Gundam Ms Igloo 2: Apocalypse 0079
Bandai Visual USA // Unrated // $49.95 // January 8, 2008
Review by Don Houston | posted January 24, 2008
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Background: Long time anime fans have discussed the expansive Gundam Universe for decades now, the multitude of series often exploring alternative versions of similar stories in this futuristic franchise. The stories always center on the military exploits of a number of opposing factions that came about as Earth started to colonize the solar system. Like the planet bound colonies of the past, each side of the conflicts believe that they are right; fighting for survival if not dominance as their own needs suit them. As with any such drama, a number of lead characters emerge as the focal points in each saga, often over the top villains and youthful zealots that express their emotions quite liberally as they fight in mechanized mobile suits that mimic the human operators. The latest release in this Gundam universe is the subject of today's review, a title called Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo 2; the second of a two part OVA series rendered completely in CGI.

Series: Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo is set in the Universal Century 0079, the calendar being reset when humans began colonizing space due to overpopulation and lack of resources. Earth is governed by the Earth Federation Government and some of the colonies on the outer rim of civilization have begun a struggle for independence from the control of the Federation. The colonies form a coalition calling themselves the Zeon, a group often referred to as being the aggressor (and evil) in previous releases that tended towards showing the Federation and allied forces in a sympathetic light. Igloo is a bit different in that it is less a soap opera style offering like the other series then it is a series of loosely related stand alone episodes, this second volume providing a trio of tales that are sequential but not highly connected, essentially wrapping up the saga a year after it had begun (in drama time at least) with the already known outcome.

The show takes place in relation to a small military craft that was forced into military service called The Jotunheim and its crew. The ship is captained by Martin Prochnow, a salty cuss that was in charge of the vessel during its civilian service. He holds his ship and crew as more important than any military objective he is given; showing a very conservative style of leadership but a willingness to follow direct orders as given. Joining him is a specially assigned Lt. Commander from Headquarters, Monique Cadillac, who is a younger "go-getter" type looking to make a name for herself as head of testing for the 603 Technical Evaluations Unit. The majority of the back story is told via the eyes of her subordinate, Oliver May, a talented engineering Lt freshly out of college full of the idealism instilled in him. The other regular characters play smaller roles to these three but it is Oliver that seems most in place to tell the stories of the day; ending each episode with his summation of the testing results of the new weapon systems that comprise the episodes.

Episode 4, In the Skies of Jaburo, I Saw the Sea, takes the series dynamic back to where it began in the previous volume with the team at odds with a test pilot for a weapon they were evaluating to try and stave off the Zeon expulsion on Earth by Federation forces. The fatalistic space marine commands a weapon that has a limited time frame to stop targets and is seen as quite expendable, his determination fueled by the thoughts of his grandfather that fought a shark to the death (the shark floated by the guy was never seen from again; leaving it up to the viewer to determine the true outcome). In any case, the beam weapon is a last ditch attempt to slow down the inevitable and while an early run causes some trouble, the second chance allows the man to die with honor in a world devoid of it; scoring a minor victory but at a cost too great for Lt. May to appreciate. His ending report reflects the truisms of the episode but the dark nature of these three episodes is firmly in evidence from the get go, an omen of the later war going badly for the smaller confederation of forces making up the Zeon state.

Episode 5, Cross the Path of Light, was another episode where the practical nature of fighting an opponent with far greater resources came into play (much like Japan versus the USA in WWII). The weapon this time is nothing fancy; in fact it is a few steps backward using a cheap but versatile weapon called an Oggo. These are basically drums with interchangeable weapon systems that serve as cannon fodder that are set adrift in space using kids as their pilots; the lack of seasoned veterans pressing the need for expendable and untrained manpower. The kicker is that Monique's kid brother is one of the volunteers for the program and everyone on board the Jotunheim recognizes the life span of the pilots in combat will be measured in minutes. The idea that the costs of war are essentially wiping out the next generation is but one of the themes here though the excitement of the battles was among the best in the series.

