For current and future reference I feel the need to get this out here now. I have quite the personal bias. Not in and edits I hope, just in commentary. Anyone who reads any of my post knows this, but I feel the need to expound on it. I'm an oldtimer, though not an Oldtype. I perfer classic animation. My anime preferences, from an artistic perspective tend to be from the 1980's and 1990's. I dislike digital coloring and animation, I positively hate CGI models used in anime.
Ranting about animation styles and corporate sponsored anime
Because of this and other factors I have a bit of a skewed perspective on Gundam series. I often feel that with the simplicity and convenience of digital animation, any crap idea for an anime series being an attempt to promote something, market a product or create fan appeal, but have no plot are easily given form. The anime series Hayate no Gotoku backs up this view with an episode about and parodying the lives of Japanese animators. It goe on to show an example of how corporate sponsorship and funding will make animators create series that have no real value. It takes cares to state that the episdoe is "a work of fiction" but makes heavy implications that much of it's content is true to the real world.
My perspective really isn't accurate. In every era there have been attempts in anime to create a series that has no real purpose other than marketing and sales, though it may be true the amount of these have increased with digital animation, they were always there and there were often many of them. Giant Robot animes are rife with this kind of thing as most were in fact created to market toys and Gundam is no exception.
This doesn't define them as bad however.
While creators such as Yoshiyuki Tomino have commented bitterly about this aspect of series even series that were created with no purpose than to sell something can still be very good if the story and plotline are still strong, if the animation is rich, if the voice acting is good and if the soundtrack is beautiful. This is the origin of Gundam. Gundam quickly evolved as while Sunrise recognized the appeal of toys and models they also realized that there were many other things about the series that drew people into it and that some of them (like myself) couldn't care less about the models and toys (okay I have/want a few models). This made Gundam expand into something wonderful and gave it the oppertunity to be something great.
I use these statements as a tangently related preface to what I am about to say:
I am a loyalist to pre-digital Gundam series. My primary edits, and reading/gaming have been all centered around the Universal Century. Part of the appeal is that of good old anime. The rest in addition to the fact that Z and ZZ Gundam had some really strong moments is the simple fact that this is the primary Gundam universe and it has the largest wealth of available information, side stories and supporting material, this of course gives i the greatet potential for contradiction.
The other series I loved were After War Gundam X and Turn A. I haven't done much regarding them, because a lot of their information was as complete as I would make it at a glance, though some aspects could use work. These series had the best of everything overall in my opinion, though they were extremely different from eachother and other Gundam series in general. They had strong voice-acting, solid music, very enjoyable and compelling stories and featured some of the best art that Gundam (and anime in general) had to offer in the pre-digital age, the pinnacle of the evolution of Gundam's art quality.
From here I begin to have an unhealthy and unfounded bias. I also am one of those that tends to dislike a lot of what is popular and to an extent I resent popularity. I am not however someone who will hate something because the majority likes it (those people are rather short-sighted), I am however someone who will hate things rammed down my throat (like Pokemon).
I went into Gundam SEED thinking what seems to be (at least at my local Gundam panel) a common opinion of the series - that it was a mass appeal moneymaking attempt and a cheap marketing tool and imitation by Sunrise. After having watched it however, I realized who dead wrong I (and those people of course) were. SEED was a very strong series, even if it did occasionally feature the faux pass of a digital series produced early for the quality level the animators could give it. The art was good... exept the terrible CGI, especially on the Archangel, this detracted from the series and barring the BUcues, was unwarrented. The other two problems from this perspective were that the Freedom's lasers looked horribly MS Paint every time they showed a shot of them firing from behind the back, a bunch of solid color lines that alternated position with barely more animation than most NES sprites. The last issue I have with Gundam SEED's art was their horrible, shameless recycling of footage. The recycled distinctive atmosphereic scens of the Strike launching from the openings over and over, lots of the same shot of some MS blowing up and my personal favorite, a conduit in an engine room exploding, the same shot was used for both Federation AND ZAFT ships... fail. At least they had the decency to have a different space versus land version.
Aside from these occasional annoyances in SEED's art style it was really good. Very strong story, characters and excellent voice acting with realy memorable voices - Kira, Lacus, Pink-chan, Gottwald, Mu, Murre... the list goes on. Probably the best Japanese voice acting in any Gundam series, and likely the best in English too. The only other major issue with this series was it's terrible three re-cap episdoes and it's use of flashbacks as filler.
