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Mobile Suit Gundam F91 Anime DVD Review

11 min read
Gundam F91
Gundam F91

With it being decades since the One Year War, events of the past don’t register for the youths of today as parts of history repeat.

What They Say:
U.C. 0123. After a generation of peace, the Earth Federation has begun to build new space colonies to house humanity’s growing population. But a new force, the aristocratic Crossbone Vanguard, plans to seize the colonies of the newly constructed Frontier Side for itself. As their home becomes a battlefield, a handful of young civilians struggle to escape the conflict. To save his friends and family, the reluctant warrior Seabook Arno becomes the pilot of a new Gundam which bears the code name F91.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is quite good as we get the original Japanese language in stereo as well as the English language dub in stereo, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. The show also gets a 5.1 mix that’s on the second disc, which is a bit unusual to say the least. For our primary viewing session, we listened to this movie in its original language of Japanese. On the first disc, the two stereo mixes and both come across pretty solid here across the forward soundstage. There’s a lot of effects, explosions and incidental sounds throughout this feature and it’s very clean and clear here. We had no problems with dialogue in terms of dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released in 1991, this feature film is presented in its oritinal aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is not enhanced for anamorphic playback, so it fits in the full frame slot with letterbox bars on the top and bottom. The transfer here is pretty good overall but it certainly has its problem areas. So much of the film is set in dark places and with black backgrounds that the black levels are important here and they maintain well. It’s only during a few of the space sequences where you can see some light blocking going on but that’s more easily attributable to the traditional way of painting the backgrounds than an encoding issue, unlike digital painting today. There’s some aliasing visible throughout the program as the line work is intense in this feature but it’s varying in how some of it may bother. Similarly, the cross coloration issue works the same as it’s there in a number of scenes but rarely is standout in a way, instead showing in small areas and catching the eye and becoming distracting.

Packaging:
Released in a single keepcase with a hinge inside to hold both discs, the front cover to the release just screams out that it’s classic Gundam material to be found inside. Though the Special Edition strip is a bit larger than it should be, the cover art just looks great with a solid looking illustration of the F91 and the traditional logo associated with the property on top of it. Gundam traditionally has some great covers and this one is no exception. The back cover is a bit sparse and empty feeling but it’s got a few images from the show and a brief summary of the premise, which is very brief considering the amount of material in here. The discs features are clearly listed and the usual array of production and technical information is easy to find. No insert was included with our copy of this release.

Menu:
The menu layout is nicely done with a brief bit of the animation from the opening of the movie used where a hole is cut in the darkness and it blows away to reveal the ships interior. The animation changes at that point to cycle through various images from the rest of the movie but sticks with the core opening image. It’s also nicely set to a bit of the epic style music that’s used throughout the film.

Extras:
On the first disc, only one extra is included. The mechanical files, usually just a couple of pages in most other Gundam releases, is chock full with lots of data pages on the numerous mobile suits and other mecha that are seen throughout this movie. On the second disc, which is where the bulk of the extras are, there’s some good material to be found. There’s a number of galleries included, such as the character and screen shot galleries. An amusing but small one is the Bandai gallery where they show some of their larger than average replicas of various mobile suits. A very useful extra, though pared down from what’s available online, is a Universal Century timeline that shows exactly where F91 fits into things. Be wary of reading it before the movie though as it will give away just about everything.

And depending on your point of view or interest, the big extra here is the producers commentary track. Unable to get it onto the main disc for whatever reason, this track covers a lot of the details and inside bits about the film. The track is done by the ADR director Tony Oliver and producers Eric Sherman and Nobuo Masuda. I was only able to skim parts of it but it’s a pretty good mix of information about the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Since the beginning with the Gundam franchise, a lot of time was spent within the Universal Century timeframe before the alternate timelines were created in order to try and rework the show and move away from an increasingly complex world. One of the things that was done before they really went all out with this in riding a wave of new timelines was to advance the continuity of the UC world ahead by forty years. This moves us past a significant amount of time and events in the UC timeline, but the general gist of things is that there’s been a strong era of peace and each of the sides have kept to their own over the years.

But as always, things are bound to change. The Federation folks have decided that their population issues are problematic again and have created some new colonies in the former Side 4 area under the Frontier series and these areas are growing nicely now. The cities, which have a strong European feel to them, are teaming with life and lots of happy people going about. But while all of this is going on on the surface, the Federation continues to do what it does best under the surface. And that’s develop high powered weapons that will tip the balance of power in their favor. Such things don’t go outside the notice of the other side though and before most of the Frontier colonies realize it, they’re under attack from a group called the Crossbones Vanguard.

The Vanguard, a group of elites being controlled and basically owned by the Buch Concern, have decided that they’ll be the ones to teach the Federation and the earthers what it means to respect their planet and to keep it under control. Their goal in taking over the Frontier colonies is to establish Cosmo Babylonia, a place where their vision of might makes right and the military over everything else will reign supreme. This is all being arranged by members of the Ronah family, an amusing and dysfunctional set of people who have been scattered to the winds over the years but are determined that their way of having nobility rule over the rest to become the way of everything.

