Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny Vol. #01 (also w/box) (of 12) (Mania.com)

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Sunday, March 19, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2006



What They Say
With both PLANT and Earth Forces entering a state of uneasy truce, the world has once again found itself at peace. Yet for some, the war has never ended. Shin Asuka, a coordinator who lost his entire family during the Battle of Orb, now fights with ZAFT in their newest prototype: the Impulse Gundam. When one of these machines is stolen by Federation forces, the world once again spirals towards chaos.

The Review!
A peace accord may have been reached, but humanity continues along the same destructive path in the latest Gundam series.

Audio:
The Japanese soundtrack was used for my primary viewing session, and the English dub soundtrack was also given a spot check. Both are solid stereo tracks free from distortion, drop-outs, or other noise. While not the most powerful or dynamic audio tracks, they provide some decent directional effects during the battles and balance all elements appropriately.

Video:
Originally released in 2004, the video is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio and look gorgeous. Whether it is the dark reaches of space or the bright colors of the Gundams and their weapon fire, the colors are sharp, vivid, and bring out some great details at times. Some of the scenes, mostly the shots of the Minerva, do stand out as obvious CGI, but these are few and do not detract much from the overall viewing experience.

Packaging:
The first volume's front cover sports Shinn and a nice, muted close-up of his Gundam's upper torso. The series title and volume number are placed along the bottom of the cover. Filling up the back cover are the usual suspects of screenshots, synopsis, disc specifications, and a cool action shot of another Gundam.

Now comes the more interesting portion of this packaging review -- the artbox included with the first volume. Designed to hold six standard DVD cases, Bandai has produced one of the more unique boxes I have ever seen. It is an accordion that can unfold completely and lie flat; each side holds three DVD cases in individual pockets. Strategically placed magnets keep the outside flaps in place when the box is folded up.

This accordion style also allows the box to feature an insane amount of artwork; nearly every inch of it is covered with Gundams posing or in action. The box's material feels sturdy but takes some time to get used to handling, especially with it nearly empty. After some playing, it was determined the best way to handle it is to treat it like a book.

You open one of the flaps and then "flip the pages" to get to the volume you want. What the box lacks though is an indicator on the flaps that tells you which volumes you would be flipping through. It took some handling and getting used to, but I really like the concept of this box if nothing more than the amount of artwork it allows.

Menu:
Bandai puts you in the pilot's seat for the menu system as you interact with various cockpit controls and panels. The main menu features some video clips playing inside a display screen while music loops in the background. Transition delays are minimal and keep with the theme by shifting your focus to another control panel.

Extras:
The main extra for this set is the soundtrack CD included; featuring a song by six different artists, it provides a good sample of some of the more popular pop acts in Japan. The only DVD extra is a textless version of the opening.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While most of the various Gundam series have passed me by, the material I have managed to catch has managed to impress me with their ability to balance merchandising opportunities with good stories and character development. The recent Gundam Seed TV series was also a story that passed me by though I had watched the various "movies" and knew roughly what its world and story was about. Going into the new Gundam Seed Destiny series, there was some concern that the lack of intimate knowledge of the previous series would be a handicap.

However, the narrative allows newcomers to understand who the characters are and what their motivations are. It does this without resorting to unnecessarily long pieces of exposition and instead allows the story unfold and reveal these things. Our story begins during the war that was the focus of Gundam Seed; the nation of Orb is under attack, and one family races to reach the safety of the fleeing refugee ships. Their son, Shinn Asuka, ends up the only survivor of the destruction caused by two battling Gundams.

We jump forward to the year Cosmic Era 72 and find that the Earth and ZAFT have signed a peace accord ending the war. Another leap forward into CE 73 finds Cagalli, now Princess of the nation of Orb, and an incognito Arthrun Zala visiting a PLANT station to discuss matters of state with ZAFT Chairman Durandal. Cagalli has been hearing disturbing reports that Orb technology and scientists from the previous war have found their way into his hands.

Durandal makes no effort to hide this fact and states that there will always be conflict which in turn requires a nation to require power. Proving his point, a trio of youngsters hijack the three new Gundams Durandal's people have been building. The trio begins to devastate the military base until Arthrun and Cagalli are forced into a Zaku unit. Attempting to defend himself and those on the base, Arthrun soon finds himself outnumbered until a fourth Gundam arrives on the scene.

Piloted by Shinn Asuka, the new Impulse Gundam features the ability to reconfigure itself Voltron style (Voldam or Guntron... you decide) for the optimal firing package a situation requires. Shinn and other ZAFT pilots give chase to the now escaping trio and find themselves confronted by the trio's mother ship. It would not be a Gundam series if this ship were not commanded by a man in a mask; Neo quickly gives the order to retrieve the stolen Gundams and retreat.

ZAFT dispatches its newly built warship Minerva to chase them down, and the Chairman, Cagalli, and Arthrun finds themselves caught onboard the Minerva and in the thick of battle. The battle between the two ships rages across space, but the mother ship and the three stolen Gundams eventually escape. Spanning four episodes, the battle serves as a good tip of the iceberg introduction to the state of the world and the characters populating it.

In Shinn, we see a young man who witnessed the horrors of war and its machinery firsthand, yet he is now willingly piloting one such machine of war and is disdainful of the idealism Cagalli embodies. Jaded beyond his years, it will be intriguing to see how his character develops and to learn what is truly motivating him to fight for ZAFT. Despite being the main hero of this story, Shinn is overshadowed in these initial episodes by the direction Arthrun's character is taken.

Only hinted at briefly, we learn that due to the politics of the peace accord, Arthrun has been forced to give up his life as a Gundam pilot and assume the identity of Alex Dino, Cagalli's personal attaché. As the battle rages on around him, you can feel him struggling against his desire and instinct to be a part of the battle. The warrior in him has been caged, and it desperately wants to be free. Some calculated goading from the Chairman, who has seen through his disguise, does not help the conflict raging in him. His sense of duty to uphold the peace accord strains to contain that which comes naturally to him.

In the final episode of the volume, Arthrun does manage to regain a taste of the piloting life. An unknown force has altered the orbit of Junius Seven, the tomb of many from the previous war, causing it to become a deadly missile aimed straight at Earth. Arthrun steps into a Zaku to help in efforts to break it apart before it reaches Earth. But the forces that sent Junius Seven on its way linger ensuring that Arthrun will be joining at least one more battle.

Also bringing the story into focus is the fact that no one seems to have learned anything from the previous war. ZAFT is back to building new weapons of war, and the Earth leaders are already plotting about how to turn the Junius Seven events into a war cry against the Coordinators. Add in Neo and his unknown plans for the stolen Gundams, and the world appears to have used the peace accord to simply fall back and rebuild their forces. With another major conflict looming and a solid cast of main and secondary characters, Gundam Seed Destiny is shaping up to be a long but satisfying series.

In Summary:
Familiarity with the characters and events from the first Gundam Seed series helps, but Gundam Seed Destiny does a remarkable job of making the story and characters immediately accessible to newcomers. It also does a remarkable job of filling the opening episodes with a healthy balance of action, plot development, and character development. Humanity has not learned its lesson from the previous war, and history appears to be ready to repeat itself. With an intriguing cast of main and secondary characters, Destiny has managed to draw me into its world more than I expected and has kindled a desire to not only see where the series heads but to also go back and check out the other series that I have missed.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Ending #1,LE Edition: Original Soundtrack

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98/39.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny