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Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Movie I: The Empty Battlefield Anime DVD Review

6 min read
Take the first twenty-plus television episodes, distill them down into ninety-five minutes, and you have the first Gundam Seed "movie".

Take the first twenty-plus television episodes, distill them down into ninety-five minutes, and you have the first Gundam Seed “movie”.

What They Say
Year 70 of the Cosmic Era, the economic friction between genetically enhanced Coordinators and unmodified Naturals has erupted into a full-scale conflict. The Natural-dominated Earth Alliance struggles to catch up with the Coordinators’ superior technology and has secretly developed five Gundam mobile suits at a neutral space colony. Through a twist of fate, a young Coordinator named Kira Yamato becomes the pilot of the Alliance’s prototype Strike Gundam and finds himself forced to fight his own people in order to protect his friends. Prepare for the anime epic of the year!

The Review:
The original Japanese stereo track was used for my primary viewing session. The numerous action sequences make adequate use of the front soundstage. Music, dialogue, and sound effects were well balanced and did not overshadow one another. There were no problems with distortion or dropouts. While it is a decent stereo mix, it does feel a bit flat at times.

A spot check of the English stereo track revealed a slightly fuller sound in the action sequences. It is still a standard stereo track that utilizes the front soundstage adequately, but the English track felt as if it had more depth to it. Fans of either language track will be satisfied with their audio experience.

The first Gundam Seed “movie” receives a beautiful transfer. Whether it is the black depths of space or a bright desert landscape on Earth, the colors are vibrant making for a rich picture. Every element and technique blends well for the most part, but some of the CG during the battle sequences can be slightly distracting. The transfer is free from any noticeable cross coloration, aliasing, or other digital artifacts.

The front cover features a collage of a sullen Kira, a praying Lacus, and the Strike Gundam. The logo is near the bottom of the cover with the title for the movie in a banner across the very bottom. Both the front and back cover have an attractive metallic sheen. There is something about the expression on Kira and Lacus’ faces that really catch the eye.

The back cover features the requisite synopsis, images, and disc specifications in a clean, readable format. There was no insert inside the case. One complaint with the packaging is the lack of an indicator for what this title is. It does not list itself as a movie or list itself as where it falls in the context of the entire series.

The main menu features a picture of the Strike Gundam in action with the menu items placed to the right of the screen. The upper left corner plays a series of sepia toned clips, and music loops in the background. There are transition delays between menus allowing the viewer to get setup and into the content quickly and easily. One nice feature of the audio setup menu was the green, throbbing dot that was placed next to your selection.

No extras were provided for this release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Boasting of “new footage specially made for this release”, Gundam Seed: The Empty Battlefield attempts to summarize twenty-plus episodes of the television series into a ninety-five-minute capsule. Since it is a rehash of existing material, a title of this nature should either summarize things in a manner that will draw new viewers into the TV series, or it should provide faithful viewers with new insight into the story and characters. While this movie is visually stunning, it fails miserably at achieving either goal.

It is Cosmic Year 70, and the forces of ZAFT and the Earth have been at war since the Bloody Valentine Tragedy. ZAFT is preparing to attack the neutral colony Orb and procure the new mobile suits they have been developing for Earth. The city of Heliopolis houses these new suits along with a young man named Kira Yamato and his friends.

The action starts right away and quickly drives Kira into one of the new Gundams; fortunately, Kira is a Coordinator, a genetically enhanced human being, and is able to quickly and expertly pilot the Gundam. We also quickly learn that one of the ZAFT pilots is Arthrun, Kira’s childhood friend.

While the battle rages, a number of names on both sides of the conflict are thrown about, though it is not necessary to bother learning who these people are. The conflict ends with the destruction of the entire colony; only one new battleship has survived the carnage and takes aboard the colony’s refugees along with Kira and his friends.

The remaining time in the film is spent moving Kira from one battle to the next with brief narrative segments designed to setup each battle. And this is where this film fails the most; the narrative does little to explain who these people are, why they are fighting, or what they are fighting for. Most of the details behind who ZAFT is, what Coordinators are, and other details are gleaned from the back cover of the DVD case. The actual film does nothing to adequately explain these details and make the material accessible to viewers unfamiliar with the Gundam Seed series.
It also does little to drive someone to view the television series to flesh out these details.

These paper-thin narrative elements are unlikely to provide any new insight into the story or the characters for those that have been following the series. They simply serve to drop the appropriate name or setup the circumstances that lead to a new battle. If so much time is spent on battle sequences, one would hope that they would be able to provide some good, mindless entertainment to compensate for the lack of a solid plot.

Sadly, this is not the case either; as with most Gundam shows, the suits are stylish and detailed. Without any emotional investment in the characters or the plot, the sequences are just a bunch of robots clanging about. Rather than keeping my eye on the screen, my eye was constantly checking the clock to see how much time was left.

The one spot that could elicit interest in the series is the character of Flay. She is an ordinary civilian who watches most of what she cares about taken away from her. This turns her into a crazed, manipulative psycho that is trying to find her own form of revenge in events. She is the only character given a modicum of depth throughout the film. But, the narrative leaves so little time to explore her or any other character making it a brief oasis in an otherwise boring experience.

What is missing from this title is the heart of the Gundam stories over the years. How does war affect people? Kira and Arthrun are childhood friends that are suddenly placed on opposite sides of a conflict. How does it affect these two people and their relationship?

While these questions and more are likely explored in the series, the audience gets no sense from this summary that the series wants to explore these issues. Arthurn and Kira’s relationship is just another minute detail bandied about in a sea of battles. It has little meaning in this film, which translates to an apathetic feeling when viewing their battles. Apathy is the exact feeling I came away with after watching this title; having never seen any Gundam Seed episodes, this retelling left little reason for me to change this fact.

In Summary:
While The Empty Battlefield features footage created especially for it, one would be hard-pressed to recommend this to an audience outside of the die-hard, must-see everything Gundam fan. Having to rush through twenty-plus episodes of content, this movie fails to provide much depth to the characters or plot and under-delivers on exciting battle sequences. Viewers unfamiliar with the television series are not likely to find much to entice them into watching it. Those who do follow the television series will not find any new insights into the characters or plot. This leaves the new footage as the only reason to pick this title up, and this is a very thin reason.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: July 12th, 2005
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

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

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