Mobile Suit Gundam F91

Regardless of how long you’ve been an anime fan I daresay you will have come across Mobile Suit Gundam in ones of its many incarnations at one time or another. Widely regarded as Japan’s answer to Star Trek – minus the pointy ears and hot alien babes – it has crossed over into every form of popular entertainment ever devised. Everything from toys, model kits, video games, manga and of course anime have been visited by the franchise in one form or another. Unsurprisingly, and it must be said rightly so, it is Gundam’s anime incarnation, its various offshoots, series, movies and OVAs that have made Mobile Suit Gundam such a relentlessly durable phenomenon, a phenomenon that shows no signs of abating – at the time of writing there are plans to release the third in a trilogy of Zeta movies in Japan. In the UK at least, Gundam releases are relatively thin on the ground, but BEEZ are taking steps to rectify that, releasing a respectable five movies on DVD this year alone, the latest of which, F91, I recently had the chance to sit down with and cast a critical eye over.

For years the peoples of the earth and its related colonies dotted around space have lived in a state of tranquillity, the wars of yesteryear but a myth. However, an evil group of aristocrats known as the, Crossbone Vanguard have had enough of all this peace malarkey and set about eradicating any and everyone between them and there rightful place back on earth. Before their plans can come to fruitition, however, Arno Seabrook a young pilot, who may or may not possess fabled newtype abilities, thwarts them, and along with his friends and their Mobile Suit, the titular F91, takes a stand against this new menace.

It’s not often I find myself out and out loathing an anime (especially one that carries the Gundam hallmark), but in Gundam F91 I have found a title that rivals even the lowly, Gravion in the banality stakes. Harsh words admittedly, but I can honestly say unless you have a viewing sensibility that borders on the masochistic you’ll have a tough time enjoying Gundam F91. This is a cold, humourless and at times intolerably brutal piece of film – barely a scene goes by without some hapless innocent being vaporized, exploded or murdered. Shocking it may be, but it’s also largely pointless, there’s no logic behind these ceaseless acts of violence and the films sends a mixed and reprehensible message.

Another of F91’s biggest failings is its characterisation, I lost count of the amount characters that come and go without any explanation as to who they are, what part they play, or why we should care – at one point a female protagonist even swaps sides, the reasoning behind said crisis of allegiance eludes this humble reviewer, she merely shows up, gets blown up and leaves a lot of unanswered questions in-between. It’s not as if director, Tomino was strapped for time, he had two plus hours to makes the most of his straightforward concept, but amazingly he squanders every minute on badly judged characterisation – if you can call characters standing around spouting rhetoric characterisation that is – and superfluously staged action sequences, both of which do little or nothing to further the already congested storyline.

The ham-fisted editing doesn’t help matters; the viewer is allowed no respite from, or time to reflect on the events playing out onscreen. On more than one occasion I found myself wishing a scene had just run on that little bit longer so I could take in what I was seeing and soak up a bit of that emotion. Instead, each scene zips by with little regard to place or flow  – one moment a ship’s adrift in space and then a cut or two later we’re witness to a battle between mobile suits amongst the leafy confines of a space colony. After 20 minutes I was mildly confused, after an hour I was baffled, and scraping the two-hour mark, well, I was beyond caring. Even the fact F91 was originally planned, as a 50 episode series doesn’t save F91 from being anything more than a curio for fans, if only Tomino had tried to make an actual film, not a two hour recap episode for a series that doesn’t even exist.

By now you are probably thinking I haven’t a good word to say about F91, but the production values are amazingly high and on occasion the film throws a surprisingly pleasing visual or piece of animation our way. The whole production has a very filmic lustre and the odd flash of visual brilliance helps gloss over some of the F91’s more glaring problems – the opening shots over Frontier IV are absolutely breathtaking, and the space set battles, with their torrents of laser fire provide a peculiar thrill.

In Summary

Sloppily written, disjointed and at times completely nonsensical Gundam F91 is the archetypical example of a “for completists only” title. If you’re even remotely considering buying this do yourself a favour, save the fifteen quid and import a copy of Zeta Gundam instead.

3 / 10