Kidō Senshi Gundam Seed Freedom: The Second Coming of Jesus Yamato (And the Debut of Salaryman Yamato)

I vowed to never apologize for being late on posting things here, as Analog Housou has always been just a hobby to me. But I do have to state that my salaryman job has left me quite ragged for the past couple of months, which unfortunately means I have left this site derelict for a bit. This is especially problematic, as I should have done more to ring in Analog Housou’s 13th year online. Yes, the site is now officially a teenager–which I suppose means that I have been leaving my teenage child derelict, which is on brand for a salaryman like myself. 

So while late, to commemorate this site entering its teenage years, there is no more fitting subject matter to address than that of Kidō Senshi Gundam Seed–specifically, Kidō Senshi Gundam Seed: Freedom, the new film entry into the franchise which has been long in the making. But much in the same way that I have become a slimy salaryman, Seed has kind of become one, too.

Prior to reading, please be aware that I do reveal some key points and scenes which may be considered “spoilers,” so avoid reading further if you want to enter this film cold. 

What Gundam Seed Means to Me

Before diving into Freedom, I would like to rewind a bit. 

My first encounter with the Gundam franchise was via a bootlegged t-shirt my buddy was wearing once in either 5th or 6th grade. Being part Asian, he had some level of overseas connections that afforded him bootleg Playstation games, DVDs, t-shirts and more. To this day I cannot remember what Gundam series was emblazoned on his t-shirt, but as a young anime dork obsessed with Dragon Ball[1]Pour one out for Toriyama. and Pokémon, the more complex touch to the illustration on his shirt compelled me. Cut to about a year later, and Gundam Wing started airing on the Cartoon Network, and became mine–and many others’–gateway drug to the Gundam franchise. While many people stopped at Wing, me–being who I am–became obsessed, and started trying to figure out what other pieces there were to this whole Gundam thing. 

It goes without saying that I watched the fuck out of the 0079 airing on Toonami, and thoroughly enjoyed 08th MS Team, 0083, and partook in another AU Gundam series in the form of G-Gundam. Between faulty VCRs missing certain episodes I had intended to tape and history-altering terrorist attacks[2]If memory serves, 9/11 resulted in First Gundam’s run after school being cut short, with the series then moved to the dead hours of early morning. I suspect bad ratings didn’t help either., my understanding of Gundam was patchy, but I was compelled by what I could get my hands on.

When Seed first dropped on fansubs, my house was still on 56k, so I couldn’t reliably download anime as it aired in Japan. However my older cousin was just making his way in society, and lived with some roommates out in the suburbs of Washington DC. He decided to have me over one day, and showed me a bunch of anime he had downloaded–among the episodes screened was the first episode of Gundam Seed. To be honest, it didn’t really grab me at the time. First of all, being a fansub it was obviously subtitled, and I wasn’t yet used to anime outside of Dragon Ball in its original Japanese at that point in my fan career. Also, having grown up on cel animation, the early-era digital animation didn’t really gel with me. But for one reason or another, when Gundam Seed started airing on Toonami, I tuned in every week.

While I enjoyed the show, it was not serviced well by an atrocious English dub. This compelled me to pool up my allowance and buy the show as it dropped on DVD, so I could enjoy the work in its original Japanese[3]I find it quite funny how a bad dub turned me on to watching things with subtitles, an aspect that originally turned me off when I first watched the show.. At this time, I also started to enjoy a broadband connection in my home, which meant I started getting used to watching anime on fansubs in real time.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Gundam Seed turned my anime interest into a general obsession with Japan, effectively transforming me into a weeb. Watching the show in Japanese, I got to view its original openings, and started to appreciate J-pop outside of just anime songs, given the show was keen to use musical acts popular amongst regular people in Japan at the time. And despite Seed being set on a fictitious earth, the show’s general aesthetic stood out to me as uniquely modern and Japanese. 

Now, nearly 20 years later, I have been living in Japan for over a decade–and for some reason I have yet to encounter a luscious babe like Lacus Clyne in real life… but I digress. 

