The series we are talking about today has a very special place in my heart. I was a die-hard Gundam fan in my youth, and while I’ve grown distant from it in recent years, there is a strong fondness still there. Gundam Wing was one of my first anime I watched, and I still enjoy it, despite not having aged well. However in the early 2000s, at the tail end of the 4kids-Toonami era, there was another Gundam series that came out. One with a better story, better animation, and some kick-ass music. Loved by many, and disliked by just as much, it is a series that has resonated to this day regardless. Now it is finally time for me to talk about it, so after the cut, let’s dive into the first story-arc of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: The Raid of Heliopolis and The Battle of Orbit!
Before we start. I want to address one thing right up front: the recycled animation.
Gundam SEED, (and it’s sequel series) is notorious, NOTORIOUS for heavy use of recycle animation. Watch the series with a vary eye and you’ll see the same action shots over and over (and over) again. Whether it was because SEED was the first Gundam series done on the computer, a way for the creators to cut corners, or the lack of real budget, its something that stick and quite frankly is a knock against the series. However this post and the ones that follow are going to be taking more about the story and the character. I have no real interest in complaining about the use of animation, but I wouldn’t be doing my proper diligence if I didn’t mention it. It is there, it is a part of the series for good and ill.
I’ve spoken before at my general dislike of the Universal Century timeline of Gundam shows. While I will never deny it’s impact, both in Gundam and out of it, I’ve never been able to really get on board. So when SEED, which is a full on re-imagining of the original 0079 series came along, I found myself far more invested in the story. Simply put, I think a war involving two species of humans, the normal born ‘naturals’ and the designer, test-tube baby Coordinators is far more compelling than the vaguely defined space geopolitics of the original series. It gives the conflict a more personal edge, and as the series goes on and the war gets out of control, a sense of real stakes that who ever wins will be the dominate race of humanity.
To that end, the name of the game in SEED is personal relationships. The crew of the Archangel from top to bottom is manned by people who have no real need to be there. Whether it is gentle and sensitive Captain Murrue Ramius clashing with the hard-nosed, by the book Natarle Badgiruel. The rivalry between alliance Ace Mu La Flaga and the mysterious ZAFT commander Rau Le Creuset. The distraught and spoiled Flay Allster coming to grips with a war she should never have been involved in, or the step up to heroism of Tolle, Sai, Kuzzy and Miriallia. But it isn’t just them. On the other side, we see the resolute, but kind Athrun Zala clash with the hot-headed and eager for glory Yzak Joule, and struggle with the political expectations of his father, and his arranged fiancé, the pop idol Lacus Clyne. Each member of SEED has a character arc, big or small, that forms the backbone of the series as the first thirteen episodes take you through the thefts at Heliopolis, to the heart-pounding battle with the 8th fleet. There are plenty of characters, but they all have a moment to shine, and none of them feel superfluous. Then of course, there is the series lead: Kira Yamato.
Kira is, like many Gundam protagonists before him, a young man thrown into a war and has to step up to do what he can. Unlike others however, Kira is a coordinator, the only one in a ship full of Naturals, and the only person who can pilot the Strike Gundam. A kind and gentle person at heart, Kira first attempts to fight to protect this friends, but then becomes torn when he realizes that one of those friends: Athrun Zala is on the other side of the conflict. Their hesitance, and Kira’s struggle in whether to stay with the Earth Alliance forms much of the story of this first arc, and it is done exceptionally well. Especially when chance and tragedy bring him into contact with both Lacus Clyne, and Flay Allster. Watching Kira realize, and be manipulated into thinking that if you want to protect things you are going to have to fight, and sometimes even kill, yet still struggle with that decision is the heart of what this first part of SEED is.
The Raid of Heliopolis and The Battle of Orbit is a remarkable solid starting point to the story of Gundam SEED. What starts off as a botch raid attempt, ends up with a high stakes battle in the descending fires of Earth’s atmosphere. There is plenty of action, plenty of drama, and character relationships that will transform throughout the rest of the series. I look forward to talking about the others arcs as we head into the next few posts, and I hope you’ll join me!
- The designs of the mobile suits in SEED are exceptional. While the Aegis gundam is a little too busy for my taste, the rest of the suits, even the grunt ones benefit from a ‘less is more’ design. The Strike Gundam itself is almost instantly iconic, and the changing weaponry make it really stand out.
- Seeing Cagalli this early in the story (she’s in the pilot, then vanishes until then next arc) always felt a little weird, since it doesn’t really do anything. I mean it does have her and Kira meet, but nothing would be lost if they didn’t.
- I never understood the use of wires for the Mu’s Mobeius Zero mobile armor. That seems way to easy to cut with the swords from the mobile suits.
- Athrun telling Creuset about Kira is a cool little bit of foreshadowing for the future, as is showing Patrick Zala scheming behind the scenes in order to secure power.
- The show really doesn’t do much to paint the Earth Alliance as anymore more than a bunch of racists. Admiral Haliburton is the lone exception, and his sacrifice is badass.
- I’ll talk more about Flay’s character arc in later posts, but I really like how she is position as the opposite to many of the other female characters. While Murrue, Cagalli, Lacus and Miriallia all step up to lead, take command, or just do their part, Flay is instead a weakling and a coward, preferring to manipulate in order to protect herself. It make sense, and it provides a great contrast.
- The same can be said for the relationship between Murrue and Natarle. It’s clear that Natarle thinks she should be in command, but was merely out-ranked and resents Murrue for it. It’s a plot line that will continue on for the rest of the series.
- Yzak (who loves to shout about this rage, holy shit) blowing up the shuttle full of civilians is something I really would have been properly address. They give it a brief mention in SEED Destiny, but nothing.
- There is no excuse, at all, for changing Lacus’s name from “Lack-is” to “La-coose” in the new English dub. It’s not even how they say it in Japanese! Why? WHY!!!
- Aside from that (and Lacus’s singing voice, which is just bleh), the new English dub is excellent, and superior to the original dub, which was already pretty damn solid. There is more emotion, better acting, and everything just sounds better.
- The HD remaster added a shit ton of jiggle to the opening themes. I didn’t know Murrue and Flay were packing such good sweater stretchers!
- The rest of the Le Creuset team are pretty one-note right now. Nicol is the nice one, Dearka is the smart-ass, and Yzak is the rage-head. They get the job done though, and thankfully get better as he story goes on.
- SEED mode is very much take it or leave it. It’s mentioned later, but (and this is something you’ll see a lot of) never really explored in depth. It’s pretty much hack-mode, and whatever, it is still works.