"Gundam 00 Season 2, Part 4": Successful Innovation
We’re finally into the homestretch with the final volume of Gundam 00. The stakes are set high right out of the gate with the surprise reveal of a traitor within Celestial Being—well it surprises the main cast, anyway. The identity of the traitor is a plot thread that has been dangled in clear view of the audience since the second volume of this season, so for us it’s not quite a shock reveal. Thus, the tension for viewers comes from knowing that the ticking time bomb has finally gone off and now the traitor will have to show their true colours. Though this is perhaps one of the few stories that can have someone revealed as a traitor and have this fact be a revelation to even them. Add in the Gundam tradition of star crossed lovers, and you have a powder keg ready to blow. A problem, though, is that much of said romance has occurred for the two characters off screen, primarily in the four-month time skip of the previous volume. The couple have had enough onscreen presence to make the drama credible, but the idea comes off in part as an underdeveloped variant of Tieria’s development. It does, however, go to show that he is not alone in his resolve, and that Ribbons’ machinations threaten not just humanity but his fellow ‘Innovators’ as well.
The remainder of the volume is firmly set of the series end-game. Having been snubbed by Ribbons, Wang gains the coordinates to the Veda quantum computer and plots to provide them to Celestial Being so they may put a stop to him. Wang Liu Mei has been a fixture of the show since the first episode, with a mysterious agenda and back story that has invited many guesses. However, when you leave a mystery dangling in a story for so long its inevitable that the true answer will disappoint some when contrasted against their own theories. Wang’s motivation and connection to Hong Long are finally revealed, and whilst not terribly underwhelming some will undoubtedly wish for more. Personally, as someone who had her pegged as shifty from day one, I think her back story makes sense and is completely workable.
This portion also sees Setsuna once again lock horns with his self declared rival Mr Bushido. Bushido has been a rarely seen character across the season, and despite the mask it’s fairly obvious who he’s been all along (and the show seems to partly acknowledge most viewers will be aware of it). There are times when I hated the character since he seemed to be so out of touch with the wider plot, whilst in general being a fun deconstruction of the ‘masked rival’ cliché. His duel with Setsuna resolves a lot about the character, whilst setting the former up for the role he will take in the final battle.
With Veda’s location now revealed, Ribbons prepares to finally crush the approaching Meisters as a battle commences to decide humanity’s future. The battle follows the Gundam formula of ‘storm the final enemy stronghold’ but puts several twists on proceedings. A particularly effective hurdle involves the anti-GN particle mist that was used way back in the second episode. Given its effectiveness, I do wonder why we haven’t seen this weapon used more often. Sure seems like the kind of thing that would have stopped the Gundam’s firepower, their only real advantage against the A-Laws’ overwhelming numbers.
As the show rushes towards the finale, everything starts to come together. Ideas seeded as far back as the previous season are finally brought to fruition and we learn both just what exactly Setsuna has evolved into and the full details of Aeolia’s plan. A series of well-handled character interactions and blazingly choreographed action scenes blend into the perfect concluding cocktail. Everyone gets a moment to shine and the final battle is full of surprises. I spent it alternating between cheers and open-jawed amazement, wondering where exactly this rollercoaster ride was going next.
The volume boasts two audio commentaries, one for the opening episode with Setsuna and Lockon’s VAs, and one for the finale with all 4 Meisters. The former is the strongest to my mind, covering everything from insights on the animation to why the cast are scared of Feldt’s chest. The mood swiftly changes more then once, but it’s the rare case where the commentators discuss what is happening on screen and the sillier moments are genuinely amusing. Sadly the same can’t be said of the second commentary. Having the four actors together for the season one commentary qualifies for one of the most enjoyable in my book, but the magic is not recreated here. Largely, it’s because they discuss performing at fan events to promote the second season, offering anecdotes which make little to no sense. It’s nice that the four actors clearly had fun, but when the case promises commentary on the final episode, I expect something worth listening to. Not helping matters is that it’s another commentary that informs us that an extra is only on the Japanese release—in this case, an extra that would have provided better context to the anecdotes!
Slightly more of a winner is an SD-style epilogue animation showing what the Meisters did after the show ended. This is done in the same style of the ‘season 2 trailer’ on the final season 1 set but doesn’t work quite as well. For one, rather then create a parody trailer it opts to provide a short story involving the Meisters visiting Neil Dylandy in heaven where the A-Laws commanders have opened a bakery. It’s sadly far more cutesy and fluffy then the previous effort, which was a frantic and hilarious send up of the show so far.
