Saturday, May 20, 2017

Video Backlog: “Gundam Movie Trilogy”

Publisher: All the Anime (Anime Limited, UK)
Format: Region B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue (original theatrical monaural and 5.1 re-recorded mix) with optional English and French Subtitles
Length: 139 minutes (movie 1), 133 minutes (movie 2), 140 minutes (movie 3)
Production Date: 1981 - 1982
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

It is the year Universal Century 0079 (around the third decade of the 22nd century). Over the last fifty years, humanity has ventured out into space and lives in nearly a dozen or so large colonies in Lagrange point orbits around the Earth and the moon. One of these colonies, the Principality of Zeon, declares independence from the Earth Federation and a war ensues. At the eight month point of the war, half of humanity has perished and a number of space colonies have been destroyed, with some deliberately being dropped on cities on Earth. The Federation has sent their new warship, White Base, to the colony Side 7 to acquire a newly developed weapons being built there; the RX-78 Gundam, a newly developed “mobile suit”, or in layman’s terms, a giant robot as well as two other humanoid robot-like weapons. Side 7 is in the process of being evacuated when a Zeon reconnaissance team of three Zaku mobile suits enter the colony. One of the team members disobeys his commanding officer and shoots at the unmanned Gundam being transported inside the colony. This starts off a fire fight and teenage boy Amuro Ray accidentally acquires the Gundam’s manual (knowing that the robot was his father’s project) and on the spur of the moment decides to fight the Zakus, and wins.

The White Base’s temporary captain, the young lieutenant Bright Noa, is forced to take on Amuro as the Gundam’s pilot and several of the other teens evacuated from Side 7 as pilots of the other mobile suits and crew aboard the ship, as the majority of the military crew is either dead or severely injured. A top Zeon ace pilot, the charismatic and mysterious Char Aznable, leads several attacks on the White Base with Amuro and the other mix of inexperienced young soldiers and civilian teens forced to defend the ship. The White Base eventually arrives at it's destination, Luna II, a former asteroid mined for materials to build colonies, currently the Federation’s headquarters. There a disbelieving crew along with the evacuees from Side 7 (mostly the very young or the elderly), are ordered to head directly to Earth and the Federation’s secret base in Jaburo, South America. Bright tries to argue that the evacuees should be allowed to disembark but his superiors ignore him.

Even when entering the atmosphere, Char continues his relentless attacks on the White Base. However so far all of Char’s attacks have been repelled. Frustrated at his lack of progress Char enlists the help of his friend from the military academy, Captain Garma Zabi, the youngest son of the Zabi family who have been in power of the Principality of Zeon for many years. However Char double crosses Garma and sets him and his fleet up to be wiped out by the White Base. As a result Garma's brother, Dozle Zabi, dismisses Char from the military due to his continual failures in bringing down the White Base. However the crew of the White Base aren’t given a free ride to Jaburo, with pilot Ramba Ral along with his special aide and lover Crowley Hamon carry out their orders to avenge Garama’s death.

By the time the White Base reaches Jaburo, it becomes clear that the Federation has no intention of relieving the makeshift crew of their duties. Instead it uses the White Base as a testing ground for experimental mobile suits and weapons and often uses the ship as a decoy. All the while, the crew have to weather continual attacks from various Zeon forces including those led by Char, who has been reinstated to his role by Kycilia Zabi. While the White Base’s successes are initially attributed to the ship’s technological superiority, it later becomes apparent that several of its teenage crew are in fact “Newtypes”, a new evolution in the human race who have a type of extrasensory power.

