Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Turn A Gundam
Sub.DVD - Part 1
Loran Cehack is a man from the moon. Sent down two years ago as a scout for his people, he lives peacefully on an earth that knows nothing of space travel, enjoying the glory days of a much earlier industrial revolution. Adopted as a chauffeur by the wealthy Heim family, Loran grows close to their two daughters Sochie and Kihel, until the day of his and Sochie's coming-of-age ceremony. There, as they prepare to embrace adulthood in the shadow of the mountain, the Moonrace attack, burning down trains and zeppelins with their terrifying mobile suits. But just as hope for the Earthers seems dim, Loran discovers his own mysterious mobile suit, buried in the mountain. Will he fight for his old race, or his new family? And what is this mobile suit he has found, buried underground for who knows how long?
Turn A Gundam is certainly a strange one. Set on a unique and compelling parallel earth, it stands somewhat apart from the convoluted chronology of Gundam's usual universes, giving it a very specific personality. And beyond its setting, its style of direction and storytelling is equal parts quirky and disjointed. It proceeds like an excitable and easily distracted friend who just heard a really great story - they're doing their best to tell it, but they keep getting tied up in subthreads and stumbling over their words. And yet, for all its awkward pieces, Turn A really is a story worth hearing - there's enough good here to handily justify the awkwardness of the telling.
Turn A's first and greatest strength is its wonderful, evocative setting. In contrast to scifi shows set in a consistent future, Turn A imagines a world of deeply disconnected pieces. Our hero Loran Cehack, along with his accomplices Keith and Fran, are sent down from the technologically advanced moon to gather intel on life on earth. Apparently, at some point in the earth's semi-distant past, the planet became largely uninhabitable, leading to a rift between the Earthers and Moonrace. Now, the earth exists in the golden dawn of a new industrial revolution, with cars, trains, and flying balloons representing the height of technical innovation. Turn A's visual design is rife with beautiful alternate turn-of-the-century clothing and ornate vehicle designs. Instead of positing a cold and calculated future, it exists more in a whimsical, almost “A Trip to the Moon”-esque fantasy, and the disconnect between the show's Earther and Moonrace technology, and how the two cultures intermingle, is a source of constant intrigue throughout the show. Giant robot fights are fun, but so is staging a daring jump from a zeppelin to twin-prop airplane, or searching for a good shot on a battlefield using an old-timey long-exposure camera.
The people that populate Turn A's world are almost as compelling as the world itself. As Loran integrates himself into earth culture, he comes into the employ of the Heim mining family, whose two daughters Kihel and Sochie form his adopted family. Sochie is short-tempered, blunt, and opinionated, determined to make something of herself in her own way. Intent on joining her country's militia, she flatly states that she has no interest in becoming some minister's wife, and her abrasiveness and confidence offer a strong contrast to Loran's pacifism and passive ways. In contrast to her headstrong sister, Kihel is calculating and political, but also compassionate, and equally strong in her own way.
As the Moonrace stages an invasion to return to earth and the narrative stage expands, Turn A supplements this main group with a wide variety of compelling side characters. There's Queen Dianna, the leader of the Moonrace expedition, whose idealistic feelings regarding her journey run aground on the harsh realities of leadership and war. Guin Rhineford, the man who sets himself to negotiate with the Moonrace, and whose personal charisma and gambling streak make him the ideal man to bargain from a position of technological weakness. There's politicians and soldiers and scientists and fools, all with their own priorities, all doing their best to navigate the ambiguous politics and personal stakes of war, country, and the pursuit of peace.
