Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What I'm Watching Part 2: Gundam

Even, though a couple of series I've been watching have ended, I'll probably still be writing about them, if for no other reason than to sharpen my critical thinking skills, or lack thereof.
So here we go with Part 2 (For those that care: Part 1)

First off, is an entry in the Giant Robot genre, which is what people usually think when you say anime, after they think of tentacles and porn. Everything that is classic about anime will usually be found in a Giant Robot series: technology so ridiculously advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, earnest, young heroes who ascend to the glories of manhood while realizing their great, untapped potential, and the young damsels in distress who love them and while they mean well, will never understand what it's really like to be a hero or a man.
Which is why I usually avoid most Giant Robot shows, they're cliché. So, unless there is something else about a show like this, I'll usually avoid it. Though, to be honest, one of my favorite anime of all time is a giant robot show, Neon Genesis Evangelion, specifically because it subverted the classic Giant Robot clichés and revolutionized them at the same time. That and it really gets fucked up toward the end.
But I digress.

Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny: For those of you unfamiliar with it, Gundam is anime's Star Trek, a franchise that constantly get reinvented or reimagined for new generations. Since 1979 there have been 23 series or compilation movies that have run as part of either a known continuity or as an alternate universe version or take. The original Mobile Suit Gundam series aired in 1979 and ran for nearly 2 full seasons (43 episodes). It was one of the first series to deal with the ramifications and consequences of war as well as the political and social causes and effects that surround it, in a dramatic, if not completely realistic, way. The Gundam series are one of those things that any student of the medium has to see at least something from, the series are so popular and so prolific that would be like getting into live action sci-fi movies and not seeing Star Wars. (Well, at least that's the best comparison I can think of the moment.)
My first exposure to Gundam was way back in the day, circa 1987, seeing the raw version of the final few episodes of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and being awestruck by the violence. You just didn't see that kind of violence and its consequences in something animated here at all in those days, or still to some extent. (But that's a completely different topic altogether.) Still, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who is more than casually into anime and to have not seen at least parts of one of the Gundam series.
Anyway, this is a unique circumstance where I am actually watching both series simultaneously, the Gundam Seed edited dub on Cartoon Network and fansubs of Gundam Seed Destiny. (After the first couple of episodes aired on CN, I looked up episode synopses for the other episodes, so I know what happens, but even if I didn't, Seed Destiny isn't so complex that I wouldn't have been able to figure it out.)
Gundam Seed aired in Japan during the 2002-2003 season and is an amalgamation of several of the original Universal Century continuity series and storylines that MSG spawned.
I'll quote the basic story from ANN's Encyclopedia entry about it.
Heliopolis, a so-called neutral space colony was holding a top-secret weapons research facility, producing Gundams for the Earth Alliance. ZAFT, which is composed of Coordinators (genetically modified/upgraded humans), attacks Heliopolis, stealing 4 out of the Alliance's 5 Gundams. In the battlefield, civilian Kira Yamato stumbles upon the Strike, the last remaining Gundam of the alliance, and is forced to pilot it. In the midst of battle he encounters his best friend, Athrun Zala, as one of the hijackers of the 5 Gundams, who sides with ZAFT. Being a Coordinator, he is the only one who can pilot the Gundam. But Kira is not with ZAFT, even though they're his own kind, nor the Alliance. Since the Alliance is the only place he could turn to at the time, he sides with them. He pilots the Gundam to protect his friends, and to fight his best friend, which pains both of them. It's a war between individual beliefs.
What follows are 51 episodes of angst, drama, romance, and political intrigue in an entertaining package. Well, to a certain extent, the drama and the angst are overwrought as befits a series about teenagers, and the political intrigue is overly broad and simplistic, like the ease at which the great, unwashed masses whip themselves into a racial hatred or that in this glorious future representative democracy is as dead as the Dodo, but it could be worse, I suppose. LoGH does it much, much better, but no giant robots or bishonen, or bishoujo, Yet, I don't think LoGH suffers for a lack of them, as I said before in Part 1.
Gundam Seed Destiny, as I mentioned is the sequel currently airing in Japan. (Episode 13 will be airing this week). Again, quoting from ANN
Cosmic Era 73. Though the signing of a peace treaty brought the war between the Naturals and Coordinators to an apparent close, tensions continue to run high. With the Blue Cosmos organization poised to come back bigger than ever, and the Earth Alliance and ZAFT caught up in the midsts of an arms race, it was only inevitable that war would break out once again. During a conference between ZAFT and the Orb Union at ZAFT's Armory One facility, an Alliance special forces team launches a break-in operation and makes off with three new Gundam mobile suits. Forced to pursue them, Shinn Asuka of ZAFT and Athrun Zala of Orb take the remaining two Gundams and head out in the new assault battleship Minerva. With Shinn bearing a grudge against Orb for the loss of his family in the previous war, and Athrun questioning his own role in the coming conflict, the two leap headlong into a new chapter of the already blood-stained clash of ideals that was supposed to have ended two years ago.
So, there you have the plot basics, and imagine lots of overwrought pretty boys and pretty girls painfully learning that mankind can be violently unreasonable, and nobody will play nice with you unless you make them.
I can't really say that the series is great, because it's not, there's plenty in the story, and the politics in the story in particular, to find fault with. I know I mentioned above that I usually don't watch Giant Robot shows unless there's something different about them, and really GS and GSD don't have anything truly remarkable about them, per se. But, GS and GSD are entertaining and that's really what keeps me watching, so that in itself is remarkable, I guess. That, and all the pretty girls. ;)


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