By Andrew Osmond.
Released in Japanese cinemas in 2010, Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer is the last chapter of the Gundam 00 saga. It most definitely assumes you know what happened in the two 00 TV seasons, and remember who most of the characters are. If you need to refresh your memory, Anime Limited’s edition of the film handily includes a three-part digest of the series (Gundam 00 Special Edition). But if you’re new to Gundam 00, you’re better off starting with the full series, available separately from Anime Limited in two volumes. This blog introduces it here.
The film is a sequel, so SPOILERS for the TV show follow.
If you’re ever in an anime quiz and get asked, “Which Gundam involves an alien attack on Earth?” then it’s this one. Well, it’s not clear if it’s an alien attack or a very boisterous form of first contact – that’s the big question – but either way it looks the same. It’s a departure for the Gundam franchise. Aliens are referenced or implied in a couple of other Gundam series, but they seem, well, alien to what Gundam is fundamentally about – human conflict, usually in war-torn futures. Certainly the vast bulk of Gundam anime leaves out E.T’s, including the fifty TV episodes of Gundam 00.
But rather than a shark jump, an alien attack is actually a logical extension of Gundam’s themes. Like other entries in the franchise (Gundam Unicorn, the Gundam Wing film Endless Waltz), Gundam 00 focused on a struggle to end human conflict for good. At the conclusion of the TV series, there was hope the struggle was won – a genuine, lasting peace on Earth. So what would happen if Earth was then attacked by an alien race? Many SF yarns speculate warring humans would come together if they were threatened from the stars. But if an Earth that had just found peace was threatened, what then?
Directed once more by Seiji Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist), the film is set two years after the end of the second TV season. The group known as Celestial Being has withdrawn from view after its final battles, though they’re still looking out for smaller crimes. Early on, crooked colony administrators think it’ll be easy to arrange an “accident” for the visiting Middle Eastern princess Marina, checking on her people’s welfare in space. More fool, them!
Setsuna is still part of Celestial Being, although his experiences at the end of the TV series changed him profoundly, making him withdrawn, as he was when we first met him. The person this upsets the most is the girl programmer Feldt, who’s quietly watched over and supported Setusna through his adventures. Her growing feelings for the remote warrior form one of the film’s main emotional arcs.
Most of the surviving Celestial Being team are still together under the motherly Sumeragi. Of the main pilots, Lyle (the sniper who replaced his late brother Neil in the second TV season) is working with Setsuna, while Tireria has a digital existence within the “Veda” computer system. Allejullah is off wandering the world with his childhood soulmate Marie, or Soma as she was known for much of the series. (Spoiler: If you’re missing Hallejujah, then you’re in luck.)
Then the aliens show up, and they’re properly alien. Other anime space opera like Yamato and Macross featured militaristic quasi-humans, like the Klingons in 1960s Star Trek. A Wakening goes for full-on alien inscrutability, with invaders who are basically blobs or spikes of liquid metal, like the T-1000 in its primordial form. Once they arrive on Earth, they start forcibly meshing with people, drawn to those with the most advanced brainstates (these people are incipient “Innovators,” 00’s equivalent of Newtypes in other versions of Gundam).
Part of the fun of the film is seeing how many different kinds of SF cinema get mashed up together. For example, in the early scenes, the aliens take over vehicles (cars, helicopters) in the manner of the 1980s schlock classic Maximum Overdrive. They also cause a disaster at an Underground station which looks suspiciously like a steal from the more recent Knowing, a 2009 apocalypse thriller with Nicolas Cage. (Knowing was probably too recent to be an influence, but the scenes are remarkably close.) The eerie, wordless menace of the creatures also harks back to much older SF films and dramas from six or seven decades ago – this kind of thing.
But the main characters hope these aliens aren’t malign, for all their destructiveness; perhaps these beings just don’t understand life so different from them. Through the film, our heroes endeavour to open communication, using the abilities they’ve developed so painfully in the series. Coupled with the space opera setting, this inevitably echoes some of the Star Treks, such as the fondly remembered The Voyage Home, where the aliens weren’t trying to talk to humans but whales.
But the action in A Wakening plays far more Star Wars than Trek, culminating with some utterly berserk space conflicts at zooming speeds, until parts of the battles resemble abstract art, patterns of rushing lights and mecha. The swarming metal aliens, accompanied by a throbbing hum as they zoom through the void, reminded me of the shoals of killer fish in Joe Dante’s Piranha.
Malign or not, the aliens are an existential threat to Gundam 00’s world, with even the film’s strongest characters overwhelmed by them. This provides a solution of sorts to the problem of any anime film spun off from a TV show with a huge cast of characters, which fans expect to see all back on the big screen. In A Wakening, some of the characters are working together, but many others are shown in separate plotlines, reacting to the global threat but rarely connecting with each other.
It’s an approach which displeased some series fans, and it’s hard not to be disappointed if your own favourite characters get short shrift. My own favourites from the TV show were Saji and Louise, whose story went through an extraordinary journey from mild sitcom to Eva-level tragedy. The film’s early scenes suggest the couple will play a large part in the story, but instead their roles are very restricted. Still, the film’s approach makes good sense, setting all these characters against a faceless threat that feels more dangerous and real than those in most anime spinoff films.
Important note – you should stay through the end credits for a crucial extended epilogue. Among other things, it shows what happened to a luckless bit-part character who fell victim to the aliens and seemed to be callously abandoned by the story. The epilogue also brings the very start and (apparently) the very end of the Gundam 00 story together, and ties them up in a bow.