Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 50
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2002-2003
Date of Review: July 14, 2014

In the far future, humanity is made up of Naturals and genetically-engineered Coordinators. The latter have formed the organization known as ZAFT, and when the neutral colony of Heliopolis comes under attack from ZAFT forces, four prototype Earth Alliance mobile weapons are stolen. Kira Yamato is forced to flee along with his friends, but he finds himself face to face with a ZAFT soldier trying to steal a fifth mobile suit…and that soldier is his childhood friend Athrun Zala! Taking control of the Strike Gundam himself, Kira and friends are soon caught up a maelstrom of warfare and politics as extremists on both sides of the conflict threaten annihilation. Unbeknownst to the others is that Kira is a Coordinator himself, and he soon finds himself with enemies on all sides.

You could easily consider Mobile Suit Gundam SEED to be a reboot of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It very closely (and intentionally) mirrors the plot of the classic series; a group of kids end up serving on a warship, ZAFT is much like Zeon, there’s a conflict between “regular” humans and those with advanced abilities, and many of the spacecraft and mobile suit designs are extremely similar to the originals, going far beyond mere homages. (The similarities go even further than that, but we could be here all day discussing them.) At any rate, this was all because SEED was designed to be a Gundam series for a new generation; the original premiered nearly twenty-five years prior, and there were legions of would-be fans that would love a new show that started from scratch (SEED takes place in the Cosmic Era, not the Universal Century), but stayed very close to the concepts that made the original Gundam so memorable.

But was it effective? In terms of audience response, absolutely. SEED was (and is) insanely well-received, propelling Gundam as a whole to new heights of popularity. In terms of the show itself, it certainly lives up to the hype, though it has its quirks just like any other. The plot moves along at a decent clip, again mirroring many events and motifs from Mobile Suit Gundam. For newcomers, it easily gets them into the Gundam universe, and for longtime fans, it’s cool to see how the original series influenced this new version, while we wonder if and how classic scenes will play out differently in the Cosmic Era.

Concerning the show’s mechanical design, it is most impressive. The mobile suits really do feel like rebooted or updated versions of the classics, especially the ZAFT grunt suits; they could fit right in with the various Zeon forces. In keeping with later productions, there’s more than one Gundam this time around despite the original series only focusing on a single unit. In the first episode alone, we’re introduced to five Gundams, and they all look great! Since they all focus on different aspects of combat, their visual designs accurately reflect this, and watching them in battle is a treat. The space battleship Archangel is a wonderful tribute to the original series’ White Base, even surpassing that of classic successor ships like the Argama. It might even be my favorite thus far of the main Gundam warships!

Character development in SEED is handled well, though I found that I cared less about series protagonist Kira than I did about the other characters. Some fans grumble about Kira’s occasional crybaby nature, but that didn’t bother me; being thrown into that vicious of a conflict would probably make me break down, too. Personally, I just found the supporting cast to be much more interesting. Athrun is a great character in his own right, and watching his journey alongside that of Kira really helped SEED flow. The rivalry between opposing ace pilots Mu La Flaga and Rau Le Creuset made for awesome television every time they squared off. I even liked Lacus Clyne! She was somehow not merely a vapid pop singer, as one might expect at first glance, and she became an even stronger character later on in the series. (Her pet Haros, ironically enough, were really annoying. I wanted to crack ’em through a window with a baseball bat.) The only character I really disliked was Flay Allster, but she seemed to be designed for audiences to hate. There’s also an instance later in the series where an antagonist descends into madness seemingly out of nowhere, but it doesn’t take away from the rest of the series, really. On a visual note, SEED features somewhat odd character design in that many characters’ eyes seemed a lot larger (and sometimes farther apart) than usual, even by anime standards. It’s not terrible art, but it does takes some getting used to.

SEED was the first series in the franchise to use digital coloring instead of the usual handpainted cels. It also makes heavy use of digital versions of standard film and animation effects, like pan-and-scan, zoom, scale and rotate, lens flare, and blur. There’s even some basic 3D effects, but like most CGI and the other digital tools used in SEED, they have not aged very well. This certainly doesn’t make the series unwatchable, but the effects are immediately noticeable and tend to date the production, even though it’s not that old.

Last but not least, let’s talk about SEED‘s soundtrack. I found the score to be serviceable and of high quality, but nothing really stood out to me save for a few melodies and themes here and there. Before SEED fans try to string me up, let me make clear that I don’t dislike the soundtrack at all. It just didn’t grab me the way some of the other series’ music did. The sound effects in SEED are of high quality, as well they should be. In particular, I dig how the Strike Daggers’ beam rifles sound just like blasters from Star Wars. (A few other weapons have very familiar-sounding reports, but I can’t place them off the top of my head.)

SEED got the movie trilogy treatment in 2005 with the Gundam SEED Special Edition, but the series really showed its staying power when it received a high definition remaster to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2012. A first for a Gundam series, this featured a new 1080p transfer, widescreen reframing, considerable new animation, visual effects upgrades, and the removal of two recap episodes. That’s a pretty big deal for a show that’s not even part of the main Gundam timeline!

Nobody’s perfect, though, and the series does have one big flaw: the meaning of the acronym “SEED” isn’t revealed until much later, and even then, it’s barely explained. It seems it’s meant to be another classic Gundam parallel, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; the acronym is spelled out, and the meaning behind it is practically hand-waved away. Given how important the SEED concept is with Kira and Athrun in particular, this seems like a tremendous oversight.

Despite that, it’s easy to see why SEED is so popular among new and old fans alike. Riding that wave of fan support, SEED would spawn many spinoffs and sequels across anime, manga, and more. The story’s good, the bar for mechanical design is surpassed, and SEED‘s modern sensibilities make it an easy choice for anyone’s first Gundam series.

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