Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 30th 2009
Mobile Suit Gundam 00
DVD - Season 1: Part 1
Several centuries into the future the world is divided into three factions—the Union, the Human Reform League, and the AEU—built around the three orbital elevators that furnish the Earth with an unlimited supply of solar energy. And yet still war persists. Ethnic struggles, centuries-long religious strife, and the countless power struggles that occur when super-powers try to measure each other up—strife is everywhere. Enter Celestial Being. A mysterious organization with enormous financial resources and an information network that spans the world, they are determined to put a stop to warfare once and for all. At their vanguard are four young men—all victims of warfare in their own ways—who pilot horrific, indestructible weapons known as Gundams. Their ultimatum: stop all promotion, instigation and execution of warfare, or face the wrath of the Gundam Meisters.
Gundam series are famous for their slow starts. Gundam Seed didn't really take off until episode twenty four, and Yoshiyuki Tomino's beloved original never really took off at all. Gundam 00, on the other hand, starts off at full throttle, speeding by in a blur of scheming sub-characters and muscular mecha action. The series slows only enough to introduce its cast and flesh out its future world, preferring bursts of mission-oriented action to the studied escalation of the Seed series—with not entirely felicitous results.
The missions begin to feel repetitive after a while, especially since everyone seems to be recycling the same half-dozen lines of dialogue over and over again (variations on “You aren't suited to be a Gun>dam Meister,” “It's going exactly as Ms. Sumeragi predicted,” and “I am Celestial Being's Gun>dam Meister” are the most common). There is, however, an undeniable—though strictly left-brain—pleasure in the thoughtful treatment that writer Yousuke Kuroda gives the roundelay of missions. Celestial Being's plans are mechanically precise and puritanically principled—exactly as a fanatical organization's should be; the superpowers' responses are so realistically self-centered that they hurt to watch; and the way various organizations immediately take to exploiting Celestial Being's actions isn't just dead-on, it's a trenchant commentary on all-too current events. Kuroda's fixation on people who do bad things for good reasons finds a handy outlet in the Gun>dam Meisters, whose actions raise questions about what constitutes terrorism and the morality of using violence to stop violence. The way he asks the questions is less than subtle (it usually involves a verbal bludgeoning), but he deserves kudos for at least trying.
And if the left-brain isn't your dominant lobe, there are plenty of pleasures that forgo the brain altogether. Highborn anime that it is, Gundam 00 crammed to the gills with top-tier talent. Director Seiji Mizushima of Fullmetal Alchemist fame, legendary composer Kenji Kawai, j-pop superstars L'arc~en~Ciel, mangaka-turned-character-designer Yun Kouga, and a crack team of mechanical designers who between them have been responsible for the mecha in everything from Full Metal Panic! and Code Geass to Votoms and nearly every incarnation of Gundam known to man: anime crews simply don't get any higher profile. And it shows. The series looks and sounds absolutely fabulous. The mecha are unspeakably cool, the characters tasty, and the robo-action lovingly rendered. Kawai's martial score gets the blood moving, and Sunrise's expert animation dazzles the eyes. Technically speaking, it's a feast.
Unfortunately, while an attractive and intelligent series, Gundam 00 is also a remarkably bloodless one. Though lip-service is paid to the costs both humanitarian and personal of Celestial Being's quest, the series obviously cares more about being relevant and incisive than being powerful or human. While the futuristic setting and political sparring are meticulously detailed, the characters are mere cogs in their own political games, with only cursory lives and personalities outside of their roles in Celestial Being. The series has no human core—Setsuna is remarkable in his frosty unlikeability and there really isn't anyone else sufficiently fleshed out to anchor the show—which leaves it feeling cold and impersonal. It's a difficult series to enjoy on anything more than a purely intellectual (or aesthetic) level. Even the action scenes, as explosive and plentiful as they are, can't muster any real tension with their marionette participants and predetermined outcomes, and the only time it approaches the emotional power of its more dramatically accomplished franchisees are those scenes, such as the harrowing opening battle between a child soldier and a crude but deadly bipedal war machine, when its intellectual pursuits align with its dramatic intent without the interference of its oft-cheesy dialogue. Needless to say, that doesn't happen often.
You can actually hear the dialogue tripping up Bandai's English adaptation. As is par for their dubs, it's a well-acted and exceedingly faithful adaptation, which in this case puts the dialogue and the voice talent at odds. And frankly, no amount of talent is capable of making the reams of explanatory dialogue and endless pseudo-military posturing of the Meisters sound like anything but the embarrassment that they are. The first couple of times the Gundams sortie, their pilots' terse “Gun>dam, proceeding to kick this or that kind of butt” quips are actually kind of cool. But after nine episodes of rather repetitive missions, one begins to wonder if they need to describe—in cool military tones—every insignificant detail of every insignificant move. What must their lunch breaks sound like? “Setsuna F. Seiei, proceeding to eliminate boxer wedgie and evacuate bladder. Boloney sandwich consumption pending completion of manipulator sterilization.” No matter how professional the actors and how well-chosen they are for their roles, no one can keep dialogue like that from wearing nerves thin.
Extras consist of the usual assortment of promos, trailers and clean opening and closing animation.
If Sunrise's intent was to return to the franchise's roots after the teen-friendly Gundam Seed, they certainly succeeded. The Byzantine politics and sledgehammer pacifist message are pure Tomino—as are the terrible dramatic instincts and nattering characters. Nevertheless, the series' modern twists—religious fanaticism, terrorism, even a fascination with renewable energy—and stellar production values make it a worthwhile watch for anyone who doesn't mind their entertainment with more brain than heart.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Mecha action filled with grown-up ideas and grown-up politics.
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