Produced by: Sunrise
Distributed by: Madman Entertainment
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Mecha
Runtime: 121 minutes, 1 DVD
Available from: Madman $29
The Gundam anime series has long been known for receiving mixed receptions when introduced into the Western markets. While widely loved by the Japanese anime audiences, the series is not as well known by western audiences, as it often has to compete with the likes of Transformers and other giant robot oriented TV spots. However, the two seasons of the Gundam 00 series were widely embraced as one of the best mecha anime series to date, rivalling in popularity to series such as Code Geass and Gundam Wing. As one of the latest series Gundam 00 presented a highly original story, constructed an entirely new universe in which it could be told, presented an absolutely kick-ass soundtrack and presented viewers with some of the greatest animated mecha battles to ever grace the screens of the audience.
As an avid fan of the Gundam 00 series, I was naturally very eager to see how the story could be expanded upon, and excited about the prospect of a grand finale worthy of what is probably my favourite anime to date. The Gundam 00 movie A Wakening of the Trailblazer continues the story of the Gundam pilots of the 00 series as the creators of the Gundam multiverse venture for the first time into a realm never before explored in an Gundam series: First Contact. Not only is A Wakening of the Trailblazer the first original Gundam movie since Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, but it is also the very first Gundam series to introduce an alien race into the continuity of the story. To many hardcore Gundam fanatics, this decision will no doubt leave some speculating as to how successful this venture might be. Will the story be a worthy ending to one of the most loved Gundam series in existence, or will this venture into unknown territory yield disappointing results?
The new government of the Earth Sphere Federation is carrying out a program of peaceful reconciliation, and preparing for the appearance of the Innovators who will lead the human race into a new era. But the return of a derelict Jupiter exploration ship marks the beginning of an unprecedented crisis. What are the alien entities known as Extraterrestrial Living-metal Shape-shifters? What do they want? And will Setsuna F. Seiei and his fellow Gundam Meisters be able to answer these questions before humanity is wiped out?
Featuring the popular heroes from the TV series in an all-new original story, and depicting the first appearance of alien life forms in the Gundam saga, this theatrical feature will amaze you with its breathtakingly animated spectacles of space combat and invite you to mind-expanding adventures throughout the solar system and beyond!‘ – DVD Blurb
The events of the movie pick up where the series was pretty much left as the end of Gundam 00 season 2. With the war for humanity’s reformation over, the Gundam Meisters of the private armed organisation Celestial Being have gone their separate ways. Some choosing to keep fighting to maintain the peace, others choosing to travel. The finale of 00’s second season was one which was loved by many of the fans. It did an excellent job at providing both an epic final confrontation and an epilogue to the fates of all of the significant characters. The film opens at a point 2 years after the final confrontation. Celestial Being is still taking routine missions to keep the peace, but has widely been accepted as the a group of heroes amongst humanity. Information is now shared openly between them and the United Earth Federation, and humanity readies itself for further exploration into the stars with a new race of humans known as Innovators.
It is at this point when an idealised form of peace is realised that a new threat presents itself. A long lost exploration cruiser sent to Jupiter 130 years prior suddenly makes a re-appearance. Parts of the ship crash down to Earth and suddenly a long string of strange events begins occurring across the planet. People begin to report machines suddenly coming to life and consuming human beings for unknown reasons. It is surmised that the entities responsible are in fact, an alien race. The aliens have the ability to shape-shift into various forms of living metal, which earns them the name of Extraterrestrial Living-metal Shape-Shifters, or ELS for short.
With a new conflict brewing on the horizon, and the fate of the Earth at stake, the Gundam Meisters of Celestial Being are once again forced to take up arms, this time not so prevent a war, but rather ensure the survival of Humans and Innovators alike. The entire reason for the armed interventions and reformations they carried out in the prior series’ was to unite humanity for the “dialogues to come” with the races they would inevitably encounter in space. Now the final stage for Celestial Beings plan for reformation has been set. And their final mission about to begin.
For newcomers to the Gundam 00 series, or the Gundam multiverse as a whole, A Wakening of the Trailblazer is not a particularly good place to start. It should be noted that for many who might watch the movie with no background knowledge to the series will most certainly struggle in understanding what is going on, and who the characters are. The concepts, battle techniques, Gundam capabilities, relationships and universal structure are all assumed knowledge. While for fans of the series like myself this isn’t a problem, I can understand it becoming one for other viewers. The assumption of knowledge unfortunately limits the degree in which viewers can immerse themselves within the story.
