Anime Analysis & Review: 'Mobile Suit Gundam SEED'/'SEED Destiny'
I'm sure most of us can relate to having that one best friend from our school days whom we cherish the most. That one best friend with whom we can share all our secrets, silliness, laughter, and fun, no holds barred. That one best friend who loves us for who we are, even despite our silliness and flaws. That one best friend who we can just let our hair down around without fear of being judged, because we know they would comfortably do the same too and we wouldn't judge them either. That one best friend who has created memories that we would cherish for the rest of our lives.
Suppose you bump into this best friend after years of separation since graduating from school. What would you do? Would you give him/her a big bear hug, probably with tears of joy flowing down your cheeks, and drag him/her with you right into the nearest cafe for a nice and long catch up session, even if it means staying up the whole night just to hear what your best pal has been up to all these years? Well, I know I would.
But two best friends, Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala, never had this luxury, due to the war-torn day and age in which their unexpected reunion occurred...
Before I proceed any further, I'd just like to make it clear that I've decided to write this article based on both Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and its sequel, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, considered as a whole, since I find that both generally cover the same themes and, in my opinion, do not differ much from each other.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny
機動戦士ガンダムSEED, 機動戦士ガンダムSEED DESTINY
Mecha, military & war, action, science fiction
Mitsuo Fukuda (Director), Chiaki Morosawa (Writer)
50 + 50
In a world where genetic engineering has opened up endless possibilities for humans to surpass their natural physical and mental limitations, mankind has become divided into two distinct groups based on their genetic status - Naturals and Coordinators. The Coordinators are those whose genes have been engineered and enhanced, thus providing them with enhanced traits such as faster learning, more disease-immune bodies and stronger physical abilities. On the other hand, the Naturals are those who have not received genetic modifications, and are thus considered to have been born "naturally." As a consequence of these differences in capabilities, pride and jealousy has come to dominate mankind - pride among Coordinators for being genetically superior, and jealousy among Naturals for the genetic superiority that they do not have. And this has led to a full-blown war between the Natural-dominated Earth Alliance and the Coordinator-controlled PLANT/ZAFT military.
Against such a backdrop, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED opens with a civilian Coordinator by the name of Kira Yamato, who leads a peaceful life in the neutral space colony of Heliopolis. The peace he enjoys, however, does not last for long, as Heliopolis is soon invaded by the ZAFT military in a mission to hijack several advanced mobile suits that have been developed in the space colony. In the pandemonic fracas that followed, Kira is forced to pilot the last mobile suit that was not hijacked, known as Strike, in order to protect himself and his friends. To his utter surprise, he stumbled upon his long-lost childhood friend, Athrun Zala, who turns out to be a ZAFT soldier and one of the hijackers. As Kira is the only one, as a Coordinator, to be able to skilfully pilot the Strike, he ends up being entrusted with it and somewhat reluctantly joins the Earth Alliance crew aboard the space battleship Archangel, despairing over being dragged into the war and having to do battle against, of all people, his cherished childhood friend.
The miseries of war
Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940 who led Britain through the first eight months of World War II, once said that "in war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers." Both Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny explore this in much detail, emphasizing time and again throughout the plot that in war, no one benefits, and that war brings about nothing but misery to all. Whether it's tearing friends and family apart (as in the case of Kira and Athrun being forced to do battle against each other, and Shinn losing his entire family in a crossfire), destroying one's aspirations for the future (as in Shinn losing his direction in life after losing his entire family), annihilating entire cities and innocent populations (as in the tragic destructions of Junius Seven and other PLANT colonies), or creating undue fear and despair among the masses, war brings with it nothing but suffering, and no one stands to benefit from it.
The story also brings to mind the value of peace, which many of us today tend to take for granted, especially if we have not lived in war-torn zones or experienced the direct effects of war ourselves. Many of the major and minor characters in the story, particularly Kira, Athrun, Lacus Clyne and Cagalli Yula Athha, who have fought through the First and Second Alliance-PLANT Wars and witnessed the unnecessary deaths of countless comrades and loved ones in battle, know what peace is truly worth and are willing to pour out their sweat, blood and entire lives to attain and maintain that peace. In a sense, the plot of the anime serves as an apt reminder of how fragile world peace can be, and how vital it is to maintain it at all costs for the good of mankind.
Looking at the anime from another perspective, the plot also serves as a precise reflection of the modern Japanese psyche which, having been the only nation in the world to have ever experienced the devastating effects of nuclear weaponry, abhors all manner of wars and armed conflicts, and desires nothing but lasting world peace. It is this pacifist mindset that characterizes the average modern Japanese and the nation's post-war constitution, and this is personified in the various characters in the anime including Kira, Athrun, Lacus and Cagalli. Indeed, it almost seems as if the words, actions and decisions of many of the main characters plead for the global citizenry to ponder deeply over the devastating outcomes of war and the misery it brings to the human race before even thinking of engaging in it.
