Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Mobile Suit Gundam 00
DVD - Season 2 Part 1
Four years have passed since Celestial Being perished and a world government was forged in the flames of its passing. In the intervening years the newly formed Federation has grown increasingly dictatorial while the A-LAWS, its autonomous mobile suit army, has become a futuristic Gestapo with no qualms about the slaughter of innocents. Surveying what they have wrought, the surviving members of Celestial Being are not pleased. Dissatisfied, the organization rises from the dead to take on the world once more; not for the abstract plans of a supercomputer or the dreams of a long-dead genius, but for their own sakes.
For pure episode to episode propulsion, that quality of plot and pacing that makes you want to tear into the next episode like a starving hyena, the only series that can currently match Gundam 00 is probably Code Geass R2. Every episode of Gundam 00 leaves you raring for the next—thank you very much Yousuke "Cliffhanger" Kuroda—and the end of the volume comes as a sudden and unpleasant surprise. That Bandai has switched from the 9-8-8 three-set release of season one to a 7-6-6-6 four-set release akin to R2's doesn't help things.
Gundam 00 wastes no time. From its opening scenes of Saji Crossroad learning firsthand the oppressive ways of the new world order, the series charges full tilt ahead. The first episode darts from character to character, updating us on the circumstances of each, before triggering a bloody jailbreak that alters those circumstances permanently. And so it goes in every episode thereafter. Not a one passes in which some character's life doesn't undergo a sea change or a country isn't razed to the ground. Something is always happening somewhere. If personal and political landscapes aren't reshaping themselves, then Wang Liu Mei is playing both ends against the middle, the creepily androgynous Innovators are plotting their evil way across the background, or A-LAWS slime-buckets are tossing buckets of slime. After years of meandering shonen series, space operas in which nothing or no one really changes and comedies that are content to dance their dippy little jigs in exactly the same place, a series that fills every minute with relevant detail and relentless forward motion is mana from animation heaven. The first episode alone covers more ground than, say, the first eight of Naruto Shippūden. Perhaps that's why it's such compulsive viewing: true to the laws of physics, the narrative is so dense that once it starts moving, its momentum makes it damned hard to stop.
Or perhaps it's those altered personal landscapes. Four years and the climactic calamities of season one have been good to the characters—if not particularly kind. Where they were all badass ciphers with basic personalities and irritating tag lines in season one, by the opening of this set they've seasoned (no pun intended) into flawed but fundamentally sympathetic characters. Setsuna is softer and more textured, though still a textbook hard case; Sumeragi Noriega is consumed by her own impotence, exposing the core of vulnerability beneath her alcohol-hardened shell of professionalism; and perhaps most shockingly Saji moves front and center, baring the ugly selfishness beneath his peacenik stance, and in the process becoming an honest-to-goodness character. Not all of it is pretty, and not all of it successful—Tieria is still annoying and playing the identical twin card with Lockon is plain cheap—but it is uniformly interesting, and like the series itself the characters never stay in the same place for long, their ever-changing interactions providing enough dramatic lubricant to make the series' dry bits (e.g. its continued flirtations with politically relevant observations on the abuse of power and the place of violence in its rectification and inaction in its propagation) go down easy.
Or perhaps it's simply that it looks good. Certainly looking good has much to do with the sympathy the characters garner. Call me shallow, but it helps that characters like Soma Peries and Sumeragi look good enough to eat, with the extensive male cast serving as a substantial dessert (or vice versa depending on your preferences). Other places slick visuals help: in the creation of believable future settings (which are many, varied, and finely detailed), in capturing body language (which, despite the mild downgrade in animation quality, continues to be expressive), and in the liberal application of unadulterated robo-porn. Particularly the latter. The mechanical designs, all altered subtly in much the same manner as their pilots, are meticulous, suitably fetishized, and frequently pushed into feats of aeronautical violence that are really quite cool. Not an achievement to be sneezed at given the increased (increased; not prevalent) use of shortcuts and downgraded detail levels in the action scenes.
Kenji Kawai's score is not a subtle tool. It is big, spectacular, and even beautiful, but definitely not subtle. Keep an ear out for some eerie vocal work and the superior deployment of insert songs.
Bandai's dub isn't a huge draw. To be sure, it's professionally done (none of that outsourcing to Singapore that tanked a couple of their dubs some years back), but it's also seriously low-tension. You can lay most of that at the door of their subtitle-hugging script with its loving preservation of the original's cheese factor (for added fun, mentally replace any mention of "A-LAWS" with "in-laws"), but the actors must lay claim to a share of the blame as well. Too few of the roles are played with any energy, and when they are—as with Brent Miller's Smirnov—it's the wrong kind (goodbye soldierly formality, hello blustering Patton impersonation). There is good work throughout, for example Cathy Weseluck's hard-edged female commander Mannequin and basically anyone who did well in season one, but not enough of it. Saji's crisis of conscience, Soma's reaction to an inhuman A-LAWS tactic, Marie and Allelujah's reunion—any number of important developments lose crucial impact in the dub.
Aside from the usual complement of goodies (textless songs, etc), the extras section also includes a recap episode (a fine place to locate it) and two commentaries with a lively smorgasbord of cast and crew delivering fun and info, not necessarily in that order.
Really, though, it's none of those "perhapses" that keep us coming back, but rather how they all—densely packed story, satisfyingly evolved characters, royal mecha butt-kickings—roll together into one tight, thorny ball of excellent entertainment. And then bowl forward without looking back. Maybe it has a few too many inconclusive fights, and maybe it'll never reach the wonderful emotional heights of Gundam SEED, but it's a heck of a lot of fun to watch nonetheless.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Fast-moving, dense and intelligent; greatly improved character dynamics; neither plot nor characters are allowed to grow complacent.
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