Reviewby Paul Fargo, Aug 15th 2006
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny
DVD 1: Artbox + CD
Beginning two years after the end of Gundam SEED, Destiny opens by briefly introducing a bizarre reversal of Gundam SEED's outset—wherein former antagonists ZAFT are now the good guys and former protagonists, the Earth Alliance are the shifty, untrustworthy ones—and then immediately heading off into that classic, tried and true staple of Gundam anime, the Gundam hijacking. Three new rather odd-looking Gundams are stolen from a ZAFT base in explosive fashion, prompting ZAFT to give chase after the hijackers over the next three episodes with their slick new battleship, the Minerva and their slick new main hero Gundam, the Impulse. Of course, just as they zero in on their quarry, the Minerva's crew are then called away without a moment's pause or an inch of success, and by the end of the disc are sent off to deal with another tried and true Gundam staple, the dropping of a space colony on the Earth.
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed proved to be a massive success in Japan, providing the backbone of Bandai's push to reintroduce Gundam to the next generation of anime fans. As its immediate followup, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny obviously has some pretty heavy expectations of it to pick up where its predecessor left off. Fortunately, the first five episodes presented on this disc manage to do just that, and send Gundam Seed Destiny off on a good start.
In a way, the whole setup of a Gundam theft at the beginning is somewhat redundant, especially given that the same thing was used to open the first SEED. However, Destiny pulls the concept off more effectively than its predecessor by injecting it with a lot more energy and excitement. Where SEED offered up one big moment of action in the theft itself and then followed it up with an immediate lull, Destiny keeps things at a consistently fast and furious pace. Virtually the entire first volume is one long, drawn-out succession of fights and chases, with small plot points scattered about to keep the action from getting too mindless. The teasing of dissent between the Minerva and Orb, the suggestion of Newtype powers as seen in the original Mobile Suit Gundam and more contemporary Gundam X, and the urge by Athrun to return to the battlefield are just a few of the items tossed in to keep the viewer intrigued while they're entertained by the steady stream of robot-based violence.
However, this introduction isn't quite perfect. For all of its action and hinting around, it's still a derivative Gundam hijacking sequence, and the trio of villainous, mentally unstable pilots in gimmicky Gundams presented as the main baddies are just a little too much like the antagonistic trio seen in the first SEED to really stand out on their own. Most distressing, however, is the role—or lack of it—played by Destiny's intended lead protagonist, Shin Asuka. Throughout these early episodes, he's barely given any dialogue beyond verbally abusing returning fan-favorite characters and spends the bulk of his exceedingly limited screen time zipping around in his Gundam. As a result, Shin is established as antagonistic and obnoxious, which firmly sets the audience against him from the outset. Since he's supposed to be our protagonist, diminishing his role like this and making him completely unsympathetic is not a smart move at all. There's also the issue that we really don't know what the point of the series is even five episodes in. We know the short-term goal of getting back stolen mobile suits from random bad guys, but the overall plot is still unknown. With SEED, or just about any other good anime, the audience at least has a vague idea of the story after five or so episodes, but Destiny doesn't really give us anything yet, which is slightly concerning.
Visually, these five episodes give us a lot of positive things and some really annoying negative things. For the most part, the animation is a step up from what was seen in SEED. It's more fluid, more detailed, and less prone to fits of stiff or awkward motion or characters going off-model to the point of deformity. However, especially near the end of the disc, instances of recycled animation begin to appear. A gross overuse of stock footage really hurt the animation quality of SEED in its later episode, and to see it already become so prevalent in the earliest portions of Destiny doesn't bode well.
Character and mobile suit designs are handled by the same crew who did SEED, which unfortunately means the return of Hisashi Hirai's lookalike characters. As is the case with anything else he does, Hirai's designs show no distinct variety beyond hairstyle and eye color, making for an incredibly redundant-looking assortment of characters. If he could just vary his faces up a bit more, he could produce some really likable work, but unfortunately he falls flat in this outing. On the plus side, the mobile suit designs by Gundam veteran Kunio Okawara are actually pretty impressive. The Gundams actually beat the odds and turn out quite nicely despite bearing such cheesy features as flying dog and submarine transformation modes, and blatantly copying gimmicks seen in the first SEED such as swappable backpacks. Also of note is the re-introduction of the classic Gundam adversary, the Zaku (spelled here as "ZAKU," since ZAFT's suits are all given incomprehensible acronyms as names), now recast in the role of powered-up hero mech with swappable backpacks of its own. The new Destiny ZAKU retains the imposing, muscular appearance of the classic, and is one of the more impressive designs presented so far in the series.
In terms of voice acting, Destiny's Japanese cast is solid, but not exactly stellar. The only really standout performances come from Shuuichi Ikeda and Mami Koyama, who portray sly politician Gilbert Durandal and Minerva captain Talia Gladys in Destiny, and also played antagonists Char Aznable and Kycilia Zabi way back in the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam. It's not only a kind nod to the old school Gundam, but the actors manage to bring out the most of these new characters, as well. Maaya Sakamoto fans will be delighted to hear her voicing the short-skirted fanservice beacon Lunamaria Hawke, even though the character doesn't have much to say in this volume. The English cast is acceptable, if not somewhat bland. There's no such nod to past Gundam efforts to be had here, and nobody really stands out. It's a functional dub that really won't win any attention, either positive or negative.
Perhaps Destiny's most impressive and praiseworthy feature is its music. Toshihiko Sahashi, who scored the first SEED, returns for Destiny and thoroughly tops his previous efforts. Where SEED's score consisted chiefly of a generic synth music sound, Destiny kicks off right away with a big, booming, symphonic feel to it, riddled with some guitar-heavy pieces for the fight scenes. Theme songs are similarly impressive, with Nami Tamaki providing her single best effort yet with the ending theme, and T.M. Revolution offering up a decidedly less interesting, yet still entertaining piece for the opening. Also included with the first volume is a bonus CD featuring some of the show's future theme songs, including some very enjoyable pieces by High and Mighty Color and Hitomi Takahashi, and some of the most mindnumbingly awful music I've ever heard connected with an anime in Chemistry's ridiculously out of place R&B opener and Rie Fu's utterly boring end theme.
Speaking of bonuses, that CD is really all that's there. The DVD is completely devoid of any kind of extra beyond the obligatory clean opening. Perhaps the box could be considered a bonus, but it functions more as an obnoxious puzzle. It's a hellish contraption that folds in on itself with pouches for each of the first six DVDs, and is held together by nothing more than a handful of magnets (isn't it bad to have magnets near sensitive disc media like a DVD?). Pick it up the wrong way and it crumples. I can understand the motivation to try and be unique, but doing so by making the packaging needlessly complicated isn't the smartest approach. A normal, five-sided cardboard box with pretty pictures would suffice, and it would save space on the shelf. Still, it has nice artwork on it, and the actual case for the first volume features a nice revision on the original Japanese DVD cover.
Oddball packaging aside, this first volume of Gundam Seed Destiny is a pretty solid first entry to this newest installment of the constantly growing Gundam franchise. It's not perfect, having a few issues (mostly stemming from main character at this point), but it still provides enough entertaining action and subtle intrigue to keep the viewer wanting more by the end. Following up the fan-favorite SEED, Destiny has some pretty big shoes to fill, and it'll be interesting to see if fans consider it a perfect fit.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B-
Music : A
+ Action-packed opener, fantastic music and some impressive visuals.
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