Over the course of two weeks, the Frontier colonies are under siege and a rag tag group of resistance fighters try to fight back against them using whatever they had available plus the resources of the hidden Federation areas that are beneath their colony. We’re introduced to one group of resistance fighters who don’t want to be that right from the start with Seabook Arno, a young engineering student who during the attack by the Vanguard forces manages to get as many of his friends together and whoever else they could save and try to avoid being trampled upon. When the Vanguard attacked and the Federation retaliated, neither side gave much thought to the people on the ground or the simple fact you can’t fire blindly inside a colony. With holes appearing in the structure and much of the cities on fire or in ruins, it becomes a mess fast.

One of Seabook’s friends, someone that he’s got the hots for in fact, turns out to be the missing daughter of the Ronah family. Cecily finds out the hard way that she’s an adopted daughter though she seems to have little concern over it and discovers that the attack on this particular colony is all in effort to find her. Not only is she family and important, but she may be one of those rare breed of NewType’s that can do fantastic things with mobile suits and more. While Seabook tries to save her along with the others, circumstances force her into her family’s arms and she tries to understand what they’re doing and their view on things. While she’s given to be a strong willed woman, something we see for certainty as she deals with both of her fathers and other members of her family, she’s surprising acquiescent to the wishes of the Ronah family and changes herself to fit in there.

A lot of this movie is the back and forth moves of the resistance and the Vanguard fighting against each other. When Seabook and his group hook up with a Federation resistance cell on the Frontier, they take up the necessary positions to help out. Seabook of course is the one that gets tapped to try the Gundam F91 unit as its pilot and there’s a lot of material given over to the way the kids are dealing with their lives being changed so quickly. The shift from a fleeing perspective to one where they’re trying to fight but still on the run is subtle but it flows well. With the entire storyline taking place over two weeks, there isn’t a lot of time for growth for these characters and with most of them being kids, there’s a lot of foolish choices made at times that don’t serve the characters well but are things you can imagine people doing.

One of the draws of the Gundam universe for me at least is that both of the main sides have their flaws and you can almost always find each of them having a solid enough justification for what they’re doing. While there are bad guys within the show, they’re on both sides of the coin. The larger groups tend to both be logical and acceptable ways of governing humanity and each have their own merits to them. This is less true in F91 I think as it’s a more focused effort of the Ronah family to establish their beliefs of nobility over all else, albeit with a certain responsibility to their level of class. The Federation side comes off as both inept and almost horribly evil at times based on their actions. When the Vanguard attacks, the bulk of the brass and high command flee immediately, leaving it to the kids and grunts to fight it out. And many of those field personnel just aren’t all that great. An officer insisting that a group of kids take up the front line positions so that the enemy will hesitate before killing them? No, the Federation doesn’t make out well here at all.

Since F91 takes place almost forty-five years after the start of the 0079 material, there are a lot of changes that have taken place since then in the mindset and make-up of the citizenry. The amount of space between stories that we’re heavily familiar with and this era where it’s not so obvious creates an odd feeling, especially since you half expect old familiar faces to show up out of nowhere and save the day. While this does further the UC timeline, it almost feels more like a side story that Tomino was free to run wild with and bring in some new elements of a familiar franchise and to have characters he can really mess with. There’s plenty of death throughout here, there’s lots of action sequences and there is a lot of epic moments as it moves towards the finale and the die are cast in the battles. Since it stands alone, there isn’t quite the emotional commitment that earlier pieces have, but in the larger sense of the timeline it’s a strong piece that sets the stage for the future.

The design of the show is still familiar even with the changes in the timeframe. Unlike in the 0080 decade, Anaheim is left behind and SNRI is brought into play to create the next generation of Gundam mobile suits. Their suits don’t like strikingly different from what Anaheim created but on the Ronah side there are some stark differences. The way they bring in the visuals of Germany and fascism here is at times quite blunt but also done in interesting ways. The mobile suits are reminiscent of the gas masks used in World War I while some of the displays of power that the Ronah’s set about in the colony are definitely feeling like they came out of the 30’s archival footage. Combined with the European feel of the city that’s already there, which almost makes you wonder if there was something planned for this long before the attack, the allusions are quite obvious but still work well.

In Summary:
While doing some cleaning and removing duplicates from a box, I ran across this film and just had to toss it in again. It’s been nearly ten years since I saw it last and have watched a bit more Gundam since then, but my feelings remain pretty much the same. With any Gundam series that Tomino works directly in, the core of it always comes down to the relationships, regardless of the size or scale of the rest of the show. With F91, it comes down to the relationship between Seabook and Cecily as each tries to do what they think best and to do right by others around them. Each of them puts up with what you’d almost call a disgusting set of humanity that’s in power. F91 is similar to most other Gundam properties in that there are a variety of levels to be absorbed here and each time you see it new material will come from it. Tomino doesn’t just give you everything you need on a silver platter; he makes you work for it and fill in the blanks yourself. F91 can be a challenge due to that without the familiarity of the 0079 – 0083 timeline characters and settings, but the reward is pretty damn strong. This is a solid piece of classic SF anime from someone who’s done some amazing work in the genre in his lifetime. And revisiting this release just makes me want a high definition presentation all the more.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles ,Mechanical Files, Commentary by SUNRISE Producer for F91,Character/Mecha Gallery, Image Gallery of the real life/size F91 Gundam replica head, Gundam Timeline from beginning to end

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: November 23rd, 2004
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen Letterbox

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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