Monday, June 30, 2014

Gundam 0083: Last Blitz of Zeon - Two Hours to Save You Four and a Half.

This month's entry is something of a turning point in the brand compared to the previous films reviewed. This marks the first Gundam movie not directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino as well as being one of the only movie based on a side-story made to this day.

But first, I should probably start by explaining 0083 as a story to ya. I'll keep this one relatively brief, I swear.

Following the success of Gundam 0080, Sunrise released another OVA side-story, Gundam 0083: Stardust Memories. It's somewhat ironic that, following 0080, arguably Gundam's most overtly anti-war story (as much as the setting allows for, anyway - there's a sort of contradiction at play in a series that depicts the horrors of war, but whose ultimate life blood is in the sale of plastic kits based on its universes weapons) 0083 is one of Gundam's most openly militaristic stories in terms of setting, writing and overall direction. As its story goes, it's been four years since the events of the original series ended. There is an uneasy peace since the Federation and Zeon reached a ceasefire. As this doesn't sell kits, enter the Delaz Fleet, a small group of Zeonic breakaway who refused to accept the ceasefire at the end of the One Year War and have been biding their time waiting for their chance to strike. They get that through the Federation's backwater base in Australia, where they're testing two new prototype Gundams-one of which is capable of launching a nuclear warhead. guess which one Zeon is interested in.
The story from there concerns itself with the Federation warship Albion and rookie test pilot Kou Uraki (Ryo Horikawa) (even in a more militaristic setting, it's gonna be the rookie) who helms the remaining Gundam, GP-01, in hunting the Delaz Fleet and its stolen Gundam - piloted by Feared Ace You've Never Heard of Before, Anavel Gato (Akio Ohtsuka.)

"You've never heard of me before, but trust me. I AM kind of a big deal..."
As a compilation movie goes, there is one particularly curious thing about Last Blitz of Zeon, and even I didn't realize how close this went until I looked into release dates. Rather than wait till the series was over and use the movie as an extra recap piece to score a few extra yen off of the fans, this movie was actually released a mere eight days after the second to last episode went on sale. So, besides retelling much of the series, this movie was the world's first look at how 0083 was supposed to end.

As material for a compilation movie goes, I have to say, I still think this is a bit of an odd choice. As the title suggests, I can understand a compilation movie (or set of a movies) for a refresher if someone isn't sure they want to fully rewatch a 40-50 episode TV series. That's a pretty big time investment, really. By comparison, this is a movie recutting a thirteen episode straight to video series down. Thirteen episodes around twenty-four minutes each, by my rough calculations, that's under six hours (Editor's note: Hey, you can watch all of Now and Then, Here and There and be really depressed in just under 6 hours!). Factor in additional time if one chooses to skip opening and closing credits of each episode and 'Next Episode' previews, it actually clocks in under five. Maybe it's just being anal retentive on my part, but it really seems kind of a pointless time cut.

Or, maybe that's just me trying to say this movie is kind of a mess in terms of a recut.

 I'll admit over the past few months, I've been riding the Gundam movies about their issues of telling a story in the span of a movie. Before, when it was all just titles being directed by Tomino, it could be easily just chalked up to 'hey, he doesn't do well with making movies.' Around here it gets odd, because many other directors-starting here with Takashi Imanishi- seem to fall into the same hole. In this particular case, I think part of that's about wanting to get to the ending so they can offer up the (at the time) new material for viewers, which I can somewhat understand, though I can't say I like it. At the same time, this also means a good two-thirds of the series is essentially put on fast forward.

"I know they may not look it, but I can assure you - these arms were made for hugging!"

Actually, fast forward is an understatement. As the movie of 0083's timeline goes, two entire episodes worth of events are completely gone. I want to clarify this- when I say gone, I don't mean they happened but were just skipped over. Thanks to a new bit of voice over narration tightening up the storyline, the events of those two episodes just never happened. Period.

