Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam SEED
Related: Gundam SEED Destiny (sequel)
Similar: Gundam 00
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 48 episodes (HD remaster), 50 Episodes (original)
- Great characters with plenty of interpersonal drama.
- A well-woven adventure that doesn’t rely on exposition dumps.
- Love the music and English voice work.
- Rich lore and world building between the factions.
- Cagali – what an irritation.
- Repeated battle animations.
- Unnecessary flashbacks.
Thinking back on Gundam SEED, I am actually surprised that I like this anime. I rarely buy into the idea that teens are best equipped for the job in anime, yelling an opponent’s name during combat is one of the stupidest tropes imaginable, and teen melodrama often makes me cringe. And yet, Gundam SEED manages to execute these irritants with a surprising amount of skill.
When the ZAFT military attacks the space colony of Heliopolis to procure the Earth Alliance Gundams, Kira and his friends are forced into a war between Naturals (ordinary humans) and Coordinators, genetically modified humans from ZAFT. They flee the crumbling colony aboard the Earth Alliance spaceship, Archangel; however, Kira is a Coordinator and this is a Natural ship. As a Coordinator, he is the only one capable of piloting the single Gundam they could save, though he is reluctant to kill. To complicate life further, his childhood friend Athrun is a Gundam pilot for ZAFT. Kira’s inner turmoil when facing his friend and as the one everyone relies on makes for great conflict.
This setup is what sold me on the ‘teens as soldiers’ premise. They attended military school before the attack and only fill bridge crew positions, never portrayed as sudden professionals. There are two exceptions to this: Kira, of course, modified for war, and Flay (the love-to-hate type), a spoilt rich girl who contributes nothing and has a particular hatred towards Coordinators. The challenge comes, not from their talents, but from how they cope with the conflict in which they reside. Their home is destroyed, their parents are probably dead, ZAFT hunts them, and they have to deal with the realities of war. These kids receive little respite between battles.
I love the sense of camaraderie aboard the ship and the regular life moments while on the move – reminds of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the ship feels like home.
On the other side of the battle, we have the ZAFT ship with Athrun aboard. They cannot allow the Archangel to regroup with the Earth forces and create more of these new weapons. ZAFT is interesting because they are no more evil than the Alliance. Both sides have shades of honour and malice, creating an interesting dynamic, as you can’t be sure which side you want to prevail. We see plenty of politics, in particular where it involves the animosity between Naturals and Coordinators – the lore is at the heart of most conflict.
More factions soon enter the narrative, such as Blue Cosmos (they are to Coordinators what the Nazis were to Jews), and a desert tribe, which brings with it, the worst character – Cagali. When I said earlier that I don’t buy teens as being right for the job, she is what I meant. Nothing about Cagali inspires confidence or skill, and yet, we are told repeatedly that she is an asset to the war. She couldn’t be more useless. It doesn’t help that she is so incredibly whiny either. Believe it or not, she is tame here compared to the sequel, Destiny. If only she had died at the start.
Cagali is the one character that sees little development. Many other characters that you likely hate from the start may grow on you before the end, or vice versa.
Gundam SEED starts strong and had me hooked to the very end, barring a few flashback slowdowns. I kept moving from one episode to the next – Gundam in general has that effect.
HD Remaster: The remaster updates the visuals to HD with Destiny’s art style (I am not a fan of the baby-face, though it is better on a technical level), which includes reanimations. The major changes are a few extra scenes (backstory for a villain, a relationship scene), less recap scenes (cuts two episodes total, though still leaves one in the middle for some inexplicable reason), and a reworked conclusion. Problems? Too many flashbacks remain; I swear to you, they play this one flashback for several episodes in a row. Why not remove them all with the remaster? Also, they pull a George Lucas with a ‘Greedo shot first’ style retcon for a character’s death.
Art – Medium
The mech designs, characters, environments, all look good; however, the sheer amount of repeated battle animations when dealing with cannon fodder is inexcusable. The HD remaster does remove or reanimate some of these scenes, but still, it isn’t enough. Also, pink explosions in space? Is this to be more kid-friendly? I wish they had brought the visuals up to the level of Gundam 00 with the remaster.
Sound – High
Fantastic soundtrack of techno and electronic music. I love all of the opening and ending songs – OP gets you hyped, forlorn in the ED. Good Japanese track, greater English track, as some voices don’t sound right in Japanese. Kira crying in Japanese is…something. Also, we get Trevor Devall as Mwu La Fllaga, Archangel’s Han Solo, in English.
Story – High
Gundam SEED is a close observation of individuals at the heart of a space war. The characters and interpersonal drama that crosses faction boundaries elevates SEED above the standard Gundam fare.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Highly recommended for Gundam fans or those looking to start the franchise. Gundam SEED requires no prior knowledge. Despite a couple of stumbles, the remaster is preferable.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)