June 16, 2008
Sometimes, sequels to popular series work. Most of the time, they don’t. Destiny was one of the latter.
STORY – The fact that this is a direct sequel to a Gundam series already puts Destiny’s story at a disadvantage. Think about it — all Gundam series start with war and end with resolution. As such, SEED had a resolution, and the only way for Destiny to begin is by destroying that resolution. And it has to be a cheap and forced-feeling destruction because there’s hardly two year’s difference between the end of the first series and the start of the sequel since they wanted to reuse a majority of the cast. So yeah, we’re not off to a great start here. Admittedly, it is near-impossible for me to view Destiny as a standalone series, and as a huge fan of SEED, I know I’m prone to being a lot more critical than usual on its sequel — so there’s my bias upfront.
Moving on. Destiny seems to try too hard in mirroring many circumstances and storylines already present in SEED, making them seem forced, unoriginal, and repetitious. (If SEED already had a few recycled storyline elements, then certainly Destiny has them in spades.) The basis for the new war seems trivial compared to the previous, and all the countries far too eager to participate in the conflict considering their hard-won peace. The twists were too predictable. Surprisingly significant and unexpected character death was one of the greatest merits I found in SEED, and Destiny tried to perform the same tricks. Unfortunately, these attempts all failed as almost all the character deaths in this sequel could be seen a mile away. The final resolution at the end of the series was also weak and rushed.
In all, I can think of very few plot elements that surprised me or that are worth mentioning on grounds of praise. Even the ones that were kind of interesting — such as the replacement double for Lacus Clyne — were overshadowed by the lackluster quality of everything else (and unsubstantial character development as addressed below). I feel like I should maybe elaborate more here, but there really isn’t much else to say, and specifics are hard to point out without invoking spoilers.
CHARACTER – SEED had a fantastic cast of realistic and noteworthy characters. Destiny took those existing characters and warped them into sub par, flat versions of their former selves, or else twisted them so badly that they were hardly recognizable. And Destiny’s newly introduced characters hardly make up for it. I found Shinn, our new protagonist, incredibly difficult to sympathize with, which is never a good thing. His background seemed far too much like a generic sobstory, and his fixation on his own tragedy made him out to be too narrow-minded and self-righteous. Done right, those might have been interesting qualities for a protagonist, but for Shinn, it only made him incredibly annoying to put up with.
Kira, the initial protagonist of SEED, had been flattening as a character since halfway through the first series. In Destiny, he reached the height of one-sidedness. He is self-righteous to the extreme and seems to think that only his morals and way of dealing with things is the correct one. In some ways, this isn’t an entirely bad thing — it just changes his role within the series, I suppose. He transforms from one of the main protagonists into a more secondary character that contributes one viewpoint without variation. Perhaps he’d just reached the point in his development when he doesn’t need to change anymore. Still, it may be frustrating for some to see a once-fleshed out character become so generic, even if he remains a fantastic foil to Athrun.
And Athrun? Of the original cast, he is certainly one that retains a majority of his previous characteristics. His multi-faceted personality is intact, and his emotions remain complex. Once again, he is a very interesting character to follow as he is caught between a conflict of both morals and ethics and the alliance (or lack thereof) between his friends. With both Shinn and Kira on their respective high horses with unwaivering opinions, Athrun serves to contrast with the both of them and again offers the same inner turmoil that he provided in SEED. Essentially, Athrun is the same character that he was tossed into a “new” setting, but as the similarity of his situation forces similar reactions, those who’ve already seen SEED aren’t really getting anything new at all. And then there’s the matter of romance…
It’s almost comical how many female characters are thrown at Athrun in Destiny; indeed, it seems like all the girls except Stellar are utterly in love with him. This might have been more amusing had he not already had a perfectly good and stable relationship with Cagalli, and had they not been “broken up” for no good reason at all. The entire romantic ordeal seemed like a cheap (and completely pointless) shot at riling up all the fangirls and boys and to reject the already canonized pairing established in SEED. Certainly Athrun and Cagalli’s relationship was put under stress in Destiny, but I found a lot of it to be rooted in a lack of communication that was entirely unreasonable. In an age of mechas and space colonization, I can’t imagine it would have been too difficult to send a quick email now and again. If nothing else, the number of new suiters for Athrun reinforced his feelings for Cagalli, but the entire subplot was a waste of time because we knew that already.
