Gundam 00: Gundam’s Religious Text

People worship many things in many ways. Some devote themselves entirely to ideals and ideologies, to the good of their people or to the way of the warrior. Others invoke the name of God, a name that is so very often twisted by the mouths of blind zealots and self-serving heretics. Still others insist that there is no god in this world at all, and strive themselves to become the great power which directs the flow of the world, the fates of nations and peoples.

From its first moment to its last, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 easily has most religious texture of the entire Gundam franchise. The story, the themes, the characters, the setting (they dwell on the Middle East a lot), the soundtrack, everything is saturated in religious flavor, even how people speak. And this is the only Gundam series I know where they actually refer to God at all, let alone so frequently. Consisting of two seasons, for a total of fifty episodes, and a movie, Awakening of the TrailblazerGundam 00 tells a surprisingly tight and pointed story that stretches across every corner of the world and into space, with a substantial cast and epic battles which are but the prelude to a final, desperate struggle for both survival and peace.

It is, in a word, biblical.

Fair warning, speaking of all the religious touches in detail would spoil much of the show, and get a bit philosophical as well. Indeed, it would probably turn out to be a long essay, like one of those videos that goes for at least twenty or thirty minutes on YouTube, just talking about every single thing that evokes “religion” in this anime. I am not doing that here!

The premise of the show is that, a few centuries in the future, a massive ring of solar panels in space, supported by three orbital elevators, provides all the energy that the world needs. Thus, the superpowers of the world coalesced around the three pillars which control of the solar array. These form the three major blocks of the world, as humanity is beginning to reach out into space. Outside that, however, things are largely unchanged: some people live in plenty, some in deprivation, and war still plagues the world. Then the Gundams make their debut, appearing as if from nowhere on behalf of a mysterious organization called Celestial Being, swearing to eradicate war by force, and wielding technology that far surpasses anything their enemies possess. They challenge the entire world, and the world responds even as conspiracies move in the shadows cast by their shining power.

There are primarily four Gundams in the series, though a few others do come and go as the story progresses. Each of the “meisters” who pilot these Gundams has severe issues to deal with, and that’s before the plot continually thickens throughout the show. Through their various struggles alongside the crew of their ship, the Ptolemaios, they each develop in their own way, growing, changing, and ascending above their previous selves, and by their influence they take the entire world, the whole of humanity, with them. Humanity itself begins to change as it surely must to embark upon its inevitable expansion throughout the stars. This they do while wading through wars, peace, hope, despair, love, loss, revenge, betrayal, murder, deception, manipulation, and the unending struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Humanity’s great struggle for peace is one of understanding oneself, each other, and whatever alien entities it shall eventually meet.

Or so this anime would argue, at least.

When reviewing an anime, I typically just talk about whatever theme it seeks to present in its own terms, without offering much of my own commentary on the matter, or at least I try to. In this instance, however, I am going to be frank in my disagreement.

You don’t need to understand someone in order to love them, or even to do nothing more than refrain from killing them. If you do understand them, that won’t change whether or not they mean to kill you, and therefore whether or not you need to kill them in order to survive. And war has deeper roots in a desire for power than in a lack of understanding between any two sides. Indeed, the most fearsome commanders throughout history were those who understood their enemy perfectly, even better than the enemy understood themselves. “Know your enemy” is an age-old proverb for a reason.

Thus, I completely disagree with the relentless insistence that understanding each other is all we need to do to make peace. Understanding is important, but it is not “the answer.” It’s only one part of what we need.

Outside that, however, I can very much enjoy most of Gundam 00.

The cast is pretty big – far too big for me to go into them with the depth that any of them deserve – but, unlike SEED Destiny, the characters are all handled fairly well. Each of them has a story, and all of their stories are weaved together with admirable grace and skill. They really do drive the entire epic narrative, which is mostly coherent, directed, and well-paced. It never feels slow or monotonous, with all sorts of twists and turns, with great victories as well as tragic, terrible defeats. Intrigue abounds as powerful individuals compete with one another to work the will of their own vision upon the world around them. The line between enemy and ally can be so very thin!

It’s not “perfect,” mind you. There are a few things which are handled a little clumsily. The “observers,” for instance, are there for one episode and never mentioned again. The entire character of Andre Smirnoff would have been better left untouched if not for the necessity of someone in his role at one or two pivotal moments. And how, how, how did the English dub fail to pronounce “A-Laws” correctly after the Japanese dub got it right? Speaking of, they probably should have just left the bit with the singing children in the original dub. Say what you will about the Japanese voice acting industry, at least they have pleasant singing voices. 😉

Still, I would say such flaws are at least within tolerable parameters, so to speak.

All in all, this is just a very well-done anime, telling a good, well-crafted story in an engaging, interesting way. The characters are lovable and understandable, the fights are exciting, the plot is intriguing, the animation is out of this world, and the music is masterful.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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