If rip roaring space operas are your thing, you will love Gundam SEED.
As the Archangel spaceship continues to limp across space, hunted down by the ferocious ZAFT forces, tensions between its largely teenage crew sky rockets; treating the viewer to glimpses of the dark underbelly of humanity that invariably reveals itself during such desperate times of war. And in the enclosed atmosphere of a spaceship, there is no escaping these ignorant people- the sense of claustrophobia is palpable.
The glamour of being on the frontline of war is beginning to wear off for our young heroes in Gundam SEED #2.
Having been exposed to the horrors of combat, the heavy responsibility on Kira has all but eroded what little confidence he had left, leaving him confused and constantly having to make the heart wrenching choice between protecting his friends or fighting for his true homeland. Either way he will be seen as a traitor and for some like Flay Allster, simply being born as a genetically enhanced “Coordinator” is enough to make him a monster.
Based on the first volume, I had written off Flay as an annoying and useless person; the type of weak character who survives by latching on to a stronger personality, but here, under the spotlight of life threatening pressure, her extremist beliefs are brought to the fore. She is a spoilt and selfish brat but also a fine example of how governments can brainwash young people into believing absolute truths.
Her hatred of “Coordinators” echoes regimes of by-gone eras- periods of war when racism was encouraged as a means of seeing the enemy as sub-human- to Flay; all Coordinators are savage barbarians and to trust one, even a supposed friend like Kira is utterly impossible. In her own way, she is just another victim of war, forced into ignorance by a lack of knowledge and military propaganda.
Else where on the Archangel, interesting relationships are beginning to mutate under the pressure of constant battle. We see the beginnings of a power struggle between makeshift Captain Murrue Ramius and the fiery Natarle Badgiruel. Natarle often looks unconvinced by the orders coming from Murrue and at one point, even goes so far as to supplant the Captain’s authority with some brash opportunism.
And as if Kira hasn’t been having a tough time of it already, some of his so called friends are beginning to question his conviction in battle, debating whether or not he is going easy against his Coordinator “buddies”.
With lives on the line, life in the isolated pressure cooker known as the Archangel is forcing everyone to grow up fast and to decide for themselves what is right. It’s every man and woman for themselves.
I haven’t spoken much about the actual Gundam combat yet because as strange as it sounds, I found the intimate drama developing between the characters far more intriguing. There are a few large scale skirmishes here or there (some with brutal results), but the most exciting “Gundam moment” was when a tormented Kira is forced to ambush an unsuspecting ZAFT mobile suit. It’s a very subtle scene compared with all the visual splendour seen in previous Gundam battles, but a very powerful scene none the less, illustrating the lonely despair of a battle fought out with little or no true meaning. Kira is soon racked with shame and the viewer can’t help but sympathize with his hopeless position.
On the ZAFT front, we meet the pink haired “famous pop idol” Lacus Clyne. She is the daughter of the powerful Zaft politician Siegel Clyne and engaged to marry Athrun Zala (Kira’s childhood buddy who is now a talented Gundam pilot). Her introduction and eventual contact with Kira sparks off a number of issues involving the human preconceptions of the Coordinators and reveals a few more chinks in Athrun’s benevolent character.
Given her status in the series, Lacus is also prone to singing the occasional love song- but the less said about these squeaky musical interludes the better. Sounding completely out of sync with what is becoming a bitter and war-torn story; her musical moments are a jarring distraction from an otherwise engrossing space opera that has so far successfully juggled the politics of intergalactic war with some introspective characterization and burning emotion.
Life on the claustrophobic Archangel intensifies in Gundam SEED #2 as the ship becomes more and more isolated from the Earth forces and is manipulated into constant battle. The characterization is twisting and turning as people start to realize their lives are in the hands of a mere “Coordinator”. Paranoia and worry is setting in with the crew beginning to show its teenage inexperience and the volume leaves us with tensions amongst friends reaching boiling point.
It all makes for fascinating viewing and couple this with the mobile suit eye candy and we have an epic space opera only growing in confidence as it’s character’s lose theirs.