Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Video Backlog: “Turn A Gundam”
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles.
Length: 50 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 1999 - 2000
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes
After an absence of around two thousand years, a group of humans who left the Earth for good, the Moonrace, decide to send down a team of three of their kind to see if they could inhabit the Earth again. The group is made up two 13 year old boys, Loran Cehack and Keith Laijie, and a young girl around the same age named Fran Doll. The three go their separate ways in order to infiltrate life on the planet. Unlike the high tech world of the Moonrace, Earth people’s technology is decidedly regressive with a world more in line with early 1920’s technology. Loran is surprised to come across a stream and decides to bathe in it. Attempting to recover a treasured keepsake that ends up floating downstream, he loses his footing and is carried away by the current. He is saved from being drown in the stream by two girls his age; Kihel Heim and her sister Sochie Heim. Loran soon recovers from ordeal and Kihel, daughter of a wealthy mining magnate, offers him a job in their mine and board. A couple of years pass. Loran ends up being a permanent part of the family’s staff. As well as having meals, board and education covered, he eventually becomes the family’s chauffeur. Later Loran meets up with Keith and Fran, whom have become a baker and news paper photographer respectively.
As Kihel had done previously in the year, a coming of age ceremony is prepared for Loran. On his 15th birthday, a group of teenagers along with Loran trek up the side of a mountain where a large idol known as the White Doll sits. Loran chooses Sochie to be his partner in the ritual which involves disrobing and mimicking stigmata on each other’s backs via leeches. But before the ceremony can be competed, an explosion occurs in the middle of town. Fires and other explosions follow and the teens scatter down the mountainside. Loran soon realises that the Moonrace have begun an invasion of Earth and is horrified. Loran and Sochie realise that the White Doll seems to be falling apart. What is actually happening is a thick protective coating is falling off a giant robot with a moustache like antenna which was hidden within the White Doll idol. Recognising that it is a mobile suit, Loran scrambles inside with Sochie and via the manual, he manages to start it up. Loran attempts to persuade the attackers to stop but fails. As a last resort, using a beam rife found beside the mobile suit, he fires at one of the Moonrace mobile suits, damaging it but also destroying the barrel of his weapon. This causes the enemy to retreat.
Upon returning to the Heim family house the next morning, the pair discover it has been party damaged in the battle. Worse is the fact that Kihel and Sochie’s father died when the house was hit by enemy fire. Kihel and her mother return from ball held the previous night. In shock and denial, their mother refuses to believe that her husband is dead. In shock Sochie slaps Loran and blames the entire battle on the fact he piloted the mobile suit. Earth doesn’t have governments as such. Instead there are principalities run by noblemen. The area the Heim family live in is Inglessa, which is ruled by a young nobleman named Guin Sard Lineford. Unbeknownst to the general population is that he has been secretly been negotiating a land settlement deal with the Moonrace (Earth does have primitive radio communications). Negotiations seem to have fallen though. Meeting with Loran, Guin ropes him into joining the principality’s militia (no governments means there is no real defence force) as he knows how the White Doll works. Loran has not let on to anyone that he is from the Moonrace and continues to play along. As a result Kihel also manages to have closer ties with Guin. Sochie also joins the militia as a mobile suit pilot
Skirmishes between the Moonrace and Earth militia continue. Eventually a ceasefire is called and Queen Dianna, ruler of the Moonrace arrives in order to personally to finalise the negotiations. It is immediately apparent to those who known the Heim family that the Queen is a dead ringer for Kihel. But while the negotiations are still taking place, the Moonrace have already begun their migration back to Earth. Vast areas are being fenced off much to local farmers disgust and Moonrace migrants are setting up in temporary camps. This causes more skirmishes between militia and the Moonrace mobile suits. Meanwhile local archaeologists have discovered more hidden “lost technology” like the moustached White Doll. Possibly over 2,000 years old, the mobile suits and other mecha are found buried in hillsides and in caves. All are protected by nanomachine membranes which have preserved them in mint condition. The discovery of these machines and the fact that the militia can pilot them, adds fuel to the fire. During the negotiations, Guin invites Queen Dianna on to his personal dirigible. There she meets Kihel and noticing the uncanny resemblance between them decides to swap clothes with her for fun. However this turns out to be a more permanent arrangement when Queen Dianna’s personal assistant arrives unexpectantly. Both are forced to take on each other’s roles and while playing each other’s part, they both soon find sympathy for each other’s people.
