We arrive at our next Gundam series and it’s the start of one of the bigger “spin-off universes”, getting two full series, some OVAs and soon a film, so does that mean it’s right up there with the Universal Century stories? Erm… not in my book, anyway. Gundam SEED starts off using the blueprint of the original Gundam series but adding some more of the titular suits and a hell of a lot more teen angst. I’m watching the “HD” version, which means a lot of it is zoomed and cropped, but some of it has been reanimated! Sometimes for the worse, by all accounts… Anyway, let’s begin!
The Orb Union space colony, Heliopolis, is attacked by ZAFT, despite its neutrality since the beginning of the Bloody Valentine War. Kira Yamato accidentally sees the Earth Alliance’s new prototype mobile suits, which have been secretly constructed at the local Heliopolis factory. He encounters his childhood friend, Athrun Zala, now a ZAFT soldier as one of the attackers…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Kira is moments away from getting his first kill! Bless.
The opening episodes, much like the opening half of the series as a whole, follows the blueprints of the original Gundam series quite closely, though with a few key differences, mainly the fact there are five Gundams and the Char Aznable role is split between two central characters. So otherwise Kira Yamato is an innocent young lad who ends up having to jump into an experimental mobile suit when his neural colony ends up being caught building these new suits as well as a large spaceship for the Earth Federation by ZAFT, the Zeon of this story. ZAFT attacks and four teen soldiers steal four of the Gundam suits, one of whom is Athrun Zala, an old childhood friend of Kira’s. Kira and Lieutenant Ramius, who happened to also be in the suit at the time, manages to destroy an attacking ZAFT mobile suit and in the scuffle the whole colony collapses due to damage to its structure. Kira, a bunch of his friends and a few remaining soldiers manage to escape in the prototype ship known as the Archangel, with the inexperienced Ramius having to be its Captain and a hotshot pilot Mu La Flaga serving as backup for Kira in the Strike Gundam. So again, Archangel is the White Base, Mu is Sleggar Law (just introduced way earlier) and Kira’s friends end up helping as crew much like Amuro’s did.
The rest of this chunk plays out very similarly as well, as the Archangel are chased by a ZAFT ship and are frequently attacked. The ZAFT commander / Char-a-like is called Rau Le Creuset but apart from the first episode where he squared off with La Flaga, who he seems to know personally, he just stays back in command and lets the four teens in the Gundams do the actual fighting. Athrun is the main rival, his suit is a purplish red and everything, but the hot-headed Yzak in the Duel Gundam, snide and sarcastic Dearka in the Buster Gundam and sweet and gentle Nicol in the Blitz Gundam also get their chance to shine. In particular the Blitz is equipped with stealth technology, which helps the ZAFT ship bring down a previously thought impenetrable barrier at a base the Archangel crew was hiding in. Once again calling back to the original series these episodes end with a big battle above Earth where the Archangel and the Strike Gundam end up entering Earth’s atmosphere to continue their journey on the planet’s surface. During the scuffle Yzak destroys a ship full of innocent refugees, including a little girl who made Kira an origami flower. Complete bastard!
“Hey Le Creuset, Char Aznable much?” “… What?”
The other major player in these episodes (that’s not someone I strongly dislike) is Lacus Clyne, who is the daughter of an important diplomat and is set to marry Athrun purely for political gain (as Athrun’s father is pretty much in charge of ZAFT). She ends up adrift and gets rescued by Kira, who brings her on board the Archangel where she treats our hero very kindly when others are, um, not (see the bad…) She is an idol singer and sweet to a sickening degree but when she is used by Archangel officer Lt. Badgiruel as a means to stop ZAFT’s attack on their ship Kira has enough and returns her to Athrun in space, his old friend begging him to return to him, but Kira refusing. The relationship between Kira and Athrun and how they’ve found themselves on the other side of a war is one of the key ways SEED differentiates itself from the original Gundam and for the most part it works well. Lacus talks to Athrun about how nice Kira is still and how he’s kept an electronic bird Athrun made for him long ago… It’s sweet really, if it weren’t full of the usual horrors of war…
While it’s explained in more detail in the opening of the next episode, the core story of SEED is racism rather than nationalism. The people living in space are Coordinators, people who have had their abilities and intelligence artificially enhanced by technology and who ended up living in space colonies when the regular Earthlings began to hate and resent them. So along with regular folk you get Earthlings who are extremist racists wanting a “clean and pure blue Earth” free from “those freaks”, while there are some Coordinators who see themselves as superior and therefore their right to control the Earth from which they first sprang from. It’s a good set up and once again a bit different from MSG, though some Coordinators, like our main protagonist, awaken special powers of crazy concentration during battle that’s obviously like spacenoids becoming Newtypes…
Ugh, not sure what’s more annoying: Flay in general or generally Flay. …. I’m going with Flay in general.
Beyond the over-familiarity of some of the key plot the main “bad” is how they took Amuro being a bit of a stroppy teen struggling with having to fight and decided to add a whole bunch of teens all acting… teeny. The worst offender is Flay, a spoiled rich kid who is also blatantly a racist, which is made evident when Kira is outed as Coordinator just helping his friends after living in a neutral colony rather than fighting for ZAFT but Flay still calls him a “filthy Coordinator” and generally treats him like crap despite his efforts is keep the Archangel afloat and you know, saving her life. She is engaged to Kira’s friend Sai but she soon drops him when her father dies and then latches onto Kira… who goes for it, feeling she’s the only one who cares about him, when really she just wants Kira to “fight for her until he dies”. Jesus, what a thoroughly unpleasant bitch. Thinking about it some of that happens in the next episode or two… still! *shakes fist angrily*
Generally Kira spends a lot of time crying and doesn’t have a Bright Noa to slap him about a bit. More realistic? Yeah, but you know, no need to be… Kira does selflessly push a random woman he just met into an escape pod during the opening two episodes instead of himself, an act that will have consequences in the next batch, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his character’s one-dimensional niceness…
Also I’ll say it here: I don’t like the artstyle. Very pointy, very colourful hair, a lot of faces look exactly the same… it’s not my cup of tea, though I can often look past it some of these episodes drag with the teen drama and it makes me notice it more. That and the HD version being zoomed in from time to time doesn’t help. It also makes things a little bit blurry in some of these moments, which isn’t great. I’d have just as easily watched the 4:3 original, even if it meant skipping two recap episodes, but this being “new” at least motivated me to watch it again, if that makes sense…?
The only time Kira and Athrun come face-to-face on a battlefield! …. Wait, no… hang on, it might happen again.
The opening of Gundam SEED is a bit shaky. It leans HEAVILY on the original series, has a lot of over-dramatic teen angst / romance and I don’t really like the artstyle. That being said the core story of a ship of inexperienced crew running for their lives is still a good one, and Kira and Athrun’s complex situation is interesting. A rocky start, but not too bad… Apart from Flay.