Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
A series of short films packaged with certain model kits and aired at conventions, the Gundam Evolve series chronicles a number of side-stories, alternative scenes, and bonus omake from around the Gundam canon.
Right now, Gundam is booming overseas and parent company Sunrise has taken note. In the second half of 2015, the company partnered with anime retailer Right Stuf to re-release six series from the classic mecha franchise to North America in the next year, including Zeta Gundam and After War Gundam X. The fan excitement that followed has led to an avalanche—there's a market here; let's release all the Gundam!
In the midst of this hype, Gundam Evolve was an easy bonus. A series of clips clocking in at 120 minutes, it's a short and easy way to give North American fans more of what they want. Organized by chronological order and connected solely through their ties to Gundam, these 15 short films that run the gamut from serious to silly, but without a lot of substance.
Originally, Sunrise released Gundam Evolve clips one at a time between 2001 and 2007. Some were shown at conventions, others were packaged as bonuses inside model kits. They're designed for die-hard fans hungry for untold Gundam stories. In one cut we get an eerie look at the aftermath of Mobile Suit Gundam's deadliest battle, A Baoa Qu. In another, we're treated to a humorous lover's quarrel between G-Gundam's Domon and Rain, who battle out their personal problems from behind their mecha armor. Some expand on well known Gundam stories, like Evolve 10, which is a sort of epilogue to Gundam ZZ. Others rewrite canon, like Evolve 5, which gives doomed characters Quess and Hathaway an alternative fate. Some are recognizable to casual Gundam fans, like Evolve 7, starring Gundam Wing's Heero Yuy. But even the most devoted Gundam fans will have difficulty identifying the context for every clip, like Evolve 6 which riffs on the out-of-print manga release X Astray.
But in all of them, the Gundam is the star of the show. Clearly, the main purpose of each clip is to showcase the way the franchise's signature mobile suits look and move in high-quality CGI. The animation style is almost jarringly diverse—ranging from traditional cels to 2D cel sharing to 3D computer graphic rendering. The quality, too, is varied. There's a six-year difference between the release date of the first and 15th Evolve clip, and CGI animation technology seems to have improved quite a bit within that time. Many of the clips appear clunky and dated. You may barely recognize the smoothed-over features of a 3D Char Aznable. Fans fresh off of one of Sunrise's most recent Gundam titles, like Gundam: Reconguista in G, Gundam Unicorn, or Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, will be accustomed to a much higher level of quality (and no wonder; these shows all came out nearly ten years after).
This medley may have been designed to show off the best of Sunrise's abilities, but that's not what it does anymore. Today it's more of a curiosity, a time capsule of how animators worked with Gundam material back in the '00s. These pieces were never meant to be more than standalone bonuses for fans, and that's exactly how they play out. There's no hand-holding or even much plot establishment; it's assumed that anyone watching is already in the know. The stories are bare-bones and focused more on showing off their now-dated animation, but they have also been generous with Easter Eggs for fans. Some of this clips may be the only times fans will get to see some manga-only mecha animated. Another positive is that, since each clip has access to the show's original actors and compositions, the voice-acting and music is stellar. There's just no way of getting around just how old and esoteric the content is.
In short, Gundam Evolve was never designed to lure new fans into the franchise, but rather to reward established fans for their devotion, feeding them small snippets of trivia about their favorite pilots and mecha robots. Only people who have seen the shows these clips are based on will appreciate the way they extend or diverge from canon. Gundam Evolve is a collector's item and a must-have for Gundam completionists, but certainly not for everyone.
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : D
Music : A
+ Short clips are good for bite-sized viewing. Stories reward fans for their knowledge of the Gundam universe.
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