Gundam SEED Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Saturday, June 19, 2004
Release Date: Saturday, May 01, 2004
Writer/Artist:Iwase Masatsugu (Concept by: Yatate Hajime/Tomino Yoshiyuki)
Translated by:Jason DeAngelis
What They Say
In the world of the Cosmic Era, war rages between the genetically enhanced humans known as Coordinators and those who remain unmodified, the Naturals, who dominate the Earth Alliance. Struggling to catch up with the Coordinators' superior technology, the Alliance secretly develops its own Gundam mobile suits. But through a twist of fate, a young Coordinator, Kira Yamato, becomes the pilot of the Alliance's prototype... and is forced to fight his own people in order to protect his friends. This thrilling new series features all the best elements of the legendary Gundam saga - and reimagines the gripping story of men, women, and magnificent fighting machines in epic conflict.
While I applaud Del Rey for using the original cover art for this series the overall presentation is not great. The front cover features the original image with Kira Yamato, in an Earth Alliance uniform, in front of his Strike Gundam. This image is framed on the outside by a black arch. At first I found this confusing, as I thought that because of the arch placement this title was flopped. Upon further inspection, I realized that this is a reoccurring theme in the packaging design with the back cover image being contoured to fit the arch parallel to it. The spine may not have the arch, but it has two yellow parabolas containing the studio name - one in kana, the other containing Del Rey's studio logo. Hideous. If that was not enough, Del Rey had to cross-promote this title with the anime that is currently airing. So below the logo there is a yellow quarter sized bubble with "AS SEEN ON TV!" covering Strike Gundam's breastplate.
Logo Check!! (2003 Megs)... the logo has the same feel as the original. The only thing that was changed was the translation of "Mobile Suit Gundam". They could have easily used the original as it had ruby text in English on it, but there really isn't anything wrong with the translated title.
Inside the printing looks sharp. I did not notice any tone issues and the alignment looked fine. I was a little disappointed to not see color pages in this volume (especially after hearing that other Del Rey titles had these). There are a few nice extras. Iwase-sensei's design files in particular were great - filled with character info, early design concepts, and mecha notes. Another impressive omake is Mark Simmons' "A Brief History of Gundam." Simmons gives readers an overview of the Gundam saga from its beginnings. It appears to be the first of a series that should be appearing in future volumes. This volume also includes translation notes, creator info, and a raw preview for volume two along with ads for: Tsubasa, xxxholic, and Negima!.
Iwase's art does not impress me at all. Actually, I find it boring and inconsistent. While his character designs are okay (Kira Yamato looks a lot like Sohma Yuki from Fruits Basket), Iwase's characters tend to only look nice in certain angles, as jawlines and eye positioning can often look a little off. Costume designs, like many other Gundam titles, are a mix of old and new. Unfortunately, the new costumes are pretty stereotypical sci-fi - tacky patterns and possibly difficult to get in and out of (buckles, belts and straps). Making matters worse is the lack of depth from Iwase, so everything appears flat without much sense of three dimensions.
The layout is pretty good. It's much better in dramatic scenes than in action, but there still is good variation in regards to panel placement and perspective techniques. The backgrounds are stale but are functional, so they tend to often work well with the layout. Mechanical designs are a mixed bag. I like the looks of the Mobile Suits. While these tend to be a little more bulky than in past Gundam series, but tend to have some of the traditional designs that have been a Gundam trademark for more than 20 years now. On the other hand, the Archangel does not appear to be very functional and is pretty ugly. The as there is a more organic feel with curves and rounded corners, but when looked at closely it appears to have been over-done. There are too many layers on top of each other - wings, engines, cannons, and bridge - making accessibility between the layers inconvenient and also giving the ship a look of instability. I know this will sound funny, but it reminds me of a roasted turkey on a set of jet wings (potentially tasty but not what I want to see in a space battleship).
Presented in a tall B6 this series is in right to left format.
As is Del Rey's policy, SFX are subbed. Their subs tend to be of a small font usually placed below the original SFX. Because of the font size original art is not compromised, but with the lack of SFX in this series (kind of weird for an action title) one might not notice them at times. Still, I appreciate the effort and the more I see this done the more I find myself liking it (font size and placement can make a big difference).
Jason DeAngelis, who has worked on Berserk amongst other titles, does a great job here. I have not read the original version from Kodansha, but the dialogue flows well and the technical notes are very informative. Honorifics appear to not come up often, but they are present. Del Rey gives newbies a hand by providing a little introduction to honorifics, which I found was well thought out and helpful. There are a few translator notes at the end of the GN. Here Del Rey share some info on a few dialogue catch-22's. Having been a translator in the past I was in complete agreement with almost every situation (even though the tori/birdie issue was a tough call, from my perspective).
