If you asked me my thoughts on Gundam SEED I would quickly tell you I don't like it. If you asked why I would respond with, "the characters were awful," then proceed to give some vague remembrances from years past before mumbling off. Chances are I'd also mention how much I loath Hisashi Hirai's character art while I was at it. The short of it is, I don't quite remember much about Gundam SEED.
I can tell you that I watched it when it first aired almost a decade ago. I watched it for a long time, just how far into the series I don't remember. My memory tells me that the characters were pretty unlikable even as the story pretty much took its plot points straight from Mobile Suit Gundam. The suits I remember a bit more, especially the Strike Gundam, which I consider to be one of the best all time Gundam designs (I have two PG Strike kits). There was also the four legged suit which I liked the design of until I saw how poorly it was used in the series. The enemy grunt units though, man how I hated them (and still do). Where the Strike was a classy remake the want-to-be Zaku's and like looked as though they were styled by a child. "Eh, here ya go. We just messed with the shapes and added some spikes here and there. Oh, you want more? Well here it is with a horrible mohawk contraption." With such fragmented memories I thought it appropriate to reintroduce myself to the series and rewatch Gundam SEED. Is it as bad as I recall? Was I looking at it too much through rosy UC glasses? Will I discover anyone in Northern America who actually likes the program?
I'm going to start the new "remastered: series. If Bandai/Sunrise felt the need to go back and redo everything then they must have done a horrible job (and why subject myself?). Really though, the entire thing was just a way to squeeze more cash out of a successful (in Japan, at least) program.
Shall we begin?
After finishing the first 13 episodes I'm not quite sure where where to begin. For starters, that was actually... rather... epic. Okay, maybe epic is a bit too strong. Gundam SEED started off fun and engaging. Having no idea what to expect aside from years of reading SEED bashers online I was greatly surprised how good SEED started off. While certainly not up to Gundam Unicorn standards it still felt greater than any fading memories of Gundam AGE, which I struggle to remember.
From the start SEED picks up a lot of familiar Gundam tropes. Guy meets girl, guy meets Gundam, guy proceeds to be the savior for a small group of otherwise inexperienced shipmates... Protagonist and friends spend some time in space/on Earth then make a narrow escape to Earth/space. I’m sure that if I went back and watched Mobile Suit Gundam (it has been a while) I would bitch about them ripping off the original. Instead I’ve found myself pulled in by the storyline, the characters, and to some extent, the awkward setting. This, I believe, is what attracted so many to the original series.
Thus far all but one character (wait for it) fits right in and is a welcome addition to the series. Kira is well balanced and any mental anguish resulting from piloting is quickly dealt with in a reasonable fashion. The crewmembers of the Archangel are unobtrusive and surprisingly effective at their jobs. Captain Murrue Ramius, while not as bitching as most Universal Century captains, goes a pretty good job considering the circumstances. I was pleased to see that she didn’t give Kira any shit and treated him with a good deal of independence. Her issues with Ensign Badgiruel had the potential to be over dramatic and annoying but that never came to be (or, perhaps, hasn’t yet come to be).
The most annoying character, no not Flay like you’re probably thinking, was actually Lacus. Her incessant singing and ‘I don’t know what the fuck is going on’ innocence was annoying and completely out of place compared to everyone else in the show. Her random stand-up-and-take-charge moment during her transfer was completely out of left field. It’s obvious why everyone wants to keep her locked away by herself. Flay, on the other hand, serves as an important foil to Kira and his group of friends. Her xenophobia and general irrelevance make Guy/Guy with Glasses/Girl/Asian Guy standout as strong individuals (even if I can’t remember their names). While it would’ve been better balanced to have some of the others go over Flay’s hurdles, I’m currently enjoying her descension into psychopathy (even if I know I’ll rue it later).
Mu La Flaga serves as a nice father figure (to an extent) on the Archangel but doesn’t really stand up against most other mentors throughout the Gundam franchise. I don’t really remember what happens to him but I have the sickening suspicion it’s nothing good.
On the other side of the conflict there’s the ZAFT antagonists lead by the Char clone Rau Le Creuset. While not nearly as dynamic as the original, Le Creuset is refreshing as a competent opponent. The minor X-Suit pilots, Dearka, Yzak, and Nicol seem to be well balanced amongst themselves (Nicol being passive and Yzak aggressive with Dearka in the middle) despite being rather one dimensional. To be fair they get significantly less development time than anyone else. It would’ve been nice if they were expanded on more and I hope that happens as the series goes on.
Athrun, I realize now as I write this, I have no real opinion on. He’s very flat, very bland. Follows orders (aside from taking the Aegis out that one time), respects everyone, and is pretty boring. He seems to lament fighting Kira more than Kira does about fighting him.
