Friday, February 21, 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam II: Soldiers of Sorrow - We Noticed You're Still Alive

We'll have to fix that.

...oh, dammit! I was kidding!

Well, it's been a few days. After some considerable drinking, I've recovered from...that.

Sorry in the highly unlikely event anyone who's reading this liked that movie, but that has just gone on the list of the worst of all time. Not sure if it's #1, but damned if it isn't making a game effort for it.

Anyway, I have two others lined up for the next few days. Initially, this was going to be the later of the two reviews posted, but I needed something I knew I'd be happy with to wash that film out of my mouth. While the other film isn't awful, it wasn't going to be strong enough for this one.

With that, we now start entry #2 in the 35th Gundam anniversary writeups for this year. Within four months of the release of the first movie (there's a release turnaround you almost never see these days) Sunrise released the middle piece of their compilation trilogy for the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Like any good trilogy, this learns from some of the mistakes of its earlier film, and does try to build on them more. It still has a ways to go, but we're getting there.

That said, let's dive in.

Events-wise, this movie kicks off right where the first left off. We're given a brief montage complete with narration to bring everyone up to speed on the events before we start setting the scene for this movie This includes getting a more formal introduction to some of the antagonists, most notably Ramba Ral (Masashi Hirose) - the enemy ace who served Amuro a tasty curb sandwich at the end of the first movie, and M'Quve (originally voiced by the late Kaneto Shiozawa, and for the re-record played by Masahiko Tanaka.) From there, we jump back to the White Base where we last left them: knee-deep in enemy territory and trying to make their way to their own headquarters. It's a journey that makes up the bulk of this movie, and it's not an easy one for them: loyalties will be tested, friends will be made and lost, and the high cost of war will take its toll all around. know, your classic Part 2 narrative escalation.

Yeah, it's a highly illegal move, but you've gotta admit, this would make fencing a LOT more interesting.

Like I said above, this film seems to have learned from some of the problems of the first movie in terms of pacing and time. There are still some stops and starts - for example, despite receiving a formal introduction, M'Quve really doesn't amount to much in this film. Given the movies skirt around a major battle that was included in the TV series( here only addressed in passing) where M'Quve was supposed to be the big antagonist, his role in this movie really only amounts to some passing 'this is what's going on in the rest of the world' narrative, and to serve to screw over Ramba Ral. This last part becomes the one real bit of character development he gets in these movies. His role is still a valid one in the overall story - highlighting the internal conflicts and self-serving officers in higher positions are eroding Zeon from within even as their enemies get stronger - but for his part, the movie renders him less a character and more a plot device. By comparison, Ramba Ral gets the bulk of the first chunk of the movie to highlighting him as a threat. Which makes sense - not only is he a fan favorite character, he's also the first time the crew really gets to see the face of the enemy in this version (the show has several one-off episodes that highlight this point, but they were all cut down in the interests of time.) In this regard, the film actually does a good job keeping a lot of his character intact. Further, this continuous plot arc holds together better than some of the more clear-cut transitions in the first movie. It's still not a perfect job, as there are still a few scenes where you can see the narrative stitch where an episode cut out. The section where a disillusioned Amuro deserts the ship and takes the Gundam with him is one of the biggest examples of this. They try to play it off better, but you can still imagine the 'cut to credits' moment, as the bridge  between the scenes doesn't quite take.

Well...screwing Ramba Ral over and a legacy of flamboyance in the eyes of the fanbase.

To be honest, I have a bit of a harder time holding the awkward bridges against this movie compared to the first film, thanks in large part due to the fact that  the span of story this movie is trying to cover is almost literally all over the place. While the first movie covers a large chunk of narrative ground, it's still a pretty contained chunk of story (making up roughly the first 12 episodes of the series, and even then cutting roughly 4 or 5 episodes worth of that out in the process.) It feels fairly contained location wise, too- first they escape from the colony, make a quick sidestop at Luna II, then it's off to Earth where the rest of the film plays out in the NA area. It feels a bit more cohesive as a three-act structure, even with the episodic start and stop. By comparison, this movie spans a good chunk of the globe more notably, going across Europe before its finale in South America. The changes in locale feel much more pronounced in this film, which further adds to the feeling of breaks in the plot.