The last major extra is a textless version of the final ED animation. This is a beautiful sequence, so the ability to see it presented in this manner is welcomed. There’s also a textless version of the epilogue from the finale, which as usual for such extras contains the dub audio track. Lastly, there is a Japanese DVD teaser.
I haven’t discussed the manga volumes in these reviews much, mainly because I’ve found them to be a jumbled mess that guts the excellent story and creates various plot holes given its general “Oh, that was important?” style of adaptation. However, I feel the final volume is worthy of some genuine credit for doing one or two ideas better then the main show. The prime case is Regene. In the show he seemed to serve little purpose, and it was unclear if he was trying to play hero by sabotaging Ribbons’ plans or if he was just trying to seize control himself. The manga opts to dedicate itself to the former, including making a calculated unveiling on Ribbons’ part become a clear hijacking by Regene. This is a really welcome change. There are some characters who were introduced in season 2 that ultimately did little of note, and Regene was one of the worst. Committing to the idea of him as a mole aiding Tieria from within just seems to have a lot more sense or direction then the show ever gave the character.
Sadly, though the manga still gets it wrong overall, including turning the final battle into a fairly dull mobile-suit duel that lacks any of the clever ideas seen on screen, and it robs Setsuna of any glory. Even the ending is bizarre, a bewildering epilogue that seems to offer no closure for the main characters.
This is the perfect conclusion to one of the best Gundam series of all time. Whilst by no means a staunch hater of the Gundam shows of the last decade, I feel 00 offered the perfect alternative to them, showing what Gundam (and good story telling) can be at its best. I think the decision to set the story in a future more likely to spin off from our current reality, where war, politics and economics have kept humanity from exploring the wider cosmos, was a wise decision. It offered a rich, deep world that was free of the tired Gundam clichés and challenged viewers to think about reality. Whilst the second season may have stumbled a bit and brought back one or two of those clichés, the idea of taking the world established in the first season and showing how it might evolve into a more traditionally anime-inspired one. The story always kept me guessing and always made me want to linger with the interesting characters.
If I had to offer a negative, I would say that the second season might have tried to be too ambitious for the time it had. The show already boasted a wide cast, and had their plot threads to resolve, but it added even more, and the result is that some characters just don’t get the time they deserve. The poster child for this is Allelujah, who seemed to quickly fade into the background and become little more then an accessory to the Ptolemy‘s combat needs. In season one there were times when Allelujah’s personal plot felt disconnected from wider events but there was no doubt it was relevant and that he was a main character. Season 2 just continuously ignored him and ruined his previous resolution by bringing back his Hallelujah persona as bad writing whenever he needed to do something important.
A similarly underused character is Louise. She went through a crisis in season one and the idea of her becoming a soldier to combat the Gundams had great potential. But instead she was little more than Ribbons’ pawn, a captured princess that needed to be saved, and her combat technique harkened back to many brainwashed females of the franchise’s past. It really would have been nice to have seen her as a more balanced embodiment of what change the Gundam’s interventions caused in those left in the wake. The show even had Billy and Mr. Bushido repeat the ‘Gundams drove me crazy’ angle, so an alternative would have been valid.
In addition to the cast criticism, some questions still aren’t answered at the end of the show. Nothing is really damaging, but questions raised in the show like ‘Where did Trinity come from?’ and ‘What happened to the Observers?’ receive no answer. Answers can be found if you get hold of the relevant Japanese guidebooks or talk to fans who translate them, but this is bad storytelling. If an element is raised on screen, it should be answered there, especially when some of these questions could be answered with one or two lines of dialogue. It’s a practice on the rise for Japanese animation, and one I fear is only going to hurt it.
It’s often remarked that Gundam is a hard sell internationally, and sometimes it’s easy to see why. But 00 may well be one of the most international-friendly series ever produced, helped greatly by its message of unity and understanding. It’s a show that tries to challenge viewers but not intimidate them. A show that tackles drama whilst realising hardship isn’t the only factor of life. A show that reminds you humanity has so much potential. We just need to commit.
Because we need to be ready … for the dialogues to come.