Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 6th 2008
Gundam SEED Destiny: Final Plus
With the Orb Union violently opposed to his “Destiny” plan, Chairman Durandel harnesses the horrific beam weaponry of his now-Earthbound foes, and prepares to reduce the dissenters to ashes. Kira and Athrun, newly armed with impressively upgraded Gundams, along with the crew of the Archangel and an army of soldiers loyal to Lacus, head into space to stop him. Waiting there for them are Rey, Shinn, and the Minerva. In the ensuing chaos Kira faces Rey and the ghost of Rau le Creuset, Athrun teaches Shinn what it really means to protect the future, and Durandel throws every massive weapon in his arsenal at them all. Unless Orb's defenders can break his defenses and confront the cold despot face to face, not only will Orb burn, but the human race will be robbed of free will forever.
If you're biting nails to the quick in anticipation of a sequel to Gundam Seed's second season, this isn't it. This isn't a proper sequel, but a reworking of an already existing climax. Don't groan and return to your hangnails just yet however; this OAV does provide a sense of closure that the series' original ending lacked, even if it doesn't stand well on its own. This is no End of Evangelion, but then again, Gundam Seed is no Evangelion, and the intent of this isn't so much to revolutionize a botched conclusion as to gently flesh out a rushed and incomplete one.
Destiny has always lacked the single-minded narrative focus of the first season. More a collection of narrative threads bundled into a spiky ball of entertainment than a propulsive progression towards a carefully calibrated conclusion, it's always been heavy on action and suspense and a little low on the kind of slow-building, brutal teen angst that made season one such compelling viewing. With its habit of moving in narrative fits and bursts, it isn't terribly surprising that the series' conclusion rolled in out of nowhere and tied itself up far too quickly. Mind you, it was spectacular, exciting and viscerally satisfying, but it still felt incomplete. It left the fate of Shinn, and the effect that his defeat had on him, completely unresolved, never satisfactorily explained the reasons for Durandel's mad plan, and frankly just left its main cast hanging in space with no direction.
The purpose of this OAV is to patch up those holes; it isn't intended—or perhaps more accurately, isn't suited—to replace the series' ending. If the original ending prioritized dynamic mecha showdowns over the thoughts and feelings of its cast, then Final Plus is the original's negative, explicating characters' psychology and tying up emotional loose ends at the cost of foreshortening the battles to the point of incomprehensibility. In order to make sense of the geography, goals, and personal dynamics of the sprawling space battle it is absolutely essential to watch the original ending, but likewise in order to fully understand what the cast is thinking and where their battles are leading them as people, it is essential to watch Final Plus. The glimpses of Durandel's motivations are revealing (and finally clear up what that chessboard he's always fiddling around with is about), and the ending—the only truly new material in the OAV's fifty-minute run—is a simple, economical coda that brings to conclusion the series' primary personal conflicts while making interesting implications about the future and completing Shinn's defeat at the hands of Athrun and Kira in a manner that is quiet and compassionate, yet immensely satisfying.
While Final Plus provides a fine opportunity to appreciate how Kira has grown into a martial leader of Buddha-like calm and compassion, it provides few opportunities to fully appreciate his, or others', ass-kicking skills. As a way to relive the “wow” moments of the climactic rumble on the moon, it works fine, but unless already familiar with those moments, the “wow” won't be there. Stripped of their context, the battles become confused jumbles of exploding mecha, flying missiles, and randomly-discharged super-weapons that draw unwanted attention to the series' extensive use of repeated animation and dressed-up stills. While it's possible to enjoy the amazingly improbable, but amazingly effective coolness of Mu's gold-plated(!) Gundam or to get caught up in the idiosyncratic prowess of the various pilots, it's impossible to experience the full extent of the series' insane mecha fetishism when it's thrown together willy-nilly and given no time to properly dazzle. And it's that fetishism, born of skillful editing and a soaring, exhilarating score rather than of a hefty animation budget, that was the edge that kept the visuals cutting despite their inconsistent body proportions, shortcuts, and fundamental lack of complex movement. With the fights blunted, the OAV's most memorable visuals are those not affected by budget, particularly Hisashi Hirai's distinctive (if sometime repetitive) designs and the simple, effective touches—such as Kira's beatific smile—that allow the personal encounters to carry such weight.
Given the popularity of the franchise, Bandai's dub for the series is a disappointment. It has its strengths—it's immensely faithful—and some of the performances, particularly Mark Oliver's brief reprise of his role as Rau le Creuset and Samuel Vincent's more mature Athrun, are quite strong, but the work as a whole is brought down by Matt Hill's performance as Kira, along with a general softness in the cast as a whole. Hill is passable when agitated, but is unable to project the calm confidence required by the new and improved Kira, derailing all of the scenes where his performance isn't swamped by battlefield violence. As Kira's assumption of his role as leader and protector is probably Final Plus's highlight, his weak performance has a very serious adverse effect.
The usual clean closing animation is important this time around since the credit scroll obscures part of the final scene, but otherwise the extras on this disc—clean opening, plates—are disposable.
Though the final five minutes alone are enough to excuse sitting through the occasionally confused forty-five that precede them, the insight it provides amidst all of the recapping is really better suited to an on-disc extra than an individual release. No matter how enjoyable it is to see Kira shine, Durandel doubt himself, and Shinn—the detestable little cretin—crawl, it still doesn't change the fact that this is a patch job. Had the production crew been able to combine the closure provided here with the adrenaline and delicious mecha fan-pandering of the original ending, the result would have been estimable. What we have instead is a fix, a welcome supplement to a preposterous, entertaining series, but little more.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Resolves personal and emotional issues left hanging in the rough original ending.
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