Gundam Seed Anime Review
Kidou Senshi Gandamu Shiido
Mobile Soldier Gundam SEED
US Release By
50 25-minute episodes
2002-10-005 - 2003-09-27
In cosmic era 71, a war is raging between "Coordinators" and "Naturals." Coordinators are human beings whose mental and physical abilities have been enhanced through genetic engineering. The genetic alterations that create Coordinators can only be performed in the earliest stages of embryonic development. In contrast, Naturals are human beings who have not undergone the process of genetic enhancement that produces Coordinators. The abilities of Coordinators and their choice to undergo genetic enhancement led to jealousy and anger from Naturals. The rise of anti-Coordinator sentiment resulted in a worldwide ban on genetic modification and the persecution of Coordinators on Earth. As a result, the vast majority of Coordinators on Earth relocated to settlements in space known as plants. The hostility between Coordinators and Naturals developed into an all-out war when on top of economic disagreements between the two sides, several radical acts were performed by Naturals against Coordinators.
The events in Gundam Seed take place one year into the war between the Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty (ZAFT), the military forces of the plants, and the Earth Alliance (EA), an international coalition formed by the PLANT sponsor nations and their allies on Earth to battle the forces of ZAFT. Although the EA forces are numerically greater, ZAFT's forces are comprised of Coordinators and employ superior technology than that of the EA. In particular, ZAFT utilizes revolutionary new weapons known as mobile suits. Struggling to catch up with ZAFT's superior technology, the EA has secretly developed its own Gundam mobile suits at a neutral space colony. Through the unpredictability of war, a young Coordinator named Kira Yamato becomes the pilot of an EA Gundam and finds himself forced to fight his own people in order to protect his friends.
Gundam Seed (GS) is a series that encompasses many of the characteristics of other anime in it's genre, mecha, (war-sci-fi-action-drama); love, hate, romance, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and of course, combat are all found in the series. Ultimately, the complexities and dualities of human relationships are drawn out through a war that emphasizes the use of and combat between powerful and cool looking robots, mobile suits, called Gundams. Despite sharing the same characteristics of other anime in it's genre and sharing similar features of other Gundam series, the execution of GS, as well as a few twists and surprises along the way, is likely to satisfy the wants of any fan of the genre and fans of action and drama in general.
Although the war in GS is centered around the differing opinions and interests of two sides (which war isn't?), the Coordinators vs. Naturals angle adds originality and more significance to the war. Eventually, the war goes beyond hostility and economic disagreements to become a war about who will get to write the future of mankind. The stakes are high and the themes of the series are significant. The use of genetic enhancement brings into question religion, morality, legality, and social and economic class conflict among other issues. Also, the series illustrates hypocrisy as the EA uses performance enhancing drugs on it's soldiers to counterbalance the abilities of Coordinators.
If war is the frame, the relationships between the people in the series are the picture. In GS, war places stress on the relationships of the characters in the series; it forces friends to fight each other, lovers to grow apart, and characters to betray their side. Likewise, the war leads characters to exhibit the darker aspects of humanity such sadness, hate, vengeance, murder, and apathy towards killing. The war even reduces a few characters to insanity. Yet, it is also the war which causes friendships to grow stronger, creates the circumstances for new friendships and romances, and forces characters to question who they are, what is important to them, and which actions are best for their own happiness as well as the future of humanity. While the war is traumatic and destructive, it creates the conditions for characters to grow and possibly set a different course for a more peaceful future.
The characters themselves vary in personality and background, deal with the war in diverse ways, and all attain a good level of character development. The fact that most of the main characters are teens, from 15 to 17 years of age, makes them exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of war and also enables them to experience significant growth through the ordeal. Add to that the fact that some of these teens are civilians who are forced to become soldiers and that some are friends fighting on opposite sides, and you have the makings of a compelling drama.
The main character, Kira, is reluctant to pilot a Gundam, but being a Coordinator, he is the only who has the ability to do so and thus feels compelled to pilot the machine in order to protect his friends. He experiences the stress of war and of fighting his best childhood friend, the guilt of killing other human beings and of failing to protect others, and perhaps most of all, the pressure to protect those who have come to depend on him. Yet, although he protects his friends, Kira is still conscious of the fact that he is a Coordinator and he does not feel completely accepted by his friends. He grows close to several girls in the series, and while each of these relationships has different ramifications, they each help him to grow in a different way.
The supporting characters in GS are also developed well. The majority of supporting characters have their back-stories explored, their family life discussed, and also experience personal growth throughout the series. The pinnacle of this growth may be when some characters are compelled to change their alliances and to sacrifice themselves because of the friendship and love they share with other characters, and also, because of what they experience and what they come to believe in. The supporting characters also help the main characters to grow. Although Kira is the main character, several characters go through development on the level of a main character, these being Athrun Zala, Kira's childhood friend and now his enemy, and Rau Le Creuset, a ZAFT commander with skeletons in his closet.
