Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"I just wanted to look up for the time being..."

I recently watched the Gundam SEED Destiny Stargazer miniseries, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the story and how much is covered in such a short time period. Stargazer clocks in at about 60 minutes total, divided up into three 20-minute episodes. It chronicles the aftermath of the ‘Break the World Incident’, which occurs in SEED Destiny. Earth is bombarded by pieces of the colony Junius Seven, causing massive floods and entire cities to be wiped off the face of the planet.

The series follows two primary characters. Sven Payang pilots the Strike Noir and carries out mercenary missions against the coordinators, who have resorted to using children as their primary pilots and soldiers. Selene McGriff is a scientist working on Project 401 (aka Gundam Stargazer) aboard a colony research facility orbiting Earth. Due to how short the series is, it’s difficult to label any of the other characters as major or minor players, as many of them play large roles for only one episode.

The Strike Noir, Verde Buster, and Blu Duel all appear as their name implies – throwbacks to the major mobile suits in the original Gundam SEED series. They look nice and have some really cool fight sequences, but the artists didn’t try to make them as ridiculous as many of the mobile suits that appear in SEED Destiny. The Stargazer is a deep-space exploration mobile suit that utilizes solar winds to propel itself at an increasingly rapid rate through space. A mobile suit that is in fact not intended for combat, the Stargazer is quite well protected, though its A.I. proves insufficient enough that two pilots are required to operate it properly.

The series delves deeper into the conflict between the naturals and the coordinators, something that I feel should have played a larger role in the original series. No longer is the conflict based on politics, it is based on emotions and firepower. This causes the series to come across as much darker than any of the other stories set in Gundam SEED’s Cosmic Era timeline.

Gundam SEED was initially set up to be a re-imagining and alternate take on the original Mobile Suit Gundam series (though some may find that hard to believe due to how Gundam SEED ultimately played out). If SEED Destiny was the equivalent of the Universal Century timeline’s Zeta Gundam, then Stargazer is definitely the Cosmic Era’s version of 08th MS Team. Stargazer is dark and gritty – not the kind of anime series one would show to kids. The teen audience on up, however, will be able to understand the series better, sympathizing with the characters and feeling the moody atmosphere about the whole miniseries. Stargazer is short but really delivers a strong story. If you’re looking for a quick anime series to watch, it is definitely worth your time.

My rating: 8.75 (out of 10)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Anime review: Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance

Earlier this year I watched the first of the new Rebuild of Evangelion films, titled Rebuild 1.0: You Are [Not] Alone. The film essentially combined the first six episodes of the original series into one 90-minute film, with updated animation and some slight alterations to the storyline. I enjoyed Rebuild 1.0, but it felt like it was lacking in certain areas. The battle with Ramiel was absolutely fantastic and the characters and environments were simply breathtaking in their new renderings. But Rebuild 1.0 felt rushed and didn’t develop the characters a whole lot. I hoped that Anno and his team would deliver a little bit more with the next installment, and what came out of their hard labor was an absolutely fantastic and mind-blowing sequel.

Rebuild 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance encompasses the events of episodes eight through eighteen of the original anime and includes five angels. Three of the angels return from the original show, while two are new additions. In Rebuild 1.0, Sachiel is designated the fourth angel, as opposed to the original show in which he was known as the third angel. This time, the third angel is an unnamed snake-like skeletal being who invades a branch of NERV (possibly located in the UK). The third angel is chased down by the newest character, Makinami Mari Illustrious in EVA Unit 05. This new EVA, known as the provisional unit, sports four legs with wheels attached in place of feet. Its hands are replaced by a lance and a clamp.

For the introduction of Asuka, another new angel is introduced, this time resembling a giant walking clock. EVA Unit 02 air drops into Tokyo-3 and propels itself towards the angel via thrusters on the rear of its shoulders. One of my few complaints with Rebuild 2.0 lies in this scene, being that the two new angels are basically thrown in as plot devices to introduce the characters of Mari and Asuka. These angels only use the typical beam attack and are both taken down fairly quickly.

The new angels aside, the returning ones have received some special treatment. Bardiel still takes over EVA Unit 03, but this time sprouts four elongated arms. Zeruel bears the same skeletal face as before, but now has a plethora of bandage-like appendages on his body which can be reformatted from arms to whips to a cape of sorts. Sahaquiel, formerly a giant orange eye in the sky, is now a black and rainbow-colored enitiy stretching miles across and carrying a humanoid body within his massive exterior. While Sahaquiel might have seemed a tad silly back in 1995, the new scene leading up to the three EVAs battling him is tense and powerful.

As far as characters go, Kaji and Misato rekindle their relationship from their college days, while Shinji is caught between Rei and Asuka. Rei begins to understand the fact that she is not entirely human much earlier in the Rebuild films, and starts to form a strong friendship with Shinji. She even attempts to ease the relationship between Shinji and Gendo by inviting them to a dinner she plans to cook. Asuka still thinks she is the best pilot, but is not as annoying or bratty as in the original anime. She confides in Misato that, while she doesn’t get along much with others, she thinks perhaps she can at least try to get along with the other pilots. Asuka teases Shinji, but this time it is more out of the fact that she has started developing romantic feelings for him, however small they may be. Touji and Kensuke, though not pivotal characters, are absolutely hilarious and ring closer to their manga counterparts than their appearances in the original anime. Gendo is mostly the same, however there are times when he is caught off guard or seems surprised, such as when Shinji requests Unit 01 to combat Zeruel.

The battle sequences for this film are incredible and nothing seems repetitive. The environments are incredibly varied, something that I think surpasses the original anime. The soundtrack pays homage to that of the original anime, but is a truly epic score in its own regard and each song fits its respective sequence perfectly. The film stays true to the anime enough that newcomers will be able to follow it and veterans will feel some level of nostalgia. At the same time, there is a lot of new material and different plot twists that will deviate from the original story greatly. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it will likely cause Rebuild 3.0 and 4.0 to be far more original.

Anno has promised fans a completely new ending to the Rebuild franchise, different from both episode twenty-six of the anime and the End of Evangelion film. Personally, I thought that End of Evangelion was the better of the two original endings. But taking into account the events of Rebuild 2.0, I am truly excited for the new finale.

Rebuild 2.0 is perfect for returning fans or newcomers. It has a lot of extended action sequences, and the characters are far more deep than they were in Rebuild 1.0. The film packs a lot of material into one hour and forty minutes, but none of it seems rushed. In short, Rebuild 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance is the best Evangelion film thus far. I would definitely suggest you watch Rebuild 1.0 before indulging in Rebuild 2.0, but if you get the chance to watch it, You Can [Not] Advance is well worth your time.

My Rating: 9.75 (out of 10)
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