It also helps that, even with the awkward breaks, the stories in this part are upping the ante to make up for it. As is often the case with second parts of a trilogy, this is the movie which aims to go darker, and it manages to do so in several places, sometimes better than the events within the series. In particular, there are two arcs that translate well for this - the first is involving secondary pilot Kai (Toshio Furukawa) who goes from being just a sarcastic support character in the first movie to actually getting his own arc here, which also serves to hit home just how this war is affecting civilians as well. While part of the climax of the arc can feel a little over the top by today's standards, the emotional payoff still hits surprisingly well, in no small part thanks to Furukawa's handling of the role. The other turn here is one of those elements where I actually feel the movies did one better over the TV series: without giving too much away, as mentioned above, the crew do experience some losses of their own. One of these is an arc that, within the TV series, makes for a REALLY awkward scene. While it makes sense to show just how much the crew member meant to everyone, the show's depiction of their reactions is almost comically over the top: EVERYONE breaks down bawling at the character's death, and I mean full on fall-to-your-hands-and-knees-crying-your-eyes-out grade bawling. It's well-intentioned, but laid on WAY too thick to really take seriously, and I think Tomino realized it, since the scene in the movies is a lot more reserved. Everyone is still clearly saddened and shaken up by it, but there's also still more of a sense of shock with it that resonates better. In general, the film has more emotional beats to work with, and mostly hits them accurately.

Even with some of the 70s narrative styles, that Kai subplot is still pretty damn depressing.

This movie also further highlights one other area the movies have an edge over the series by comparison in that there are certain elements of the story that get better addressed within this version of the story than they do in the series. In particular, the concept of Newtypes - a sort of psychic phenomenon that becomes particularly prominent near the end of the series, are introduced earlier here and more gradually developed than in the series, likely thanks to the fact they had the story already all laid out and could structure it in more easily. It's actually first introduced within the first movie in a conversation, but this is the movie where that concept really starts getting set up more, in particular in the suggestions that Amuro may be developing those abilities as he makes his way through the war. It's still relatively minor in this particular film, but given it's a major element of the third movie, it helps to have them setting the foundation for it up now.

Additionally, this marks the most prominent moments where the movies break away from the series - this is thanks to the fact that, rather than story being edited by virtue of omission, this movie marks where newly animated sequences were worked in in order to bring the story more in line with what Tomino originally had in mind. One of the most overt examples of this being rolled in mid-movie, when the original unit for Sayla (You Inoue) is changed from the more openly gimmicky and toyetic G-Armor of the TV series for the more plausible, and functional looking Core Booster (see below for comparison on both.) It's primarily an appearances case here, but it does also serve as the biggest tell that the movie is reworking parts of the series.



As I said at the start, as a sequel, this movie shows it has learned from the shortcomings of its predecessor. It still has some problems, in this case partially a consequence of the sheer range of narrative they're covering, and the episodic format still betrays the movie, but, as with last time, they're at least trying to cover up the seams as much as they can. In this case, while some are still apparent, they've patched many others over fairly well, and this is in part thanks to the fact that the series was gaining more of an over-arching story by this point. By the time the crew reaches headquarters in Jaburo, the movie hits a pretty continuous stride that it maintains all the way to its finale - a somewhat more optimistic, but still memorable scene of the White Base returning to space set to Daisuke Inoue's 'Ai Senshi' (an incredibly catchy song whose translated lyrics are surprisingly dark considering the upbeat tune they're played to.) It doesn't have quite the same impact as the first movie's finale does, but after the rough ride the crew go through in this film, it's a refreshing note to close things on - the end may be in sight, and even though it's not going to be at all easy, they're at least on their way. know, given how wrong this looks out of context, and how much the fandom has already joked about it, riffing this almost feels redundant.

So yeah, there are still a few fumbles, but it's still an overall better movie in terms of composition.

Next month it all pays off with the end of the original trilogy, Encounters in Space.

Of course, I've got a lot of other material lined up for you guys before that point in general reviews. So, once again, keep an eye out.

Till next time!

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