It is also noteworthy that while most of the major characters are teens, there are several adult characters that introduce a higher level of maturity and a different outlook to the series than the teens, and others who show that the teens are actually more mature and rational than some adults. Having said that, GS has plenty of angst to go around among a lot of it's characters, especially Kira. The contemplation, emotional suffering, and anger that many of the characters go through during the series can be viewed as excessive. However, it is the theatre of war and the age of the characters that makes this angst believable and tolerable. For the most part, the angst in the series is effective and actually adds to the drama, but I could understand it if some found it to be excessive and/or annoying. On the whole, GS has a diverse set of characters that are compelling and developed well.
The riveting story and characters of GS are brought to life through crisp Sunrise animation. The animation is clean, fluid, bright, and somewhat distinctive. Bottom line: GS looks very nice. All of the major characters are easy to distinguish from each other and the character designs are generally appealing, in particular, many of the female characters look quite pretty. And since we are on the brink of the subject, there is some fan service in GS, such as panty shots and jiggling breasts after explosions, but it is not raunchy and there is no nudity. Having said that, GS is surprisingly mature in some aspects as it is implied that Kira is having a sexual relationship with a girl and others characters are also exploring their romantic feelings for each other. My only complaint about the animation is that some of the battle sequences are recycled and used in other battles, however, this is tolerable because it would likely be very expensive to animate new scenes for every part of a battle (and there are a lot of battles in GS).
The fine animation of GS also makes for some great action sequences. GS has enough fast paced and destructive action to satisfy any mecha fan. Lots of things go boom, from ships, to military bases, and even Gundams. I'll comment on the Gundams for a moment here. All of the Gundams look very nice and have cool abilities. Viewers of GS should be satisfied with the designs of the Gundams in the series (my favorite is the GAT-X252 Forbidden). The battles are very big and the explosions are also very big. Although most of the action in GS is limited to robot on robot action, the deaths of some of the pilots are shown within the confines of their cockpits and are surprisingly mature and even violent. This is very effective for dramatic reasons, however, the last agonizing screams, facial expressions, and jerks of a pilot's body as he is being killed could be traumatic for some younger viewers. I was somewhat surprised by the graphic deaths of some characters, however, the deaths were done in a way that was not gory, but rather dramatic and tasteful. Having said all of that, the violence in GS does not come anywhere close to the most violent anime out there and most of the violence is robot on robot action.
Supporting the animation of GS are a potent score and good soundtrack. The score of GS is by no means spectacular, nonetheless, it is solid and effective at creating the necessary mood as indicated by the plot and animation. The soundtrack is comprised of several different J-pop songs used primarily during the opening and closing to the show. I'm not an expert on J-pop, but these songs sound good and are well suited for the opening and closing. A couple of the songs are also used during the show to good effect, in particular, there is one song that is used during the early stages of an ocean battle that is very good for creating excitement and anticipation. All that needs to be said about the sound effects is that they sound convincing and that they sound the way the viewer would think that a cannon, sword strike, and et cetera would sound. That's a good thing. Lastly, the English dub is very good; all of the voices are well suited to their respective characters and the voice acting is also well done.
By and large, GS has been recognized as the best alternate universe Gundam series made so far. Although it may be easy to be the best when standing alongside the other alternate universe Gundam shows, GS is good enough to stand on it's own feet alongside other superior mecha anime. Beyond mecha, fans of action and drama are also likely to enjoy this series. From plot to animation and beyond, there is a lot to like about GS for fans of anime who have diverse tastes. GS is a series that most fans of good anime, not just mecha, will likely enjoy.
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Notes and Trivia
Like I said, the animation is done by Sunrise, and like other animation that I've seen done by this studio (Inuyasha), it is worthy of their reputation. The dub was done at Ocean studios in Vancouver Canada which seems to be good at turning out competent dubs (Inuyasha once again).
US DVD Review
Although I watched this series on TV in Canada (YTV), I did buy the volume 10 DVD put out by Bandai entertainment. The DVD had a textless ending, music video, and trailers for extras. However, the best and most significant extra was the mechanical file that described the technology and abilities of one of the Gundams as well as having pictures of it. The DVD also has the option of Japanese audio or English dub as well as the option for English subtitles. The menus of the DVD were easy to navigate.
I imagine that the features of the rest of the DVDs for Gundam Seed (10 volumes in total) put out by Bandai Entertainment will be similar to the ones of volume 10.
Violence: 2 - Not much gore, but pretty realistic.
Nudity: 1 - No nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Some of the sweet-puppy-love kind of kissing, but there is some implied sex.
Language: 2 - Nothing big, but YTV let them air the "S" word!