As a whole, I have to say that unfortunately the story does not hold together as well as one would hope for in a grand finale. The story tends to jump around from place at different stages, and even then, it holds together only just enough to get it across the line. The concept of an alien invasion is presented, but reasoning not provided until the very end. While I understand this is part of the mystery behind the alien race, a little more background information on the ELS would have been nice. I do have to give the creators credit for attempting to integrate aliens into the story, but the execution could have been performed better. And to its credit story did do a good job at addressing underlying themes presented but not expanded on in the series, such as possible romances and the re-use of older mobile suit models. It provided expansion to the story which, as a Gundam fan was good to see. Without giving too much away however, the ending of the story was executed VERY poorly. As the final note that the series would leave on, it left a very bitter taste in my mouth. A clear climax was built up to, but an ensuing confrontation is never realised, and the epilogue is just plain disappointing. I actually found myself creating alternative explanations for the ending scene that would not fully destroy my memories and love for the 00 series. When a movie forces the viewer to do that, it’s an indication of poorly handled storytelling. Ultimately it is a subjective area, but I believe that the 00 series would have been better off story wise being left at the end of season 2.
Setsuna F Seiei
The protagonist of both this movie and the 00 series, Setsuna F Seiei is the Gundam Meister that pilots the series’ signature Gundams, 00-Raiser, and subsequently the 00-Quanta for the movie. As the first purebred Innovator , Setsuna garners a huge responsibility not only as an ace Gundam pilot, but also as one of the few people able to reform humanity. Using the power of his 00 Gundam’s twin drive, Setsuna is able to create a space in which the minds of living beings can interact and come to an understanding. His capabilities become a key plot device during the course of the movie. Overall Setsuna appears to be a very tortured character in this movie. Not only is he daunted by the weight of his responsibilities as an Innovator, but also by the fact that his character gets very little development beyond what has been seen in the series. The fights he is engaged in are often lacking and despite his role as the main character, he seems to the get the short end of the stick in terms of screen time.
Lockon Stratos is the master sniper of Celestial Being. Taking on the mantle and codename from his deceased older brother Lockon II (as he’s referred to by the fanbase) pilots the newly introduced Sniper type Zabanya. His attitude is fairly laid back and carefree, but in battle, he is 100 percent serious about getting the job done. Following the finale of season 2, Lockon II has stuck with Celestial Being as a Gundam pilot. Lockon most certainly takes a back-seat in terms of story development during the movie. His entire personal story was resolved close to the end of season 2. Interestingly however, Lockon and Allelujah share what is probably the majority of the combat screen time of the film.
Allelujah is the Super-Soldier of Celestial Being. As a former military experiment, Allelujah possesses not only abilities with Quantum Brainwaves, similar to that of Innovators, but also a destructive, psychotic split personality. When his other half Hallelujah returns in the movie, he appears just as brutal and dangerous as he was in the series itself. When the two work in unison, they provide devastating, but effective results. Along with his partner Marie Parfacey, Allelujah rejoins celestial being after 2 years of travelling the world. For the movie, they pilot the two-person flight-type Gundam Harute. Like Lockon, Allelujah and Harute Gundam probably receive the most screen time during battle sequences.
Tieria is an oddity among the ranks of Celestial Being. His consciousness is transferable from his body to Celestial Beings mainframe computer system, making him a combination of both man and machine. When he reappears in the movie, he has created a new, identical looking body for himself to assist his allies in taking on the ELS threat. Piloting the newly developed Assault type Gundam Raphael, he re-joins the fight, much to the delight of the fans. However, his character suffers from similar issues to Setsuna in that his role in the story has been drastically reduced from what it was in the series.
The Gundam 00 movie is filled with too many characters to comment on, but for those who have watched the series, many will be happy to note the return of a majority of the characters from the series, as well as a few introductions to completely new characters. Minor characters such as the Setsuna’s rival Graham Aker and Celestial Being’s Feldt Grace receive a good deal of attention and development, while others like Saji Crossroad take a back seat for a good deal of the ride. The new characters are also a degree confusing, especially one of the scientists named Meena Carmine, who is a dead ringer for the psycho-queen Nena Trinity from the series.
