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Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - The Next Big Gundam - Gundam Seed

Some of the most eagerly anticipated new animation to hit the streets is often the continuation of a popular series. In most cases, this is simply the creation of a second series, or season of episodes that continue the main story. In a few instances, the new animation is a spin-off series or a re-telling of the original story. Many times, these series achieve the status of Franchise by taking on a life beyond their television roots. Franchises permeate themselves through all aspects of the media: being found on television, books, toy lines and the movies. But the curse of all franchises is to hit their maximum amount of growth. Often, these series have drawn all the fans they can with their current storylines, and no new fans are being drawn in.

So what's a franchise creator to do? Simple: re-invent the series. Star Trek did it by jumping 80 years into the future of the original series, then going back to a time before the original series. By moving around their established timeline, Star Trek took the chance on being able to cover new ground and attract a whole new audience looking for more than the standard plot lines.

Anime is no different, and that is quite evident in one of Japan's largest franchises, Gundam. Much like Star Trek, Gundam played in its established continuity for quite a while. The original series, Mobile Suit Gundam (often referred to as Gundam 0079), was not well received upon its initial release. Achieving minimal success in its initial TV run, it wasn't until the series was re-released as 3 movies that its popularity really soared. This lead to a new series that continued to the original storyline, as well as the movie, Char's Counterattack that ended the main conflict established in the original series. From there, a few more series and quite a few OVAs helped the series remain in the public eye.

For the twentieth anniversary of Gundam, it was decided to try something different. New sets of creative teams were brought in to help re-invent the series. While many can see this as a way of creating tribute to a great franchise, many others can see this as a marketing ploy to establish new ground for the Gundam franchise. Out of this mixing of new blood with old came 3 new series: G-Gundam, Gundam Wing and Gundam X. While Gundam Wing and Gundam X stuck to a familiar formula established by Gundam 0079, G-Gundam took a different approach with its tournament storyline. While a loyal fanbase existed North America thanks to fansubs, it took the broad appeal of Gundam Wing to introduce the franchise to a larger audience. With this lead in, the rest of the Gundam franchise has found its way to North America.

While it's been slow going for Gundam to build franchise status in North America, its twenty-plus years of franchise status has managed to keep a new Gundam series on the air in Japan. After the alternate tales of Gundam Wing, Gundam X and G-Gundam, came another series entitled Turn-A Gundam. Turn-A Gundam took the extra step of tying in all alternate tales into the continuity of the Gundam franchise. 2002 brings about the latest incarnation of Gundam entitled Gundam Seed. Borrowing story elements from many of the predecessors, Gundam Seed is set in another alternate timeline, closely echoing the pattern set by the original series, Gundam 0079. The Earth system is in civil war as the Earth Alliance and Zaft find themselves in a stalemate after one year of war. Evenly matched, the two sides vie for any advantage possible. The Earth Alliance has been secretly developing Gundam mobile suits that they hope will give them the edge in the war. Of course, the Zaft have learned of these suits and make their way to the neutral colony that has been secretly developing the suits.

Enter the hero, a young boy by the name of Kira Yamata. As is typical for the Gundam franchise, Kira finds himself in the middle of a battle and ends up in the cockpit of a mobile suit by accident. The Zaft have managed to steal 4 of the 5 Gundams, with Kira making off with the 5th suit.

The main plot of Gundam Seed borrows heavily from Gundam 0079 with the established idea of the 2 sides in the conflict. In a very familiar pattern, similar to Amuro Ray, Kira finds himself with a bunch of other misfits and military personnel in the position of having to recover or destroy the 4 other suits. The idea of the 5 Gundams feels very similar to Gundam Wing with each suit having a specialty and look. The suits themselves go back to the original series, with the familiar red, white and blue of Kira's suit. After Turn-A Gundam and G-Gundam, it's nice to see Mobile Suits more in style with the original established mecha designs. The technology of the suits follows the norms established by Gundam 0079 and echoed in Gundam Wing.

Clear lines are also being established with the look of the opposition suits. Back is the familiar one-eyed look of the Zakus. Sure, the Zaft also have the 4 other Gundams, but their choice of dark colors helps establish the good guys and the bad guys.

The character designs take on a whole new feel from Gundam 0079 as the cast follows the norms established by Gundam Wing. The overall theme seems to be pretty faces to look at, as the cast seems to have been invaded by a bishounen series. There definitely appears to be a push to gain the widest possible audience with the character designs and cast make-up. While many of the lead cast do take on the pretty boy feel of Gundam Wing, some familiar designs still permeate with a blonde Zaft soldier with an all too familiar silver mask. Although still early in the series, it still seems that it will be left to the men to play the role of heroes with the females standing by in supporting roles. The credits also give hint of a budding relationship between Kira and a woman from the opposition, possibly taking a cue from 08th MS Team.

Will this series be a success? From the point of view of going back to familiar ground, this series will probably bring back many fans disappointed in Turn-A Gundam. Gundam Seed is truly going back to what many fans feel see as what made the original series great. The artwork and animation is simply gorgeous and the mecha designs are top-notch. Gundam Seed is a visual treat that can wow any audience. Time will tell if it can exceed the popularity of many of its predecessors, but after Turn-A Gundam, it might not have to work too hard.

With Bandai's pledge of, "if it's Gundam, it'll be here eventually," it will be interesting to see where Gundam Seed fits into the grand scheme of things. With very familiar themes to already released series, it would not surprise many to see this series in TV and DVD release in North America before the older Turn-A Gundam. Fans are already satisfied with recent pledges of Zeta Gundam being the next series on the plate, but from a freshness point of view, it would make sense for Gundam Seed to soon follow. With the size of the franchise, it will take time to get all of Gundam out in North America, so sometimes the choice of what comes next may be based on a series' success in Japan.

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