I’m yet to work out whether this is a good thing – on one hand, there’s a long, respected convention in art reflecting life; but on the other, if life is made superficial in order to be represented through art, is it really a good thing? Watching the opening episodes of Gundam 00, it’s not like you can miss the commentary on the state of the world after all, so it’s not like the show is shying away from serious issues. Great. Good for them. But, here’s my problem: is this just a dramatic back drop to the action, or are they actually tackling contemporary issues with a view to offering some solutions? I mean, how comfortable should I be with watching extremism, third world conflict and the kinds of personal issues that would make a military psychologist quail as my form of weekly entertainment?
Setsuna F. Seiei is a Gundam pilot for Celestial Being, a paramilitary organization that, perhaps as its name implies, is dedicated to taking a guiding hand in mortal affairs by forcibly bringing global conflict to an end. It’s a hard line policy all choreographed by some powerful, long dead guy, but Setsuna isn’t following someone else’s beliefs in right and wrong; at least, not any more. As a child soldier in his (middle eastern styled) home country, he lost everything to his violent and arguably misled beliefs; not the least of which seems to be a fair portion of his sanity and ability to relate normally to other human beings. Personally, I wouldn’t be putting him behind the wheel of a golf buggy, let alone the most powerful mecha in existence, but then again the rest of his team aren’t all that well adjusted either, as you soon start to discover.
And that’s the set up. There’s more to it than that, of course – in fact, possibly too much. There’s shadowy political conspiracies, seemingly constantly shifting national policies, and a cast of hundreds, all of whom are dealing with their own personal demons (unless they’re happy or content, in which case they get given their own set of issues during the course of season 1, because, come on; happy Gundam characters??). There’s enough upgrades and configuration changes to the mecha on both sides of the battle-line to make Microsoft proud, and there’s no limit to the drama, the action, the shocking revelations or the messy, mine field relationships.
But then again, that sounds exactly like a Gundam franchise, right? The one thing you can rely on here, even if like me you’re having trouble following the Machiavellian developments or tracking the disparate interests, is that this series has always exceeded itself in intense mecha action and the dramatic relationships. It’s something the producers Bandai have always been able to manage – across the board appeal to both male and female fans, by marrying what more or less amounts to a glorified albeit complicated soapie and – and I might be a girl but this is the cool part – giant robots; basically everybody wins. This time around, popular mangaka Yun Kouga (most famous for Loveless, a light boy’s love manga title and soon-to-be-released anime series) has had a heavy hand in the character designs, helping to make this a show for the eye candy both in and out of a mobile suit cockpit.
However, the very things that make this show work also make it a little like hard work. The sheer number of the cast and their varying (and sometimes back-flipping) motivations make for aggrandized dramatic action that becomes a little difficult to follow at times. Perhaps that’s the show’s way of acknowledging that its subject matter is far from black and white, or maybe that’s just so you don’t get bored in between mecha battles. Cynical? Perhaps. In the end, the jury remains out on whether Gundam 00 will offer any global scale solutions to the question of conflict, greed and power, but at least what it does say, even now, is that regardless of what’s happening, it’s the human scale tragedies which should remind us why peace is preferable to war, even if it is far less entertaining.