What They Say:
Universal Century 0079. With the outbreak of the One Year War, the Principality of Zeon seeks new weapons and technology to counter the numerical advantage of the powerful Earth Federation. For this purpose, Zeon assembles some of its finest engineers and officers to form the 603rd Technical Evaluation Unit, stationing them aboard the converted civilian vessel Jotunheim. Their mission is to test new prototype weapons, from long-range artillery, to tanks, to mobile pods. The crew of the Jotunheim evaluate these experimental weapons with care as they are drawn ever closer to the battlefront. But when the Federation begins its counteroffensive, surpassing Zeon’s mobile suits with its development of the Gundam and the mass-produced GM, even more devastating new weapons are needed. Bear witness to a side of the One Year War that until now has been shrouded in secrecy.
The audio presentation for this release is definitely strong and solid as we get the original Japanese language in both its 2.0 and 5.1 mixes using the uncompressed encoding. What this give sus is the straightforward mix itself without anything mucking it up and for a show with some really strong action sequences throughout the stories that’s important. The 5.1 mix gives us a better range to work with and you can feel the weight of the mecha at times as well as the way the voices come across in the heat of action or the quieter scenes. Both mixes are solid but this is 5.1 material if you have the system to be able to enjoy it. It’s a clean and engaging mix that accomplishes a lot and is just damn fun and solid throughout.
Originally given a limited DVD release in Japan back in 2004, the transfer for this OVA series is presented across three Blu-ray discs with three episodes on each in 1080p using the AVC codec. Being an all CGI series, there are different things to look for here than with most other anime series. In general, this is a very slick looking production with a high bit rate that works to eliminate the small problems we saw in the standard definition release with the banding. This is far less pronounced here, though it’s still more visible early on rather than in later episodes, but by and large the encoding is much cleaner and less problematic. The noise we had seen in the standard definition releases are gone and everything feels more solid and the intentionally grainy areas look better and more realistic looking.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds two of the discs on a hinge and the third against the back wall. THe front cover artwork is a great one with the ominous Zaku leaning in toward the soldier in the field, giving a great sense of the weight and scale of what they’re facing and how much more impressive it is when you realize what they’re fighting against in this form without a mobile suit. The colors are fiery and eye-catching with more of a painted look to it that works well to draw the eye. The back cover goes for some dark fiery reds and blacks mixed together with a clean summary of the premise that’s easy to read. A few shots from the show are included alongside some Zaku artwork but they’re hard to piece together well because of their size and the CG aspects. The rest has the usual technical information in a clean and easy to read form. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release keeps things simple with static images across the three volumes that uses some appealing looking visuals. The use of Zaku’s are in the forefront but it plays up the militaristic side as you’d expect very well and the combination of colors and threat makes it something that sets the tone quickly and easily. THe navigation is kept along the left with a small tab that has the basic selections that doubles as a pop-up menu as well. Everything is quick and easy to navigate and we didn’t have any problem during playback with functionality either.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
With my original introduction to the world of Gundam being the 0080 series many years ago, I’m always overjoyed when I get to take a trip back to what I consider “real” Gundam – the Universal Century. This particular part of the massive franchise has always appealed the most to me because it seemed to play things more serious than many of the alternates and spin-offs that came out throughout the years. While there have been occasional touches upon the UC, notably Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team in 1999, the UC realm remained largely untouched until the last several years with various OVA projects.
The first part of the OVA series, subtitled The Hidden One-Year War provides a departure for the franchise when it comes to the lead. The main character is a young man named Oliver May, a Lieutenant in the Principality of Zeon who is part of the Engineering corps. His mission across the three episodes is to test out and evaluate various devices of war just as Zeon is launching its war on the Federation. In fact, the series is one that showcases battles that were only talked about before, such as the early stages of Operation British and the Battle of Loum. The events that take place in the 0079 TV series are part of the essential backdrop to the show as we see May and his team working to solve issues or getting caught up in events.
These tangential events are little more than teases, but they’re wonderful teases for old time fans of the show. The initial episode deals with a massive cannon that’s being tested as the Battle of Loum gets underway. In the midst of it, we see not only the huge fleet battle that plays out like the days of old but the movements of the Zaku’s as they join the battle for the first time. This includes a well known red Zaku piloted by Char Aznable, though we don’t see the character himself. The third episode plays to the battle at Odessa in which the Federation fought back to push the Zeon into space. This storyline is particularly interesting as it revolves around a suit that fell to politics and maneuvering from becoming a reality. The Zaku went into production yet the ostensibly more powerful and useful Zudah ended up becoming a joke. The trial run of the new model comes at a time that the Zeon are about to lose their main stronghold on Earth and propaganda abounds from both sounds.
The core elements of what makes the UC Gundam so enjoyable are all present here. It’s a serious show, one that looks at the technical side of things. The fact that the lead character isn’t a mobile suit pilot of any kind but rather an engineer is quite different. Even Al from 0080 managed to get into the cockpit a few times. With the focus being on untested or poorly performing equipment that’s undergoing evaluation, there’s a strange sense among those involved. They want to help do something for the Principality to further the war efforts but they’re working with things that are going to be ignored in the long run due to politics and corporate issues. The various mechanical devices used are certainly fascinating. The massive cannon has plenty of uses as does the ground based tank and the Zudah. Yet there was such a push by Zionic about how the Zaku was going to change the face of war that so many other things started to fall off.
