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Eastpointe, Michigan, United States
Graduate of CCS. All around creative person, science enthusiast, technological adept, heavy metal killing machine.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Gundam Unicorn Episode 1 Review

Before I launch into the meat of the review, I should note a few things about me and my relationship to anime. I really hate anime, well, 95% of anime. I'm disturbed at both; how much crap is released, and how much it's eaten up by both Japanese and American audiences. I'd say that a disproportionate amount of the entire genre of anime is crap. America may release crappy animation movies from time-to-time (Dreamworks, I'm looking at you), but it's only a few bad eggs. Anime just seems like 90% crap, 10% good stuff.

Anime seems to be an industry totally based on fan service, rather than artistic growth or animation development or even wanting to tell good or interesting stories. What starts out as something fun and somewhat original, gets turned to crap when creators attempt to appease the fanbase with repetitive nonsense and story transcript padding. And that' if it even starts out good to begin with, as lots of times, you'll have a bomb right from the get-go.

Bleach started out as a kooky little story about a guy fighting demons in his home town. You get a sense of danger with him involved in this and there are stakes if he doesn't do his hero work. He's not overly powerful and has trouble coping with the challenges of doing the Soul Reaper job. Even though the characters are cookie cutter anime archetypes, there's actually a dynamic produced by having the main character and his high school friends around. There's actual character advancement and plot developments. He then had to rescue a friend, doing what is essentially a commando raid into the afterlife. It was similar to an action movie, where if you turn your brain off, you can entertain yourself for a while. Now, it's just pages of talk and talk about how one character is stronger than another or why a certain fighting move will work or why it won't work. When something does happen, it's either totally predictable, or just down right stupid. Plus, the author seems to have no idea where he wants to go, aside from producing as many stupidly designed characters as possible and prolonging what little story there is as long as possible. The main character's friends from the first third of the overall story are no where to be seen, and you're left with a bunch of boring Soul Reapers talkin' up a storm on how they're strong or why they're doing stuff.

There's an example of a good-gone-bad anime. A bad from the start anime would be something like Code Geass. I only saw the first episodes on Adult Swim, and I can say with all honesty, I couldn't work up a single thread of interest in anything in that story at all. It was just stupid preaching, a stupid premise, and stupid characters.

If you want to know what I find to be a good anime, then look no further than the first Ghost in the Shell movie. It's got great animation and a compelling story. It makes you think about life relating to technology and how cybernetics may influence the future. There characters can be a little weak at times, but they're done well enough that they're interesting. Plus you get some nice action and some cybertits!

Also, I understand the difference between an anime and a manga. Anime is animation, manga is a Japanese comic. So don't any of you fanboys give me shit about my otaku-ian knowledge. I've read a bunch of Bleach but haven't seen the anime past a certain point. That point being filler, another problem in anime that I don't even want to go into. I was using Bleach (manga) as an example of story turning bad in the face of fanbase appeasement, whilst using animes for other examples. I normally wouldn't put a paragraph pointing this out in something that's supposed to be about my background, but I've seen fanboys bitch. I've read enough 4chan to know to deploy airbags around simpler thoughts and concepts, as stupid, rabid, kneejerk anime kiddies latch on to them and use them as an excuse to sink whole arguments, trying to disregard reasoned opinions as "unknowledgeable trolling".

So, that being said, on the with the review.

Spoiler Alert!! Thar be spoilers ahead!

The first Universal Century Gundam series in 12 years (the most recent release being 8th MS Team, I'm not counting amusement park rides or CG movies) is pretty good. It rekindled some old feelings that have been long since dead. Giant robot anime lost it's appeal for me when I came to the realization that giant fighting robots are totally impractical and pointless to have in combat. You could just launch a ton of missiles or send in drones to do the work. Or, put you tank on some moving stilts, as it makes as much sense as having a hundred foot tall robot doing all the fighting.

The style of anime really died for me when all that was released were overly preachy series or content that was way too over the top, comprised mostly of super powered teenagers. I'm not saying that some things in Unicorn aren't over the top or preachy, but it's not annoyingly done. The 16 year old kid hops in the mobile suit, and off he goes. It's a standard Gundam moment, which I knew would happen when they introduced him. The advantage in this case is that his eyes don't change color and he doesn't enter into some crazy unbeatable super mode.

Well, the mobile suit does, but this brings up a major gripe about the first episode. The Gundam Unicorn starts up, powers up, then the episode cuts out before the climactic battle that's been built up. The suits are in space, beam sabers are drawn, funnels are launched, and finally they're about toooo--chop, "see you next time."