The original Seed is a production which is ultimately troubled, but carried by its reverence for the original 0079 series, and ends well. So once I got through it, I of course moved on to the sequel Seed Destiny. I will admit to enjoying Destiny in the moment, chatting about it on forums and IRC from week to week. But when I started collecting it on DVD, my interest immediately waned when I saw that it was already recycling footage in early episodes of the show, something I didn’t notice when sucked into the pinpoint moment of its airing. I don’t believe I have revisited any part of Seed since moving into the work force, and it happens to be the last AU Gundam that I watched in full until Suisei no Majo[4]You know… the Witch from Mercury… I need to re-think this stylistic choice of sticking to Japanese titles.

So when it was announced that Seed Freedom was dropping–a film project that had been floating around since the end of Destiny–I knew I had to watch it as a jaded 35-year-old salaryman, and see if it could rekindle the youthful spirit that I once had[5]When cranking it to dōjinshi of Lacus, Cagalli and Murrue..

Freedom As a Gundam Seed Sequel

Film reviews typically open with a plot summary to ground the reader before going into the critic’s comments, and in general I like to do the same with my reviews. However, I don’t feel comfortable doing this for Freedom, as I was struggling to find my own footing in the early minutes of the film. Freedom assumes you have just completed Gundam Seed Destiny, and goes straight from there–as such, I had to re-acquaint myself with all the different factions and conflicts as I was watching the grand opening battle. I want to say there was a narration providing a general overview after things got going, but it didn’t help me that much. I’m of course not going to fault the film for this–this lack of research is on me, one who hasn’t watched Seed in nearly two decades. However, with this being the case, I cannot in good confidence give you a summary without referring to what’s already online, so I suggest you fire up your search engines and search one out if you want some context.

In addition to the existing factions, the story introduces a new one for the good guys, “Compass,” and one for the bad guys, the “Emerging Countries Foundation[6]Mostly referred to as “Foundation” throughout the film..” And while the main story is actually quite sound, in time-honored Seed tradition, in execution it does become something of a clusterfuck. In Freedom there is very little down time, with the film jumping from beat to beat very quickly once the story gets moving. I understand that this approach is also simply a trend in modern film making[7]A trend which I do not like, which is why I don’t watch many new films., but Freedom hits legit clusterfuck territory by moving at this fast pace while dishing out screen time for both the entire cast from the previous series and its large cast of new characters.

There are a lot of motherfuckers in this film, and just the sheer volume of characters distracts from what could be a serviceable and straight-forward action plot. Sai Argyle–remember him? The dude with the glasses from the first series, who doesn’t appear at all in Destiny? Apparently he must have one fan, because he appears in the background more than a few times, but doesn’t speak at all, which makes his existence even more distracting. And as much as I love the little shitheads that are Dearka Elsman and Yzak Joule, they felt extremely shoehorned in. Meyrin Hawke also shows up, but as far as I remember she doesn’t interact in any meaningful way with her sister, Lunamaria[8]Do correct me if I’m wrong if you’ve seen this., who is framed as one of the somewhat-major characters in the film.

I realize I’m complaining about something completely obvious and expected–this is a nostalgia grab film, so of course you have to bring back everyone’s favorite characters. And yes, one can make the case for shoving Dearka in there just so he can call Mu Lu Flaga[9]I keep wanting to write Mwu Ra Fragga, per old RH memes. an “old man” one more time. But fucking Sai? C’mon, I forgot about that fucker. Also, without going into too much detail, the new main villain, Orphee Lam Tao, introduces a new plot point that makes one wonder, “dude, where were you all this time?” I know the answer lies in the fact that they simply needed a new villian for this film, but going out of the way to connect him to a key part of Seed’s plot up until this point throws another wrench in the works that complicates what could have been a simple war story. 

But hey, I can’t be a complete grouch. I do like seeing these goobers again after so long. Of note, I got to say that I do like Shinn Asuka a lot in this film over his appearence in Destiny. Rather than being a dumb little shit who wants revenge, he’s just a normal dumb little shit, and lightens up every scene he’s in by being completely clueless and brash–so he’s great. And of course, I’ve always liked Mu as one of the few adults in the group with his aloof older-dude charm, along with his partner Murrue Ramius. I realize that Murrue comes off as a less chaotic version of Evangelion’s Misato entirely due to her voice actress, which in turn drives my attraction to her, but she also stands out like Mu as one of the few adult characters I can latch on to, so I do enjoy when she’s around. I never really liked Athrun, but I do like him in Freedom, but I’ll go into that later… when I talk about Kira, Lacus and the rest of the main cast in the section after this.