Contrary to most anime fans opinions about the superiority of the compilation movies over the original Gundam TV series, I prefer the TV series to the movies. That’s not to say the compilation films are bad at all. While the first film is almost just a straight edit of the first 12 episodes of the TV series, the remaining two films add in a lot more new animation, around a third for second film and over two thirds new animation for the concluding chapter. Not only is the new animation far superior to the rather off model and scrappy TV animation, it introduces new concepts, ditches more of the sillier elements of the series and swaps some of the events in the story around. Of note is a heavier emphasis on Sayla Mass including a new flashback sequence of when her brother left her as a young girl, the introduction of the core booster, an earlier and much heavier emphasis on Newtypes, the appearance of a number of minor characters who only previously appeared in Yoshiyuki Tomino’s novels and an amazing final battle at the A Baoa Qu space fortress.

Having said that, like most compilation films of anime series, the major problem I find is that a lot of material is cut out and a lot of context goes with it. Of course with a TV series you can flesh out characters a bit more than with a two hour film. A number of characters such as Crowley Hamon, Ramba Ral, the Zabi family and Ryu Jose have don’t have enough time dedicated to them so their character’s motivations are fleshed out enough to fully understand their motives. Char’s actions are a lot clearer in the TV series than the film versions. I think the TV series let’s all the ideas breath and develop more. There’s more context and reason behind a lot of what can seem like rather senseless actions in the films. While women still play a substantial role in the movies, especially Sayla, I do think the movies do diminish the roles of many of the women, especially Kycilia Zabi, Matilda Ajan and Crowley Hamon. In particular Kycilia Zabi has a much larger role in the TV series and is on equal or greater footing then the male members of her family in that version of the story. Matilda Ajan also seems a bit more fleshed out in the TV series too where she is clearly seen to know how to use her feminine charms to control male officers. She seems to make a greater impression on Amuro in the TV series as well.

However Lalah Sune’s role is expanded a lot more in the compilation films. While the audience is given more a chance to connect with her, as an viewer I still feel rather distant from her. Not a lot of her backstory is explored. Due to her fate, I think there should have been a stronger connection between her and Amuro. Naturally a lot of the material in the TV series is jettisoned for a larger focus on the battles and relationship between Amuro and Char, which I think is fair as it’s a really important and interesting part of the Gundam universe. Despite the additional animation, there’s still a lot of off model and cheap looking animation edited from the TV series into these compilation films. And while removing a lot of the weirder and sillier concepts in the original series, there still are a lot of daft elements left in the show.

This blu-ray set from All the Anime contains both the 2000 re-recorded 5.1 mix audio track with new voice acting and sound effects as well the original monaural tracks from the original 1981 - 1982 theatrical releases. This is pretty significant as it’s the first time the original audio has been available on blu-ray in English. The version released by Sunrise in the US (via The Right Stuf) only has the 5.1 mix. Even in Japan the original audio versions and the 5.1 mix versions are sold as two separate blu-ray releases (nether came with English subtitles unlike their DVD counterparts). It’s a bit of a scoop for All the Anime and I find it very curious that the company aren’t making it clear to customers that this set contains both audio tracks. The All the Anime blu-ray version comes in three standard blu-ray cases in a chipboard art box with Yoshikazu Yasuhiko artwork on one side and mecha designer Kunio Okawara artwork on the other. There are no on disc extras and it doesn’t come with a booklet like the fantastic one (written by Mark Simmons detailing the changes in the three films) that came with the original Bandai Entertainment DVD box set.

Wrapping up, while I prefer the TV series, I think the movie compilations are a fantastic alternate retelling of the story. Watching the films again, I found that pretty much all of the material in the recent “The Origin” movie series fits in perfectly with the events depicted here. However the mystical (and nonsensical) qualities of the Newtypes have always frustrated me a bit. I find it problematic that there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to try to explain why they have appeared, why some humans suddenly evolved to have these powers or why there’s a large concentration of them on Side 7. Putting that all aside, the animation, especially the final battle at A Baoa Qu, is fantastic and most of the other additions to the film versions enhance the story. I’ll give it a solid 8 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: 17 TV series, 5 OVAs and 10 movies. In addition I am also waiting for additional parts of three TV series to be released before viewing them.

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