The setting is probably the worst thing about Gundam SEED. The factions are pretty boring and generic. The Earth Federation (or whatever it’s called in SEED, OMNI right? Or is that something that pops up later?) and the terribly named ZAFT which is the military arm of PLANT which is not to be confused with a “plant” which is their term for a space colony. At least, I think that’s what’s going on. Naming confusion on my part aside, both parties seem pretty balanced and nearly every time a supporting character shows up they’re likable or otherwise understandable in their actions. Folks on Artemis, whom I think the writers wanted us to hate, didn’t seem particularly worthy of having their shit blown up.
The conflict between Earth and the colonies is, at this point in the story, seemingly pointless. They’re at war with each other after the Bloody Valentine incident which, as far as I can tell, made both sides sad and has been widely regarded as a bad idea.
Then there’s this “Coordinator” business. At first I thought, “Gee, they’re letting the whole Newtype cat out of the bag pretty early,” when it’s nothing but genetic modification. There’s some talk of Natural v. Coordinator but it just seems pointless at this point. For all the big talk it seems the only thing Coordinators can do is rewrite operating systems and pilot mobile suits (and if the mobile armor pilots could do a half as decent job as La Flaga then this wouldn’t be an issue).
I completely forgot about the whole bouncing/exploding seed thing until I saw it again during Kira’s brief awakening in episode 11. I have zero recollection on what that was all about but I’m pretty sure I’m going to get sick of that animation sequence during the next 13 episodes. Episode 11’s awakening and battle was pretty awesome so I suppose I could also come to appreciate Kira actually hitting something with his beam rifle.
Most of the battles have been pretty exciting, more than I thought going in. It helps that combat situations have some purpose behind them and most of the participants are Gundams. The climatic battle at the end of episode 13 was great even if the reused animation started to become painfully noticeable.
I have mixed feelings about the animation and the whole “HD remastering” nonsense Sunrise did doesn’t help. It appears that they didn’t remaster everything, just segments here and there. The resulting contrast is pretty awful. Updated animation sequences (bear in mind I haven’t gone back to compare to the original) are generally pretty solid and are most noticeable when it’s a character’s face. Frankly, they look great. Then it cuts to some of the original animation which has thicker lines and considerably less detail and definition. Battle animation that’s been updated looks okay, but hasn’t really stood out that much to me. I’m not terribly fond of the style or the apparent elasticity of the mobile suits.
An example of the thick lines mentioned previously
I am curious as to whether the Archangel was predominantly CGI in the original series or if it’s new to the “HD Remaster.” It’s not particularly good, not particularly bad, nor is it too out of place because the ship is rarely seen interacting with anything else but the blackness of space. It’s just, there. And odd, since it’s the only thing CGIed other than a few explosions, namely a couple in episode 13, which look awful.
I won’t go into how terrible Hisashi Hirai’s designs are (both in general, and how their eyes tend to be animated in SEED) but anyone who likes them has terrible taste.
The Gundam designs look pretty awful as they’re animated in SEED, something I was pretty shocked at. As I mentioned earlier I love the Strike design, particularly in Gunpla form, but hated in the show. The same goes for the Buster, Aegis, and Duel. The Duel with Assault Shroud in episode 13 looked particularly awful in most of the sequences. But, I suppose that’s all a moot point for Bandai. See, because of this I now have the terrible urge to out and get the Buster, Aegis, and Duel Master Grade kits. Then I want to buy the MG Strike version 2 which is slated to come out later this year. Besides the two PG Strikes I mentioned earlier I already have one MG Strike variant built and another still in the box. Not to mention Astray kits and the RG Strike. Thus, my wallet condemns you, Bandai and Sunrise, to hell! (Psst... if anyone has a MG Aegis they don’t want to donate to the cause I’d be happy to take it off your hands).
Probably the best part is how few GINNs there were. Everything about them is awful, from their look, to their combat ability, and even their shitty name. I thought there were a billion GINN variants and I presume they’ll be popping up more and more once the Archangel lands on Earth. I'm not looking forward to that.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the music (aside from Lacus’ singing of course) and the opening/ending tracks. They’re pretty catchy and brought back fond memories from the silver age of anime. The sequences that go along with them are pretty solid as well.
When I mentioned on Twitter that I was reviewing Gundam SEED, and that my experience was generally positive, I got some interesting responses. One friend said he’d be “pleasantly surprised” and another, “I'd say you're drunk, go home. Gundam SEED is a soulless husk.” That last comment made me stop and think a bit. I don’t completely agree with his comment, but I don’t really disagree either. There’s something there, a soul of course, but not nearly as substantial as it would need to be placed high in the pantheon of great Gundam series’. Granted, I’m only 13 episodes in, and that could change as things go on.
It’s almost as if the show anticipated a review like this. A quarter into the series and a climactic episode ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. Gundam as a franchise has had a long history of civilians dying otherwise preventable deaths (something Gundam AGE would’ve benefited from). It helps focus the narrative about the nature of war and define key characters. I know that Kira, at some point, turns into a nonkilling pacifist. As I look forward to taking on the next 13 episodes I can only hope that this apparent turning point isn’t a negative one.