Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam
Sub.Blu-Ray - Movie Trilogy
Tensions are brewing between Earth and its space colonies, called Sides. In 0079, the Principality of Zeon takes control of Side 3 and launches a war of independence against the Earth Federation. Caught up in the confusion is a 15-year-old boy, Amuro Ray, who happens upon the Federation's latest weapon, the enormous mobile suit called Gundam. In a desperate moment, Amuro luckily discovers he has a preternatural knack for piloting the mobile suit. He may be a civilian, but he's brimming with talent, and with forces short-staffed, Amuro finds himself a member of the ragtag crew on the military ship White Base. As Amuro becomes more experienced in battle against such challenging opponents as Char Aznable and Ramba Ral, he discovers there's more than luck behind his ability, revealing him to be an evolved psychic being called a Newtype.
Not long ago, I went to a sold-out showing of the first Mobile Suit Gundam movie at the Japanese Information and Cultural Center, a branch of the Japanese Embassy here in Washington DC. The theater was packed with moviegoers of all ages, from preteens to the elderly. It's just one of many anecdotes I can point to that demonstrate that Mobile Suit Gundam's reputation as an icon is not just all bluster, but an earned observation from its history of resonating with so many different kinds of people, even decades after its initial release.
Mobile Suit Gundam is a must-watch, and this movie trilogy is the perfect way for newcomers to get acquainted with the quintessential story. Each of the three two-hour films—Mobile Suit Gundam I, Mobile Suit Gundam II: Soldiers of Sorrow, and Mobile Suit Gundam III: Encounters in Space—cuts out the fluff and repetition of the TV series to distill its plot with better pacing and a clearer point. The audio has been remastered and the Blu-Ray transfer is crisp, so this release of these movies are the single best way to consume the original story that started the Gundam canon.
If you're the kind of person who stays away from older shows because they tend to drag and repeat themselves—the kind of person who wouldn't enjoy the Mobile Suit Gundam TV show—these movies were made for you. They compress 43 episodes of television into just 412 minutes without being confusing (unlike the Gundam Zeta compilation movies, which require previous knowledge of the Zeta TV show to make any sense). Instead of including Amuro's three tantrums about being made to pilot the Gundam, the movie just includes one (delivering that legendary slap across the face from his superior, Captain Bright), and the audience gets the picture. There's a lot less time waiting around in White Base while it moves from Point A to Point B and a lot more time spent progressing the story. What's more, there are fewer inconsequential fights and more time devoted to dynamic action sequences.
Even though Mobile Suit Gundam was canceled before its intended 50-episode run, I get the feeling that it was struggling to draw filler out of its story long before that—to the point that its abrupt pacing at the end of the show is much more my style. That's why it's hard to point out anything significant missing even in this much shorter retelling—all things considered, it still has about six hours to work with. All the iconic moments are here, even the little things like effete villain M'Quve admiring a Song Dynasty vase and gentle Lalah contemplating a swan. So if you're watching one of the many anime that reference Mobile Suit Gundam later on, your movie knowledge should be sufficient to get the joke. The movie version also makes the story clearer. Less time elapses between stages of the main story, and there are fewer subplot interludes, which means it's harder to lose sight of what characters on both sides of the war are thinking and feeling. The Newtype subplot, in which characters begin to discover they have psychic abilities as a side effect of prolonged time in space, is especially aided by brevity (director Yoshiyuki Tomino can get a little preachy). And while Amuro's prolonged angsting can get a little tired in the show, his accelerated rollercoaster of teenage victories and tragedies makes it easier to emphasize with him.
While the visuals remain largely the same, a few decisions to eliminate certain mobile suits in favor of military realism also benefit the story. Tomino has never been subtle about the pressure Sunrise put on him during the making of Mobile Suit Gundam to ensure that it was primarily a vehicle to sell toys—obviously a goal that clashed with Tomino's “real robot” vision of a universe in which mecha were used as serious military weapons. For the movies, Tomino removed anything he thought was too goofy, like the G-Armor, the enemy Zakrello, and weapons like the Gundam Hammer. This realism transfers to the audio during battles too, with gee-whiz pop-future sound effects being replaced by more believable machine gun sounds. The movie is accompanied by a spirited orchestral soundtrack, lending vibrance to action sequences that might otherwise suffer from rough animation. On the acting side, all living voice actors reprised their TV roles to record each movie's vocals anew for Gundam's 20th anniversary, and their increased experience the second time around is easy to hear.
I have no problems with the movie's Blu Ray transfer, which looks better than the occasional blurriness of the TV series' Blu-Ray collection. Of course, since the movies are merely a reorganization of the show, you're still going to see the same art and animation from 1979, and the same blemishes and flaws and choppy movements are only magnified in this increased resolution. On the other hand, the colors are bolder than ever, and every little detail (like miniscule words on a mobile suit's control screen) are on display for fans. You could say that by now, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's character designs are not archaic for being so different from anime characters of today, but endearingly classic. While the look of this show is a tough sell for fans who prefer modern production standards, the story should be more than enough to reel you in.
Each compilation movie has a clear beginning, middle, and end, so they could technically stand alone (though I'd consider the third to be the weakest in this regard). However, I strongly recommend watching them one after another as one full story. It's a story strong enough to have kicked off the entire Gundam franchise, becoming one of anime's most enduring classics, which can still fill a movie theater today. These movies, with their improved pacing and realism on top of crisp visuals, reminded me of what makes Gundam so special.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Compelling space opera that sparked a legacy franchise, snappier pacing of the plot, quality Blu-Ray transfer
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