But before I get into that, I should probably start at the beginning here (don't worry, I won't completely summarize the movie, but seeing as its problems change based on whichever section of film we're on, it would be best to just go through them chronologically.) In terms of a starting point, Last Blitz actually picks a pretty good place to begin its recap- we start the movie roughly a third of the way into the storyline, with the events taking place on Earth all in the past and recounted in flashback by female lead Nina Purpleton (Rei Sakuma.) One advantage here is that this also allows for a new introduction that lays out some setting that will make more sense later on, but I digress. As I said, on a starting point, this is actually a good place to jump into the story. The problem here is more in how the flashbacks are handled. The choices in what scenes are left in result in some pretty poor editing decisions. Probably the best example of this is in looking at how the movie handles its big event, the Gundam theft. Before the scene begins, we're treated to a few other scenes that make for nice character moments such as Kou's wide-eyed excitement at Gundams, as well as his awkward attempts to impress Nina with his knowledge of the new machine. The problem is, this is also done at the expense of what were several somewhat significant plot scenes the original series included here- such as further stating just how taboo nuclear weapons really are at this point in the series, and how it is that a notorious ace like Gato is able to sneak into a Federation base - in the movie, he's literally just there in a Federation uniform with no bother to cover how he got inside. Anyway, after these bits of character, we cut to Kou and Keith being shooed out of the hangar as GP-02, the nuclear-packing Gundam, gets its payload. Gato walks in, asks if it's loaded, and then says he'll go check. From there, cut to the machine already on the move and Kou already hopping up to GP-01's cockpit. THEN we cut to the Albion's bridge, where they decide to cover Gato's announced theft and the subsequent attack on the base care of bridge chatter.
(Sorry, this long example is just for this one point.)
Yes, I've said in the past, these movies aren't made to be substitutes for the series, a point I will stand by. At the same time, I still feel like these should be able to stand alone as movie. Looking at this from a filmmaking standpoint, this entire sequence is just very sloppily edited. We spend chunks of time on Kou's almost fanboyish admiration of Gundams, which, while amusing, really doesn't play into much of the rest of the feature. Then when the movie gets to what's supposed to be the first 'big' event, Gato's theft and declaring the Gundam to be Zeon's, the movie hits the fast forward button and then tells us what happened afterward. I'm not even asking for the full episode to be put in here, but with one or two minor scenes, not even a minute long, this scene would have flowed a LOT better and avoided that cardinal sin of cinema - telling rather than showing.

"I don't care what it is you told your wingman, I have NOT lost that loving feeling!"

Sorry. The editing on this part REALLY bugged me. Some of the other bits I could accept as a filmmaking conceit if they were going with the story of seeing the Earth events recapped through Nina's eyes, but even that logic sort of falls flat here given she not only witnessed the theft, but the movie then has her offer up an explanation of who Gato is (which I'll be getting back to behind the spoiler tag.)

Anyway, beyond this really clumsy sequence, the rest of the recap of Earth isn't too bad, but for one really awkward choice with regards to the earlier mentioned omission of two episodes. I'll concede that in a movie, they might be seen as bogging events down (even though one of them is arguably one of the best episodes of the original OVA) but just letting the rest of the story play without them leaves a pretty big hole in terms of characterization. The movie comes back several times to the antagonism between young Kou and cocky Federation ace Monsha (Chafurin.) While this is one of the more interesting character conflicts in the overall story (and in some ways actually has more going for it than Kou and Gato's rivalry, which feels rather one-sided for most of the plot,) the omission of those episodes on Earth means that, as far as this movie is concerned, it comes out of nowhere. There isn't even a bit of voiceover narration to explain that the Albion got new pilots, or that Monsha and Kou are both vying for the Gundam (and Nina,) we just pick up right in space as though they've been at it this whole time, even though earlier rewrites say that would be impossible. On top of which, said rewrites also don't really give a reason to keep Kou in the Gundam-again, information that was a casualty of the written out episodes.
Why they bothered to do a rewrite for one part and not then retool the rest to restore the flow, I really don't know. All I can tell you is, the more I look back at the first part of this on a rewatch, the more I realize how incredibly sloppy it is as a recap.

"Hey, batter! Hey batterbatterbatterbatter..."

Fortunately, once they get to space, the plot moves a bit more smoothly. With two-thirds of the movie left, it's got more breathing room and flows through the second half of the series a bit more naturally. Of course, there are still some bumps along the way- most notably the fact that three major characters who are killed in the original series are, in this version, apparently all put on a bus to Mexico. Really, that's as good an explanation as any for the fact they vanish from the movie with nothing said of their absences whatsoever. Likewise, a plot half-alluded to in the original series about a conspiracy regarding the true nature of Zeon's plan (known as Operation Stardust) is left out of the movie entirely which causes its already somewhat nebulous shocker of a finale to feel even more muddled.

and despite that messy writing, they still found a way to get two non-humanoid mechanized hulks to sword fight. Because tense robot fights ALWAYS need a sword fight.

Okay, before I go any further, I should point out that this movie isn't all bad.  Its story is an absolute mess, but it's certainly not devoid of merits in other areas. For starters, though light on new footage, it still helps further highlight the OVA's top notch production values. In general, this movie's animation makes good use of its budget. Even in sequences that are largely just stylized still frames, it doesn't really feel like it simply through good use of the details to give the scenes an extra notch of life. In particular, I'm pleased to say the movie leaves in, almost its entirety, arguably one of the best sequences of the whole story, when Kou and Gato engage in a brutal throwdown in their two Gundams that leaves both machines utterly wrecked. It's one of those moments where the animators really get the chance to go all in on a fight and show the machines in question being pushed to the absolute limits of what they can do. With that high a level attached, this duel does NOT disappoint.
On top of this, the movie's visual style is a nice touch that helps emphasize this as its own side story from the main Gundam line. With character designs from Toshihiro Kawamoto (which, humorously enough, evoke a very Top Gun feel in several of their leads- a feeling only built on by the show's first opening's resemblance to Highway To the Danger Zone), mechanical designs by a team including Hajime Katoki and Shoji Kawamori, and art direction from Junichi Azama, the overall feeling of the setting is both familiar to the Universal Century, but also its own contained setting. Even when the film stumbles, it's still damn nice to look at.