The sorrows of genetic engineering
Another major element explored throughout the plot of both Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny is human genetic engineering, in which the anime paints a possible scenario to mankind that may arise as a long-term effect of genetic engineering. As beneficial as genetic engineering may seem to be to mankind and as glamorous as science may paint it to be in the name of progress, the anime raises the possibility of human genetic engineering giving rise to inequality among humans as a result of enhanced capabilities selectively engineered into specific individuals and not others. Whether these capabilities take the form of stronger physical attributes, enhanced intelligence, increased resistance to diseases or anything else, the existence of such capabilities among genetically engineered individuals and not 'naturally'-born individuals only serves to widen the inequality gap within the human race, subsequently leading to feelings of superiority among genetically engineered individuals and jealousy among those who have not received genetic modifications.
Within the storyline of the anime, the assassination of George Glenn, mankind's first ever Coordinator, is a case in point, in which he was assassinated out of utter jealousy by a Natural who was angry he was not born a Coordinator. We see that this sparked an unending cycle of hatred among both Coordinators and Naturals against each other, up to the point that bitter wars were fought and weapons of mass destruction developed for the mere sake of exterminating those who are genetically dissimilar to oneself. The negative extent to which human genetic engineering is portrayed in the anime may seem a little farfetched to some, but it does raise the pertinent ethical question as to whether it would add to existing inequalities among mankind and serve to further aggravate divisions within the human race should the future witness an unrestrained proliferation of such technology.
Comments on the anime
It seems that to fans of the renowned Gundam franchise, the verdict is clear - you either love Gundam SEED / SEED Destiny, or hate it. But I, for one, declare openly that I love it. In fact, I love it so much that I'm not ashamed to declare it one of my top 5 favorite anime of all time to everyone who knows me.
From the plot of the anime and its character development to its music, both Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny, considered as a whole, deserve a standing ovation. Commenting first on its plot, I have to say that although I fancy anime with predominantly political themes and I've watched quite a few of them, Gundam SEED / SEED Destiny stands out on its own. Living in a modern world where wars and rumors of wars are ever so rampant, the plot explores a theme that is highly relevant to the realities shaping our own world, and that in a uniquely bold and unashamed way. In a way, the plot serves not just the purpose of entertainment with its mecha battle scenes and incessant conflicts, but it also conveys to its audience a passionate plea for peace and an uplifting message of hope.
The production team, in my opinion, has also done an excellent job combining elements of character development, seiyuu (voice acting) skills and music to weave together an elaborate plot. The story explores the thoughts, beliefs and motivations of the anime's various characters in much depth, allowing its viewers to appreciate why these characters acted the way they did in the story. Given its elaborate plot and emotional elements that require a high degree of storytelling skill, Gundam SEED / SEED Destiny is probably one of the hardest anime for any seiyuu to undertake, and I feel that the seiyuus deserve a thumbs up for being able to draw out the essence of each character's convictions at least satisfactorily.
Foremost among the seiyuus deserving commendation is Rie Tanaka, who voiced Lacus Clyne and who was once reported to have stated that Lacus Clyne is probably her toughest role throughout her career. To be able to voice a character whose composure in the face of adversity is probably second to none in the anime world is no easy feat, and for being able to pull that off, Rie Tanaka has earned my utmost admiration. Even the insert songs sung by her (which are sung by Lacus in the storyline), particularly "Shizuka na Yoru ni" and "Fields of Hope", are highly emotive, especially since they were inserted at just the right places with the right scenes in the anime.
With 50 episodes per season (making up a total of 100 episodes over both seasons), Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny can feel rather lengthy, especially since some of its battle scenes may seem repetitive and mechanical after some time. Indeed, I felt that one of the main weaknesses of the anime is its lack of variation in the battle scenes, in which at times I got the impression that the production team merely copied and pasted some of their battle animations throughout the entire anime without making much effort to produce more original ones. Considering Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny separately, I also felt that the story writers did not bother much to create a new original story for the sequel, merely modifying the original storyline of Gundam SEED with new characters to create a sequel for the sole purpose of appeasing its fans, since Gundam SEED garnered an extraordinary degree of popularity in Japan after its release in 2002. It is for this reason that I decided to write an analysis and review based on both series considered as a single whole.
Despite these flaws, I have to say that the production team brought the story to a satisfying conclusion in the extended ending in Gundam SEED Destiny Final Plus: The Chosen Future. Coupled with "Fields of Hope" as an insert song, the production team succeeded in producing a highly evocative ending to a tragic story of war. No doubt, if it wasn't for this extended ending that sort of replaced the original ending in Episode 50, I would have cursed the production team in anger for having wasted my time watching almost 100 episodes and bringing the plot to a climax just to leave it hanging in space (literally!) without a proper resolution.
In case some of you didn't know, both Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny have won several prestigious anime awards such as the Animation Kobe Award and Animage Anime Grand Prix awards. As if that's not enough, Kira and Lacus have also consistently topped online polls on the most popular male and female anime characters respectively, almost as if they were living celebrities themselves who have won the love and adoration of countless fans. Do you think the anime deserve such honor at all? Well, I certainly do.
Gundam SEED Destiny ending with "Fields of Hope" as an insert song
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© 2017 James Ang