Gundam 00 -A wakening of the Trailblazer- (sic) is the first original Gundam theatrical feature in 19 years. On one hand, I was really glad that I actually got to watch a new Gundam movie in a cinema here in Singapore at the same time it opened in Japan. On the other hand, it was a Gundam 00 movie, and I’m not sure it’s something I really ought to support. I went anyway, hoping for the best and expecting the worst.
The movie isn’t a complete disaster, but it’s pretty bad.
This is a poorly directed movie first and foremost, but it’s also a particularly poor Gundam movie. I can’t really imagine any long time Gundam fan being satisfied with this as a theatrical Gundam experience, but then again I can’t really imagine Gundam SEED Destiny being the best selling Gundam series of all time, and yet it is. I guess much of the fanbase these days are interested in seeing other things from Gundam than I am.
The primary problem with the movie is, much like the second season of Gundam 00, it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The director and writer clearly have very interesting ideas on what to do with Gundam as a brand, to both please the old fanbase, and also try new things never before attempted in the franchise. Unfortunately, while their intentions are good, their execution is middling and disappointing.
The first half of the movie focuses on introducing an alien threat to humanity, and I actually enjoyed the direction the story was heading. There was much more focus on building an atmosphere of a credible threat against mankind, instead of just showing off robots in space. There was also quite a bit of attention to detail, subtly showing the progression of the world and the characters since the end of the TV series. It was looking good for a while, even though the animation remained largely “TV quality,” and would be a disappointment on visual terms regardless of the story.
Then halfway through the film, they throw away pretty much all the tone and pacing they had carefully built up, electing to just go for the “robots fighting in space” method of tying up the plot threads. As expected, this resulted in boring, beam-spamming battles a la the climax of the second season, at the expense of any solid payoff for character development and a proper narrative. The Gundam 00 production staff doesn’t seem to understand that it is not entertaining to watch twenty things happening on the screen at a once when no one cares about any of those disparate elements. Showing explosions all over space while beams fly everywhere and identical-looking generic robots fly around is not “epic,” it is dumb.
Descartes Shaman is a new character who was heavily promoted in the teasers and trailers. He is actually an interesting addition to the first half of the movie, and like all other interesting aspects of the film, he is removed from the movie in an awful action sequence which serves no purpose other than to remind the audience that the movie has to move along and there’s no room for interesting personalities or actual depth in characterization.
Which brings me to another annoying point. The other major new character in the film is a female scientist named Mena. She looks identical to Nena from the TV series, and shares the same voice actress. This similarity is never explained to the audience, nor is it even a plot point. Instead, the character seems to only serve the purpose of being Billy’s new sex friend, while pandering to fans of the voice actress who will no doubt be delighted to hear her recite terrible lines with the same annoying mannerisms as her very dead counterpart from the series. Everyone else is probably left confused and a little disgusted.
As it goes on, the movie makes it clear that it chooses to abandon any meaningful storytelling for a poor attempt at toy advertising. The climatic battle is disappointing and mundane, mostly because the enemy in the film is a faceless adversary made up of an infinite horde of generic shapes which can morph into generic ships and robots copied from the human army.
As fans, we have certain expectations of a Gundam film, and I would say it is fair to expect at least some battles occur between ace pilots. After all, Gundam is built on the principle that the people fighting the war are more interesting than the robots themselves. Here we have none of that, a two hour Gundam feature film without a single one-on-one pilot battle. Every member of humanity is on the same side, and it is a beam-spam battle in space with no hope for survival. To add insult to injury, the solution to this hopeless battle is to fly the new main Gundam design into the enemy mothership’s core and talk to it.
The main Gundam in this feature does not fight — it is made to communicate. Sure, it has lots of new equipment, and it looks pretty cool, but you’re not going to see this in action. It flashes some minor defenses, shoots a single generic enemy ship, and then flies into the core. That’s about all the action you will see from the 00 Quan[T], which is already getting a Master Grade model release. I guess the point is that you can buy the model kit and imagine how cool the final battle could have been, because the movie sure isn’t going to provide any satisfaction in that aspect.
To add insult to injury, ultimately the title of the movie doesn’t even make sense. Ignoring for a moment the fact that it isn’t even proper English, there is no reference to a “Trailblazer” in the movie whatsoever. I can only imagine that it is meant to refer to Setsuna, who at one point in the movie suffers severe brain damage (but it’s okay; as explained by another character, his brain cells will regenerate) and is in a coma before he “awakens” for the final act. Unlike a True Innovator though, the audience will never regain the brain cells lost during the course of the film.
Overall, the movie is a messy attempt to tell a story of first contact with an alien machine race, except with Gundams. It’s a bold attempt, I’ll grant it that, but a risk only pays off when you succeed. A wakening of the Trailblazer fails pretty miserably, and there’s very little to be positive about. The movie is not all bad; there were creative and fun parts; like the super robot reenactment of the TV series’ climax in the form a movie-within-the-movie, or some of the character interaction scenes between the supporting characters. Unfortunately, none of these parts contribute to making up for the fact that the movie is a total waste of potential and there’s nothing here for anyone other than the most hardcore Gundam 00 supporters.