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Gundam 00 (2007-9)

The Earth of the future is not a very different place to what we have now. Conflict and terrorism has ravaged nations. There is political instability, economic inequality and with a shortage of fossil fuels, there is the worry as to how nations will meet their energy needs. Large space-based solar arrays are providing power to affiliated nations. It is an all too plausible future.

The military of the future have moved away from 20th-century armed forces and are now fielding various mobile suits for both land, air and space-based combat. This creates a lucrative industry with some marvellous product demonstrations. It is at one such demonstration that an as-yet-unseen suit appears and proceeds to take down the model being demonstrated in short order. This is the arrival of the first Gundam and the future direction of humanity is about to change drastically.

Gundam 00 was released in the UK by Beez around 2008 and it looked *good*. It was the next instalment in the franchise that I watched after Gundam Wing, albeit many years later. I would return to Gundam SEED (in the Cosmic Era) a year later once I had been grabbed by the Gundam franchise. I still have the DVDs in their presentation boxes and they look cool on the shelf with some of the others.

Gundam 00 was one of the first shows that I got genuinely excited about. Perhaps it was just a combination of the time it came out and me taking the time to be more proactive in finding related merchandise. I exercised restraint and bought two of the Gundam gunpla kits (Exia and Seravee) which I had a lot of fun painting and putting it together. Seeing the designs in 3D really rammed home the different battlefield capabilities encapsulated in their designs. Seravee really was just a walking artillery platform whilst Exia was built for speed and close combat.

What really grabbed me was the theme and opening music. We were treated to 4 different openings which I had to have. Handily there was a neat CD box set containing them. From there I suddenly had a few different entry points into the world of J-Pop and J-Rock so I explored some of the music back-catalogue of the artists I enjoyed. Daybreak's Bell by L'Arc en Ciel, Ash Like Snow by The Brilliant Green and Hakanaku mo Towa no Kanashi by UVERworld are still tracks I listen to till this day. Seeing the different opening sequences to the music was fun and I started to imagine what *I* would put to those tracks and others.

There was definitely a sense that Gundam 00 was a piece of pan-media entertainment, and for the first time, I was experiencing it. Whilst I saw some of it with Wing the connectivity to the internet, Neo magazine being available in the UK and having a limited disposable income all came together to open my eyes to what many others had been experiencing for a while.

In many ways, Gundam 00 is similar in story and premise to Wing. In both, we have a group of "pretty boy" Gundam pilots or Gundam-meisters as we have in 00. To be fair, most of the main characters tend to the pretty/visually appealing side. Each Gundam is introduced to an unsuspecting Earth in the year 2307 AD. From left to right in the header image up top we have Setsuna F. Seiei with Gundam Exia, Lockon Stratos in Gundam Dynames, Tieria Erde in the Gundam Virtue and Allelujah Haptism with Gundam Kyrios. Of course, these all get a mid-franchise upgrade as shown below.

The Gundam-meisters are all part of a private military organisation called Celestial Being whose goal is to eradicate war from Earth through a series of "interventions". As you can imagine the different national groupings on Earth are not too happy with this and unite to form the United Nations Army. Through a mix of treachery and commerce, the United Nations Army manage to level the technology gap which leads to a final showdown against Celestial Being and their mother ship the Ptolemaios.

Season 2 picks up several years after the showdown in space. Humanity has now established the Earth Sphere Federation and has an elite "peace-keeping" unit called the A-Laws (perhaps not so dissimilar to the Titans in the earlier Zeta Gundam?).  In a bid to eliminate conflict the remnants of Celestial Being still conduct interventions with limited success. As time passes the practices of the A-Laws and their ideology becomes exposed as another party who has been shaping events reveals themselves. It is now a question of whether disparate factions can unite to once again defeat a common foe.

The story of Gundam 00 is tied up in the feature-length animated movie A Wakening of the Trailblazer. It is on my list of films to watch I just haven't got around to watching it yet! That said I found the ending of the Gundam 00 series to be very pleasing indeed with characters getting the most appropriate resolutions to their stories and with a lasting impression that there is hope in the world after all.

Whilst set in a future Earth there are definitely recognisable factions that have emerged in a war-torn world. These factions are the AEU (European), the Union (mostly America, Japan and Australia) and the Human Reform League (primarily mainland Asia). With fossil fuels heavily depleted alternative sources of energy need to be sourced. This is achieved through giant solar arrays that are connected to Earth by an orbital elevator - both incredible feats of engineering! As expected this in turn leads to more conflict, or at least an overt cold-war fueled arms race as each bloc or faction seeks to protect their energy supplies.

00 picks up threads of terrorism, child soldiers and conflict in what we could consider the Middle East. These at the time were not typical within a Gundam show. 00 was definitely being pitched at a more mature teen audience. Technology has always been a big element within the franchise and here they show how when applied to humans there is the potential for them to transcend human limitations. It does not take a position as to whether this is good or bad but as a subject it is highly relevant today and as a debate it will run for many years to come.

The success and the impact of Gundam 00 was down not just to the great design work on display (designed by Yun Kougabut significantly from director Seiji Mizushima, writer Yƍsuke Kuroda. Mizushima had done some directorial work on Evangelion but is better known for directing the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime. This all finished off with an in-show soundtrack by and a score from Kenji Kawai (Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor to name but two of his works). Having a non-Gundam team really shows as the story is well-paced, gripping and more gritty conflict mixed with personal exploration than an old-school space opera. That change sets 00 apart from the others, is part of its appeal and makes it more accessible to a broader audience.

This was the first Gundam show that I had seen that had female characters more at the front, onscreen and taking an active role than some of the others. Now I know that we had female characters in Gundam and Zeta but in Wing (my first) characters like Lady Un or Relena Peacecraft just felt a bit ... flimsy. Almost like they were there to be saved. Don't get me wrong, the women here are not that well rounded or developed but they have enough to be memorable. Miss Sumeragi (the strategist aboard the Ptolemaios) and Liu Mei high-society spy spring to mind. If only some of them were not there *just* for the fan-service, something I thought Gundam shows were above. (Of course, having now seen some of the earlier entries in the franchise I can see that female characters played quite a central role and were much more integrated within the stories.)

Gundam 00 is a great entry point for Gundam and I would say anime in general (as was Fullmetal Alchemist!). Whilst it is very similar to Gundam Wing the character designs are quite contemporary and appealing. The mecha work is top-notch with crisp lines, highly functional designs and a sense of identity for each machine. This is not an easy feat when you think of the sheer number of designs there have been over the years. The story holds up well and you could argue the elements referring to on trans-humanism (the integration of technology with humanity in general) and the limited supply of fossil fuels will only become more relevant as time goes on. Wing was my entry point into the franchise but outside of the Universal Century 00 is my favourite Gundam instalment.


IN A NUTSHELL:  Easily the best Gundam outside the Universal Century. Action, political machinations and complicated names - it is everything you want from a Gundam show.