Ultimately it feels like the presentation of characters is trying to do it’s best to stick to the continuity of the universe, which is admirable. Had many of them been omitted entirely, the movie would be accused of not remaining faithful to the ongoing plot. One might criticise the movie for having an over abundance of characters, but I feel that chances are, if one are interested in seeing the movie, then they probably already have a good background knowledge of the characters and story as it is so far. Whether or not the character appeals work for certain viewers will ultimately be a subjective matter to how familiar they are with the already existing material.
AUDIO / VISUAL
Despite the flaws that occurred with A Wakening of the Trailblazer’s story and execution, the visual designs and audio features were absolutely stellar. One thing that can never be said of this movie is that the battles are lacking. The battle scenes depicted are intense, high-speed and buffered with plenty of laser blasts, beam swords and explosions. The battles in which the Gundam’s themselves are involved are the most fun to watch. The combination of both anime styled art for the mobile suits and the metallic 3-dimensional CGI for the ELS forces provides a great contrast between the human-like mobile suits and the inhuman nature of the alien race. The visual designs of the mobile suits of the film also adheres very strongly to the types of suits and evolutions of different machine models from the series. Naturally, with 2 years, passed, one would expect to see some degree of difference. And while the battles are intense and numerous, they are also very well drawn and animated to the extent that viewers will pretty much always be able to tell what is going on, so that the battle scenes are not simply reduced to explosion-fests akin to the Transformers live action films. The fight banter is well fleshed out and individualised for each character and suit, and the special effects added to the battles are highly satisfying to watch.
The designs of the new mobile suits is an area I also feel garners a commentary, especially in regards to the Gundams themselves. I really particularly like the designs of Lockon’s Zabanya and Tieria’s Raphael. Both have taken the designs of the formerly goofy looking Cheridum and Seraphim Gundams and turned them into newer, more badass versions, outfitted with new weapons, armour and abilities. However, Allelujah’s Harute really looks and feels no different from the old Arios model from season 2. Most disappointing of all however is the flight of 00-Quanta. After a huge degree of build up regarding the new capabilities of the 00-Quanta, which looked a heck of a lot like a re-designed, twin drive Exia Gundam, the viewers are shown next to nothing of it. It appears only for a brief moment, but never engages in a satisfactory form of combat, which I found pretty disappointing, especially given the epic build up given to it.
The audio soundtrack however, matches the movie very well. The film takes much of the iconic battle and background music from both seasons 1 and 2 and re-releases them as slightly edited, but far more epic sounding versions. The new Trans-am power up theme had me stuck to the screen the moment it began playing. The sound effects are similarly ported over from the series to maintain the continuity and flow of the universe. The voice acting is also an area which I feel the movie did a good job in perfecting. One of the largest debates that still rages on between anime fans the English vs. Japanese dubs of the soundtrack. Similar to seasons 1 and 2, the movie does a great job and translating the vocals into English with the Western vocal cast. Brad Swaille returns and does a superb job as Setsuna F Seiei, capturing the very essence of his character that we loved to see from moments in seasons 1 and 2. Regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself on, the DVD does provide for both English and Japanese dubs. But as far as the English dub is concerned, it is performed very well, barely even editing story or voice segments to any unacceptable degree.
As the grand finale to the Gundam 00 series, one could most certainly leave out the “grand” part of that description. The story presented, while an expansion into areas of interest for the fans, ultimately did not pay off. The plot barely holds together, and the resolution and ending to the story of the 00 series were highly disappointing. However, despite the criticisms that one might have, one should still see the film for what it was: an experiment. For the Gundam series to venture into the realm of extraterrestrial contact, I feel that doing so must have been considered a gamble on the part of the creators. Ultimately I viewed the film as an experiment that yielded negative results. While still a Gundam movie, it was no ‘Endless Waltz’. While it is my personal opinion that the Gundam 00 continuity could have been left without A Wakening of the Trailblazer, the film itself is still an intense experience and hugely entertaining. The mecha battles are performed spectacularly and in the end it is still a fun film to watch through for any Gundam fan.