Monday, September 29, 2014

Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation 3: Super Continuity Breaking Happy Ending Edition

and we're back...

Actually, that pretty well sums up the start of this movie. Where the start of Lovers suggested a small time gap between the first and second movies, the third installment (the wordily subtitled Love is the Pulse of the Stars) begins almost where the second left off. After hiding off to the side for the past two movies, the Zeon remnants known as Axis have taken to the stage. What follows is the final arc of the series, stripped down, streamlined, and  with this racing stripe here I feel is pretty sharp.

...I went out of the way for that reference, didn't I?

While I was probably a bit more snarky in that description than I should have been, I will maintain what I said in the last review - honestly, I think this is better than the second movie was. I still don't think it comes together as well as the first, but for what it has to work with and what it's trying to do, it's not that bad, for the most part.

Probably the biggest area of improvement over the second is the pacing. Thanks to the sheer amount of map-hopping and different stories in Lovers, the movie never seemed to have a particularly strong sense of momentum. At its best moments, it sort of strolled along leisurely, and at its worst, it stopped and started abruptly. By comparison, LitPotS (God, even in an acronym it's unwieldy) hits the ground running and just barrels forward at full speed. As a result, despite being slightly longer than Lovers, it really doesn't feel it.

"So if I DON'T have a complete are they going to reconcile it with the sequel?"

Of course, as with any cuts, there's some degrees of give and take. In this case, probably one of the biggest chunks left on the cutting room floor (to the relief of many) was the return arc for Titans pilot Rosamia Badam. Personally, I've always been kind of split on this arc - in terms of what it was doing for Kamille, I liked some of the ideas it brought to the table. Yeah, the idea of him reliving his failure to save Four may have been a bit repetitive for viewers, but I was under the impression that was part of the point: the arc was just another turn of the screw on his becoming sick of the war around him. At the same time, Rosamia's character being retooled into a childlike individual whose behavior suggested severe brain damage WAS an annoyance, and I can see why a lot of people don't miss that in this film. Though it does create a bit of a continuity hole that she still appears among the spirits of the dead in the finale despite them reanimating that sequence.

As seen off to the far right there.

Besides Rosamia, the biggest issue this movie has as a consequence of its 'stomp on the gas' style of storytelling is the fact that some rather crucial pieces of storytelling are completely sidestepped and either entirely ignored or just snuck in without much fanfare. The former is best summed up in the movies' decision to excise a scene where Char gives a speech to the Federation assembly at Dakar. In the show, it's meant to be a turning point, both for Char and for the Federation. Without it, Char never really seems to fully take on the role of a leader, and there's not enough of a sense of the Titans falling out of favor to necessitate them seeking an alliance with Axis. An example in the case of the latter is with regards to the Titans' colony laser, a powerful weapon that is at the center of a lot of the fighting in this movie. The problem here is the fact that the laser, a weapon that can make or break this war, becomes a case of 'tell, don't show.' It's especially frustrating since the series did the opposite, showing its destructive power simply but effectively. In this case, we get a lot of people talking about how dangerous it is with no real indication of it being as such until the end of the movie when it's finally employed to deal the deciding blow of the war.

That awkward moment when you meet your ex again after many years...
...and she's now the de facto leader of a zealous army bent on world conquest.

Suffice it to say, my point from the last two reviews remains clear: if you haven't seen the series before this point, do not expect these movies to function as a substitute. So much of how they're edited is done under the assumption that you already know the story and so they don't need to explain everything to you. These are made as something of a bonus/perk for old fans to come back and enjoy.

Which brings me to the new ending. When this project was first announced, there was a fair amount of buzz generated by talk of plans to write a new ending for the story, one considerably happier than the original show's rather bleak cliffhanger finale. The result is probably one of the most divisive parts of this movie. Even before getting into the debates over whether these movies somehow cancel out the follow-up series, ZZ Gundam, people really weren't feeling how this new ending was written. To be perfectly honest, it's a sentiment I can agree with. I don't necessarily dislike the idea of Zeta having a happier ending. A new ending is a novel idea and a good hook for getting fans to give your movie a watch. For me, the big problem with the happy ending is that most of the series leading up to that point remains unchanged. So we go through a rather vicious final battle that sees most of the main cast killed off and Kamille still pushed to his breaking point by seeing all of this sense fighting and carnage around him...and then at the last moment, everything turns out okay. He gets out of the ending without experiencing a total break, and despite being on the verge of triumph, Axis simply pulls up stakes and retreats back out into space. I want to again stress, the ending itself isn't the problem for me here - it's the fact that the ending doesn't fit with the rest of the story. No effort is made to really rework much of the rest of the story leading to this point, barring some new visuals and a few shifts of who killed who, in order to make this new ending make sense. Instead it just feels like an inexplicable shift in gears for much of the cast.

Yeah, I'm primarily sticking to just discussing the story here. Again, this is because most of what I'd have to say about the animation I already covered in the first two. About the only thing I can say for this visually right now is that it hits a new hurdle given just how much of this particular art is focused on mobile suit combat. As a result, duels between characters go jarringly between some gorgeous new animation of robots slugging it out to older series animation ñ which, while not bad, is definitely NOT interchangeable with the new footage.

Likewise, the soundtrack is on par with the first two films. Saegusa's score again has aged very well and still captures the tone for a lot of these sequences quite well. On the newer end of things, Gackt this time around both hits and misses. His first insert song for this movie Love Letter is actually a really good fit for this ending. Playing as Kamille and Fa reunite at the end of the battle, it's a great fit for the sequence, really capturing the happier tone of the new ending. That it also fits quite well lyrically just makes the miss hurt even more. Just after the pleasant note the movie sends its story off on with Love Letter, the credits shift gears to Gackt's more hard-rock styled Dybbuk. It's not even that bad a tune, but its invocation at that point completely breaks up the tone of the prior song, a feeling even more bizarre thanks to some of the lyrics (the chorus including the phrase 'kill me'). It's such an abrupt change I can't help but wonder if it was done as a joke or not.

"Wait a minute! After all the different model kits and toys, THIS is how it's actually supposed to transform?!"

With this, the Zeta Gundam trilogy comes to a close. After my earlier praise of the Mobile Suit Gundam movies for avoiding the big problems inherent in compilations, these seem to ultimately fall back into the same problems the earlier trilogy avoided. If you're already familiar with the series, it's not a bad highlights reel. It has a brisk run time (awkward pacing of the second movie aside), some of the story reworking provides some interesting new takes on parts of the story fans may already know well, and the newly animated sequences - though inconsistent with the old footage - make for some great eye candy. If this is your first taste of Zeta Gundam, I know the newer animation may look tempting, but really, you'd do better to start with the original series first. It's not without its flaws (and I say this as a fan of it) but without it, the movies are just a mess. They're designed to be good fan tributes first and good movies second.

Ah well.

Can't win them all.

With this, we're now officially into the new wave of Gundam cinema after a sizable downtime. Next month brings us to the first all original content film the franchise had in years.

But first, tomorrow marks the last of the Summer Reading in preparation for October.

Till then.

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