show a bunch of events lost to time, but I’d still like to see a side story that truly connects with a main series.
MS IGLOO tends to work in two different sections. The first section has the soldiers discussing the current plans and other story junk, while the second section is the actual battle. Now, as I said earlier, the battles are freaking awesome: weapons fire blazes, with Mobile Suits and other vehicles going every which way, causing true chaos on the battlefield. If this were simply a series of tech demos showing off CG Mobile Suits fighting each other, this series would rock. Unfortunately, it isn’t. May is just a boring character overall and there’s nothing to make him stick out among the other “war is bad” protagonists in Gundam history, while Monique isn’t just a hard-nosed commanding officer but and out-and-out bitch who elicits no sympathy from the viewer. Captain Prochnow is merely a weary old man and doesn’t have nearly the charisma of other Gundam captains like Bright, Henken, and Synapse. The most memorable characters are actually the gung-ho one-time soldiers introduced in the first four episodes, as they give it their all in battle and are stern in their convictions. Too bad they all die by each episode’s end. They might have given the series more impact.
To further separate MS IGLOO from other side-stories, the entire thing was done in full CG (and not cel-shaded), which I suppose was the next step after all the Gundam Evolve shorts Bandai kept packing into the model kits. As with the actual story, the animation quality depends on what’s being shown. The battles and other Mobile Suit/Armor/whatever action have some fantastic CG, and while it won’t wow you like your average Production I.G. or Pixar work, it still highly satisfies, and the sheer carnage will pull you in and make you forget about the CG. However, whenever the humans show up, that’s when the CG suffers. The creative staff noted in the interviews that they wanted to create all the subtle movements people make in real life to make the characters more realistic, and I can accept that. However, they overcompensated for the subtle movements so, as a result, all the character’s movements are very exaggerated and don’t look natural at all. It’s not quite as bad as, say, Action Man or Max Steel, but the characters still feel like soulless action figures, similar to the Final Fantasy movie.
Like all Bandai Visual releases, MS IGLOO only comes with a Japanese language option. Normally, I would mark this as a con, since there’s no way I can sit still staring at a TV screen for 10 minutes, let alone 90, but here I don’t mind as much. Dub producers would have had a hard time lip-synching the English voices with the Japanese mouth movements (since they were all motion-captured), likely producing the same disjointed effect you see with live-action dubs. As for the actual cast, they all perform decently enough, though many of their lines, especially the melodramatic ones, are overacted so badly it’s almost hilarious. I do wish they had brought back at least one classic character, but such is life. I do have to give Bandai props for actually subtitling the opening credits. While I would have preferred English translations instead of a stupid five-minute credit scroll at the end of the disc, at least translating the opening credits offers a relatively happy medium.
Each volume comes with a small booklet containing highlights, general thoughts, and short interview segments on the challenges posed by each episode, as well as brief rundowns of the characters and weapons used. These little booklets are quite informative and give a great behind-the-scenes look at the production of the series as well as giving more background information on the various characters. Unfortunately, about half of each booklet feels like typical Japanese fluff, but it doesn’t bring things down too badly. The disc themselves come with previews for the next episode, textless openings, textless closings, and a sketch gallery. One thing I did find pretty cool is the main menu screen. After viewing an episode, the main menu changes graphics to reflect the episode you just watched, which is a neat little feature. This little extra is totally negated, however, by the lack of a “Play All” option. After each episode, you’re kicked back to the main screen.
Overall, this series is only for the diehard UC fans. High price and lack of availability aside, the mechanics in here are still at the primitive stage compared to all the sparklies and giant lasers present in the AU Gundams. Now if only they had included a cameo by the Zakarello.
Episodes on Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO Volume 1: The Hidden One-Year War:
Episode #1: “The Vanishing Serpent of Loum”
Episode #2: “Howls Stained in Dusk”
Episode #3: “Dance of the Orbital Ghosts”
Episodes on Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO Volume 2: Apocalypse 0079:
Episode #1: “In the Skies of Jaburo, I Saw the Sea”
Episode #2: “Cross the Path of Light”
Episode #3: “Spirits Returning to the Cries of Thunder”