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Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Season 1, Pt. 1 (Special Edition)
"Mobile Suit Gundam 00" is one of many installments in the longstanding and considerably popular Gundam series, which debuted back in the late 1970s. As of this writing, this newest 2007 installment is just finishing its second season in Japan. The collection here offers viewers the first 9 of 25 episodes in the first season.
Anime in general has never been a huge interest of mine and my knowledge of the genre is relegated to mainstream titles like Akira, Cowboy Bebop and Fist of the North Star. Knowing the complex history of this franchise, I approached this release with a bit of trepidation. From the opening episode however it's very clear this is a series even newcomers can enjoy.
Set on Earth in the year 2307, solar energy is a widely used power source and the building of outer space arrays to harness this energy has split the world powers into three "blocs." North America is run by the UNION, while Europe has formed into the Advanced European Union (AEU). Japan, China, Russia, and India make up the final bloc, the Human Reform League (HRL). The series starts with a bang; before a large crowd including top bloc leaders, the AEU is demonstrating one of their new mech defense units, Enact. Soon after the demonstration begins, a mysterious force descends from the sky, emitting a wave of intense light that jams all electronic devices; it lays waste to the AEU's super weapon with ease. Horrified leaders soon realize it is a Gundam unit and questions arise of who now controls these infamous weapons.
Our heroes, the organization Celestial Being, announce to the world that they plan to put an end to the Solar Wars which have plagued the planet for a decade. To achieve this lofty goal, they use the four Gundam units in their possession. It is a very novel concept for an animated series to say the least. Despite the sound of things, the four pilots employed by Celestial Being are definitely devoted to their cause of peace, but not afraid to use threat of force to achieve it. It's a fascinating duality that I hope the series continues to explore more deeply. The youngest of these pilots, 14-year old Setsuna, is gradually developed over the course of the first few episodes to stand out as the hero of the series; watching his character evolve over the course of the nine brief episodes is a highlight of the series.
The narrative structure in each episode is quite predicable. We get a healthy dose of plot exposition and overall story arc progression. The arc unfolds at a mellow pace though and viewers expecting quick progression may find themselves frustrated. The series definitely sets itself up to be something more than a disposable program and I'm extremely excited to see how this season will end.
Fans of giant fighting robots, don't fret from all this talk of plot and exposition; there is plenty of combat to go around. The fights in each episode are bound to bring a smile to your face and highlight the fantastic effort from the animation team. Unlike the recent live-action Transformers films though, the battles are never a jumbled mess and quite easy for the eye to follow. The four Gundam units each sport unique looks and their different abilities make for dynamic battles. Overall, the animation quality is light years beyond American television offerings and is feature-film length quality.
"Mobile Suit Gundam 00" is off to a strong start and should please a wide variety of audiences. This isn't a "kiddy" series by any means, but that doesn't mean the show is full of gore and profanity. The themes are deeper than expected and Celestial Being is definitely comparable to a group of terrorists at a surface glance, which might leave fans thinking about what they watched after the credits roll. My only complaint is there aren't more episodes in this release, but that appears to be a standard practice with anime releases.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of this release definitely took me for a surprise. As I mentioned above, the animation quality is far above what I expect from a television series and definitely is comparable to modern feature-film quality (Pixar and Dreamworks excluded). I detected zero flaws and was pleased completely with the solid image. Background detail is a bit soft (likely an intentional creative choice), but foreground action is always vibrant. The claims of the title being mastered in high-definition are definitely solidly supported with the end result.
The two available audio tracks on this release are both solid 2.0 Dolby Digital offerings. I watched the series with the original Japanese audio and found things to be clear, well mixed, but ultimately not mind-blowing. The music and effects on the English dub sound identical and the one episode I re-watched in English, featured average voice acting. I'd recommend sticking with the original Japanese track though.
Two English subtitle tracks are offered: one providing a full English translation of dialogue, lyrics, and on-screen text; the other offering a translation of just lyrics and text is obviously for those picking the English audio track. The subtitles are well done, providing alternate colors for lyrics and on-screen text, making on-screen action and dialogue easy to follow without short changing non-native speakers in the process.
Each of the two discs feature two promotional videos. One titled "Tactical Forecast" which, on disc one gives a brief preview of the first six episodes and the other, on disc two covers five more episodes, including the tenth of the series, not featured on this set. The videos "Mission 00" and "Mission 01" are featured on disc one and disc two respectively. The former serves as an extended promo for the series while the latter is a much shorter highlight reel using the opening theme as a basis. The opening and closing credits are both featured without text for interested parties. Lastly, a small trailer gallery for other releases by Sunrise and Bandai are featured.
The biggest special feature in this set though are two retail copies of the first mangas in both the "Mobile Suit Gundam 00" and "Mobile Suit Gundam 00F" series. They are both enjoyable reads, although I felt the actual animated production of "00" turned out to be a more fleshed-out product. According to my internet search, the 00F series is a spin-off of 00, so whether it will be adapted as its own animated series down the line remains to be seen. These mangas exclusive to the special edition release of the program reviewed here.
"Mobile Suit Gundam 00" is an extremely entertaining and engrossing new series. For those who take the plunge, you'll be treated to a very solid technical presentation. The only downside is the nine episodes fly by in no time and will leave you clamoring for more. Highly Recommended.
NOTE: The copy sent for review featuring the two mangas is a gift set. A more affordable release of the DVD only is also available.