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"Gundam SEED" Slice Through That Grim Reality, Gundam!

by on August 5, 2005

For those of you living under a rock, Gundam is the undisputed king of giant robot anime and a mainstay in Japan since 1979. Though Turn A Gundam apparently put it to rest in 1999, the series came back with a bang in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, which currently airs on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block and is now being released on DVD. Does this new series rise above all the other Gundam series, or is it destined to be left in the dust?

Cover art for Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Volume 1: Grim RealityThe year is Cosmic Era 70. Humans live both on Earth and in space colonies called PLANTs (short for Productive Location Ally on Nexus Technology), which are shaped like giant hourglasses. A new race of genetically altered humans, known as Coordinators, has arrived. The Coordinators have superior reflexes and intelligence, but they are resented by “Naturals” (the non-engineered humans), and the two branches are now engaged in a huge war. Though the Earth Alliance, which is almost all Naturals, is numerically superior, ZAFT, which is almost all Coordinators, has the power of a new weapon called the Mobile Suit.

Kira Yamato and his friends were just living normal lives on the neutral colony of Heliopolis when ZAFT suddenly attacked. Kira discovers that the Earth Alliance has been hiding out inside the colony and developed five powerful new Mobile Suits called G-Weapons. By chance, he meets up with an old friend and finds himself inside one of the G-Weapons, known as the Strike Gundam. Not only that, he is forced to escape aboard a new warship called the Archangel. As Kira is the only one able to pilot the Strike, the young teen is thrust into the war he is not prepared for, either physically or mentally.

Gundam SEED is either really good or really bad depending on who you talk to. Originally dismissed as a Gundam Wing clone, what with its high-powered Gundams and pretty-boy characters, SEED actually ended up looking more like the original Gundam, though with some added twists. Personally, while it’s not my favorite Gundam series, it is still pretty entertaining, and definitely worth a look. The “blonde guy with a mask” stereotype is particularly interesting, as Rau Le Crueset is a bit more devious than his counterparts in previous series. Mu La Flaga, the veteran pilot for the Archangel, has a lot of charm and will easily win the favor of pretty much any fan instantly. This first volume merely covers the beginning of everything. Not all the main characters have been introduced, and the storyline has barely been scratched. However, this is a pretty good launching point, as it features Kira and the Archangel getting their feet wet and coming together to form a coherent group.

It’s also worth mentioning SEED‘s unique look. All the other MSG clones copy both the story and the look of the original, so everything is hard-edged and a bit too realistic. But SEED, though it uses hard blues and reds, uses a lot of pastel colors as well (especially blues), which gives it a softer look. The series also has an oddly “regal” air to it. From the French-sounding names to the actual character designs, everyone seems to be wearing an invisible crown and carrying an invisible scepter. This is especially evident in the case of Rau, who speaks in a rather elegant way. Personally, I like this look. While SEED doesn’t go into the über-powerful robot category (at least not yet), it still looks both fantastical and realistic at the same time.

Contents of the Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Starter Set. The animation, though, is a mixed bag. The opening moments of Episode 1 are wonderfully animated and look beautiful. The Mobile Suits are fluid, the explosions are awesome, and the scene looks very realistic. Unfortunately, most of the regular animation is very stilted. Frames seem to be cut out of a lot of the animation, especially when a Mobile Suit moves. At times it looks even worse than Homestar Runner, which is inexcusable. However, the lighting effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen, especially in anime. The light glares give the series a better 3D feel than actual 3D animation ever could, and the light and shadows moving so perfectly to the beams is really nice to watch. Transfer is crystal clear, but Bandai stubbornly continues to leave the Japanese text on the opening and ending credits. I know it’s more faithful and all that jazz, but I’d like to know who voiced a certain character at the end of that episode, rather than waiting until Episode 5 is over to find out. It’s even more annoying here than usual, as they play the 1:30 version of the ending song no less than five times during the final credits, and it gets annoying real fast.

Speaking of the ending song: Gundam SEED does something interesting here, starting up the credits and ending theme about ten to fifteen seconds before the episode ends. You hear the first two lines of the song, as well as see the first couple lines of credits on screen, and then the whole song kicks in as the ending starts. It’s a nice little technique that gives the series a unique style. Too bad it doesn’t translate well here in the US due to time constraints. The rest of the music is also well done, especially the opening, “Invoke.” Those of you who attended T.M. Revolution’s concert last year at Otakon probably remember this song.

Voice-wise, Matt Hill actually does a good job of voicing Kira, which surprised many people who were annoyed by his Carlos in Transformers Armada. While many other Ocean Group regulars (such as Scott McNeil and Ian Corlett) don’t make an appearance (at least on this disc), the ones that do often do a good job. There really isn’t any voice I don’t like on this cast, and the actors who did Mu La Flaga and Rau Le Crueset are especially fine. The Japanese cast is pretty good, though I didn’t like either Kira’s voice or Murrue’s. But there is a “tin can”-like effect that sometimes comes into play, causing the characters to sound like Transformers. It appears and disappears for no reason that I can see, and it is really annoying. Other than that, the sound is crystal clear.

Extras-wise, those who get the box set receive the “Complete Best” soundtrack, featuring all the openings, from “Invoke” to “Realize.” Two of the three ending songs are also here, but the first ending song, “So Much Together, But…” is absent due to licensing issues. (The Japanese CD didn’t have it either, so we weren’t the only ones cheated.) The CD also includes techno remixes of most of the other songs, and they are pretty good, though not as good as the originals. In the actual DVD, we get an insert explaining some of the new terms in the series, which is decent, I guess. The extras on the DVD are pitiful. We only get a textless version of “Invoke” and a standard profile on the Strike Gundam and the Archangel. Would it have been too much trouble to interview some of the Japanese staff or someone involved with the English production, or even to include the Toonami promos? Anything would be real nice right about now. Sadly, I doubt we’ll get anything more than this on future volumes. At least the soundtrack rocks. The box itself is pretty standard, with previews of the Justice and Freedom Gundams.

Overall, it’s hard to judge this set. It’s much easier to watch this series on DVD than on Toonami due to the lack of commercials, but most of the people who will get this set have already decided whether they like Gundam SEED or not. If you are up in the air about it, I’d say get the set just for the CD.

Episodes on Volume 1: Grim Reality
Phase-01: False Peace
Phase-02: Its Name is Gundam
Phase-03: Collapsing Homeland
Phase-04: Silent Run
Phase-05: Phase Shift Down

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