Oh god, where to start with this glorious mess of a show. So this show was a project for the 20th anniversary of Gundam. Conceived and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, the idea behind the show was to consolidate ALL of the Gundam continuities into one. No, I shit you not, that was the idea. Is it successful at doing that? Well, probably not. What you may not know is idea behind the name of the show. Apparently the “Turn A” mark on the head of the show’s Gundam is a mathematical symbol used in predicate calculus representing the universal quantifier, meaning "for all". So in other words it means that all the Gundam universes are all set with Turn A’s universe.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the show. OK, if you’ve read this blog you know I am not a big fan of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s work. He’s bloody notorious for throwing audiences into shows without explaining what is going on, having terrible character names and awkward, baffling dialogue. Luckily this show doesn’t hit quite hit that trifecta of pain, but it more than makes up for it by confusing the crap out the audience for apparently no reason right up to the half way mark. There was a lot of negative criticism against “Gundam Reconguista in G” for its lack of coherent storytelling. Having seen both, I’d say “Turn A” is even more of a confused show. Take the first episode; Loran, Keith and Fran appear on screen in a capsule being sent to earth, all inexplicably singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. During the episode we take several time leaps without any explanation or anything to show the passage of time (e.g. scenes set in different seasons, or onscreen text stating the year or month). Scenes also transition into others without any explanation. For example characters could be inside the Heim mansion in conversation, then suddenly everyone is at the coming of age ceremony. The camera angles and cinematography can also be strange. One episode has an overhead shot with the camera slowly spinning. Even as the show progresses, key elements of the story are never really explained in the initial episodes. For example why is there such a gulf of difference between the technology of the Moonrace and the Earth people? It is hinted that Queen Dianna is at least a couple hundred years old, but isn’t she meant to be normal human? Why have the Moonrace returned to Earth? And it is never explained what Loran, Keith and Fran’s mission really is.
Unbelievably, most of these questions aren’t properly answered until we hit the half way mark of the show. You have to question why in hell Yoshiyuki Tomino does this to the audience. In what way is this beneficial to the story? I don’t understand how keeping this information from the audience helps at all. Knowing the background of the world, the background of the main characters is vital to understanding the story and the motivations of the characters. The only plausible explanation as to why this happens in his shows that he is considered God-like and no one (at the studio level) dares criticise him or make suggestions or asks him to work with a story editor. I mean basically Tomino does whatever the hell he likes. For example Guin constantly refers to Loran as Lauren (despite knowing his real name is Loran), tells the Moonrace delegates that Loran is female and even forces him to cross dress at one point. It is never, ever really made clear how this tactic helps the militia in anyway. There was a rumour that Tomino initially wanted Loran to be female in the story and the producers vetoed that. Tomino supposedly had his revenge by having him dress up as a girl. If that’s true it certainly explains a lot.
Other weirdness in the show includes one principality’s militia dressed in US civil war-like military outfits and one Moonrace mobile suit pilot having a Mars symbol (male gender symbol, ♂) on the crotch of his pilot suit. None of the reviews on this show I’ve read have seems to picked this up which amazes me. There’s also a small band of Moonrace descendants who have been living on the Earth for many generations whom seemingly without any contact with the Moonrace, take up arms against the militia, though it is never explained how they obtained their mobile suits. Putting aside my complaints about the show, it does improve immensely in the second half of the series. The battles are well choreographed, factions develop in the militia and the Moonrace and it’s just a really fun show. I’ll fully admit it doesn’t start of well with some really bad animation in the first four episodes and the lack of explanation of the world. If you can get past the half way mark, you will be rewarded. The designs are quite well done with Syd Mead (of “Blade Runner” fame) designing several of the main mobile suits including the much maligned Turn A Gundam. Yoko Kanno wrote and performed the soundtrack and the insert songs. It’s a pretty good soundtrack, but far from her best. She previously worked on Tomino’s “Brain Powered” TV series the year prior to this show’s broadcast.
The series was previously announced by Bandai Entertainment for a 2012 release. But their parent company pulled the plug on the company and it was never released. That release was to include an interview with Syd Mead. Luckily Sunrise have included it on the second DVD set. Running about 75 minutes in total, it’s broken up into three parts; in the first Mead discusses his early life and how he got into design work. The second focuses on this movie work. The third is of most interest to anime fans as he discusses his work with Sunrise over the years on various Gundam properties and his work with Yoshinobu Nishizaki in the late 1980’s on rebooting the “Yamato” franchise which eventually became the “Yamato 2520” OVA. That project was cancelled after 3 OVA episodes and a “episode zero” were released. The best thing about this interview is Mead talking about working on a live action Gundam in 1984 for Lionsgate, which was scuttled due to the fact Sunrise refused to let the company license the property.
All in all, “Turn A Gundam” is a odd, strange and rather frustrating show. It’s also well designed, has some really great characters and battles. Also of interest is the political machinations on the Moon and the factions developing between the hodge podge collective of militia fighting against the invasion and within the invaders on Earth themselves. The first half did shit me, but the second more than won me over. Silly and daft as it is, at the same time it’s also quite intriguing and lots of fun. Certainly nowhere near the best in the franchise, but certainly nowhere near the bottom. 7 out of 10.
Remaining Backlog: Three series, seven movies, two OVA/specials, also waiting for second part of one show to be released before viewing it.