Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 30th 2008
Gundam SEED Destiny TV Movie II:
Their Respective Swords
The condensed movie-format retelling of the Gundam SEED Destiny TV series continues, beginning with Kira's “abduction” of Cagalli from her wedding as the Archangel departs Orb. Athrun, newly reinstated in the ZAFT military forces and ranked as a member of FAITH, joins the Minerva, where he soon finds himself butting heads with the extremely capable but intractable Shinn over matters of proper behavior. Disgusted, Shinn heads ashore to clear his head, only to have a fateful encounter with a beautiful but troubled girl who needs some rescuing, but he does not realize until much later that he has actually fought against her as one of Phantom Pain's artificially-enhanced Extended. Later, the awful truth of the Extended program becomes apparent, while on two separate occasions the Archangel interferes in ZAFT/Alliance battles in an attempt to allow Cagalli to stop Orb's involvement on the Alliance side. Both efforts are doomed to failure, however, for the violence and political connections have spiraled beyond the point of no return, forcing old friends to fight once again.
Their Respective Swords is the second part of a 2006 effort to condense the 20 hours of programming in the Gundam Seed Destiny TV series into a set of four 90-minute movies. Movies made primarily from compiling TV footage rarely work well, as they normally require shorting character development to be able to tell their full story, often have a choppy feel, and frequently have to skip over so much content that only someone who has actually seen the full series can make complete sense of everything. That these movies have, so far, been partial exceptions to that rule is as much a criticism of the original series as praise for the effort delivered here.
The story covered in this movie approximately spans episodes 14 to 28 of the TV series, and does so by entirely skipping the flashback episode, focusing on certain key scenes, and glossing over other content with montages of clips backed by narration by Athrun or Kira, depending on the situation. It partly succeeds because it actually limits or eliminates some of the key weaknesses of Destiny, such as the dully repetitive fights, certain battles that had seemed more like filler than key plot points, distracting side plot threads, and endless retreads of certain philosophical debates and relationship issues. (On the downside, though, the movie downplays the role of Meer Campbell as the fake Lacus Clyne compared to the equivalent TV series run, thus placing less emphasis on the story's key bit of subterfuge.) The result is a much tighter story than the original, one that might have been a full success had the producers further refined the editing and used a few more new linking scenes to work around rough transitions. As it is, it doesn't entirely escape the choppiness that these efforts commonly have, and still has places where the progression of events is not entirely clear if one has not seen the original, but it is not as bad as the norm, either. A newcomer to the series would at least mostly be able to understand this.
That being said, the source content has significant issues that even condensing the story down does not avoid. One of the biggest is a lack of clear focus, as the centerpiece of the action jumps around amongst Kira, Athrun, Shinn, Cagalli, Durandel, and even occasionally supporting characters, too. In trying to keep its substantial cast all regularly involved, it spreads the story too thin. Another major problem is the hypocrisy inherent in the entire Gundam SEED franchise, which glories in the spectacles of Gundam action in its battle scenes even while trying to pitch a decided anti-war message. The writing also seems uncertain exactly what it wants to do with the Archangel and Freedom much of the time, as they seem to have little clear, defined purpose beyond giving Kira a chance to show off in battle.
And that's a key point which must be understood to appreciate the Destiny content in any form: for all the efforts to craft a complex plot and develop characters, both the series and movies are really about pretty boys (and a couple of boyish-looking girls) piloting their mecha through all kinds of fancy – and generally physically impossible – maneuvers while defeating ridiculous odds. Practicalities of physics, tactics, and mechanics are irrelevant, and getting highly emotional in the middle of a fight is typically a key to victory rather than a hindrance. The fight scenes do look terribly cool and feature the occasional dramatic injury or death, and ultimately that's all that really seems to matter.
Like with Gundam SEED, the artistry of Destiny suffers from character designs that vary facial structures too little, especially amongst the younger cast members. On the upside, they do respectably costume and depict mature women, allow some of the younger lasses to strut their stuff in occasional fan service scenes, and render the characters well. Really, though, the visuals are all about the Gundams and other military vehicles, and everything else in the artistry is subordinate to that. Lavish, colorful mecha designs, complete with signature poses in some cases, are in no short supply, and the main battleships look as sharp as ever. The animation naturally emphasizes the combat scenes and ship and Gundam movements, while more peaceful scenes fare acceptably well but will not impress.
A solid musical score makes some interesting selections for the battle scenes but rarely disappoints. The insert songs are pedestrian J-Pop numbers, but the credits roll to the lovely song “tears” by Lisa, first with the original Japanese credits and then a second time with their English translation.
The English dub is likewise a very mixed bag. While the English script stays consistently close to the original throughout, the caliber of its performances vary decidedly. Cagalli sounds less manly in English but still satisfyingly tomboyish, Lunamaria and Stella are arguably slight improvements, and both of the female Captains work at least as good in English. The real and fake Lacus have limited lines in this movie, but when they do speak Chantal Strand gives them a distinctive vocal quality that is decidedly different from the original performances but still fits; tastes will vary widely here, however. Standing against those quality efforts are a disappointing rendition of Kira and an unsatisfying Durandel. Athrun and Shinn sound good enough in the other key roles to keep the dub afloat, but it is not one that sub fans are going to appreciate.
Extras in this volume are limited only to an extended textless ending.
Destiny has often been lambasted by Gundam SEED fans as an inferior follow-up to the original series, and perhaps unfairly so. Granted, its story is less focused, and the presence of a new star character reduces the screen time for the old familiar ones, but the tone of the story, the style of execution, the level of the writing, and the feel of the battle scenes has not markedly changed. To call it a good story would be a big stretch, but it isn't a bad one, either. This central movie does its job in moving the story along from its initial set-up phase more towards the heart of the conflicts that form the basis of the story, and does so with the kind of pleasing brevity which makes it a worthy consideration for those who enjoyed the original series but do not want to lumber through all the repetition and baggage again.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Solid musical score (especially the closer), lots of flashy mecha action goodness.
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