Friday, May 15, 2009


As I mentioned yesterday, while Gundam SEED and its sequel series had some small success, it's very much a backward looking series, that cherry-picks a few elements from older, more successful series here and there and mating it with stuff that was either not entirely successful, or utterly half-baked. It kept the franchise visible, sure, but it didn't really move things forward. Homaging the past is all well and good, but it's ultimately looking backward. To remind relevant, it behooves creators of continuing franchises to continually try to get it to speak to generations afterwards, keep the audience evergreen, that sort of thing.

Lord knows, war is not uncommon in our day and age, and Gundam prides itself on being the definitive war story/allegory. By and large, Gundam has dwelt in the WW2-era "giant military powers, more or less equal until scientific breakthrough" structure. To remain relevant, clearly, a middle ground would have to be struck to capture the attention of people today for whom war's nature has changed from that.

"I would like to address this statement to every single human being born and raised on Earth. We call ourselves simply Celestial Being. We are a private armed organization in possession of the mobile weapon 'Gundam'. The main objective of Celestial Being's activities is to completely eliminate acts of war and conflict from this world. We do not act for our own benefit or for personal gain. We have chosen to intervene for the greatest goal of all: To rid ourselves of the scourge of war. As of this moment, I make this declaration to all humanity: Territory, religion, energy; no matter what the reason or excuse, if there is an evident act of war being carried out, we will commence intervention with armed force. Any country, organization or corporation that promotes war will also be a legitimate target for our intervention. We simply call ourselves Celestial Being. We are an armed organization that was established to eliminate all acts of war from this world."

With these words, the latest Gundam series, Gundam 00, begins. Gundam 00 is a series of firsts for the franchise. It's the first series shot in HD, the first series split into two 25-episode seasons rather than one, complete 52-episode run, and it's also probably the most complicated Gundam series thus far. I will attempt (key word there is "attempt") to summarise without spoilers.

In the year 2307 (AD--no more of these made up dating systems) Earth is divided into several confederations, and three major power blocs control the world. The major powers hold the key to solar energy (the power source of choice now that fossil fuels have run out) and this naturally leads to war.

Celestial Being is an organization devoted to stopping war by overwhelming force. Their four pilots, the Gundam Meisters, have each had their lives ruined by war, and are eminently capable of wreaking unimaginable destruction.

What they don't know is what Celestial Being's true aim is. No one seems to, and all too many seem willing and able to appropriate the organisation and the chaos they cause for their own aims. Never mind Celestial Being's plan seems designed to make its own agents obsolete. For every armed intervention, the situation seems to escalate higher and higher. As they press the three major factions, they end up binding them together into a huge global power, rather than three smaller states. Worse still, three newer Gundam Meisters appear on the scene, and their more ruthless approach to the job seems to deliberately strengthen Earth's resistance. It all culminates in a pitched battle in space wherein the Gundam Mesiters are seemingly destroyed.

And that's the just the first season.

By the time the second season starts (with a five-year time jump), the United Earth forces and their agents the A-Laws are running riot. Moreover, a group of genetically engineered humans known as the Innovators seem determined to hijack Celestial Being's plan and twist it for their own purpose . . .but that could also have been in the plan all along.

Unlike other shows with shocking swerves (C'mon--you know damn well who I'm talking about) Gundam 00 always plays fair with its big reveals--when something happens and it seems completely out of left field, inevitably something later will come along and you go "Ohhhh . . .yeah. Now it makes sense." That makes following along with the overly complex plot feel a little less like homework.

Gundam 00 recently finished its run on Japanese TV and while it apparently wasn't as rip-roaring a success as SEED was right out of the gate, but apparently its numbers are good enough that a possible movie has been suggested, which means that this formula (today's issues with some crowd-pleasing elements from the past--the group of Gundam Meisters, gorgeous and full of oh-so-hot angst, recalls the pilots of Gundam Wing) with a more contemporary viewpoint seems to have done the trick, and thus, 30 years since the beginning, there will more likely than not be Gundam stories well into the future.

Clearly, there's some life in the whole thing yet.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I seem to have a built-in resistance to Japanese anime/manga, but so many of the techniques you've talked about here are things I'd love to see play out in mainstream Western fiction.

Gotta say, though, you've really done an excellent job in analyzing the various series in a comprehensive way - knowing absolutely nothing about Gundam, I walked away from this week feeling that I understood it on some level. (Not enough to actually seek it out, but hey, can't win 'em all. :))

Kazekage said...

Well, I'm not as big on it as I used to be--if you think my BSG rants are epic in their anger, Evangelion pushed me out of liking anime to a large extent--But there are some shows I never let go of.

Thanks! It was WAY more work than I thought (I was very tired and it probably shows as I ground through some of these shows--I have nothing much to say about Gundam X, for God's sake.) It makes it all worth it that you came away with something from it. I didn't expect to persuade anyone (I frankly expected everyone would just gloss over it and wait for me to get back to comics) I didn't expect to convert anyone, so I'm content with just that. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

With a name like "Evangelion"... :)

By the looks of it, you were dealing with a very large corpus there - not surprised it took considerable effort to pull it off. What's your next project?

Kazekage said...

. . .it's terrible, Diana. Run away. If you must watch an anime laden with symbolism that ended up rewriting the rules, I recommend either Cowboy Bebop or FLCL, which have the advantage of being better and shorter than Evangelion.Oh yeah--and I left a LOT off, just for the sake of my own sanity. :) I have a couple ideas in mind for another theme week--right now it's neck and neck between Doctor Who and Iron Man. May do Iron Man first, because it'll be easier than covering 40+ years of Doctor Who in detail. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Not to mention, it'll get you worked up much more quickly: Teen Tony! Heroes Reborn! War Machine! Looking forward to it. :)

Kazekage said...

Welll . . .I think I have a special project for June, now! :)

But first, be on the lookout soonish for a long rant about why Jeph Loeb's Hulk series is so awful I feel guilty for reading it for free in the store.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Awesome rant, as always. :)

Kazekage said...

Loeb brings out the best/worst in me, what can I say? :)