Movie: One of my favorite "Universes" in anime is that revolving around the Mobile Suit Gundam Saga. From the earliest series to the latest alternative telling of the tale, the show has managed to prove time and again that mature themes can be handled better in anime than in most other genres. The basic concept is about war and all the horrors it entails with the setting being a futuristic society where large mechanized robots, manned by human pilots, fight a variety of battles in order to further geopolitical advances. The series has been hailed for treating war more realistically in terms of losing friends and loved ones as well as showing two (or more) sides to all conflicts. The latest version of this story is told in Bandai's Mobile Suit Gundam: Seed series with this review looking at Volume 8: Eternal Crusade.
With the recap from Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: 6 being my entry point into the series, it's been a bit tough to capture all the nuances of the show to date but Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: 7 showed me that the Gundam mythology in this latest series was even better than previous efforts, no small feat given the complexities this Universal tale has had in the past. The overview of what had taken place so far was this: There are two sides to the conflict taking place and a neutral party, Orb, (their true motives were unclear at this point) that assists in taking care of wounded while remaining officially out of the battle. Technology has advanced to the point where humans are colonizing space and altering genetic codes to make superior humans (Coordinators) while regularly bred humans (Naturals) are struggling with the realities imposed upon them by the luck of the draw. The ZAFT and Alliance form the two opposing sides but there was some fluidity between them (the Naturals/Coordinators and ZAFT/Alliance) and while the series still holds a lot of mysteries for me (not seeing the first five volumes does that to a guy), as it progresses, I'm getting a feel for the specifics that weren't readily apparent in the first two volumes I reviewed. The Coordinators are fewer in number but possess superior technology and seem more aggressive in their quest to wipe out the vermin that are the Naturals. The Naturals, on the other hand, see the writing on the wall and work with the neutral Orb (much like Switzerland) to develop the means to defend themselves (as well as counter attack). Here's a more general idea of what the series is about:
The reluctant hero of the series is Kira Yamato, a young man who despises war for all its stupidity, and his small circle of friends, including Athrun; Kira's childhood pal that is now on the opposing side of the war. Each side has committed atrocities of some sort and Kira becomes a focal point because he is supernaturally talented, a coordinator, and piloting an advanced Gundam unit that makes him nearly invincible. Like so many protagonists before him, he is the reluctant hero, considering the slaughter going on to be disheartening and stupid. He fights not for glory but to end the conflict and save his friends.
The other side of the coin is that some of Kira's friends are on the opposing side. Kira is branded a traitor since he is a coordinator fighting for the naturals. As the series progresses, the initially distinctive lines become blurry as growing numbers of people on both sides see the futility of the ever escalating war. Athrun's father, Patrick Zala, becomes the new chairman of PLANT and decides to get rid of anyone who sees things differently than his way of doing things, even his own son's fiancÚ (Athrun'smain squeeze, Lacus). She, in turn, speaks to Athrun and plants the seed of dissention in his mind just before he goes on a secret mission using a new technology (one allowing the use of forbidden nuclear weapons).
Meanwhile, the Federation is putting the screws on Orb to join their side of the conflict, pointing out the new political reality with Zala in charge. With their main base in Alaska destroyed and new battles around the globe proving the new military strategy to be a scorched earth offensive, the leaders of Orb see the writing on the wall but stick to their principles. This results in them losing some decisive battles and the main players of the series end up once again thrown into conflicts that are counter productive considering the bigger threat on the horizon. Athrun himself must decide if he is going to fight for the right side or just follow orders blindly given the information he's now privy to and the resulting chaos propels the new world order into dangerous territory, especially with Zala waiting in the background.
Okay, with episodes like 36: In The Name Of Justice, 37: Divine Thunder, 38: Decisive Fire, 39: Athrun and 40: Into the Dawn Skies, I found myself enmeshed in the balance between the conflicts of the characters and their nationalistic leanings. All the themes of war came into play; doing the right thing versus what's expected of you, professional ties versus family and friends, and trying to save those around you from the mindless destruction of the politically corrupt. That's why the Gundam Universe as a whole is typically far ahead of its time and the Seed storyline superior to the vast majority of releases in anime. If you enjoy battles between creative mechanized robots, political conflict, and stories about war that manage to moralize without becoming too preachy, you'll agree that this one should get a rating of Highly Recommended, but get the entire series since each volume builds on the previous material and you will likely enjoy it more that way.
Picture: Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: 8 was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as made in Japan. The colors, image, and clarity of the show were all top notch with no compression artifacts or noticeable video noise. Most of the show looked like it was traditionally made with some help from computers but every once in awhile, some CGI was employed that stood out like a sore thumb. For the most part, the show was handled nicely in this area and I only wish other series had so much attention to detail.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual two choices, a 2.0 Dolby Digital track in the original Japanese with English subtitles or the newly made English dub. I thought the voice acting on each had some merit, with slight nods to the original cast, but even the dub managed to give me a decent feel for the material. If you're a purist, you might want to at least listen to the dub, especially since the sound effects appeared to be remixed a bit in order to use the stereo aspects of the audio track more thoroughly.
Extras: My favorite extra was still the music video of Nami Tamaki singing "Believe" although I would've appreciated something new for this volume a lot more. It wasn't just that she was so fetching but the way the song resonated with me on some level. Otherwise, there was a short Gundam Encyclopedia that gave some information on the series, a textless ending, a GITS video game trailer, a set of other series trailers, and a paper insert that gave some more definitions.
Final Thoughts: Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Volume 8: Eternal Crusade was well written and showed me that in a day & age where war is looked at almost as a rite of passage by some, some semblance of sanity can be found in the Gundam series as it portrays war as something of a necessary evil. Kira's personal growth was the main angle of the show but this volume started making it more of an ensemble cast with Athrun and others getting more screen time as they worked out their own personal demons. Getting another two volumes in the series also helped me understand more of the nuances to the story and characters although you can bet I'll be looking for sales of the first five volumes to revisit the whole thing once it's over with.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article!