REVIEW: Gundam SEED Remaster Episodes 1-5 (2002)

An anime series, recently remastered in HD

I think I can come up with two points when my fandom for Mobile Suit Gundam was at it’s peak – In 2000 when my cable provider finally obtained Cartoon Network, meaning I stumbled onto Gundam Wing one day after school, and in college when I became absolutely hooked on Gundam SEED. SEED was the first show in the franchise I followed right from the beginning – downloading questionable fansubs online before the show ever cam out over here. I recall getting volumes of manga, burning copies of the apocryphal spinoff stuff that was never released in the US and a lot more. One could say that, more so than any other show in this long-running franchise, Gundam SEED defined one of the more defining years of my life, and is perhaps still one of my favorites. The fact that this show is nearing TWENTY years of age is almost baffling to me!

As one of my many Gundam-related articles on here, I wanted to re-explore this series to see if it still hits the same as it used to, and if I still hold it in the same high regard as before. Rather than load 50-100 (if I can suffer through SEED Destiny lol) separate reviews on here and drown out any non-Gundam fans, I am splitting this into five episode chunks.

“Kira Yamato is a Coordinator and university student on Heliopolis, when his life is thrown into disarray as ZAFT, the military organization composed of rebellious Coordinators, attacks the colony in an effort to steal a set of five state-of-the-art military mobile suits known as Gundams.”

Gundam SEED is without a doubt, the one Gundam show that defines the “oughts” in my honest opinion. it’s seeped in imagery and themes that harken back to turn of the century world events, such as 9-11 and the wars in the Middle East. It does a fine job of taking the overall themes of the franchise and modernizing them for a crowd that may not be familiar with the 1979 series. In many ways, it is a thematic “remake” of the original series, but avoids doing a complete “on the nose” retelling. It has it’s own storyline with nods to the past, but never fully retreads the old material.

Before I really get rolling, I want to point out the extreme nostalgia I have for every note of music in this show. From the amazing intro song by the band TM Revolution to the background music, it’s all done very well, and it is all very memorable. To this day, I occasionally put on a playlist of Gundam songs while driving, and songs from this show are usually some of my favorites.

This show still largely looks pretty good in 2022, but it does come from the era in the early 2000s when animation studios switched from hand-drawn animation cels to digital production. Most shows from this era have not aged particularly well, and look especially bad on HD TVs. This is largely due to many using a mix of flat drawn models and 3-D CGI elements sprinkled in. SEED does this as well, and the HD remaster seems to smooth things out, and the CGI elements aren’t too over the top. They usually consist of exterior shots of space colonies for dynamic cinematic camera pans.

I think the age and technological constraints only really show up when you look at some of the movement in the animation. Compared to shows in the franchise from a few years later, like Mobile Suit Gundam 00, the framerate is very choppy – whether this is done on purpose in the same manner that Japan makes CGI stuff look bad on purpose (to mimic older anime conventions), or an accident is up for debate. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, browse internet debates on the animation for modern shows like Berserk (2016), and notice the fury fans have for how bad it looks vs the animators trying to explain why it’s done that way.

Episodes:

  • Episode 1 – False Peace – 11 months have passed since the Earth Alliance and ZAFT (Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty) entered into war. In L5, on the resource satellite Heliopolis of the neutral nation Orb… On this colony, Industrial College student Kira Yamato, as usual, heads for the lab where he accidentally gets involved in a Gundam extortion plan by the invading ZAFT forces.
  • Episode 2 – It’s Name: Gundam – ZAFT is able to steal four of the five G Project prototype mobile suits, leaving only the GAT-X105 Strike. With Murrue Ramius unable to pilot it effectively, Kira pilots the Strike and defends Heliopolis against the invading ZAFT forces to protect his friends. Ensign Natarle Badgiruel takes command of the new mobile assault ship Archangel with the surviving crew members.
  • Episode 3 – Collapsing Land – Lt. Murrue Ramius takes over as captain of the Archangel and Kira and his friends are detained for seeing top secret military weapons while the crew of the Archangel learn that Kira is a coordinator. Rau Le Creuset is determined to capture the Strike after seeing how well it moved and sends out mobile suits to retrieve it. Disobeying orders, Athrun also dispatches so he could confirm if Kira is the one piloting the Strike, but when he finds his answer, Heliopolis crumbles as it sustains too much damage.
  • Episode 4 – Silent Run – Kira discovers a malfunctioning lifeboat and brings it aboard the Archangel. Everyone is surprised to find Flay Allster as one of the rescued civilians. The Archangel decides to head for the Eurasian Federation military satellite Artemis to seek help. Rau Le Creuset follows and plans an attack on the Archangel. Kira decides to continue piloting the Strike and his friends volunteer to become members of the Archangel crew as his support.
  • Episode 5 – Phase Shift Down – Mu La Flaga and Kira launch a counteroffensive against the ZAFT ship Vesalius. The Strike’s Phase Shift Armor runs out of power in the middle of the battle and Athrun uses this moment to grab the Strike so he can take Kira with him, but Kira frees himself with Mu’s help.

The first five episodes are a solid start to the show, if not a tad bit slow. We are shown the initial raid that results in the theft of the Gundams, Kira and his friends are detained by the Archangel, and Kira somewhat begrudgingly comes to terms with his new role as the pilot of the Strike Gundam. It’s not until episode five that the episode really starts moving, so from here on out (save the recap episodes that are the bane of this show) its pretty much awesome. Most Gundam shows are structured like this so it’s not like this is an outlier, and some are even slower – Gundam AGE for example. If anything, these early pacing issues are the only real issues I have with this show. I’m not even bringing up SEED Destiny which a whole different topic altogether.

All-in-all, I think this still holds up after all these years so far, and I know it only gets better. It’s not a perfect show, and I may be looking at this through nostalgia in many ways, but it’s at least interesting and avoids the main issue I have with Universal Century Gundam, notably the need for Sunrise to constantly muddle the timeline by adding stuff in here and there, no matter how much it contradicts other stuff. With the upcoming film release on the horizon, I really hope the series does well so that this becomes another long running series, parallel to UC Gundam, but they REALLY need to stick the landing. Anything good I say here was unraveled in Destiny, and they will need to work hard to salvage it. Stay tuned for the next one of these, looking at episodes 6-10, hopefully coming very soon.

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