"SD Gundam Force- All New Adventures": A Long Awaited Voyage
Early in this DVD set, a Zako comments that they’re finally back after a very long time. That humble little Zako has no idea how right he is.
About two years ago, I looked back at the first season of SD Gundam Force and sadly lamented the fact that a release of the second looked impossible. Well, it seems Bandai have taken a note from the Mu La Flaga playbook and made the impossible possible. Whether from generosity, insanity or a sheer, desperate hope that any form of new product could make them some cash, the second and final batch of 26 episodes has arrived on DVD.
This release gets off on a good note straight away with the packaging. With season one, the niche nature of the show made us suffer through nine separate volumes containing on average three episodes each. An understandable move from Bandai’s side but not really good for the consumer. Thankfully, season 2 (subtitled ‘All New Adventures’ for this delayed American release) comes to us as a five-disc set in a standard-size case. The front sleeve uses the cover art from the final Japanese volume: a dramatic shot of the three lead Gundams at their most powerful along with human ally Shute. The rear proudly boasts of the included episodes’ US debut, along with a brief synopsis and some screenshots. Inside, each of the five discs makes use of a different Japanese cover (the fifth disc has the same art as the sleeve). This is much appreciated, as the Japanese covers had some great art which really helped sell the show.
When last we left our heroes, they had successfully beaten back the Dark Axis after a near victorious invasion of the Gundam’s home base of Neotopia. Now in possession of the Dark Axis’ dimensional travel technology, the Gundam Force are in a position to reclaim their conquered homelands. However, whilst the Dark Axis may have suffered a notable defeat, they are far from beaten. A sinister inner council of villains is now planning a counterattack that will prove to be the Gundam’s biggest challenge.
One of the problems with season one was its near-constant placement in the sugary sweet Neotopia, so it’s nice to see this setting left behind. The new locales help add a sense of menace. A brilliant example of this is the Dark Axis fortress, the inside of which we finally see very early in the first episode. The villains focused on here really are above their comedic counterparts, with much more subdued character hinting at the evil just below the surface. Chief amongst these new villains is the series’ true big bad, General Zeong. Hinted at at the end of the first season and revealed as the season goes on, the General is a gigantic monstrous form that seems to equal in size to the massive original design he’s referencing. Adding to the creepiness is that he communicates only in the seething feral growls and booms of an ancient alien language. Sadly, Zeong’ ultimate motive is pretty generic, and it’s left to his trinity of minions to provide us with more compelling motivation. This is one of the key areas improved on from season one: there are more shades of grey added and we discover that some of the apparently 2D villains are driven by true motives. Characters such as Professor Gerbera, Deathscythe and Kibaomaru have laments of their own, and in classic Gundam style many of them involve pasts with our heroes.
Speaking of our protagonists, not much has changed. The Gundams are pretty much the same as they were last time, albeit with minor new flashes of character and the occasional upgrade (intended to push the now-dead toyline). Shute’s also tagging along, and to be honest by the end of the set I wish he wasn’t. Now, in season one I defended Shute. He wasn’t the greatest character ever but I didn’t loathe him the way some did. However, in season two it’s just kinda hard not to. Every other line from him seems to be “Ah ha ha ha, yeah!” or a speech on friendship or the power of the Gundam Force. I don’t really blame Deborah Sale Butler, as I’m sure she did the best with the script she was given. Therein lies the problem. There are some scenes that seem beyond a young boy’s friendship and I wondered when Mark and Keiko should be expecting the “Mom, Dad … I’m a robosexual!” announcement.
But maybe I’m being too rash, since a big focus for Shute this time round is a love story with Princess Rele of Lacroa. As the name suggests, the princess is a semi-homage to Relena Peacecraft with just as much intent on doing things her own way. This kind of saddles Rele as the female demographic character, acting between the classic dainty princess and a tomboy eager to get in the thick of things. Rounding out the new Gundam Force members is Genkimaru, a kid Musha Gundam who is obsessed with killing villain Kibaomaru. Genki is a sadly stock-anime brat: he stuffs his face, respects no one, and then farts in their face. Thankfully, his character does begin to improve and he proves to have an interesting character arc.
Long time fans will surely be glad to here that the Dark Axis trio and the Zakos are back. Now forced into being the Gundam’s clean up crew, Zapper and the others are basically reduced to comic relief to balance out the heightened tension. However, they receive a character arc just like everyone else. The continued appearance of the Zakos also means the return of their Zako Zako Hour segments. These are even given a slight twist as they are hijacked by Gundam Wing– and G Gundam-inspired grunts as the main story changes locales. The ZZH seems to have more losses than wins this time, but it’s still vastly enjoyable. A personal favourite of mine sees a lone Zako trying to fill in and play all three of the usual hosts. It’s also amusing to see any number of dramatic moments edited to suggest there was a Zako spying just off camera.
One of the great changes for season 2 is story pacing. Whilst season one was more episodic, season 2 is essentially a 26-episode epic. This really helps eliminate some of the ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ nature of the earlier stories. There’s even a key plot element early on which forces the Gundams to use weaker alternatives to their ‘sure win’ team attack. The first villain, Deathscythe, really shows the strength of this new style, as over several episodes he plays a complex game pitting everyone against each other for his own ends. In many ways, in fact, the show addresses themes it’s detractors would never have guessed at: Patricide. Ritual suicide. Obsession of spurned love. The show is still completely watchable for its younger audience but finally dabbles in the themes earlier SD Gundam productions have used so well.
Also making a return are the homages, once again running from the obvious to the obscure. This time around there’s a few sure to have fans elated. Epyon! The Wing team! God Gundam! Master Gundam! A ton of new characters that make me weep the toyline died before we got to them.
I definitely recommend picking this set up. I won’t lie and tell you it’s perfect. But it’s a big improvement over season one and in fact puts some of its elements in a new light. The set finally closes the SD Gundam Force saga and does so with style. Anybody telling you this isn’t ‘real’ Gundam? They don’t know what they’re talking about.