As the show rolls forward, Loran's initial discovery of a mobile suit hidden in the mountains is matched by other strange discoveries, giving the Earthers a real fighting chance against the technologically superior Moonrace while also expanding the strange mythology of Turn A's world. Eventually, the expanding cast and shifting alliances lead the show towards some fairly nuanced and compelling arguments regarding the nature of conflict, duty, what rights the Moonrace settlers possess, and other tangential points. Simplistic perspectives like Loran and Dianna's pacifism are challenged by the complexity of divergent goals and the inherently destructive nature of Dianna's ambitions. Peace treaties are occasionally sabotaged by a superior's inability to maintain control of their soldiers, and at other times intentionally betrayed using just that excuse as a smokescreen. Earther soldiers fight back against Moonrace for stealing their crops, who only stole those crops because their territory and food supplies were unfairly rationed, which were only rationed because Earther politicians intentionally delayed negotiations. There's a whole lot of compelling meat to Turn A's core conflicts, with personal drama and larger thematic questions playing off each other in satisfying concert.
Unfortunately, these interesting conflicts are somewhat hamstrung by Turn A's awkward and oddly consistent storytelling issues. I don't know how to describe Turn A's writing outside of “strange,” but it sure is that. Character relationships will jump forward a couple steps with no forewarning (oh, so they're in love now? I thought they just met ten minutes ago), and conversations will come off as awkwardly staggered. The show will fast-forward through a critical character turn, and then linger for three minutes on an unprompted scene of no consequence. It often feels like Turn A's episodes are jigsaw puzzles that were put together just slightly wrong and with a few pieces missing, leading to a weird sense of dramatic disconnect and constant, low-level befuddlement with what's going on and exactly how we got here. It's something you get used to, and can even find endearing eventually, but it often keeps the show from effectively striking the emotional peaks it strives for.
In addition to those unfortunate style issues, Turn A also gets mired in all number of silly episodic shenanigans that really drag down the show's tension. There's an episode about moving a cow in a mobile suit, and another episode about convincing an old lady to leave her farm. Several times the Moonrace soldiers will more or less just state “I'm tired of being pushed around by that mobile suit. Let's go fight!”, and then that will happen. Goofy episodic adventures with no long-term consequences end up both hurting the show's sense of momentum and undercutting the idea that this is an actual war where people could die. Turn A has a strong core narrative, and it's enjoyable spending time with its diverse cast of characters, but it could easily stand some very judicious narrative trimming.
Issues of awkward storytelling also crop up in Turn A's direction. There are clumsy, almost campy screen-in-screen shots during the battles, and then there are scenes where the camera just spins continuously around characters for no apparent reason, or performs a dramatic but wholly unprompted pan-out. Fortunately, though Turn A shows its age a bit in the roughness of its drawings, its underlying aesthetic and designs are wonderful. As I mentioned before, Turn A creates a truly unique and beautiful world (to blow up with lasers), full of whimsical mechanical crafts and elaborate period costumes. Though some of the character designs and characters themselves veer into the ridiculous, the visual style overall is brimming with energy and class. There are lovely colors, distinctive settings, and compositions that make great use of the sharp contrast between the Moonrace space-age tech and Earther industrial designs.
Turn A's animation is much less impressive, and fairly limited overall, though the fights are often engagingly staged and there are occasional nice explosion effects. The show relies heavily on dramatic stills, and there's little character animation to speak of. The music is lively and diverse, using a great mix of instruments to set the contrasting tones of Turn A's convoluted world. There are a couple simple transition tracks that are used a bit too frequently, but also twangy guitar, diverse percussion, and even some nice choral songs.
Turn A Gundam comes in a simple DVD case on six disks, including the first twenty-five episodes and a clean opening and ending. The show's in 4:3, and fairs well enough quality-wise considering its age. Overall, Turn A's plentiful strengths handily outweigh its awkward failings. The show can twiddle its thumbs from time to time, and the storytelling is consistently choppy, but the story being told and the world it inhabits are well worth the price of admission. When you add in Turn A's very reasonable price, it's easy for me to recommend this odd but endearing production.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Compelling world full of diverse and engaging characters; story builds to create stark contrasts between all manner of perspectives; strong music and art design.
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