Episode 6, Spirits Returning to the Cries of Thunder, brings the series to a close with the largest mech of the show being evaluated in a stop gap battle to save the retreating forces of Zeon from being slaughtered. Supporting almost a dozen Oggo's as a supply ship and battle platform all rolled into one, the Big Rang ends up being piloted by Lt. May himself when the time table is sped up due to the enemy forces pressing so swiftly. Not really the best choice, May finds his mission impossible but determines to live in the same spirit of the moment that the previous test pilots did; going out in a blaze of glory with some of the team backing him up as best they could. A bittersweet ending in some ways, the hope of the future rang out at the very end but still showed the futility of the war as a whole, the story line a bit stilted but serving to also escalate my appreciation of the series a notch to boost the rating.

Okay, the CGI animation was a bit creepy at times and the story elements were so similar in each episode (test a weapon that no one really cared to work with disposable test pilots) that I wondered if director Takashi Imanishi or the others involved in the show considered how two dimensional the results would be. Still, despite the thematic limitations of the OVA volume and the gimmicky nature of the computer generated images used, I found the expensive title to be worth checking out as a Recommended and would like to see recent CGI advances employed to make a related series (and you can't say that there aren't a near infinite amount of Gundam related stories that could be used) using the technology. The way the series focused on one very small corner of the war helped make it more personal but also managed to cover the themes better than jumping all around the tenants of the Gundam Universe would have (a failing of many of the related series in traditional anime) so give this one some consideration.

Picture: Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo 2 was presented in the same 1.78:1 ratio widescreen anamorphic color it was shot in by director Takashi Imanishi and his staff for release by Bandai Visual USA (domestically at least). It looked interesting for a CGI release but the graphics were substantially dated compared to most contemporary video and computer games that show the same kind of rendering, textures, and shadowing that have been done in the past several years. There were few issues with compression artifacts and the bitrate was usually in the 8 Mbps range, give or take as is usually the case. The faces of the characters did not look much like traditional anime nor did they look particularly human, perhaps only a few steps removed from the cartoonish versions of Mr. Stain in Junk Alley (if you were fortunate enough to see that series awhile back). There were some propaganda releases deployed in this one that gave the appearance of the old news reels from WWII (they were some of the most creative aspects of the OVA even though they were purposely not shown to look very high in resolution) and limited background movement as is standard in this kind of CGI world in most scenes but take a few looks at it and it might grow on you.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of the Japanese audio track in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or a mere 2.0 version, both at the bitrate of 448 Kbps. The surround selection was my track of choice and it did manage to show some minor use of the rear speakers and subwoofer but hardly on the same level as some of the best series currently on the market at this writing. The separation of the channels were largely focused on the sound effects and score though the battle scenes in each episode showing the most expansive use of all channels but not nearly enough for my tastes. The audio kept in synchronization with the CGI most of the time (it slipped a little too) and the voice actors appeared to be suitable for the roles they played, the optional English language subtitles sometimes appearing to use stilted translations but at least better than those you'll find on HK versions of movies I've seen.

Extras: My favorite extra was the slick paper booklet with 24 pages of information, drawings, and interesting director interview. He explained a great deal and I only wish his ideas could have been more effectively used in the episodes at hand. There were also some clean openings and closings but the extensive character and mech picture galleries on the disc were the next best offering. There were so many of them that I wondered if this was going to be a full season series but alas, that was not the case. The last extra was some trailers for the show that some of you like included.

Final Thoughts: Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo 2 was a nice selection of three whole episodes of the OVA that completists are going to want to pick up regardless of the cost that impacts the rest of us so much. The emphasis on a small weapons testing unit on the Zeon side of the conflict was an interesting choice and displaying each CGI rendered episode as a single weapons platform being tested with a mini-drama surrounding it a unique choice that could have been greatly expanded upon compared to the often limited depth of the various series that have come out of late. The realism was better established in many ways this time too though it also weakened the overall effort due to the similar dynamic making it kind of redundant (changing the particulars doesn't alter this fact). In short, Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo 2 may not have lived up to its complete potential but as a Gundam fan, I found it to have a lot going for it all the same so try it out and see why I think this might be a great way to continue with future projects if the CGI can be improved. I would have preferred both volumes of the series be released as a double disc set (especially considering the price!) but I have to admit that this volume stepped up the dynamic of the series enough that I have even considered elevating the rating of the previous volume given how they work together so well.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.

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