The Operatic Saga of Gundam Seed

The Gundam franchise is entirely about mecha, sci-fi warfare on Earth and in space, and such subjects of philosophy as war and the human condition, with an ever-increasing number of repeated tropes, such as a masked antagonist, or the spherical Haro robots. And yet, for all these commonalities, the various series which make up the franchise can be startlingly different from one to the next. 8th MS Team, for instance, has some interesting details that add realism to the texture of the story. But realism went straight out the window with Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, as well as it’s sequel, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny. And where 8th MS Team is Gundam’s Romeo and Juliet, the two SEED shows feel more like an opera (or two), right down to the soundtrack.

Gundam Seed is basically a story of the importance of forgiveness in the pursuit of peace. It most primarily – though definitely not exclusively, with a cast as big as this – follows two young men, Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala, as their childhood friendship is torn apart by the anger, bloodshed, and sorrow of war, and then reforged in a bond of comradeship. Though they both try to avoid it, they end up hurting each other severely, and must learn to forgive and work together in order to stop an absolute genocide and save the human species itself. This, as forces of nihilistic hatred and prejudice seek to tear Earth and space apart, to leave only ruin and graves in their wake.

It’s not a perfect series by any means, being a bit melodramatic, unrealistic, and clumsy with its oversized cast, but it told a progressively more gripping and relevant story, with powerful themes, lovable characters (galore), and well-earned laughter and tears.

Then came the sequel.

Destiny picks up the story sometime after the nigh-apocalyptic events of the first series and delves ever further into the violent heart of human nature as well as greater and greater acts of mass destruction that make the events of the first series pale in comparison.  It deals again with the forces that seek to divide and destroy, but it also examines its own stereotypical ideals of heroism, as well as the human tendency to elevate ourselves and our idols to the status of infallible gods who always know what is right, and the conflicts which invariably result from the collision of human desires.

That is all some fairly hefty philosophical subject matter, no? It proves to be both a strength and a weakness of this particular anime. It delves into some very deep topics, but it lingers far too long on them. Not only does it repeat the same things over and over and over again, it keeps going back to replay those same clips an insane number of times. It gets especially bad in Destiny, which keeps shoving recap episodes into the lineup, going over everything that has a happened again and again and again, as if anyone who has watched the show that far along would really need it. And then, with all of those episodes and all that runtime devoted to recounting everything that we have already seen happen, we finally get to the end of the show and they don’t even properly resolve everything!

Every quality story has a moment after the climax, the descending action that ties everything off. In Star Wars, there’s the medal scene after the Death Star is destroyed. In The Princess Bride, Wesley and Buttercup have their true love’s kiss and then the grandfather says goodnight to his grandson. In The Dark Knight, Gordon tells his son what must happen as Batman flees into the darkness. And in most Gundam shows, things are similarly resolved in one way or another. Occasionally, there is some follow-up, either a movie or a special episode, but the show will at least tie itself off. But Destiny? Not only do they cut out when a mere five minutes more could have told us what happened, but when they got around to adding a special episode that tells us what happened, what did they do with it? Another recap episode! (you know that urge to flip over the table? …yeah.)

So, not exactly the best-planned anime out there. It tried to do quite a lot while also trying to do as little as possible. That carried through with its themes, with the structure of its narrative, and most everything else as well. This includes the truly massive cast, which left the plot trying to be everywhere with everyone all at once, and thus left us with precious little coverage of those most pivotal, emotional, significant moments for any character in particular. That was especially true in Destiny, though Seed was not entirely great at it either.

Then there were the mobile suits, of which the Gundams were always at the forefront of things. And new ones always managed to keep popping up as if straight out of holes in the ground. Good for the toy companies, but ironically bad for how seriously I could take this show. Seed was all right, but Destiny went way overboard. I mean, one can only try for so long to sell each new suit as being the ultimate suit, especially when some of the innovations really didn’t make that much sense. I mean, the one that launches in parts that assemble together on the battlefield? Really doesn’t make sense, no. What made that one so powerful? At least the others all had innovative, game-changing technology.

Which reminds me of one particular gripe I had about Seed: the significance of Lacus Clyne. Oh, she was pretty, adorable, and a saint, as well as the daughter of an important government official. But she was also primarily a singer, with no authority of her own. So, somehow she is able to just walk into where they keep a top secret new Gundam and hand it over to Kira, no questions asked? And then her fans follow her to rise up in rebellion against the genocidal tyrant who rules over them? Ok, I could buy how they used her name and image in Destiny to placate and distract the populace, but you won’t find me following a pop star to war.

Really enjoying Seed and especially Destiny requires overlooking most of the details and just enduring whatever they decide to put up on the screen. For talking so much about deep philosophical principles, it actually requires turning one’s brain off a bit, and just feeling everything. Which, I will admit, I can do sometimes, but not all the time, and for two series that each span fifty episodes? Nope. Sorry, can’t do it quite that long.

Really, I only managed to swallow Destiny in an all-out binge, and only because I was interested in all of the old characters from Seed. The new ones mostly didn’t grab my interest at all. One more peril of such a bloated cast: the newbies need to measure up to the old guard in some way. And these newbies, with just a few exceptions, did not. I was particularly annoyed with Shin Asuka, that swaggering, self-centered punk who was the new ace, the new “protagonist,” who couldn’t see past the end of his nose.

I would prefer to judge Seed and Destiny entirely apart from each other, but I suppose that would be going a bit too far. I would give the first series significantly higher marks and consign the second one almost entirely to the abyss.

Rating: making a compromise between the two, 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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