Though strangely, the movie downplays the Top Gun-esque levels of comic homoeroticism that made their way into the OVA. As ridiculous as it is, I will miss the hilarious makeout-grade song this scene was given in the original series, completely seriously.

Likewise, the cast are all well chosen for their parts. Horikawa has a good range for playing both Kou's stubborn youth and his genuine rage as the tides of war flow against him. Ohtsuka has a bit of an uphill battle given Gato's being kind of a half-developed character, but he still manages to imbue the 'death before dishonor' archetype with enough drive to make up for that. Beyond the leads, the other main standout would have to be Mari Mishiba as Cima Garahau, a black sheep of a Zeon commander who plays a sort of unpredictable pirate in the overall story. Even when her motivations are somewhat muddled by the writing, Mishiba's performance gives her a sort of twisted personality that really helps her shine amid the awkward writing around her.


One of the big problems in breaking down what works and what doesn't in this movie is the fact that it turns into how much is praising just what's in the movie and how much is praising the things already made from the OVA. Unlike earlier compilations, this has considerably fewer new sequences, and much of the score- barring two new songs- is all lifted from the original series. Even its shortcomings are largely problems that were already in the OVA. I'd like to quote comedian Michael J. Nelson: "close-ups reveal the weakness of the whole premise." I've done my best to limit my complaints to just problems that are in the movie, but one of the big problems the movie has going for it is, as a concentrated dosage of 0083, it also makes the OVA's strengths and weaknesses all the more apparent all around. The only other really movie-exclusive complaint I have is behind the spoiler tag JUST IN CASE.

In all, Last Blitz of Zeon is kind of an oddity as a compilation to me. We have a movie recap to a relatively short series that spoiled the ending several months before its release. Unlike earlier (and Hell, I'll even say later) installments in the franchise, where it's easy to see whee the film format undermines the material. This is a title that, even before being crunched down to a movie, suffered from rushed writing, half-formed characterization and an ending that, despite its best attempts to go out with a bang, mostly just fizzles out, its hands tied by continuity. I can't say it's the worst movie to bear the Gundam brand, or even the worst compilation (the Turn A movies are a special brand of messy,) but the fact is, it's a movie that really doesn't add much of anything to the original story and really only feels like it got made as a promotional stunt. It's certainly not without merits, but unless you're really, really pressed for time, you'd do better to just watch the original OVA series, warts and all, and just look up the insert songs and the movie's prologue separately.

Wow, I did not expect a rewatch to change my opinion that much on this one.
But then, that's why rewatches are important.

Got more material coming your way soon, including our first Summer Reading entry.

You've been warned...
...I mean, till then!

And there's Simon Pegg to warn off spoiler people for this one last complaint about the movie. Like I said, I tried to keep my complaints about this movie limited to just those issues the movie itself deals with. In that regard, I'd like to believe I've done pretty well. That said, there's one here that's kind of a split. It's a problem in the original OVA as well, but the movie makes it even more of an issue, and arguably turns it into a plot hole thanks to one of its own additions. Partway into its run, 0083's story experiences something of a shift due to a new director taking the wheel. One character who arguably gets hit the hardest by the shift in direction is Nina. For much of the first half, her main concern is the safety of the Gundams she's helped produce. It's not a lot of characterization, but it's a nice idea - she's very career oriented, and it gives her and Kou something to bond over. In the second half, she starts gaining a whole new source of angst that, in the second to last episode, is revealed to be due to the fact that she and Gato had a history. Now, in the OVA, this is already a bit of a problem writing-wise, as Nina really doesn't seem to recognize Gato by face or name in the first half of the series. The movie turns it into even MORE of a plot hole care of her opening narration explaining who he is. She mentions how he's known by his reputation as an ace pilot, and how even she had heard of him.
Given their history, I should certainly hope she'd heard of him.

Now, at the time this movie came out, people had known about Nina and Gato being an item for all of eight days (IF they bought the twelfth episode, anyway.) A reveal that, amusingly, the movie does away with entirely. In fact, it almost feels like they decided on second thought, this is stupid. Until the movie goes ahead with its final reveal: a scene that STILL angers viewers to this day: in which Nina confronts Gato inside the colony. She tries to appeal to his humanity and he rebuffs her, as his ideals kick in once more. Kou arrives, and Nina defends Gato, much to Kou's -and the audience's- disbelief. Without the buildup, and thanks to the awkward new plot hole brought to the table by the opening narration, this decision feels even MORE out of character for Nina, and makes her commenting "You just don't understand" almost ironic.

To this day, I wonder if this reveal hurt sales of the last episode.

Anyway, till next time.

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