But fanservice in the form of being reunited with old characters only goes so far. Putting my forgotten knowledge about Seed aside, as mentioned earlier, the story is deeply hampered by trying to shoehorn in all the old characters, and introducing a slew of new ones. Say what you want about Tomino’s UC Gundam works, but he was clever to just introduce entirely new casts for each sequel, with the reappearance of only some old faces. It cuts off a lot of baggage and keeps the stories fresh. However, in this day and age where everyone needs an oshi, I suppose this is now impossible. 

Another way in which this film screams “Yes, I’m a Gundam Seed movie!” is in the uneven production. Granted, since this is a theatrical film, it never looks outright bad. To be honest, it’s probably the best Seed has ever looked[10]I could be wrong, I have yet to see the remastered versions of the TV series.. However, it does feel like it loses visual consistency as it goes on, and the fights also lose the detailed choreography of the opening skirmish, becoming less exciting as a result. 

On the point of visual consistency, despite his work suffering greatly from Same Face, character designer Hirai Hisashi does have a distinctive style–and you can tell when his designs are drawn to model, because there’s a plump baby-faced roundness to them. While the art never goes incredibly off model, given this is a feature film, I do expect a high level of visual consistency, and the slight fluctuation in art from scene to scene was distracting. Characters sometimes become skinnier and more angular, and while I actually prefer those sorts of designs, the change in style did take me out.

The degradation in the quality of the battles hurt the most, though. The opening battle is great–as alluded to earlier, it’s a tactical skirmish in a city setting, with a lot of excellent gunplay and fight choreography, something basically unheard of in the series thus far. However, as the more powerful mechs with their special abilities start to appear, battles move from dense areas to more open Planet Namek-like settings, and slowly devolve into showcasing the flashy special moves that had defined Seed fights in the past. By the end we are once again flung into complete and utter beam spam, which is the point at which I began to check the time on my phone. To its credit, Seed has never been shy about depicting the horror of war, and this film is no exception. Civilians get blown away in crossfire, and we get nice up-close shots of soldiers getting vaporized by laser fire. All that stuff is good, and I’m here for it.

But what I was in the theater for the most is what I’m about to address next… and it was completely unexpected.

Freedom as a Jaded Salaryman Story

Gundam Seed first dropped in 2002, when I was 14 years old. I got through the series in its entirety by the time I was around 16 or 17, right in time to catch the final 20 or so episodes of Gundam Seed Destiny in real time. Either way, as you can see, I was a young little shit when I first experienced this series. I have a feeling I must have gone through at least the original Seed series once more in the time until I turned 20, but as alluded to earlier in the post, I have not interacted with the series since then. 

I imagine most viewers of this film are like me, and are only just now coming back to Seed in their early-to-mid 30s as a result of Freedom. Furthermore, anyone who works as a salaryman in their mid-30s probably has some pull in their organization now. I have had “manager” in my title for the past four or so years, and I am definitely shouldering more responsibility than I once had. Funnily enough, our hero Kira Yamato is in the same boat. Messiah Kira is now a squad captain at Compass, leading Shinn, Lunamaria and the rest. However, like most new managers, rather than delegating, Kira opts to do everything himself. And when the battle is over, he rather stay late and maintain his mech than go home to enjoy dinner with his sexy wife.

