Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 10th 2008
Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO: The Hidden One Year War
Behind the big events, overlooked by the powerful forces of war and forgotten by history, the 603 Technical Evaluation Unit spent the tumultuous months of the One Year War supporting the Zeon war effort by testing its army's newest weapons for battle readiness. On a beat-up converted passenger spaceship, frighteningly Teutonic but essentially kindhearted Engineering Lieutenant Oliver May puts technologies that may never see a real battlefield through their paces. Cooperating with a sharp-tongued Special Operations officer with the unlikely name of Monique Cadillac, he comes into contact with a range of proud but outdated specialists who have pinned their hopes on the new technologies he is testing. Unfortunately for them, characters left behind by the times, as any aging movie-cowboy will tell you, tend to die messily.
A universe as expansive as the Gundam universe is bound to have a few oddities. Take the silly cartoon educational videos on the 08th MS Team DVDs or the absolutely bizarre SD Gundam. Though it isn't exactly hobnobbing with SD Gundam, MS IGLOO's ill-fated experimentations with fully 3D CG animation and motion-capture acting so overpower its modest merits that it is more of a footnote than a landmark in the history of the Gundam franchise.
Set in the original and most realistic of the many Gundam universes, the series forgoes the franchise's customary evenhandedness to focus exclusively on the Zeon forces, but is scripted with a sympathetic eye for the little tragedies of those left behind by a war that created bigger heroes and claimed more important lives than their own. And that's where the praise ends. The series rehashes many of the ideas that the franchise has been kicking around for decades (war is tragic and pointless. Revelation city.) and it obviously thinks killing off newly-introduced characters each episode (another hoary Gundam cliché) is a more effective dramatic device than it actually is. Each episode follows a rigid formula: the 603 unit receives a new technology along with its last-of-the-cowboys operator; Oliver tests it but something goes wrong; the vehicle and its pilot get thrown into real combat, during which they prove themselves but perish in the process. It's stiff, hidebound, and thoroughly unimaginative.
Even so, IGLOO would be mildly interesting entertainment were it not for one minor problem. Its visuals are a disaster. Cutting-edge CGI definitely has its uses—in IGLOO it's the battles, which are dynamic and spectacularly bombastic, despite the mobile suits' plastic-model articulation and look (they were actually designed using commercially available Gundam models as their basis). The problem arises when those same techniques are applied to human movement. Director Takashi Imanishi used motion capture and professional actors to create his characters' expressions and body language, and the actors, spurred on by some unknown stimulus (perhaps the fact that their faces will never be connected to their performances), charge headlong for the wall dividing forcefulness from caricature and go straight over the top. Characters roll their eyes like mad cows, gnash their teeth, over-emote, and just generally ham it up. It's a completely new concept: bad physical acting in anime. To be fair, it isn't entirely the actors' fault. Characters' faces are at that creepy, waxy mid-point between artificiality and realism, and the computer has not yet been invented that can handle the insane subtleties of human expression, even with the help of real human models.
The cause, however, is beside the point. The effect is all that matters, and the effect is devastating. Already endangered by their short introductions and habit of dying quickly, the characters quickly become unintentional jokes under the influence of their stilted performances. However, as ripe as Hemme's mad-dog barking or Sonnen's neurotic twitching are, it's Imanishi's habit of retaining the compensatory stylistic exaggerations of two-dimensional anime that pushes the unintentional humor from merely amusing to gut-bustingly bad. Freezing the camera on the faces of two characters as they mime surprise at their recognition of each other is bad enough (in photo-realistic 3D), but the slo-mo sparkly hair-flip during Commander Cadillac's introduction nearly put me in traction. When you seek to bring animation as close to live-action as possible, you must accept that the rules of live action—in acting and in direction—hold sway, not the rules of animation. Imanishi doesn't, and MS IGLOO suffers as a consequence.
Though a fitting score for a mecha drama—it includes all of the rousing action and lonely sadness one could desire—and blessed with a pretty, melancholy opening theme, IGLOO's music is so bluntly wielded that it leaves a much worse impression than it should. Imanishi keeps his musical support quiet and often silent, but when it does come out to play, it's the clumsy, obvious play of a schoolyard bully.
The disc has previews, clean opening and closing animation, and an extensive collection of production art, but as usual, Bandai Visual's best extra is the DVD's booklet. Its twenty pages include episode rundowns, character and mecha descriptions, and most importantly, a lengthy and informative interview with the director about the rigors of 3D animation. On a side-note, the back-cover synopsis was written by someone with poetic ambitions that would probably be best kept to themselves ("A flash from the soul spears through the fierce battle in Loum!").
MS IGLOO is an experiment, and on that subject the show's own Oliver May says it best: "Weapons development consists of a succession of failures." Looking like what amounts to a series of extended video game cinematics and acted like a bad Vincent Price movie, file MS IGLOO as one of those failures and move on; this is a series for completists alone.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ 3D mecha action; dangerously funny unintentional humor.
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