Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Turn A Gundam
DVD Part 2
Loran Cehack really just wants everyone to get along. But in the clash of Moonrace versus Earthers, it seems any kind of lasting peace is impossible - every attempted treaty is interrupted by an uncooperative faction, every assumed peace is only a feint leading into another betrayal. With Dianna's forces growing unruly beneath her and Guin Rhyneford's ambitions only growing, it's looking like Loran's troubles will only get worse in the coming months. And though both Guin and Dianna speak of finally resolving their disagreements on the moon, will a trip to Dianna's home really bring about the peace they desire?
When I last left Turn A Gundam, the Dianna Counter and Militia forces were still sparring on earth, with various side groups like the Rett squad and Corin Nander occasionally throwing wrenches into their already-fraught attempts at negotiations. Those earlier episodes dithered around somewhat, with episodic adventures and underdeveloped side arcs sometimes overwhelming the base strength of Turn A's technological culture-clash premise. In Turn A's second half, those issues are largely swept aside, as the series locks into its larger conflicts and expands the scope of its drama to include all of “Ameria” and the moon besides.
The drama starts quickly in these later episodes, as a greedy excavation of one more Mountain Cycle by the Dianna Counter leads to the discovery of nuclear weapons, with an ignorant battle resulting in a nuclear detonation on the surface of the earth. That catastrophic act sets the tone for this second half, which sees Dianna being quickly betrayed by her own forces and several factions, including Guin's militia, Harry Ord, and an imprisoned Dianna all rushing back to confront Agrippa Maintainer on the moon. There, they run into the war-craving Gym Ghingnham, whose martial order has spent thousands of years running drills in the hopes of one day employing their mobile suits in battle. After that, a series of betrayals and counter-betrayals leave all thoughts of “sides” in shambles, as every member of Turn A's vast ensemble seek peace or glory in their own way.
Turn A Gundam's second half is a very wild ride. There are still a few regrettable “villain of the week” episodes, where characters of little importance stage attacks of no importance, but for the most part, this second half is focused and gripping in a way Turn A's first half only inconsistently achieved. The nuclear opening strikes a strong first chord, but that arc is swiftly followed by one where Loran and his allies find themselves invading a quasi-Aztec temple, in a series of episodes that feel almost like an Indiana Jones movie. That fluidity of focus demonstrates the confidence Turn A now feels in employing its own cast; with a good thirty major characters now firmly established, the show bounces around between them as it surges ever forward towards a reunion on the moon. From Joseph Yaht and Fran Doll to Midgard to Colonel Michael, nearly every member of Turn A's cast find themselves honored with dramatic and narratively meaningful moments in the spotlight.
The cast's trip to the moon occupies the middle stretch of these later episodes, and that journey comes with its own pluses and minuses. To start with the bad news, the moon just doesn't have the same appeal as a setting as Turn A's earth-based material. Though the show does a commendable job of positing an intriguing moon civilization (an underground society defined by vertical strata of development, connected by a series of sea-esque canals), the consistent scifi trappings of this world are still less flavorful than the great mix of industrial revolution and space-age tech that made the first half so unique. In addition to this, a fair number of the Moonrace characters introduced in this half are decidedly one-note - unlike the multifaceted characters that dominated the show's early episodes, many of the key Moonrace just want Power, or War.
Fortunately, those great characters from the first half are still here, acting more nuanced and endearing than ever. Already given great dynamic roles in the earlier episodes, characters like Kihel, Guin, Sochie, and Lily gain even more humanity and complexity through the second half's trials. The detonation of the bomb changes Sochie, and though she remains the fierce and headstrong fighter she's always been, that instinct is tempered by a greater understanding of the consequences of both her and the overall military's actions. Tempered in the fires of the Dianna Counter, Kihel now acts as a firm politician and polished actor, laiden with the woes of two races but determined to bring them peace. For Guin, the very self-confidence that made him such a force in the first half here becomes a liability, as his naivety in war begins to supercede his flare for tactical negotiations. And Lily Biorgannio demonstrates again and again that she is more than just the daughter of a politician - from laughing at Guin's side, she moves to demonstrate both fearsome strength and a sharp wit in all circumstances.
Turn A Gundam is noteworthy for possessing a cast absolutely brimming with complex and well-defined female characters, but that's really just a thoughtfulness it extends to almost all its characters. As the various factions disintegrate into a wild mix of contrasting goals and alliances of convenience, all the characters get their own moments in the sun, spiraling towards a conclusion that somehow makes a cast of forty-some named characters feel absolutely essential. War is prolonged through misunderstanding, misplaced ambition, and naivety, with the final conflicts arising from two men who on the one hand see war as a tool they can control like any other, and on the other see war as a game inseparable from human experience. Turn A Gundam ends in fire and thunder, a satisfying conclusion to an uneven but undeniably grand saga.
Turn A Gundam's aesthetics felt like they received an upgrade in this second half. The backgrounds and character designs remain compelling (though some of the military costumes were a little hard to take seriously), but the animation specifically received a solid boost. Battles in this half are less reliant on still frames, with solid fight choreography and beautifully animated explosions making the consistent clashes their own reward. Part of this comes down to the fact that the warriors here are just better fighters - it's always a joy to see Harry Ord dance in his mobile suit, and both Loran and Sochie have gained far more experience over time. Mobile suits actually feel like they're exchanging blows on even terms now, as opposed to just ramming into each other or being completely outclassed by the White Doll. The lunar setting didn't allow for quite as much lovely scenery as the earlier episodes, but areas like the moon canals and Winter Palace are given a strong visual personality, and perhaps more importantly, the show is very good at evoking the inherent wonder of space flight. Sochie marvels at the reality of her first space walk, Miashei shakes at the thought of the stars beneath her as she prepares to jump to an airlock, and events like the takeoff of a grand transport ship are given the sense of visual majesty they deserve.
The music helps in creating that sense of atmosphere. Turn A's music has always been diverse and strong, and that trend continues in the second half, with a variety of new songs and many of the old ones offering evocative strings, guitars, and chanting. There's one Imperial March-esque song that feels a bit overused for the moments of high tension, but in general the show does a good job of varying its score, with a few songs even being reserved for exactly one important scene (like a great guitar reprise of one of the main themes, used to accompany Dianna's return to power).
Turn A Gundam's second half comes in the same style of plastic case as the first, with this collection including one notable extra - a lengthy three-part interview with mechanical designer Syd Mead, covering his overall career, movie work (which includes designs for Blade Runner, Tron, and Aliens), and anime work specifically. The interview dips into a number of interesting topics that span a very diverse career, but the section specific to Turn A Gundam includes insights into the design process for a variety of the series' mobile suits, the experience of working with Tomino and his own core designers on the project, and how the design choices for Turn A were influenced by the requirements of both toy design and anime production. It's a meaty interview that makes for a very worthwhile bonus to this already compelling priced collection.
Overall, Turn A Gundam's second half improves on the noteworthy strengths of its earlier episodes to offer a truly memorable conclusion. By cultivating the complexity of its cast, it is able to create a wide assortment of conflicts that feel grounded in understandable human contradictions, all while celebrating characters well worth cheering for. Though there are still some occasional episodes that feel superfluous, and though the second half loses a great deal of the old tech-versus-new tech appeal that defined the earlier material, it still stands as a worthy conclusion to a very solid series.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Builds on Turn A's excellent cast to create a memorable drama full of richly drawn characters; animation feels like a step up from the first half.
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