Mari Okada is a skilled anime script-writer, that her name even stands out is testimony to that. But she’s also uneven, and seems to be on a downward slope for the most part since the latter part of 2013 – while I liked Nagi no Asukara, it was uneven, her version of Madoka (Selector Infected WIXOSS) wasn’t great, and her version of Neon Genesis Evangelion (M3: The Black Metal) was downright terrible. So now she’s going to give us her version of Gundam, and it’d be official. I’m hopeful, but wary. Gundam in particular, and Sunrise mecha in general have a lot I like, such as the grey morality continuum, “no villains, just antagonists,” some politics at stake… but it’s often tired, because it’s the exact same story, again and again. Which might be seen as meta-commentary on the nature of war, but whatever. Let’s see what you’ve got, Okada.
Story / Themes:
Man, what a dense episode, and forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but such is often the case with Sunrise Mecha shows (of which Gundam is an example, and even precursor for what’s usually going on these days), we have to introduce a large cast of characters, two sides, various political powers, agendas, morality-plays, and setting information. It feels incredibly dense because this type of show, unlike Light Novel adaptations, rarely believes in exposition dumps, but it just throws us into the middle of a situation. If this were a novel, it’d be three, with us seeing various stories unfold concurrently, not just the same story from various points of view. Rarely is the commoner who’s in love with a soldier telling the same story as the others. Regardless, dense.
So, let’s look at some of what we have, from the series mainstays of “grey morality”, of the only “true villains” being those who act cowardly, but even they act for understandable reasons, but rather are looked down upon by others who are justified. Those who look down upon others without justifications are set up as those to be cast down, and amongst them we had our cackling noble commander, but even for him, his former commander understood he’s furious and grieving over the loss of lives, or rather, he projects his own morals on him.
As is often the case, the real interest at this point lies with the younger generation, from the Princess who tries earnestly for independence and equality, without truly knowing the world she lives in or the people within it, and our “orphans”, though the name “orphans” might refer to the Mobile Suits as well, those who could kill their creators, for whom war flows through their veins. Children-warriors, who must knowingly undergo painful treatment in order to not die of exposure and hunger, and even so are used as a meat shield, as cheap labour, and who get beaten casually. No, not soldiers like the rest of them, but a group tolerated, used, and abused, and all of it for the sake of survival.
The hunger of the community, disparate from the city, was also casually transmitted not through the dilapidated buildings, but through their idle wonderment at how much money the other side poured over armament.
I’m sure the political situation and the characters will be understood and fleshed out more as we go along, but I can’t help but feel that as children, Orga hated or at least resented Mikazuki, who killed, and then asked him what they are to do. I bet that’d come back as an important thread, or an undertone, later on.
OP – An actual song! With an actual theme! The lyrics mostly made sense and all pointed in one direction (the indomitable spirit, of course), and I was alright with both lyrics and sound. It was unfortunate they made a “your – you’re” typo in the official lyrics. Oh well.
About the art, I discussed this in my Fall Season Preview, but this series is exceedingly varied in terms of designs. But this makes it look haphazard as well. It’s not just that we have all sorts of ethnicities, styles of haircuts, architecture, etc., but that even two characters who come from the same place and who stand next to one another often look as if they were designed by entirely two different groups of people, for two different shows. It looks as if a whole army of designers were unleashed after being given specs without anyone to corral them later on and make sure the show feels cohesive, or that every faction/locale feels cohesive.
The backgrounds are generally lush and sharp, and characters look pretty good from close up, but whenever the camera panned the smallest distance away from characters, they lost almost all details, giving them a slightly misshapen form.
Voice acting was competent but not out of the ordinary, one way or the other. Background music was pretty good. Oh yeah, almost forgot, the voice acting and subtitles weren’t fully synced with the mouth-movements. I didn’t think I’d be this bothered by animated lips being just out of sync with the voice acting, but man, it was noticeable. At some point I did ask myself whether it’s my mind playing tricks on me as a result of the subtitles not being fully synched and disappearing half a second too early, but I don’t think it was just that.
Oh, and of course, the show ended after introducing the most important character, the titular Gundam, the white one. And yes, it was a good moment.
You can also check my notes for this episode (taken as I watched it) here.