Then we have SEED Destiny. Everyone who hates SEED as a cheap attempt at marketing and/or accuses it of having crappy plot/characters please be more accurate and target SEED Destiny. When people refer to SEED the need to mean SEED, not SEED Destiny, if one wants to refer to both say "Cosmic Era", otherwise specify which one. SEED Destiny's plot suffered, it's very existence was a clear effort to make money based off of the popularity of SEED and Sunrise's desire to rapidly do this made it suffer so much. The poor writer, who I love for the first series, was under too much pressure so I really don't blame her for any stroy issues in the second, she simply wasn't given the time necessary to write a solid enough story. Destiny's plot would have been okay, but a lot of characters were underdeveloped, some of those who we knew (read: Athrun and Cagalli) performed in a fashion weaker and more short-sighted than they had by the end of SEED. As the series entered its latter half everything went amiss (except Athrun and Cagalli finally behaving the way they should have from episode 1) and the series ended with a disappointing final battle and didn't have the decency to kill the series' real villan - Shin Asuka. Oh and they recycled animation BADLY in their openings, much worse than in the orginal, which was already pushing it. Their opening songs went from Meh to Terrible (at least in context). The CG (which I think they should have never had at all) got a lot better and thankfully the Freedom's lasers no longer looked MS Paint.
Then we have Gundam 00. This is where I piss everyone off. What everybody said about SEED being marketing/mass appeal/weak story I instead feel towards 00. Yeah, screw you Gundam's Anonymous how can you call a modern digital series like SEED a cheap moneymaking attempt and then lavish praise on 00 like it was the greatest thing ever? That's hypocritical, like Shinn.
Now let me back off a bit. Don't get me wrong, I did not dislike Gundam 00. I simply didn't like it either. My feelings are more or less neutral, I simply resent it because of it's popularity and my overexposure to that popularity. Please, don't be insulted. There are many Gundam 00 fans out there that I have no issue with, I simply dislike some of those like the example I have in SEED.
I am predisposed to dislike Gundam 00 simply because it's the newest series, a modern digital series, and that it uses CG models and animation. By now I'm pretty much okay with the CG, we are at last at the leve were it doesn't (always) look bad, though it's still cheap and stylistically crude when used in combination with digitally-colored hand animation. My biggest issue with 00 is it's attempt at mass market appeal. SEED combined two strong elements that were popular in previous Gundam series in order to garner popularity, these were:
- The Universal Century - It's eduring popularity.
- Gundam Wing - Its pretty bishi-boys.
That's no too bad, though these two things were clearly beyond self-references and an attempt to gain popularity.
What I didn't like about Gundam 00
My big issue with Gundam 00 is (like Code Geass) it went for mass appeal and it (unlike Code Geass) was destroyed by it. In order to garner popularity Gundam 00 incorporated the following elements from previous Gundam series (not in order of severity):
- J-Pop - The pop factor was there in openings to an extend and SEED went pretty heavy into that. There's nothing wrong with J-Pop in anime openings or in general, however Gundam 00 screamed Top 40 in a way that only the Zeta Gundam films exceeded. (Gackts a good singer, having him prominently featured in your work is sell-out).
- The Universal Century - The Titans: Oh if only they'd used the UC more. The UC aspect from this series was limited to the A-LAWs. The founding of the Earth Federation and the formation of the A-LAWs was a nice plot element and the fact that Celestial Being was responsible for the A-LAWs was a very good element of the story. What makes this fail for me is that they included this while simultanously failing to include things that aren't just UC, but necessary in Gundam, the Space Colonies. I'll expound about that more later.
- The Universal Century - Minovsky Particles: These were a clearly-defined aspect of the UC, which were fairly scientifically plausable as their uses were fairly consistent and made a reasonable amount of sense. They were a clear plot device, but they were also a logical way to set up the scenario and reasons for MS existing. In Gundam 00 they are a true Dues ex Particle. Exotic Matter, instant red flag. Their functions were... whatever the plot demanded, shields, stealth, ECM, weapons, armor, psychic powers, and whatever allowed the Gundam's to GODMOD. It was lame... oh and like a sentai, their types and power level are color-coordinated.
- Gundam Wing - Its pretty bishi-boys: They were very bishi in Wing, that's fine, that was a first. SEED did it too, that's okay. Gundam 00 went too far. Tieria Erde. Really? That's a man? I admit you got used to it, but it was pretty bad. Then you have Ribbons and the
InnovatorsInnovades. Oh gods, the Innovades. Ribbons wasn't just bishim he was clearly Alejandro Corner's gay lover. That's fine too, but he then has to go out and make his own bishi heirem for his own amusements and calls them "Innovators". I'm sorry but really? A bit much. Also homosexual men aren't inherently evil. Ribbons is however perfectly accurate to the personalty and appearance of the homosexual men who are evil though, so I give them points for that.
- The Universal Century - Yazan Gable: Ali Al-Saachez, enough said.
- The Universal Century - Newtypes: The innovators, crappy fail Newtypes. In this universe Cyber-Newtypes (Innovades) still always die, their also all catamites. This plot element seemed very shoe-horned, put in out of a sense of obligation not any element of the ongoing story. Oh, but it was there so that the main character could make magic flowers.
