December 15, 2008
Sunrise seems to have a habit of producing series that simultaneously contain things I really like and things I really hate. In the end, the question always becomes which there’s more of.
STORY – Sometimes, it’s easy to become jaded with the Gundam franchise; it’s always another war and another group of over-powered mechs piloted by super-capable teenagers. Each series seems to have its own unique set of deviations though, and that’s undoubtedly why the franchise has survived for as long as it has. In 00’s case, it’s interesting to note that there’s no clear-cut war between two factions. The world’s existing conflicts are a mix of terrorism, civil war, and totalitarian oppression. Though morals are still cited a lot, there’s no clear-cut definition of “good” or “evil,” and our protagonists admit up front that they aren’t necessarily “good.” Some of the politics are eerily similar to some real life current events, but it wasn’t clear enough to me whether they were actually trying to make a statement about something or whether it was mostly coincidence. There are also some religious and environmental messages tossed into the mix, but again, not sure if any of it was supposed to be legitimate commentary. If anything though, Sunrise plays good politics.
Our protagonists, the paramilitary organization Celestial Being, declares its purpose to be the eradication of all war, and it aims to do so by intervening with all armed conflicts with their over-powered Gundams… and that’s where the ground starts getting shaky. I never really thought the “war to end all wars” thing had much logic to it, but I can still enjoy a show with that sentiment at its core if the storytelling is all right and if events still seem to unfold logically. But Celestial Being was founded two hundred years prior to the events of the series, and all of their technology was developed then. And yet somehow, they are still mad over-powering against armies built on recent technology? Seriously? Realism does not compute. It’s frustrating that not a lot is ever said/explained/discovered about the organization’s origins throughout the course of the series, and I really don’t understand the need for 00 to be split into two seasons. I don’t buy that it’s just the four year timeskip because Gurren Lagann proved that you could have a hugely significant timeskip mid-series no problem.
For the record, I hated the ending of this first season. It goes along fine for a while, but then we get this supremely rushed-feeling, arbitrary, and cobbled-together series of events that seemed to serve little purpose beyond hitting some sort of end-point for the season. And the thing I hate the most about Sunrise? Faked character deaths. Zombie characters. They’re notorious for it, yes. No body means no death in Sunrise, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less infuriating every time they do it. The Zombie problem alone made me disinclined to care about the second season, especially since I felt like they could have legitimately ended the series at 25 episodes if they had cut out a thus far pointless subplot and replaced it with relevant information about Celestial Being. Oh, Sunrise…
CHARACTER – Ensemble casts always wrestle with the problem of underdeveloped characters, and this is especially problematic in 00. It took me a really long time (probably at least ten episodes, which is way too long) to get into the characters and to care about them, and even then, my interest was limited. Of the four pilots, Setsuna’s past is expanded upon the most, and I found it interesting the way the viewers’ perception of him changed the more we learned even though Setsuna himself doesn’t start to grow/change much until the near-end of the season. Allelujah’s character and past isn’t terribly inspired, but I think the acting really helped to garner audience sympathy to his case, and I liked the way his split personality was portrayed through reflections.
Lockon probably has the most terrible name pun ever (though H/Allelujah is pretty bad too), but I can live knowing that it’s only a code name. That aside, he was probably the most generic of the pilots. Easy-going, friendly, righteous, and all that. Nothing special…except that his Haro is probably the most ridiculously adorable incarnation of a Haro ever. I also really appreciated the fact that there was some age disparity between the pilots. Setsuna is sixteen. Lockon is twenty-four. Everyone isn’t a fifteen year-old kid! Oh, and Tieria? We never learn anything about Tieria, so I didn’t really care about him at all. Sure, there’s a whole ‘nother season to explain things in, but I shouldn’t need to wait that long to care. It’s always a problem if I don’t care about the characters.
