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 9: Evolutionary Conflicts.
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 and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: 8 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.
Note: Spoilers Below: Proceed At Your Own Risk!!!
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. With Orb in tatters, except for a few pockets of resistance, and the Federation completely shut out of space travel due to the series of attacks on their bases, the main drive for them is to reestablish a means to take the battle back to orbit. Athrun faces his fate with principled restraint, feeling obligated to talk sense into his father, knowing full well that it will not likely do him any good. Lacus rallies her troops to save him and soon, they are all off fighting a third front on the war to end all wars. The Alliance resorts to any means necessary in order to retrieve their jammer technology and the lead protagonists figure out the perfect spot to gain a moments worth of rest from the pursuing Alliance forces. There appears to be no way even Kira's supernatural abilities can save the crew but a few surprises appear to alter the landscape of the battle yet again.
The episodes this time were 41: Trembling World, 42: Lacus Strikes, 43: What Stands in the Way, 44: Spiral of Encounters, and 45: The Opening Door. Each managed to provide another piece or two of the puzzle as the story began to come to a close. Proceeding at breakneck speed, the events continue to spiral towards either the death of the entire human race or perhaps a slight chance of a more positive solution but the various factions were all unable to win a decisive battle with the mechanizations taking place all around them. At the end of the final episode though, a surprise made it clear that there might well be a way out, but it was a risky proposition at best. While I think fans of anime, particularly this type of anime will love the combination of production quality, well written scripts, and overall excellence of the show, I still maintain that you're going to want to see the episodes in order. That said, the DVD was well worth the rating of Highly Recommended I gave it.
Picture: Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: 9 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 9: Evolutionary Conflicts started the descent into the final volume of the series and while I want to see it so bad I can taste it, I also think it'll be a bittersweet conclusion since the show has become (in record time at that) my favorite anime of the year. It had all the elements of a great show (anime or not) and with its current schedule on the Cartoon Network, I predict a lot of fans will be wanting to see the truly uncut versions of the episodes without the commercial breaks (meaning: get the DVDs). This is perhaps the one remake or revisited story that I can point to as a success these days with the complexity of the themes surpassing all that went before it and the quality of the production top notch.
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!