- Gundam Wing - Jankness: This warrents another seperate mention because it is such a big deal and unlike SEED they didn't steal something as big as the entire plotline. One of the things that makes Gundam Wing painful to watch is the mook battles. It was a good series, but their Gundam's were their own level of jankness. They fly in the face of Tomino's invention of Real Robot Anime by virtue of the fact that they have absurdly overpowered weapons and impenetrable armor. The only thing "Real Robot" about them is that "oh yeah, they're fast and agile too". This was something that you just have to overlook when you watch Gundam Wing, but it does not add to the appeal of the series nor does the fact that one can accurately predict the outcome of the series and OVA by counting the number of Gundams on one side, versus the other (even counting Tallgese and Epyon as Gundam's it still works).
Gundam 00 said "tha'ts not good enough, no". Gundam 00 said, "the Wing Gundam's were too weak. What a beam rifle that shoots a beam out a 3 meter barrel that has a 50 meter radius? That's too weak. Instead we'll have a BEAM SABER that does that, a beam saber that's several kilometer's long!Gundanium? Ha! We have GN particles, we don't need no armor, get shot at by an army for 12 hours? Wow, that stinks the Gundam's are in real danger. Why, 'cause the pilots are getting tired! What they haven't blown up? Yeah, so? You don't get it YOU CAN'T HURT THEM!!! Unless you're Ali Al-Saachez, cause he can kill everything!" That's my summary of how 00's Gundams worked. In the second season this element was removed because of the fact that everyone else got Magic Solar Toasterovens.
Well, except that they had to keep up the shounen power-scaling, hence the giant beam saber and the "I haz TWO Magic Solar Toasterovens!"
Apparently sniper also need to shoot a lot lasers at once for some reason. Point is this made watching the battles of the main characters combersome and made you really root for the villians simply because they had no chance of winning, oh except for Ali Al-Saachez because he was there to try to break Yazan's record.
So those are the things that it included from only the popular Gundam series. he major thing that it failed to include from every Gundam series ever that defines them as Gundam: The Space Colonies.
Oh there were space colonies in Gundam 00, they even spent a few minutes on some of them. They just apparently don't really matter. We don't have any lunar cities and our space colonies are just kindof... there. Oh, but we went to Jupiter, because that's what you do in Gundam. You take a Jupitris-class transport and go to Juipter (cite: Z Gundam, Gundam SEED, Gundam 00). Not that Jupiter matters (cite: Z Gundam ZZ Gundam, Gundam SEED, Gundam SEED Destiny, Gundam 00).
This REALLY, REALLY, bothered me. More than anything else about this series (except the Gunadm jankness). There are Space Colonies there, but they don't matter? How is this a Gundam series?
To me the conflict between the Space Colonies and the Earth is the most defining aspect of what makes a Gundam series Gundam. The Gundam's are optional. Hell, the Mobile Suits are optional, but the colonies are not (note: For the Barrel).
It aggravates me that in a series that they very clearly should have been a factor, they weren't. It rubs me wrong, very wrong. This essential conflict was the driving force in every series. Turn A had the moon instead, but the relationship was the same.
Gundam X didn't need it beyond the backstory, simply because it stood well enough without it.
Gundam 00 did not. Also there was an orbital elevator and it didn't fall and crash on the planet, only metal plates from it, and even those got stopped by GODMOD Gundams. Lame.
Oh, and they killed most of my favoite characters: Nena Trinity, Wang Liu Mei and Sergi Smirinov.
These did not make Gundam 00 bad. I DIDN'T SAY IT WAS BAD! It's just what prevents it (in my opinion) from being good, and this was saddening.
The Victory Song of the Resistance was also meant to drive mankind insane. Nothing motivates people to go insane and kill eachother than beam a happy-happpy joy-joy song into their brains. Too bad Setsuna's turning into an alien ruined Marina's plan to do so.
On the plus side it screams for parody.
What I liked about Gundam 00
I could also talk about what I liked. I liked Setsuna. I liked his (underdeveloped) backstory. I was amused bt his Gundam fetish. (About parody...) I liked Saji and Louise. They had a nice part in the plot. Their subplot was well carried in "season" 1. It was better in my opinion than Code Geass' attempt at a school subplot. Soma's story was the best in the series and (H)llelujah was a cool character (at least when he had multiple personailites). There was an orbital elevator... that was cool. The captain and her (underdeveloped) alcohol addiction. The Exia. The final, final battle between Ribbons and Setsuna, when they tiered down was very, very cool. The ending of the series had a very nice wrap up, possibly the best of any Gundam series, though in some ways I liked Turn A and X's better. The wrap up was also ruined by there being a film. I don't hold the film against it though, it was a Gundam original film, those are always best ignored. It didn't recycle animation. And some other things that I'm sure are there, but that I forgot.
Well yeah, there's my personal bias. Now I've stated it. I could rant for hours about how I hate Victory Gundam, but that wasn't the purpose of this. It was just to state my disposition and let everyone know in advance. I do still think that some of the 00 pages could use a little improvement though a
sickenly large amount of effort and dedication went into those pages, but there's one or two details that could be improved. Good luck everyone, and go watch some good 80s anime!