The other characters… ugh, there are just too many of them, and I didn’t care about any of them. There were too many characters trying to play puppetmaster and making brief, unexplained appearances every few episodes, and none of them seem to have an interesting motivation or ambition. I am tired of characters trying to take over the world, and I’m sure you are too. Even Celestial Being’s founder felt like he was trying to force the world into something… Marina Ismail? She was generic to the point that I had no sympathy for her for that reason alone. Graham Akre? I don’t care about your vengeance-driving bullshit. Ali Al-Saachez? Don’t care. Super Soldier #1? Whatever. The worst of it was the gigantic subplot involving the civilian characters. Their scenes were awkwardly woven into the politics, morals, and action, and I was thoroughly annoyed with all of it. Most likely, this subplot will lead up to something that (might hopefully kind of) be relevant in the second season, but that’s too long of a build-up for me.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – The animation in 00 is pretty top notch. The mecha battles are slick, clean, and super entertaining to watch. The Gundam designs are fun and unique, and I’m especially fond of Exia (come on, anything with seven blades has to be badass). The other mech designs, as well as the battleship designs, are also pretty neat.
Unfortunately, I found the character designs to be a bit lacking. Aside from Tieria’s overt androgyny, I appreciated that they didn’t have crazy wild appearances, and it is neat that many of the characters are supposed to be of different nationalities, but in the end, it’s just supposing. If they never mentioned that Lockon is Irish, that Setsuna is Kurdish, that Saji is Japanese, you’d never know. Especially among the female characters, I felt like I’d seen them all before. Generic political figures, generic princesses, generic prettyboys. It didn’t help that I had a hard time distinguishing some characters from others for a good five or six episodes; blame it on my own crappy memory and incompetence, but even so.
MUSIC – Well, I’m pretty biased towards both opening themes for 00. As a L’Arc~en~Ciel fan, I loved “Daybreak’s Bell” long before I ever saw this series, and as I’m currently on a Tomoko Kawase kick thanks to SOUL EATER‘s second opening, I’ve come to really love “Ash Like Snow” as well. They’re both great songs though, and I always love when the lyrics feel relevant to the actual series. The end themes didn’t feel as exciting in contrast, but once again, it could just be my bias towards the two bands doing the openings. (Actually, I found the first end theme, “Wana,” to be pretty annoying…)
The background music for the series pales in contrast to its theme songs, as well as previous Gundam series like SEED, and other Sunrise mecha series like Code Geass. Very few tracks stood out to me during the series; the few that did were generally battle themes, but even those were pretty subpar. It wasn’t terrible music, so it didn’t really take away from the experience, but I’m sure a lot of scenes would have been better had there been a more emotional or meaningful soundtrack.
VOICE ACTING – Pretty average for the most part. Allelujah has a very unique-sounding and emotional voice; I think that’s one of the reasons I warmed up to his character, and Setsuna was interesting in that he’s one of the first monotone-voiced characters that didn’t seriously annoy me. I appreciate the versatility of Miyano’s voice — it’s very easy to distinguish his many roles. Beyond that, none of the other characters really stood out to me. Nothing amazing, but each character had a voice that suited them perfectly well.
Edit; I saw one episode of the English dub (episode #11). Overall, it was pretty lulz-worthy. Tieria and Lockon both sound better than I expected, but they still feel awkward and unnatural, particularly Tieria, though I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that many of his lines are kind of corny. Setsuna didn’t have a very big role in the episode, but the few lines he did have also impressed me. Swalie’s voice is much more versatile than I thought. Cox on the other hand… Allelujah sounds terrible. The voice doesn’t suit him at all and really made him seem like an entirely different character. Hallelujah is passable, but Allelujah fails utterly. Much of the secondary cast feels just as awkward, sadly: both Graham Akre and Billy Katagiri are very lulzy; Feldt and Marina are super generic, as are Col. Smirnoff and Soma; Sumeragi is actually pretty okay, but it can’t be hard to sound “okay” when everyone else is just so… wtf. I don’t think I’ll be watching any more of the dub. The “sound” score component is not affected by the dub.
OVERALL – I think this review might have turned out a bit more negative than I intended just because I’m still annoyed with the season’s ending. You might wonder what I actually liked about 00. Well, I enjoyed the story and main conflict for the most part. It’s always good to see a blurring of good and evil, especially when characters try so hard to convince themselves that they’re doing the right thing. If I could score this series somewhere between a 7 and an 8, I would. 7 feels a bit harsh, but 8 feels too generous. I think 00’s main problem is just that there are too many little details to the plot and few of them are explained properly; similarly, there are too many characters, and none of them get the attention they deserve. The intense build-up for the second season leaves this first season pretty void of substance, which is really disappointing. If you’re going to divide up your forces, divide them evenly, huh?
I’ll see how this second season goes though, but Zombie characters isn’t a really great place to start if you ask me.