I love the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, and every time a new chapter is added, I feel the need to step back and evaluate what it adds to the mythos as a whole. With Gundam 00 at its conclusion (for now), I have my own critical opinions and thoughts on the series to share. WALL OF TEXT ahead.
Gundam 00 was an interesting case, as it introduced another new “alternate universe” not just to the original fans of the Universal Century, but to the legion of new fans the franchise gained in the two SEED installments (which were wildly popular in Japan despite their questionable quality; SEED Destiny remains the most profitable Gundam series ever). In a sense, Gundam 00 had to try to please more people in more ways than any Gundam series before it.
Fortunately, the series benefitted from having some of the most talent ever assembled on a Gundam staff – Yanase Takayuki and Ebikawa Kanetake provided us with some unusual and memorable mechanical designs, including the Union Flag, the Throne series Gundams, the 00 Gundam itself, and of course the Gundam Exia; Kouga Yun’s character designs were attractive and a welcome change from the samefaces of SEED; and director Mizushima Seiji showed the same guiding hand that made his Fullmetal Alchemist a hit during some of 00’s more dramatic scenes.
On that note, there were a lot of things to like about Gundam 00. Setsuna was easy to dismiss as another emotionless Heero Yuy type of pilot at first, but the maturation of his view on life and war as the series went on ultimately made him a much more dynamic and relatable character than Heero ever was, and his evolution into a true Innovator (clearly a nod to the old Newtypes) and constant declarations of “I am Gundam!” struck a chord with more than a few fanboys (myself included). Neil Dylandy became a fan favorite in the first season only to shock us all with one of the more tragic deaths in Gundam history. The Saji-and-Louise subplot that seemed like a dead end in season one bloomed into one of the highlights of season two. Voice acting was excellent throughout, with both Miyano Mamoru and Kamiya Hiroshi winning seiyuu awards for their work, and the musical selection – both the in-series score and the OP and ED themes – was consistently good. On top of all this, Gundam 00 was the first series in the franchise to enjoy broadcast in HD, so you can say that the series has never looked better.
Of course, 00 had plenty of flaws, too. A few potentially interesting characters were mishandled or underused (especially in season two), including Ali Al-Saachez, Graham Aker, Marina Ismail, Feldt Grace, Regene Regetta, and even one of the Meisters, Allelujah Haptism. The pacing suffered some hiccups – season one was a bit too slow-paced, which caused season two to be a bit too fast-paced, and even then a true conclusion wasn’t reached. Maybe because of this, some of the battles, especially those in season two, seemed to be entirely too short. The real-world political themes that were a real strength during the first few episodes of season one were abandoned in a hurry, and certain subplots were forgotten completely. (What was Nena’s Haro doing on Jupiter?) In other cases subplots seemed to be shoehorned in – Lyle and Anew’s romance, for example, was handled strangely, especially since Anew really could have been introduced earlier to give things more development. Finally, for better or for worse, the series had its share of ridiculously over-the-top scenes, including the first activation of the Trans-Am Raiser or the “Attack of the Clones” Gaga swarm before the final battle.
I think, though, that the strengths of Gundam 00 outweigh its flaws, particularly when you consider the goal of the series overall. Not since 08th MS Team has the franchise taken itself seriously, and neither is Gundam 00 trying to tell a story that’s particularly deep or beautiful; it’s more like a Hollywood blockbuster, aiming mainly to deliver entertainment and cheap thrills. Asking for Evangelion-level depth from Gundam these days is like asking Michael Bay to direct Shakespeare. Don’t do that; just enjoy what’s there.
Now, at the risk of going on for too long, I’d like to make a special mention of the very best parts of Gundam 00, that truly make the series a worthwhile addition to the franchise. There are two; the first of these is Tieria Erde. Critically speaking, Tieria is the best character in the entire series, receiving the most development and transforming completely from a hostile, uptight, and dislikable perfectionist to a confident, caring leader within Celestial Being. I’d go so far as to say that Tieria is one of the best characters that the entire Gundam franchise has to offer. The second of these is Furuya Tohru’s performance as Ribbons Almark. Furuya said that he took the role to defy the expectations of fans who knew him as Amuro Rey (the hero of the very first Gundam series), and he delivered with a sly, confident vocal performance. Ribbons was a different kind of villain, and a good one; he antagonized the Meisters without once stepping onto the battlefield for 49 episodes, and still managed to be wonderfully dislikable – and then he finally sortied in his own Mobile Suit to duel Setsuna in the best battle scene in the entire series. In the end, Furuya and Sunrise did give a nod to Amuro, though – seeing Ribbons in the 0 Gundam (a spitting image of the original RX-78-2 Gundam) was pure cake fanservice, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who loved it.
I could say more and more about Gundam 00, but for now I won’t go any longer than I already have. In short, Gundam 00 is far from perfect, but it’s solid and fun and much better than stuff like Wing or SEED Destiny. I’ll be looking forward to the movie in 2010.