In this double-pack collector’s edition from Anime Limited, we return to the Gundam franchise’s Anno Domini timeline with the Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Special Edition OVAs, and the sequel film, Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer.
Let’s tackle the Special Edition OVAs first, which serve themselves up as recap movies, splitting the original Gundam 00 TV series into three 90-minute chunks: first showing the entire first 25 episodes covering the rise and fall of Celestial Being, then the initial part of the second season showing Celestial Being’s reformation up to the assault on Memento Mori, and finally the attack on the Orbital Elevator and the final battle against Ribbons Almark.
Taking a 50-episode TV series and turning it into a comprehensive summary is no easy task and I honestly feel that Sunrise have failed in that regard, as these OVAs have had to cut so much out that the story becomes incomprehensible. Many key plot points that are needed to drive the character and plot development forward have been omitted or glossed over, while the pacing of what has been included is all over the shop, quickly skimming through certain sequences that needed to be shown in full or plodding through other parts that could have been cut down. Meanwhile, characters pop in and out of existence with little or no explanation and it’s hard to follow how they all relate to each other.
There has been some effort to try to tie things together, with some small additions and modifications to certain scenes and narration provided by the main cast, however these aren’t enough to save this presentation of the series from being a vast disappointment, even when they just focus on the series’ fantastic action sequences. As highly entertaining as it is watching the dramatic mobile suit fights, they lose a lot of their wider context without that connective tissue that was provided by the sequences that have been cut. With the second half of the TV series being more action-focused, this means that the latter two OVAs work much better than the first, but all three generally make the same mistakes.
With no extras offered with the discs, the Special Edition OVAs are for completionists only – while the shorter run-time may sound appealing, I guarantee you’ll have a better experience by making the bigger commitment and watching the full TV series.
A Wakening of the Trailblazer, on the other hand, is the real meat of this set and is a much better offering.
Set two years after the events of the TV series, Earth is slowly getting back on track with the Earth Sphere Federation government’s pacifist policy keeping the amount of armed conflicts down, and Celestial Being’s presence preventing any minor disputes from escalating into something greater.
However, a new threat is about to emerge as an old space exploration ship, the Europa, starts mysteriously drifting back to Earth from Jupiter. While the Earth Sphere Federation Army are able to destroy the ship, fragments of it end up falling to Earth and fail to burn up in the atmosphere. Falling down with them is a mysterious alien entity known as an Extraterrestrial Living-metal Shape-shifter, or ELS (pronounced “else”) for short. As the ELS begin attacking humans, a pattern quickly emerges: the victims are all people who have the potential to become True Innovators, like Celestial Being’s Setsuna F. Seiei. As Celestial Being begin to investigate, humanity quickly finds itself on the brink of its first interplanetary war, as the ELS emerge out of the clouds of Jupiter and begin their march towards Earth.
While I wouldn’t say that Gundam 00 really needed a sequel, the film is actually a pretty competent continuation that deals with some of the more interesting themes that didn’t quite get touched on in the main series, such as the future of space exploration and what we will do when we get out there, as well as examining the struggle to both understand ourselves and how we can understand others, whether they are human or not. It is also Gundam going full-on science fiction, as it shares a lot with many Western alien invasion films, from the creepy terror of the alien creatures, to some light body horror as humans get taken over, and full-on battles against the alien invaders.
I really like how it ties these two strands together in making a very human alien invasion story, dealing with both sides of its plot very well, offering a sense of mortal danger for humanity that has to be dealt with in a quick and decisive manner, as well as plenty of tight, tense action sequences.
Equally, there’s plenty of room for both plot and character development as we start to realise that the aliens might not be evil after all. It attempts to call into question just how reformed the government has become and whether Celestial Being’s actions were in vain, as several politicians are very eager to get trigger happy. It is a shame, however, that it doesn’t dwell on this for too long, as it feels as eager to push you into the actual combat as those very politicians it is trying to argue against.
A couple of other things also feel a bit out of place, such as the rapid rise of people becoming Newtype-esque Innovators in the short space of time since the TV series, the reason for which isn’t really explained properly within the anime, and the underutilisation of new characters such as Innovator and mobile suit pilot Descartes Shaman.
There are, however, some opportunities to tie off some loose ends from the TV series, fleshing out things like Feldt’s unrequited love for Setsuna, as well as showing what happened to different characters on the Earth Sphere Federation side and with the Innovades after the battle with Ribbons. There might not be time in this two-hour movie to give a lot of development to everyone, but I think it works better picking and choosing, rather than trying to give everyone a bit of the spotlight just for the sake of it.
The animation is a small, but noticeable step-up from the TV series, with a lot more CG being used, particularly in the action scenes, coming in useful for animating the swarms of small, metallic alien blobs that make up the majority of the ELS. While difficult to draw by hand, the flocking behaviour is very easy to simulate using a computer, and produces some intense moments as our heroes are quickly overwhelmed by the ELS’ sheer numbers. The enemy designs are fairly generic, but despite this they have been used in some interesting ways which still make them quite threatening. Mobile suit designs are consistent with the rest of the series, but we do see some exciting new models with the Gundam units each receiving an upgrade, like the 00 Qan[T] (pronounced “Quanta”) and the Raphael Gundam.
Kenji Kawai, who returns as composer, delivers a slightly darker and creepier take on his work from the main series while still retaining the 00 feel. The main theme to the movie is a punchy rock song, “Tozasareta Sekai”, from rock band THE BACK HORN, while UVERworld provide the ending, “Qualia”. Also pleasing to hear is Ishikawa Chiaki, who provides her iconic vocals to the film’s insert song, “Mou Nani mo Kowakunai, Kowaku wa Nai”.
While the OVAs are subtitle-only, the film does have an English dub, and it sees both the Japanese and English cast return from the TV series and give some pretty good performances. The quality of the dialogue has been further improved from the second season, which thankfully means less of that awkward yelling in the middle of battle!
On-disc extras for the movie include trailers and promotional videos, along with a summary of the main series. Physically you get a nice collector’s box to package the two Amarays, along with some collectible art cards.
Taking everything into account, this set is a bit of a weird one. While it gives Gundam fans a chance to own everything 00, tying a set of very disappointing OVAs to the movie adds an additional, and potentially unnecessary, cost to something that many fans can get a lot of enjoyment out of, as the movie is a really good Gundam take on the classic alien invasion story. While I’m sure hardcore fans will inevitably lap this set up, it might be worth waiting to see if a standalone release of the movie appears further down the line.