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DVD SAVANT

Mobile Suit Gundam Seed:
Grim Reality


Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Grim Reality
Bandai
2002 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 125 min. (5 x 25 min.) / Kido senshi Gundam Seed / Street Date August 10, 2004 / 29.98
Art Direction Shigemi Ikeda
Film Editor Seiji Morita
Written by Yare Hajime & Yoshiyuki Tomino
Produced by Fumikuni Furusawa, Seiji Takeda
Directed by Mitsuo Fukuda

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Gundam: General Unilateral Neuro-link Dispersive Autonomic Maneuver

I enjoyed Princess Mononucleosis and liked the parts of Wings of Mayonnaise I saw, but Savant definitely does not know Anime as he claims to know other genres. So this review of Bandai's first collection of the 2002 Gundam Seed television show is written from the POV of an interested newbie. What's in those noisy, partly-animated action-oriented space shows? It sure isn't The Mysterians anymore.

Synopsis:

A future alternate universe. The "Naturals" oppose the genetically modified "Coordinators" and their military force the Zaft. Kira Yamato (voice: Soichiro Hoshi) is a Coordinator who fights for the Naturals, and Athrun Zala (Akira Ishida) stays on the side of the Zaft opposition. Between the poles is Heliopolis, a space station run by a third, neutral faction. Both sides mingle there until a massive Zaft attack.
Chapters: 1. False Peace, 2. Its Name is Gundam, 3. Collapsing Land, 4. Silent Run, 5. Phase Shift Down.

Looking at the record, Gundam shows have been produced almost constantly since 1979. I myself made some model kits of the outlandish robotic mobile suits long before I knew what kind of entertainment they belonged to: hobby stores had them twenty years ago when none of the shows had been exported to America (well, to places I'd find them).

Gundam is an acronym (in English) for the mobile suits called G-Weapons. They're basically gigantic man-amplifiers that fly and do battle as spacecraft - anthropomorphic space fighter jets. The mobile suits are streamlined but toylike, with a strong design flavor of traditional Japanese armor. In other words, they're sophisticated fantasy machines that are slightly more realistic than the completely toy-oriented Transformers, the show that might as well have been an ad for toy sales.

The samurai-like shapes of these mobile suits conjure a subliminal sense of national pride. Historically retro design concepts are a strong theme in Japanese pop culture.  1 The intricately-drafted creations have appendages unfolding from their backs that look like parts of insects - beetle-like wing covers, dragonfly "counterbalance" appendages.

As for the human combatants, the good guys are the Naturals, and the bad guys are the genetically modified Coordinators. The neutral colonials on Heliopolis are caught in the middle. It's the Naturals who use the G-Weapons to defend against the Zaft Coordinators. The Earth nations maintain an uneasy alliance against their foe, but have created Earth Force as a united front. Interestingly, the Naturals aren't blameless. The Coordinators became hostile after one of their planetoids was blown up by the Earth dwellers. The politics seem influenced by ideas in Philip K. Dick books.

Gundam Seed is a battle conflict show, and these first five episodes (sorry, no conclusion) barely pause to set up relationships before things burst into action that seems like it will never stop. It's the usual animated storm of blasting rays and rockets, explosions and high tech destruction, with intrepid Earth heroes trying to stay ahead of the invaders. Along the way, the Heliopolis space station falls to the Zaft, to be replaced by an even larger artificial planet called Artemus.

The individual shows are briskly paced. Music-cued 'bumpers' for commercial breaks are left intact and are a bit jarring, but they give one an opportunity to hit the pause button for a snack. The title and credit sequences are scored with raucous rock music - it's easy to tell when an episode is over, even if you're at the other end of the house.

Things do slow down for the fourth episode Silent Run, which is almost all talk. It's needed to set up the greater conflicts that will come in later episodes we don't see.

The characters are standard classic Anime in design, elfin humanoids with huge doll eyes, post-punk haircuts and fashion wardrobes. The animators do a good job of imparting maximum apparent motion with a minimum of hard animation. As with older Anime the artwork and designs are to be admired in themselves, but there is a lot more space battle animation than I remember seeing in some older shows. There's little of the padding I remember from the old shows - no closeups held for fifteen seconds while music plays.


Bandai's Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Grim Reality is the work of a DVD company that has spent a great many years figuring out how best to repackage Japanese pop culture animation for a western audience (this is a Region 1 DVD, BTW). The single-disc package has a brightly designed cover. An insert page condenses tons of information about the show - just what this Gundam gremmie needed.

The episodes are complete and unedited and the shows have original Japanese audio tracks as well as the commercially necessary but embarrassingly corny English dub tracks. Encourage a kid to watch the Japanese version with English subs. That way they might respect another culture and learn to read at the same time. I learned to read through comic books, didn't you?


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Grim Reality rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Textless opening for episode 1; Gundam SEED Mechanical File #1
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 26, 2004


Footnotes:

1. A more politically acute "retro" fantasy creation is the super-submarine Atragon, the subject of a 1964 feature and a later animated film or two. Like Yukio Mishima asserting the defiant posture of Japanese militarism, Atragon is a symbol of the Japanese navy as if it had never been defeated in WW2. Its hero admiral behaves like a Flying Dutchman, maintaining a super tri-phibious craft waiting for his country to once again deserve his service. In a similar line, an Atragon-like spaceship version of the Japanese battleship Yamato surfaced in more than one never-say-die "children's" fantasy.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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