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Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Preview Screening

Nakano Sun Plaza
Tokyo, Japan
September 1, 2007

Nine years ago, just before the 20th anniversary of the Gundam robot anime phenomenon, the Gundam Powers That Be celebrated an upcoming new series with two "Gundam Big Bang" events in one Tokyo-area hall, on one sunny Saturday afternoon in August. The day's events were over in a few hours.

Three television series, about seven assorted features, and several oil tankers' worth of plastic models later, the animation studio Sunrise needed a bigger venue for the launch of the latest and shiniest Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam 00. So Sunrise, its perennial sponsor Sotsu Agency, and the broadcaster TBS previewed Gundam 00's first episode before 15,000 fans in 28 cities all over Japan throughout the month of September.

This is a report of the first showing. Like the Gundam Big Bang event almost a decade earlier, the first Gundam 00 sneak preview took place in the epicenter of Gundam fandom, the Tokyo area, on a Saturday afternoon. The hurricane-season rains had fortunately stopped, for hundreds of people were lining up outside for the venue's second showing before the first showing had even started.

Upon entering the screening's lobby, fans were greeted by basketball-player-sized models of all four of the show's titular Gundam robots. Officially, no cameras were allowed, but try telling that to hordes of Japanese kids jostling for prime shooting positions with multi-megapixel phones. All attendees then received the obligatory tchotchke: a 5-cm (2-inch), 1/400 clear figurine of the main character's Gundam Exia unit.

Once all 2,000 of the luckiest Gundam fans in Tokyo were in the assigned seats, the first episode of Gundam 00, "Celestial Being," started with barely an introduction. Two things were immediately evident about this newest Gundam installment: it was crisp, and it was shiny. Very shiny. Gundam 00 is the first Gundam television series shot in high-definition (or "hi-vision" in Japan), and it showed in every wisp of battlefield smoke and every gratuitous armor glint, even when blown up onto an arena-theater-sized screen.

Even the opening flashback sequence of a war-ravaged village was vibrant with sunset hues. Anyone looking for the subdued color palette of, say, a Patlabor movie, will be disappointed. On the other hand, anyone who is looking for sharper, post-DVD interpretation of the DayGlo® tones of the first Gundam series will be pleasantly surprised. The animation was also an improvement over several previous Gundam television installments — the Gundams were given unique "personalities" in their motions from the ponderous gravitas of the heavy-weaponry Gundam Virtue to the razor-edged speed of the close-combat Gundam Exia. The animation of Yun Kouga's bishōnen character designs was also sharply executed.

As for the story itself, there is some striking parallels to 1995's New Mobile Report Gundam Wing series. (No major spoilers ahead.) Like Gundam Wing, Gundam 00's main story begins with hyper-powerful Gundam units appearing at various locales to execute slightly-less-than-Dynasty-Warriors-level mayhem in synchronized phases of a paramilitary operation. At least in the first episode, Setsuna, the main "Gundam Meister" pilot and protagonist, is a morose cipher — the Haro pet robot almost had more lines. Almost all of Setsuna's muttered interactions are to himself or to a more talkative Gundam Meister pilot (Lockon), while 25 minutes is not enough time to get to know the other Gundam Meisters, Allelujah and Tieria.

Fortunately, there is hope that Gundam 00 will stand out on its own. For one thing, director Seiji Mizushima has proven with Fullmetal Alchemist that he can manage political intrigue and characters that switch sides, without the incredulous plot twists and character motivations that sometimes bedeviled certain Gundam installments. For another thing, there are some early indications, particularly in the opening flashback sequence, that creators intend this series to get down and dirty into the gritty harshness of war — an aspect that was also sometimes missing in certain Gundam installments.

Despite the promise of complex characters, one character is in danger of being automatically pigeonholed as a black hat: the leader of Celestial Being, the Gundam Meisters' paramilitary entity. He does his best Cobra Commander impression by overpowering all television stations to broadcast a manifesto. He declares that Celestial Being will exterminate warfare by having the Gundams enforce peace. However, with his polished black mustache that cries to be twirled and his megalomaniac pose before the cameras, it's hard to see how anyone on Earth can see him as their savior.

After the screening ended, TBS announcer (and Eureka Seven guest voice actor) Masao Mukai brought out the special guests. He first introduced Mamoru Miyano, a voice actor best known — especially among the female audience members who squealed upon his entrance — for playing charismatic killer Light in the Death Note anime. He noted that he was a Gundam fan and that he couldn't believe he got the part of Gundam 00's main lead. The other Gundam Meisters' voices — veteran character voice actor Shinichiro Miki, Hiroyuki Yoshino, and Hiroshi Kamiya — joined him on stage along with director Mizushima.

Then Tohru Furuya, the voice of the first Gundam story's protagonist Amuro Ray, appeared as a surprise guest, and he acknowledged that he is returning to Gundam as the narrator of this new series. (There is one more subtle callout to fans of the first Gundam story in Gundam 00's first episode.) Furuya joked darkly that he would also take Miyano's place as the lead "should anything happen to him…."

Interestingly, there is an American connection to Gundam 00. Furuya said he got involved in the project because both he and director Mizushima happened to be Guest of Honors at Anime Expo 2006 in Anaheim, California. When Furuya asked Mizushima about what he was up to, Mizushima confided that he was up for directing the next Gundam project. One thing led to another, and the result was Furuya's first involvement in a Gundam television series in two decades.

Part 2 of the first Gundam 00 preview screening's report will be posted later this weekend.

Update: Part 2 will post on Monday.

Images © Sotsu, Sunrise, MBS

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