Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam F91 Blu Ray
After a generation of peacetime, war breaks out in the Universal Century once again. Forty-four years after the One Year War, the Crossbone Vanguard has seized control of some Earth Federation colonies in order to build its utopia, Space Babylonia. Teen hero Seabook Arno has previously only seen mobile suits in museums, but now he'll have to quickly learn how to pilot his Gundam F91 if he has any chance of facing space's biggest villain, Iron Mask.
Mobile Suit Gundam F91 has a runtime of about 115 minutes, but a mere two hours wasn't always the story's intention.
In fact, Mobile Suit Gundam F91 was initially meant to be a 52-episode series. Reacting to waning interest in the Gundam franchise, director Yoshiyuki Tomino wanted to reboot the Gundam timeline with a story set 44 years after his first Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam. It was an ambitious project that never would come to fruition due to staff disputes, and production ended shortly after the first thirteen episodes were storyboarded.
But thirteen episodes is still a lot of material to work with, so Sunrise went forward with the project in a different format: a 1991 feature-length film. With the original dream team—director Yoshiyuki Tomino, character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, and mecha designer Kunio Okawara—all back together to reprise their Mobile Suit Gundam roles, you'd think that this movie would end up being pretty good, and you'd be wrong. While the art and animation is uncannily great for its time, the plot is confusing and the story full of holes.
At the beginning of Mobile Suit Gundam F91, Seabook Arno forces a pretty girl, Cecily Fairchild, into competing in a beauty contest she doesn't want to be in. This is the only indication we have of their relationship up until the moment we're told that they're madly in love. Beginning with this incident, Gundam F91 devolves into a series of conveniences and coincidences without much logic to back them up. After an air raid, Seabook and a group of loosely acquainted children from ages 0 to 16 somehow meet up with a student pilot ship called Space Ark, and this motley crew effectively takes on the seasoned soldiers of Crossbone Vanguard. Why a training ship somehow has the latest advancement in Gundam technology on board, the F91, is never explained, but there's probably no explanation that would work, anyhow.
Experienced Gundam fans can already draw many parallels to other Gundam shows in this storyline. The idea of a ragtag bunch of teens and children taking on the bad guys has worked before. The Space Ark hearkens to White Ark, White Base, Argama, and other primary ships in Gundam, which seem to take on the enemy singlehandedly. The bad guys are, of course, nobility who think they're better than everyone else. And obviously, a love story between Gundam pilots is a tale as old as this franchise. The problem here is that there's zero context. “It's familiar and it worked before” isn't good enough. If I had never seen another Gundam show that used these same tropes more effectively, I'd be even more confused.
From the beginning, the story is characterized by bizarre jumps in the pacing, leaving the viewer to tie two disparate events together. In one scene, Seabook and his dad are in the crashed wreckage of a car in Cosmo Babylonia. In the scene that immediately follows, Seabook and his dad, now bandaged, are in the Gundam F91 in the middle of space. How did they get from here to there? It's up to the viewer to fill in the blanks.
My guess is that with a storyboard that was originally supposed to span 13 episodes, there's simply no time to explain logistics or anyone's motives, for that matter, but even that hypothesis leaves something to be desired. For example, it takes an hour of screentime for Seabook to finally get in the F91. Does that indicate that they planned for at least 6 episodes of the show without the titular mobile suit? That would be a much slower timeline than usual for Gundam.
The story is a mess, so let's move on to what does work—the visuals. This is the best Gundam F91 has ever looked, because there was clearly a very good Blu-Ray transfer at play here. There's lots of detail, fresh-looking bright colors, and painterly backgrounds. Combined with swift, dynamic mobile suit animation, it's hard to believe that this film was produced 26 years ago! Both the dub and sub tracks are clear and acceptable, nothing to write home about.
Now let's talk about the elephant in the room, or should I say the AT-AT Walker in the room. As the main villain, Iron Mask, takes the stage, you will hear an orchestral soundtrack very similar to the Imperial March. During a firefight in space, you'll hear music uncannily similar to the Battle of Hoth. From Cloud City to the music that plays while Yoda trains Luke, this entire soundtrack smacks of John Williams' composition for The Empire Strikes Back. It's just different enough to avoid a copyright issue, but listeners will definitely notice. Combine that with the enemy mobile suits' helmets and round goggles that look like Darth Vader's, and the homage is impossible to miss.
The Federation suits, though not as memorable, are also impressive for their kinetic animation. All the mobile suits in this show exhibit qualities that would later be revisited in Kunio Okawara's next project, Mobile Suit Victory Gundam. For that matter, there's a lot about F91 that smacks of Victory Gundam, almost as if that 1993 show was an extended do-over of this film. Take the F91's magical-scientific explanation of biorhythms, and how that works as a precursor to the way psychic abilities power ships in Victory. For that matter, the protagonist's mother designed the titular Gundam in both shows as well. In F91, at least, this leads to one of the most memorable lines in the show: “I didn't develop the F91 so my son could fight in it,” Seabook's mom says, implying that somebody else's son would be fine. Amidst the incoherent plot, this is a standard hallmark of Tomino's Gundam—parents just don't know best.
“This is only the beginning,” reads the end card in the final moments of Mobile Suit Gundam F91. This is a lie, of course. While there were plans to revisit F91 later on, no further work ever occurred on the project, leaving it to dissolve into spinoffs. If the Crossbone Vanguard sounds familiar, that's because it became the backbone of the Mobile Suit Gundam Crossbone manga. It's probably best that Mobile Suit Gundam F91 remains this way—a solitary peculiarity, a forgotten footnote in the Universal Century. It's too perplexing otherwise.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C
+ Gorgeous blu-ray transfer that showcases animation ahead of its time, top notch mobile suit and character designs
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