Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo
Despite its brevity, the One Year War was an unprecedented tragedy in the history of the Universal Century. Its history is recorded by the survivors who lived long enough to bear witness to a new world order. This OVA is a vault for those who were forgotten by the passage of time, those who didn't live long enough to share their experiences. Aided by the clinical record-keeping of noncombatant engineers and the ghostly whispers of an ethereal angel of death, their stories are finally brought to light.
You won't see any dwellings made of ice blocks in Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO, but it turns out that's not the only meaning of the word. In military terms, an “igloo space” is a structure for storing ammunition and explosives. In that way, this 9-episode OVA is itself the symbolic igloo, a vault for the untold stories and forgotten mecha of the One Year War.
Originally, Gundam MS Igloo was released in three separate three-episode OVAs in 2004, 2006, and 2008-2009. If you're like me, you may have even got your hands on the rare pricey R1 DVD that contains only the first two OVA series. With the advent of the Blu-Ray earlier this month, all three OVAs are finally united in one collection at an affordable price.
For a long time, Gundam MS Igloo had been as forgotten in the English-speaking fandom as the stories it told, but no longer. The question remains whether picking up a copy is worth your while. My verdict is that it will be only if you're a diehard Gundam fan. This disjointed series of stories—with barely even a surviving cast from one episode to the next—will leave newcomers confused. Even for Gundam's biggest fans, it's an odd duck with little continuity, but marvelous CG animation that features some of the universe's less celebrated mecha in full 3-D rendering.
Gundam MS Igloo consists of three OVA collections: Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo: The Hidden One Year War, Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo: Apocalypse 0079, and Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo 2: Gravity Front. The first two collections focus on Zeon, while the third features the stories of Earth Federation soldiers. Each half-hour episode takes place during a pivotal event over the course of the One Year War—only in the background. Gundam viewers know all about each of these key battles through their major players. For example, during Mobile Suit Gundam we are familiarized with the Battle of Loum as the first time Zeon ace Char Aznable showed the prowess of a Zaku in the hands of a capable mobile suit pilot. During the opening salvo of Igloo, we get a backseat experience of the Battle of Loum, as we witness the griping of the Zeon engineers whose weaponry projects have been made abruptly obsolete by these Zakus. The continuing five episodes follow suit, as forgettable Zeon engineer Oliver May oversees the testing and development of obscure Zeon weapons, mostly as an excuse to see these manga-only mecha in CG animation for the first time. For Igloo 2, we segue to Earth to see how the Federation is faring, but it's the same story—forgettable (and often readily extinguished) characters showcasing some lesser-seen war machines.
It feels like Gundam MS Igloo was designed to be an underdog story, but to put it frankly, it's missing the one element that such stories need: hope. Each of the OVAs consists of three episodes that play out like a knock-knock joke in three stages—and by the time we get to the punchline, I'm beyond being fooled. I was surprised at the first tragedy, less surprised at the second, and then not at all by the third. White Base risking the odds against the Zeon army was an underdog story. Zeon engineers fighting an obviously losing battle—not so much. Igloo 2 had potential thanks to fans' knowledge that the Federation does in fact win the war, but the addition of a ghostly recurring character—a j-rock reject “angel of death,” puts the writing on the wall. It's definitely an odd narrative decision to have a lady in leather guide characters' decisions in a gritty war drama that has more in common with World War II than science fiction. Though considering this series' high death count, there wouldn't be any continuity between episodes if it wasn't for her, making this OVA even more difficult to follow.
It was easy to distract myself from this lackluster plot with such stunning visuals. Unlike any other Gundam show, Gundam MS Igloo is rendered in photorealistic CGI. It looks a lot like a video game cutscene from Metal Gear Solid 4 or perhaps Final Fantasy X-2. Even though Gundam MS Igloo was released over the course of five years, there's not much of a quality shift from episode to episode even on Blu-Ray; the one noticeable shift from Igloo to Igloo 2 is that hair and eyelashes look softer and more lifelike. Characters' exaggerated, anime-like facial expressions help to avoid the uncanny valley. It's not a bad look, and I would have enjoyed seeing some of Gundam's famous characters get the CG treatment, but better than the characters is the look of the mecha. From dinged-up armor to custom paint jobs (I loved the Federation Ball mecha with a painted Cheshire grin), the detail and rendering is incredible.
I have no issue with the art, but I do take issue with the way mecha are animated. In traditionally-animated Gundam shows, mobile suits and spaceships are massive, hulking things with the reduced speed to match. In 3D, GMs and Zakus alike sprint weightlessly across the terrain, as if they aren't weighed down by that oppressive gravity Zeon officials love to talk about. Whether in outer space or Earth's atmosphere, warships zoom by like it's nothing. All the animation feels lifelike, just at 1.5x the speed that I'm expecting.
For a 9-episode OVA, Gundam MS Igloo sure has a lot of original music—counting openings and endings, there are seven individual songs throughout. My favorite was “Sora no Tamoto,” the gentle, melodic opening song for The Hidden One Year War which is used as insert music from then onwards, and even gets referenced in Oliver May's final statement to the viewer (when he talks about the proverbial lodestar of belief that the song is also about). As the episodes progress, the songs get increasingly modern-sounding and don't fit the show's sepia wartime aesthetic.
In conclusion, Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo was made for a very specific audience, and it caters to no one else. Weak plotlines serve as a vehicle to showcase as many beloved and obscure mecha in dazzling CGI as possible. It plays out like one long PlayStation cutscene: you can appreciate the visuals, but you'd rather get on with the gameplay.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : A
Music : B-
+ Beautiful CGI models that showcase the considerable arsenal of Gundam's One Year War in more detail than ever
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