His sexy wife is of course the aforementioned “luscious babe” Lacus Clyne. They live in a beautiful house on the beach, with two shiny motorcycles and a sports car. In short, Kira is living the dream life of every salaryman who came up in the bubble era. And as someone who came up in the bubble era, this is a dream that Fukuda Mitsuo, director of Seed, likely held himself. But along with this clear salarymanic wish-fulfillment going on, as mentioned in the paragraph above, he is sure to depict Kira as either “really busy,” or simply avoiding his home life, as many salarymen are want to do. So, I have to give props to Freedom for painting this very stark depiction of Kira’s adult life[11]Though I assume he’s still like 17 or something., and clashing it against a very cliche and cheesy ideal. It’s not everyday that you see your young Gundam protagonist come home after 11pm with his wife passed out on the sofa, while a beautiful dinner of sashimi and tempura draped in saran wrap grows stale on the table. To make this hit even harder, Fukuda is also sure to show their “happier” times. The film cuts to a sequence with the two enjoying a ride on their motorcycle by the coastline as they head to a park for a romantic picnic. Of course, the scene is mostly used for story exposition, but it does mirror the typical salaryman experience of initially having a happy marriage, and it gradually turning to complete toxic shit.

The other key element of the suffering salaryman experience is suspicion that your wife–who you are neglecting–is sleeping with another man. Those who saw the initial trailer for this film will notice that the role of the NTR aggressor is held by the aforementioned villain Tao. While there are “plot” reasons for him approaching Lacus, he clearly just wants new ass to tap–because he’s visibly sick of his current neglected partner, Ingrid Tradoll, who basically appears in each scene to make a jealous and angry face whenever Tao approaches Lacus. 

Meanwhile, the film has a b-plot which consists mostly of Lunamaria weeping alone in her room, lamenting that Shinn isn’t giving her any attention. As far as I can remember, the actual impetus for this–aside from Shinn just being a dumbass–isn’t really properly addressed, but it’s another side of the jaded salaryman story Fukuda is also trying to tell in the middle of his sci-fi war epic. 

It feels like most of the film dwells on Kira being this neglective husband and bad manager, with his shittiness coming to a head when he just outright yells “I GOTTA DO ALL THIS SHIT CUZ Y’ALL ARE TOO WEAK.” …okay I could be paraphrasing here, but it’s at this point that Athrun comes in, punches the shit out of Kira, and yells at him to get his act together, which is probably the single best scene in the film. 

At this point the film switches gears, going into full salaryman wish-fulfillment mode, which–to be honest–I am also here for. For what very little sexual fanservice there is in this film, Lacus appears out of nowhere in a skintight space suit, shot at just the angles to please this jaded salaryman watching the film on his day off with a Strong Zero in hand. She supports Kira with a mobile suit upgrade in the final battle, and it goes without saying that all ends well. The very last scene has them standing naked together on a beach before a smash cut to credits. I think you can guess what happens off-screen after that.

As a nostalgia grab, Gundam Seed Freedom works as a reunion with all your favorite characters, and a return to the defining tropes and stylistic flourishes of the series. However, it also brings back all the warts that I personally forgot about. Like, I remember Gundam Seed Destiny being a bumpy ride, but sitting in front of the chaos presented in Seed Freedom for two hours reminded me of just how far that series flew off the rails. I think it’s definitely a must-see for die-hard fans of the series who will accept it, warts and all. As for myself, the next time I revisit it will probably be whenever I embark on an overall revisit to Seed just to have my Adult Impressions of the series ready for whenever I have to talk about it with my otaku friends. Despite it resonating strongly with my jaded salaryman heart, rather than revisiting the film, I mostly see myself seeking out fanart of Lacus in that space suit more than anything else. 

1 Pour one out for Toriyama.
2 If memory serves, 9/11 resulted in First Gundam’s run after school being cut short, with the series then moved to the dead hours of early morning. I suspect bad ratings didn’t help either.
3 I find it quite funny how a bad dub turned me on to watching things with subtitles, an aspect that originally turned me off when I first watched the show.
4 You know… the Witch from Mercury… I need to re-think this stylistic choice of sticking to Japanese titles.
5 When cranking it to dōjinshi of Lacus, Cagalli and Murrue.
6 Mostly referred to as “Foundation” throughout the film.
7 A trend which I do not like, which is why I don’t watch many new films.
8 Do correct me if I’m wrong if you’ve seen this.
9 I keep wanting to write Mwu Ra Fragga, per old RH memes.
10 I could be wrong, I have yet to see the remastered versions of the TV series.
11 Though I assume he’s still like 17 or something.

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