Thursday, April 8, 2010

Anime review: Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory

In 1991, artist Shoji Kawamori, best known for his mecha designs in Robotech: The Macross Saga, joined directors Mitsuko Kase and Takashi Imanishi to create a new chapter in the Mobile Suit Gundam saga, bridging the gap between the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. The result was one of the most tense and realistic Gundam series ever released.

Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory is built out of a similar formula to that of Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team. It consists of thirteen episodes, and begins with a flashback to the battle of A Baoa Qu during the One Year War. Anavel Gato, ace pilot of the Zeon forces is planning to go back out into battle when he is halted by his superior, Augille Delaz, who promises that they will have their revenge someday. The story then jumps ahead three years to an Earth Federation base in what is left of Australia. Kou Uraki and Chuck Keith, two rookie pilots are running training exercises when one of the Federation’s newest ships – the Albion – arrives to deliver two new prototype Gundams, one of which is equipped with a nuclear launcher. That night, Gato and a strike team infiltrate the base and manage to steal the nuclear-equipped Gundam GP-02. Without much thought, Kou tails them in the Gundam GP-01, but the Zeons manage to escape after a brief skirmish.

The Albion gives chase across Africa for a while, until the Zeon forces manage to escape into space. Fearing the worst possible outcome now that the Zeon forces have control of a nuclear-equipped Gundam, the Albion launches in space, with Kou, Chuck, their superior officer Lieutenant Burning, and designer of the prototype Gundams Nina Purpleton onboard with Commander Synapse and his crew.

While all of this is going on, Delaz and Gato are becoming increasingly suspicious of Cima Garahau, another Zeon commander who seems to be hiding information from them. Nonetheless, Delaz and Gato continue forth with Operation: Stardust and gather as many Zeon remnants as possible before attacking the Federation forces at Solomon and carrying out their plans. The series deals with a large amount of deception on both sides of the conflict. The constant mystery that envelops the true nature of Operation: Stardust puts a tense air about the whole series.

Kou Uraki plays a role similar to Amuro Ray, though he is arguably more mature and quick to action. This is a good thing, as the series is only thirteen episodes in total and too much hesitation would likely result in boredom for viewers. That said, some viewers may find Kou and Nina’s relationship to take too much focus, and perhaps thrown in just to create another underlying conflict in the series, albeit a minor one. Still, Nina and Kou’s relationship inevitably comes to a head in an intriguing plot twist in the final episode.

Anavel Gato plays opposite Kou as a sort of Char counterpart who is more concerned with the rebirth of Zeon than his own personal revenge against the Earth Federation. Gato believes his cause to be noble and necessary to the advancement of mankind, refusing to let himself lose sight of his ultimate goal amidst threats from the Earth Federation and his suspicion of Cima.

The series hits a brick wall, so to speak, about ¾ of the way through, just as the space battles become really heated and exciting. The Albion is forced to resupply on the Moon, and Kou spends most of this time exploring until he encounters a former Zeon pilot who wants to rebuild a mobile armor. Oddly enough, Kou decides to go along without much hesitation, as if he’s known the guy for years - a major break from his character’s attitude throughout the rest of the series. Granted, the ship is low on fuel and supplies, but they seem to take as long as possible to get back to the action. That, combined with the fact that Cima is there as well, scheming behind the scenes, makes this portion of the show by far the slowest, weakest and rather corny.

When the action is heated, however, Stardust Memory delivers some of the most brilliantly orchestrated fight sequences in any Gundam series. The fact that nearly two thirds of the series takes place in outer space gave the animators a lot more freedom with this aspect, and they utilized it to the fullest. The battles do not feel repetitive, however. The total body count at the end of the series is massive, which largely fuels the push for the creation of the Titans forces in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

As with most Gundam series, the Japanese and English voice acting are both superb. The soundtrack is decent enough and fits each sequence, but there are only a few songs that stand out as being more memorable than others. The animation is nearly flawless, rivaling the quality of some of the more recent Gundam series.

Even with its shortcomings, Stardust Memory is one series that every Gundam fan should give a try. It’s a very tense and serious take on the Gundam universe, but delivers some impressive storytelling and beautiful animated sequences. The characters may not be every viewer’s cup of tea and the mobile suit designs are largely rehashes of those from previous series. But aside from one major hitch, the action builds until an absolutely spectacular finale.

My Rating: 8 (out of 10)

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