Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Surprised and wary at the arrival of the three Gundam Thrones, the Gundam Meisters and their handlers at Celestial Being decide to hang back and observe for a while. The gathering of information and biding of time come to an abrupt halt however when the Thrones begin attacking civilian targets. Gundam on Gundam violence soon breaks out, complicated by the fact that someone has leaked the blueprints for the GN particle generators to the world's three superpowers. With the newly-unified UN's GN-powered mobile suits on one side and the Thrones on the other, the Meisters are under pressure from all directions, and when a betrayal from within leaves them open to attack, the web of conspiracies whose center they occupy begins to unravel, devolving into a swirling vortex of violence that consumes all it touches.
Gundam 00 doesn't rectify its shortcomings in this, the final leg of its first season, so much as it steamrolls them with brute narrative force. It's still populated by a platoon of unlikeable ciphers, its emotional engagement still never engages, and its dialogue continues to stink like a wet skunk ("I am Gun>dam!"). And yet, by the time this set comes crashing to a close, all of that is about as relevant as cavalry in a nuclear war.
With the arrival of the Gun>dam Thrones the series finally loses the mission-of-the-week crutch it had been hobbling on, and no sooner is it gone than the series is off and running like a steroidal madman. After volumes of veiled hints, the structure and extent of Celestial Being finally come into focus, even as it fragments and explodes into internal violence. Lurking characters come to the forefront in one concerted rush as the series' already Byzantine politics twist themselves into brain-busting pretzels of betrayal and counter-betrayal. Tragedy begins to pile on tragedy, and it all swells and intertwines before coming to a head on one of those patented Gundam killing fields. The sheer momentum is breathtaking, and even as coldly detached as the series is, the catastrophic fates in store for its cast make for compelling viewing.
The series' timely concerns—religious extremism, terrorism, the abuse of power—fade none, indeed with the clarification of Setsuna's past actually grow more pronounced, and yet are incorporated more unobtrusively into the mounting narrative than previously. Gone are the moments when the script bogs down in Yousuke Kuroda and Seiji Mizushima's intellectual ambitions, leaving a fast, mean mecha actioner with a painfully relevant political backdrop and a few choice things to say about the human appetite for war. Not every choice the series makes is smart—the random mecha power-ups and dull megalomania of the villain once he is revealed come to mind—but on a whole it manages to be intelligent, and without being spineless, saggy or preachy or losing the barreling energy that carries it to its end.
Mecha violence isn't necessarily supposed to be beautiful, but as Gundam 00's action moves from ridiculously one-sided massacres to expansive Gun>dam-on-Gun>dam mayhem, that's exactly what it is. The Gun>dam Thrones in particular, with their luminescent streamers of blood-red energy, are a sight to behold merely standing, and are very nearly stunning when in ferocious motion. The people inside of them are no less alluring (and get the occasional swimsuit episode to prove it), and if nothing else Seiji Mizushima knows how to choreograph both—characters mechanical and flesh that is—in combat. His work on Fullmetal Alchemist is proof enough of that, and Gundam 00 is strong corroborating evidence. The aerial Gun>dam action is swift, expert and, at it's best, exhilarating. He is capably supported by a hoard of hoary mecha veterans at Sunrise, and the accumulated experience shows in animation and design work polished to as near perfection as humans armed with a television budget are capable.
Kenji Kawai's score comes into its own here, its overblown chants, weeping strings, and blasting action themes finally finding their counterparts in the mecha posturing, tragedies, and unrelenting destruction of the series' last third.
The most outstanding feature of Bandai's dub is its fidelity. The dub script follows the subtitles nearly word for word, and its actors model their performances painstakingly after the originals. There's some nipping and tucking in the name of lip flap, but for the most part the dub adjusts the speed of delivery rather than the dialogue itself to match the characters' lips. The strategy leads to some awkward timing here and there, but not as much as you'd think. A larger issue is its faithful preservation of some of the original's dumber lines. As for the acting itself, there are weak links—Gabe Khouth and Michael Daingerfield do poor renditions of Saji Crossroad and Johann Trinity respectively—but there are just as many standouts (Alex Zahara's bold Lockon, Scott McNeil's hammy Ali al-Saachez). The rest of the cast is perfectly professional, with Brad Swaile playing Setsuna as a monotone military badass and Richard Ian Cox adeptly handling Hallelujah/Allelujah's personality split. The dub overall has issues with the more powerful scenes, but given that the dialogue is more a source of information than a vehicle for emotions, it isn't the problem it could have been.
A pair of high-energy, seriously fun and surprisingly informative Japanese audio commentaries by the major female and male seiyuu (respectively) are this set's major extras. The textless version of the final ending sequence, which includes important teasers for season two, is also nice.
Plans for a second season were already in place when production on season one wrapped up, so closure isn't exactly this set's strong point. The stomping lead-up to its climactic bloodbath was littered with revelations—why, for instance, Tieria is such a bastard—and it (very) satisfactorily puts to rest its main villain, but its conclusion is more remarkable for the plot threads it leaves open than those it ties off. Season one ends in a different world than it began, with a political and social fabric warped irrevocably by its main characters and a future most uncertain. Saji, whose hatred of Gun>dams grows palpably, is left shattered even as his importance to the series is finally being revealed. Vast conspiracies have only just commenced even as the season draws to an end, and the fates of most of its main cast are left to the imagination. It's a transparent strategy, but an undeniably effective one. After being swept up in the coalescing second half, the abrupt drop-off at the end only raises a raging thirst for season two. Heck, with the tentative relationship between Setsuna and embattled Mideast princess Marina, there's even a chance that it'll have a heart. A guy can dream, right?
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Smart, muscular and newly blessed with unstoppable narrative momentum.
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