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Earth is being depleted of its resources and with over-population there is less and less inhabited land. In the Cosmic Era, mankind began its journey into space in search for resources, energy and land to maintain a good part of the population. Soon, man would begin to colonize space, mainly around the Earth's gravity field, giving the Earth a new chance to survive. To accomplish this, mankind started to genetically people to be better adept to survive and thrive in this new frontier. Eventually, these modified humans, called "coordinators," began to consider themselves as a new race with different ideals than the "naturals" on Earth. These conflicting perspectives would eventually manifest itself in C.E. 70 and the Bloody Valentine.
In the years, after the Bloody Valentine science advanced to create large mechanical vehicles called "mobile suits." These weapons brought the war to a new level. What was once a war accomplished through war ships and guerilla tactics was now more of a man-to-man/suit-to-suit war with old techniques used for defenses and more covert operations.
While the war may have separated most colonies into factions, there are still places that consider themselves neutral. Heliopolis is one these locations. Part of the Neutral Nation of Aube, Heliopolis is a resource satellite colony where coordinators and naturals coexist. On the surface Heliopolis may appear to be the last place for a battle to start, but soon Heliopolis would be destroyed because of the secret plans of those who do not have the same ideals as this nation.
Kira Yamato is a coordinator living amongst naturals. He had come to Heliopolis to avoid this war. Today, the war will come to him and put him in the forefront, against his people, with the Earth Alliance. But Kira really does not have a choice. His friends are naturals, and they protected him even after they learned about his secret. As a coordinator, Kira is possibly the only capable candidate to pilot their remaining new mobile suit: the Strike Gundam. Furthermore, with the destruction of Heliopolis, after a second Zaft attack, Kira no longer had a place to go home to. Now his home would be space, where his friends are now fellow soldiers, and his enemy is one of his oldest acquaintances. His only hope is to survive with the miss-mash crew of the Archangel as they make their way through space searching for allies and safety.
On the surface SEED appears to take on the subject of evolution and bioengineering. Humanity has gone to the point where some humans can no longer coexist with their brethren for they consider themselves to be something completely new and possibly a superior being. In evolution the fittest survive; in SEED the fittest appear to be the engineered "coordinators." This concept could have carried this title, but for some reason the creators of this series decided to add themes from the original Gundam. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of a great product, especially if it's creators also created this series, but adding that aspect has turned this volume into a confusing mess. While a plot may appear to be forming along the way, the start did not make any sense even with the background information that started this manga.
Making matters worse is the complete lack of character development. While a few characters appear to have relations with each other, their interactions have not really been worked on. In the end, I experienced a bunch of one-dimensional characters without personality or social skill. I could not believe an action filled title could be so boring. Even the action scenes were dull, as characters would often appear to be in a daze staring off into space while in the heat of battle. I understand that a few of these characters do not want to fight, but why would someone not take advantage of a daydreaming MS pilot (or two)?
Some sci-fi action titles have little to offer besides interesting concepts and new unique worlds to explore. Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is disappointing because it fails at even those basic aspects. The satellite colony concept has been done throughout the Gundam series, and so far Iwase has failed to present how SEED's is any different. Sure settings have slightly different looks and unique names, but this could as easily be Gundam Wing. There is no culture to associate SEED with; nothing unique about it. This leads to the other issue of character development. While the concept of "naturals" and "coordinators" is interesting, Iwase does not go into much depth about it. He leaves the details to the brief into at the start, and then gives the concept lip service, as there is a little tension when Kira's identity is revealed. From that point on, a "coordinator" is basically better than a "natural" and readers should just accept it. I guess readers should just wonder why people bother fighting this war if they would be better off as coordinators. Add some horrible art and some chunky mechanical designs, and I have a hard time finding anything good to say about this title.
With that said, I cannot recommend this title at this time. I wonder with the info given in this title how much watching the anime would help with this title. Initially I felt that way about Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ASTRAY, but towards the end of the first volume I was content with the direction that title was going in as it started to work on its characters motivations more. The cast of SEED is much more astray and while the plot may be developing sooner there is nothing to associate this with (no hook or gimmick, just poorly presented mood swings. A gimmick I can live without.). Without much supporting this title I could easily stay away and wait to see if something does develop from this SEED.
Mania Grade: D+
Art Rating: C-
Packaging Rating: B-
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Del Rey
Size: Tall B6
Orientation: Right to Left