Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation 2 - In Which Concept and Story Get In a Back Alley Brawl

Sorry for the delays on these, guys. Last two months have been hectic between getting set up on the other site and personal life in general. But, we're coming into October and all the fun that entails, so for the next few days, I'm gonna be settling old business (no, not killing people. This time.)

Which brings us to getting caught up on the Gundam reviews.

When last I left you, we had just ended the first of the Zeta Gundam compilation trilogy: a brisk, if somewhat sparse retelling of roughly the first thirteen or so episodes of Zeta's fifty episode run. Picking up shortly where that movie left off, we begin the second installment in the trilogy, Lovers.

I should probably just say this outright instead of trying to sidestep the issue. Of the three movies, Lovers is probably the biggest mess from a narrative standpoint. This isn't to say the first and third movies don't have their share of problems as well- because trust me, they do. The biggest problem with this second installment compared to its predecessor and successor is ultimately summed up by the movie's subtitle.

As the title suggests, relationship make up a good chunk of this movie. This is pretty logical at first, given the movie starts at a point where both Kamille and Amuro each enter into relationships that really help shape their characters in the events to come: for Amuro, it's in the form of somewhat overly idealistic resistance fighter Beltorchika Irma (Maria Kawamura,) for Kamille, it's the doomed romance of Titans soldier/guinea pig Four Murasame (Yukana.) Suffice it to say, the latter  gets the most focus, and as storylines  go, it's actually handled pretty well. They have to rush things along a bit more than in the series, but in this case they still manage to hit all the right emotional cues to sell this particular storyline. Which is commendable given how much of the rest of this trilogy is running at a breakneck pace. It's also one of the first major breaks in continuity this version has from the original series beyond folding events together for convenience. In this case, a follow-up storyline with Four is lopped off and left on the cutting room floor as this definitively ends her story early.

"I'm...I'm coming back for the next movie, right?"

This would seem a sufficient amount of coverage to merit the movie's subtitle just on its own. Yes, there's still an hour of storyline to go, but the fact is, it's a major piece of Kamille's development and easily the most iconic part of the series covered within the space of this movie. From there, however, relationships among the cast in general are emphasized and given the bulk of the focus in terms of screentime. In some cases, it's not badly done, and some of the best uses of it post-Four are in a lot of little vignettes (the awkward banter between Emma and Henken, Bright watching a video his family made for him.) In fact, most of the other relationships featured in this are handled well in terms of tying into the storyline.

Then comes Katz.

"You make a few mistakes, you get a few people killed and suddenly EVERYONE hates you..."

Katz is one of those characters that has always gets a mixed reaction in the fandom. Even at best, most people just sort of tolerate him. This is at least somewhat intentional, really. His arc is like a mirror of the immature, anti-authoritarian kid Kamille almost turned into before getting sorted out. Unfortunately, he never learns from it, much to the frustration of a lot of the audience. Which makes it particularly annoying here that close to a third of this movie is then dedicated to him and his semi-crush Sarah Zabiarov.

Personally, I don't even dislike these two as much as a lot of other viewers do. At the same time, I feel like their screentime in this is largely just a consequence of keeping up thematically with the movie's subtitle, because their arc doesn't add much to the overall story. At the start, it somewhat ties in to a larger over-arcing Titans operation, but then it just turns into a lot of back and forth over how Sarah is conflicted in her loyalties. Which is fine in a series that takes roughly twenty-five hours to tell its story, but in a trilogy of all of four and a half hours of screentime, it's time that feels like it would be better spent elsewhere. For example, one major storyline that's somewhat set up in this movie is with regards to Char and his role in the AEUG. Prior to this point, he's been content to hang back and let things work themselves out. This movie changes that when the AEUG's leader is assassinated and, with his dying breath, asks Char to take over. In the series, this is a major turning point for this character and is addressed at multiple points. In this film, it amounts to maybe less than ten minutes of screentime, counting the assassination. I might not mind as much, were it not for how much time is then spent on Sarah's issues and subsequently Katz's issues.

"Sir, it's not that I don't respect what you're trying to say here, but Kamille still needs to have a day out on the moon, so can we wrap this up?"

With all of this focus on relationships, it leads to one of the other reasons this is probably the weakest movie of the trilogy - the stakes feel astonishingly low. There are certainly some moments of danger - a city is attacked and at one point, the Titans attempt a colony drop operation (the bulk of which occurs off-screen) but the movie seems less concerned with those moments and more with a lot of the character interaction. Which on its own isn't a bad thing, except for the fact that it then makes those attempts to advance the larger world story feel disjointed. The first and third movies in this series have a relatively clear progression of how things lead into each other, even if they sometimes rush to get to the next point. This movie is just a lot of separate events loosely held together by the same cast and not much else.

I know I've been going on about the narrative a lot here, but there's a reason for that. Its technical strengths and weaknesses are very much the same as the first movie. Once again, we're treated to games of inconsistent animation, though in this case we at least get some sequences done up entirely from scratch. Though that's more because they're new scenes entirely so they had no prior footage to harvest. Which is something of a shame since, once again, the parts they actually did decide to give new animation to look quite good. In particular the mobile suit sequences continue to shine in this follow-up, such as during Kamille's first encounter with enemy ace Yazan (Houchu Ohtsuka.) We lose most of the fight, but the new piece that we do get to see is very polished and impressive. Which makes it a shame that we see so little of it, but I'm trying to keep positive here.

Even between giant robots, there IS such a thing as a one-sided fight...

The soundtrack, likewise, continues to be a strong point of these films. We get more of Shigeaki Saegusa's score from the original series employed to good effect in many scenes here. Likewise, Gackt has composed another song for this movie as well, providing the end credits theme Mind Forest. It's not the best of the songs he's done for these movies, but it's still a strong enough note to send this movie off.

In all, I stand by my earlier assessment. This film isn't all bad, but of the Zeta movies, it's easily the weakest. It tries to cover a large swath of the middle series and, despite a game attempt to try and use an arcing theme to rope everything together, the film remains a disjointed mess with too many pieces and not enough time to connect them all properly. Like the last movie, in fact, moreso than the last one, if you haven't seen the original series before this point, do NOT count on this to serve as a substitute for the experience. In fact, if it's this much of a mess WITH the show's knowledge, it's probably going to be even worse without the prior notes of context.

That was a bit more negative than I intended. Sorry, just rewatching this, I was struck by how clumsy a lot of it is.

Fortunately, things will be a bit more on track with the third and final installment in the trilogy Love is the Pulse of the Stars (...excessively long subtitle aside.)

Look for that in another day or so.

Till then.

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