In 2307 AD, the governments of Earth have conquered their need for fossil fuels. Drawing power instead from a huge solar power array suspended high above the planet, each of the world’s main superpowers controls one of the immense space elevators that services the system. Effectively, energy and prosperity for all should be assured. Yet, all is not well in this future society. The corrupt governments control this system jealously, withholding the benefits for themselves and their allies alone, while the wider population of Earth is left to fend for itself. Thus, a theatre is set for continuing conflict and bloodshed as these contested resources become the focus of human affairs in the 24th century.
Into this scene arrives an organisation identifying itself as Celestial Being, armed with four highly advanced weapons systems called Gundams. Declaring their purpose to be the elimination of human warfare by means of armed intervention, this team of young pilots and their support crew waste no time in acting on their declaration. Picking a fight with the entire world, what can this group of anti-heroes accomplish? What wrinkles could possible arise to complicate their plans, and what does their advent mean for the future of human civilisation?
So begins the first season of 2007’s Gundam opus ‘Mobile Suit Gundam OO’, produced by Sunrise and directed by Seiji Mizushima. Notably, this version of Gundam is a good jumping-on point for those who have been curious about the franchise but perhaps put off by the issue of continuity and all the side stories/alternate universes that permeate the brand. Rest assured, this is a story that’s set outside of the main Universal Century continuity and stands, like Gundam SEED and Turn A Gundam before it, as its own self-contained entity. Perhaps doubly of note is that this is the first ever Gundam outing that’s supposedly set in a timeline supposedly following on from real life events – what’s being called the ‘Anno Domini Era.’ Quite a bold move, and an understandable one, as the series addresses many themes that are pertinent to the age we live in.
Given the hefty concept and all this daring thematic content, we can safely say that a lot is riding on its execution. Happily, it’s all good news on that front.
One of the series’ most immediately impressive aspects is its presentation. It’s absolutely GORGEOUS to look at! True, this is TV animation, but pushed to a very high degree. Interestingly, this is a series developed with the widescreen HD format in mind and, as such, it doesn’t fail to deliver a spectacle. The screen is almost permanently awash with vibrant colours, and the animation is extremely clean and fluid.
However, where the show really looks its best is during the epic mobile suit battles, which are exciting, frenetic, and very satisfying to behold. Where many mecha shows promise intense robot battles and never deliver, these smack-downs are visceral and sometimes grand in scale. While some entries in the Gundam franchise have arguably disappointed on this front, no such complaint can be made on this outing. I often complain about mecha shows that suffer from the contrivance of the writers seemingly having to work the robots in for every episode, but in this case, the engagements are a joy to behold. The fact that they never feel forced in and make sense in the context of each episode certainly doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, I’ll happily confess to bouncing up and down in my seat with excitement during some of the later battles. They’re THAT good!
Musically, this incarnation of Gundam is excellently served by Kenji Kawai, whose score hits all the right notes. Nobody in anime does sonic sci-fi shtick like Kawaii, and he manages to add an extra layer of ambience and mood to the events that unfold on-screen. He’s managed here to rein in some of the excesses that have spoiled some of his previous scores for my liking, and delivered a balanced soundtrack that complements the story exceptionally well. A moment that particularly stands out in my mind is an episode featuring an attack on Celestial Being’s carrier, the Ptolemaois, as it weaves about in a huge solar panel array above Earth. It’s real ‘shivers up the spine’ stuff, and builds a palpable sense of tension and excitement. Classy, classy stuff.
What really makes the series work over and above all previous incarnations of the franchise, though, is a mix of two things.
First, there’s the broad range of dynamic characters. Among the leads in the show, we see a range of interesting, flawed and damaged characters. Celestial Being’s four ‘Meisters’ – the pilots of the Gundam war machines themselves – all have a compelling reason to fight. There’s Setsuna F. Seiei, an embittered former child soldier. Lockon Stratos, whose family were innocent casualties of war, leads the group. Ticking like a time bomb among them is Allelujah Haptism, who was formerly part of a military super-soldier experiment, and rounding out the group is the enigmatic Tieria Erde, who brings an air of arrogant self assuredness to the mix. Each has their own distinctive Gundam mobile suit, and you’re sure to have a favourite! Whether it’s Setsuna’s Exia, which seems to have swords stashed away all over it’s frame, Tieria’s Virtue – a big, chunky cannon platform, Lockon’s sniper-type Dynames or Allelujah’s transformable Kyrios, all of these mecha are fantastically designed, handsome engines of mass destruction.
Besides the Gundam Meisters themselves, there’s a whole gaggle of interesting side characters, who do exactly what side characters are supposed to do – namely, stand as characters in their own right. Whether it’s the bridge crew of the Ptolemaois, Team Trinity’s deliciously irksome Nena, the determined Graham Aker or the snarling Ali Al Saachez – a role voiced with serpentile glee by the ever-dependable Scott McNeil – you’re bound to find a mix of characters you’ll love or loathe for all the right reasons.
This ensemble also does the OTHER thing that a broad cast should, working on the canny level of establishing a grounded, multi-faceted story world. We see the characters in a number of different settings and scenarios, and in different walks of life. Away from the crash-bash Gundam battles, we get to see a little of what civilian life is like thanks to Saji and Louise, for example, a young couple whose lives are directly affected by the global turmoil Celestial Being brings about. There’s also a lot to be seen of the inner machinations of the global superpowers and the way they react to the presence of the Celestial Being, as well as that of the grunts they push onto the field of battle.
BUT, the second thing that makes Gundam OO truly stand-out – and I don’t get to say this about mecha anime NEARLY enough these days – is an absolutely SUPERB storyline. With a strong core concept, and some thankfully varied, well-developed plot strands, the show simply can’t fail. YES, there are plot holes. YES, there are moments in the storytelling where events seem a little too convenient and contrived. In fact, there’s one such moment that spins the story in a new direction, and has long-term consequences that reach far into the second season, seemingly at the random whim of a single character. But it’s telling that this is one of just a few shortfalls that stops me awarding the show a ten-out-of-ten perfect score.
It’s tempting to label Gundam OO as ‘popcorn anime’ – a tag that could so easily be applied to so many other Gundam shows. But truthfully, that would be to do this one a massive disservice. While it’s not possessed of a mind-blowing degree of depth, a concerted effort has obviously been made to do something fresh with the franchise without tinkering too much with what makes it work. The result is a show with an absorbing premise, great characters, involving plot threads and some of the most exciting Gundam battles I’ve ever seen.
A show that’s RIDICULOUS amounts of fun, OO works simultaneously as great sci-fi, superior mecha anime, great Gundam and, most importantly, top-notch entertainment. If you dig any of the above in conjunction with Giant Freakin‘ Robots, this show is simply unmissable.