What sets MS Igloo apart from just about every other Gundam release out there (and yes, we’re ignoring G-Savior thank you very much) is that this is an all CGI production. I was very leery about this going into it since more often than not, shows done in this manner feel little like a lengthy cut scene from a video game. MS Igloo doesn’t escape that feeling all the time but with the length of the episodes and watching all three in a row, it does grow beyond that eventually. The growth of CGI productions over the years isn’t a surprise and I continue to expect to see more of these as time goes on. They haven’t won me over from “traditional” anime in the slightest, but for a show like Gundam and the UC in particular, they’re able to blend it well enough to make it work. Half the time I keep wondering if they’d make a great live action version. Then I remember G-Savior.
All of the mechanical designs here are really top notch. The details are amazing and the fluidity is quite good. The only time it felt a little off was in watching the Zaku’s run across the Arizona desert. It’s hard to really see them move in what you could call reality and not find it a little jarring. The character designs are quite good as well but my issues with those come more from direction than anything else. There is such a need to showcase the level of detail and realism in them that we end up with too many close-ups and a lot of motions that seem unnecessary. The close-ups aren’t too distanced from the anime versions but with this kind of animation it just feels more like they’re showing off. Some of the character movements in space feel a touch off but they’re trying to recreate low gravity environments so I’ll give them a bit of wiggle room there. What amused me the most, and maybe it’s just a “western” point of view, was how much Monique reminded me of a Russian political officer, something that wasn’t helped by the design of the ship’s captain.
The second half of the MS Igloo franchise takes us through a very different phase of the 0079 war. While the first half was focused on testing out new equipment and seeing what works and what doesn’t, mostly on Earth, this one is about throwing as much as they can at the enemy in hopes that they find something that works. The early OVAs had the Zeon in control and with the upper hand, but this set has them on the run, frantic, confused and without a serious plan. Everything is collapsing right before their eyes.
As control of Earth is lost, the 603 Technical Evaluation Unit and those supporting them find that they’re closer to the front line of battle than ever before. While they’ve field tested equipment in varying situations, there is a lot more tension and pressure now. The opening episode introduces a fascinating idea that they’ve been given to try with the Mobile Diver, essentially a platform that is dropped from orbit into the atmosphere that can then utilizes various weapons to destroy the Federation ships that are being launched into orbit. It’s reminiscent of the scene from Dr. Strangelove where you can only visualize the Zeon Marine waving his helmet on the way down as he tries to take out the ships. The marine for this is given most of the time as he’s younger than many other pilots we’ve seen to date and his mindset is almost crazy as he seems to be subconsciously looking forward to meeting a glorious end.
This progression of age is something that the director comments on in the booklet, but it’s very apparent in the show as well. The second episode, which deals with the Zeon forces being pushed back even further now that the battle of Solomon has gone poorly, brings a new commander in board the Jotunheim. Commodore Kuspen is an older man than some of those in the 603 such as Oliver and Monique and he carries himself as someone who hasn’t exactly lived through a lot of experiences that would sober him up to the realities of war. He falls into the category of someone who speaks loudly of the pride of soldiers and what must be done for the country, but not as someone who has made the sacrifices he asks of others. He’s not all cruel though as the pilots that the Central Command sends him are all children really, in the teens, and he cannot believe that it has come to that.
The last two episodes focus heavily on the large scale battles that are now ongoing as the Federation forces have pushed massive fleets into space in order to savage the Zeon completely. The time has come for the battle of A Baoa Qu and the 603 is pressed into service for that. Swept up into the larger scope of things, the battles become more insignificant in feeling as the crew are kept to weaker positions that don’t seem critical. Yet the dialogue is that they must throw themselves into the fire simply because they must. Tensions are high and Kuspen doesn’t help with his strong personality. Even worse, Monique is devastated after earlier events with one of their new slapdash ships called the Oggos. Oliver finds himself moving unexpectedly from a position of evaluation to test pilot thrown into the fiercest battle he’s seen yet.
In contrast to the relatively positive feel of the earlier material, the Apocalypse 0079 series is decidedly dark and gloomy as is appropriate. The fall of Zeon is something that we’ve seen through the original anime series in the grand scale, but through this series it feels so much more real and personal. The Zeon side got its share of attention in the original, but it is stories like these that mine the real rich material that can be done. With a focus on a technical evaluation crew that showcases various designs that didn’t properly make it into the field, and therefore into the original, the entire UC story is fleshed out in more detail than ever before. These last three episodes provide a look at the final days of the Zeon Principality in a new light as the men fighting and dying on the line away from the “heroes of the day” get their time in the sun. Their sacrifices are highlighted and understood with a surprising amount of emotion and connection.
MS Igloo was a series that had me wondering of my enjoyment of the UC based series would finally end. The various movies and OVAs as well as the 08th Team series provided a good deal of enjoyment over many years and I kept wanting more of it. What I didn’t expect to get was a CGI based OVA series and one that played to the Zeon more than anything else. And engineers of all things. Where’re my heroic teenage pilots spouting off melodrama? Thankfully, they’re not here. What I get instead is a wonderful little series that presents a tiny fragment of the massive number of stories that can be told about the One Year War. The CGI aspect played out a lot better than I thought, the designs were great overall and the stories really worked well for telling these smaller yet very significant tales about the Zeon side of the war.
I want more of this. It’s really that simple after taking in the whole thing. Quite honestly, this is one of the best and most intriguing incarnations of a Gundam series that I’ve seen and it rivals my love of the original UC OVA series from years ago. The idea of CG Gundam material has left me uneasy ever since I was treated to Superior Defender Gundam Force but MS Igloo has changed my opinion completely. It may not be what will sell to the younger generation of Gundam fans that they want to attract, but if they can put some of these out every once in awhile for the older die-hards, they’ll certainly have me very happy. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the serious side of the UC 0079 franchise.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese 5.1 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sunrise/Right Stuf
Release Date: July 11th, 2017
Running Time: 270 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.