Luckily, the smaller battles make up for it, but it's still annoying to have to wait for another episode to see the fight scene, which probably won't live up to any inter-episode hype. It's like a hook in a TV show or radio/podcast before a commercial, which think of during the "commercial zone out" and build up in your mind, then when the thing hooked is revealed it's not anywhere near what you were thinking about. The fight is going to be like that, and they probably should have just had the fight happen in this episode.

The battles have the mobile suits move realistically, actually obeying the laws of physics and the movements don't look stupid. Unlike say, Code Geass, where the robots roller blade around and looking f-ing retarded, the mobile suits in Unicorn move like robots with only a twinge of unrealistic, human-like animation. It's a definite plus to see this. It's also a definite plus that they do this while looking totally awesome. In the beginning of the episode there's a Jegan taking on the primary antagonist mobile suit, and you really want to root for the random, unidentified Jegan pilot. Partly because the animation is so nice, and partly because the mobile suit looks awesome doing what it does.

On a similar note, the characters move fairly realistically. They obey gravitational laws and muscular limits. They don't jump 30 feet into the air or move ultra fast or hypnotize people with eye tattoos. Their hair also falls naturally! That's probably the best part in the whole animation, hair looks like hair. It's not spikey, expensive gel-ups. It's hair! It's soft and moves gently!

Of course, there are animation snafus. I hate 3D in anime. It never blends with the 2D animation and always looks cheaply done. It's just lazy to make this whole high-quality animation and then have piddly, crappy 3D ruin it all. The only animation I've seen that blends 2 and 3D together well is Futurama. Anime producers who want 3D in their projects should at least look at clips of Futurama, maybe they'd actually pick up something on how to work 3D elements into a production and not make it suck.

The plot's good, but not stellar. It introduces the characters, but it doesn't say who they are or what they're doing. The handful of student characters are just that, students. You're never really told what they're studying or what they want to do in the future or how they really relate to each other. I think the writers were assuming the audience would make assumptions based on previous anime experiences, but I don't really watch anime, so I couldn't really connect anything character-wise.

The main character has a female friend who I thought was a sister at first, but then she acts more like a possible love interest, but then the main character doesn't pay attention to her when she asks him to protect her. So, it's kind of confusing sorting out why she's there and what her role in the story is. She could just be a cheerleader for the main character, but she doesn't encourage him at all. There's also a male friend, who I guess is supposed to be the "mobile suit enthusiast" friend. He mentions some model names, but it's never explicitly stated if he's the mobile suit "that guy" in this series.

Then there's the main character's background. I don't remember seeing his mother or father mentioned at any time during the episode, but suddenly at the end he talks about his mother and meets his father, whom he apparently forgot about. It's pretty jarring to have that happen, and it probably would've made more sense to have that explicitly mentioned sometime earlier.

Additionally, the motives and roles of the scientists and soldiers are never really elaborated on. Maybe this will be revealed in later episodes, but I doubt it. Unless I missed a line of subtitle, I really didn't see any information on why the Laplace Box is important or why the girl is important or why the scientists are in that colony or why the Zeons are there. I remember the original Gundam series at least explained those basic things. Here's it's more of a mess of cliched Gundam things thrown together. It's probably like that to appeal to fanboys, but general audiences may be confused about what's happening.

The plot does, however, get things moving. It's not a total waste of brain cells paying attention to it. There is a sense that something will happen and that things will develop given more time, but I think that may require watching the whole series once it's released. As a first episode though, it doesn't do things a first episode should.

There were some other little things I thought were nice touches. At one point, some bad guys are looking for a runaway female lead, and there's a shot of the interior of the car. Apparently, packing tape still exists in the future, because some is used to tape a communication device of somekind to the dashboard of the car. It was pretty funny seeing the brown tape holding the device to the car and not some sci-fi-y clip or attachment, ala a MP3 player dock. A soldier gets his neck snapped and the cracking sound was so well done it made me cringe. Also, the aforementioned Jegan at the beginning. I really wanted him to win, but I guess he was just a miscellaneous casualty. There's also on point where a character views a security cam recording on a piece of smart paper. It's nice to see this concept appear in something outside of a Neal Stephenson novel, as I think smart paper is going to be a major product in the years to come.

So, in summation, I'd give Gundam Unicorn Episode 1 a score of: 3/5.
A good start, but there are really obvious holes throughout the episode. The animation was great, except for the 3D. The story could've used some work, but it did necessary things to get the ball rolling. I don't usually say this about anime, but I'll be sticking around for episode 2. And episode 3, provided the series doesn't nose dive.
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