Star Trek’s vision of the 24th century has seen humanity bid bon voyage to capitalism, put an end to internal conflict, and unite together to explore the stars. The 24th century of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is piecemeal by comparison. Warfare still reins, geopolitical tensions are ever present and even advancements towards green energy have resulted in further conflict. Giant orbital elevators are in geosynchronous spin with the planet, with massive arms of solar panels to power mass produced mobile suits and throw off the yoke of fossil fuels, resulting in the so-called ‘Solar Wars’ in the Middle East.
With over thirty years under its belt, the venerable Gundam series reflects the times in which it was made. Consequently, this 2007 instalment has the events of 9/11 and its aftermath coded into its DNA. Terrorism is peppered throughout and there’s flashbacks to a ‘holy war’ in the Middle East, complete with diatribes against the western infidels. The series is suffused with these kinds of broad strokes, using complex socio-political issues as lazy shorthand and easy worldbuilding. In perhaps the most overt example, the conflict in Northern Ireland has continued into the 24th century, only to be resolved in all of a few days by the intervention of the Gundam-sporting paramilitary organisation Celestial Being.
That’s the crux of the plot, a group of ideological warriors carrying out the manifesto of some seemingly long dead intellectual and industrialist. The lynchpin of his thinking is using conflict to put an end to war, whether it’s in Northern Ireland or the Middle East, or whatever other tensions exist between the three global powers that have developed around the orbital elevators. But most of the story conveniently ignores much of the real world in favour of fictional countries like Taribia and Azadistan (though at least that last one shares its name with a real if short lived Iranian province). The set-up poses many important questions, whether escalating violence is the answer to violence – returning again to 9/11 and evoking the Israel-Palestine conflict – or whether it only begets yet more violence and, perhaps more pertinently, the limits people will go for peace. Yet the plot doesn’t take sides or offer any insights, settling itself for these broad strokes, saccharine character drama and bombastic mecha combat.
It’s safe to say that of all the anime Yosuke Kuroda has written, which includes Trigun and My Hero Academia, Gundam 00 isn’t among the best. Fortunately, where Kuroda falls short, director Seiji Mizushima picks up the slack. Having cut his teeth on episode of Evangelion, Shaman King and Fullmetal Alchemist, he brings his A-game here. The mechanical engineering of the orbital elevators looks functional and, above the earth, wonderous – beautiful even. The best battles between the brutalist mass-produced suits and the elegant, toyetic Gundams are thrilling and fast and, let’s be honest, absolutely bonkers. But once you’ve seen a few fights, you’ve seen them all and the relationships between the characters just isn’t enough to pick up the slack. That’s as much down to having too many characters as the uninspired writing.
The characters run the gamut from forgettable to overblown and somewhere in the middle is Saji Crossroad. Bland to the point of author-insert, his scenes serve to offer an outside, everyday perspective of the events, and yet he winds up becoming a tragic figure. In one example, his girlfriend, Louise, loses her entire family in a terrorist attack, an explosion that also costs her hand. Rather than experiencing Louise’s grief and trauma, it’s instead used as man-pain to further Saji’s insipid story. The same goes for his sister, a journalist and an altogether more interesting character. Only she’s stabbed in the stomach and left to die in the street. The end result piles on the tragedy for Saji and, unfortunately, he’s clearly tipped as a main player for the second season. There’s another twenty-five episodes to come and aside from upping the ante, it looks like it’ll be more of the same.
Distributor: All the Anime
Extras: Clean opening & closing animation; promos; episode commentaries and shorts