As well, Cagalli is ridiculously out of character in Destiny. She goes from being a headstrong and independent girl to being a political pawn. Certainly she faces some pressuring circumstances, but considering her development in SEED, it would have made more sense for her to tackle them with head-on rather than…anything she decides to do instead. It’s extremely disappointing to see her take such a step back and for her to devolve into such a generic “save me, I’m a weak girl”-type character (especially since we already have one of those in Destiny). It just didn’t make sense to me. I’d read somewhere that Destiny had controversially employed a mediocre writer that was in a relationship with one of the producers and that much of the poor character renditions were a direct result of this person, but I can’t confirm this for sure. Whatever the reason though, Cagalli was among one of the biggest disappointments here.
But finally, there’s the matter of all the other characters. The remaining carry-over characters from SEED are casted as less complicated versions of their former selves, though most of this can be attributed to the fact of their diminished significance beyond practical roles (captains, pilots, ship controls, etc). The other new characters introduced in the series are mostly reincarnations of characters that didn’t make it to the sequel (Stellar and her companions take the place of SEED’s druggie trio, new masked guy takes the place of old masked guy, Captain Gladys is almost identical to Captain Ramius, etc), which further supports the idea that Destiny is just an uninspired rehash of the original SEED. Otherwise, they were generically casted archetypes, including the blindly loyal devotee, the bubbly spaz girl that is willingly manipulated, and the political figure with ambiguous intentions that aren’t really that ambiguous. Certainly a few characters are interesting — Stellar is actually a fairly intriguing character that grows and changes with the story — but like any interesting story elements, they’re largely overshadowed by everything else.
There is also the matter of the resurrection of a character that dies in SEED. This was completely unnecessary and ruined a perfectly touching and emotional death. Come on, no more of this I-survived-but-lost-my-memory bullshit, please.
ARTSTYLE & ARTWORK – Thankfully, the art and animation did not change between SEED and Destiny. I’m still fond of the particular style used in the series, and everything else stayed in that average range that’s perfectly acceptable.
MUSIC – Considering the general failure of the above sections, I was especially grateful that the music in Destiny lived up to SEED’s, which I absolutely adored. The composer and most of the artists involved remained the same, and thus, beautiful music ensued. T.M. Revolution returns to perform fantastically upbeat and energetic pieces, including the first opening theme (“Ignited”), just like last time. Nami Tamaki also returns to provide its first end theme “Reason,” as well as a number of insert songs. And as SEED threw young Nami Tamaki into the j-pop spotlight, Destiny did the same for Hitomi Takahashi, who sang my absolute favorite opening for the series, “Bokutachi no Yukue.” Additionally, Rie Tanaka, the voice of both Lacus Clyne and Meer Campbell, sings both a super-energized remix of her “Shizukana Yoruni” from SEED and a slow, peaceful, and absolutely gorgeous new song, “Fields of Hope.” And last, but not least, Rie Fu, who did the famous first ending of Bleach (“Life is like a Boat”) comes in to sing “I Wanna Go to a Place,” possibly my favorite ending theme in Destiny. Seriously, I adore all of the vocal tracks used in this series.
And of course, Sahashi Toshihiko once again provides four new soundtracks worth of fantastic orchestral and piano music for the background. These include updated versions of old, familiar tracks, as well as dozens of new themes that are just as fun. And as a pianist myself, it especially pleased me to see the inclusion of more piano tracks that are actually played within the content of the series since Rey Za Burrel takes Nicol’s place as your character-that-can-play-piano. Fun stuff all around.
VOICE ACTING – All of the actors that reprise their roles from SEED were once again excellent. I still love Akira Ishida as Athrun Zala. Of the new roles, Stellar stood out to me as a pretty awesome performance given the strangeness of her character. Other than that, the rest of the voices did well to fit their part, but weren’t anything particularly memorable. As far as I know, Destiny never aired Stateside (probably because of SEED’s strangely dismal failure), but it did have a Canadian release, so I assume there’s a dub out there that I haven’t seen. I imagine it’d be pretty much the same as the SEED dub though, which was very average.
OVERALL – Almost everything about Gundam SEED Destiny annoyed me, and though I’m not sure how high my expectations were in the first place, I don’t think I could have been more disappointed with this sequel. Other than the technical aspects (sound and animation), nothing lived up to the standards set by its predecessor. Maybe if it were judged as a standalone work, it would score a little higher (especially on the character scale), but as a direct sequel to a series, I don’t really see the point. It astounds me sometimes that some fans of SEED actually enjoyed Destiny, ’cause in the end, Destiny, for me, only served to reinforce the idea that sequels to perfectly good series are utterly unnecessary.