Is Gundam 00’s Craziness a Bug or a Feature? – This Week in Anime

Following the announcement of a new CG entry in the Gundam 00 universe, Jean-Karlo and Nick revisit the first arc of the anime series and all of its on-the-nose allegory to the real war in the Middle East. Plus, split personalities!

This series is streaming at Gundam.info’s YouTube channel, Hulu, and Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Jean-Karlo

Good day, on this week’s This Week In Anime, my associate Nick and I will be discussing an anime about war. We’ll be discussing topics like the economic and human cost of war, demagoguery, struggles for resources, child soldiers, and escalation of conflict through an arms race. And to help us with this topic, we brought a special guest today, here they come right no—aw Christ, they got me again



IT’S A GUNDA—

Nick

That’s right, we’ve one-upped ourselves this time. Not only are we covering another Gundam entry (well, the first 11 episodes of one, anyway) we’re doing it with our special guest, Setsuna F. Seiei!
How are you doing today, Setsuna?



Haha, great stuff as always.
Once again, we’re stepping into the world that made the anime fandom say “Wow! Cool robot!” With Bandai and Sunrise finally sharing it on their GundamInfo YouTube channel, we’ll be covering Gundam 00 today. It’s not quite as widely-regarded as other newer Gundam entries like Iron-Blooded Orphans or SEED—in fact, 00 sadly never aired on Cartoon Network like so many other Gundams before it—but Gundam 00 has the particular honor of having a lot to say about the time it came out. It’s really weird, on-the-nose blunt stuff!

This was actually one of the first Gundam series I watched when I was really getting into anime and wanted to try out one of those fancy shmancy robot shows. It’d been basically a decade since I’d last seen it and a lot of details have escaped me since then. Which is to say yeah, I was a little caught off guard when this was the very first scene of a show from the mid-2000s.


Like I said, Gundam 00 had a lot to say about the time it was made in! And it was made right smack dab in the middle of The War on Terror, so those political analogues that the Gundam franchise is known for are particularly blunt here. And yes, many of the conflicts center around a fictionalized Middle Eastern nation suffering from resource shortages. The only way this could be more mid-00s is if it was pumping Black Eyed Peas every second.

I mean there’s nothing saying that isn’t what Patrick Colasour (god the names in this thing) is listening to whenever he’s in the cockpit.


Oh, we haven’t even begun to delve into the treasure trove of Gundam names in 00. Strap in, we’re going in hard.

The other thing I’d sort of forgotten about this show is how…much there is in it. This baby is stuffed to bursting with so many characters across the entire planet (and then some) that it can be easy to lose track of them. Especially when the subtitles on the YT release don’t translate the time/date captions.

So, it’s like this: it’s the year 2307 AD. Not even a weirdo splinter of the Gundam timeline, just flat-out 300 years into the future. Earth’s supply of fossil fuels has been depleted, so humanity develops solar technology. But the most efficient way of gathering and transporting solar energy is with an orbital ring supported by three massive orbital elevators. Much of the world’s nations coalesced into three big blocs, all of which clustered around one of these pillars. The Americas, Japan, and Oceania banded together to become The Union of Solar Energy and Free Nations, aka The Union. Much of Europe and Africa became the Advanced European Union (AEU), and Russia and China become the Human Reformation League (HRL). Various other nations were left out in the dust, being that they didn’t participate in funding the construction of these pillars—which was the fate of several Middle Eastern nations.

While this should have led to prosperity for the Earth, what with solar energy being free, the nations still squabble over that last goddamn percentage with each other. So there’s a cursory attempt at curbing war with military treaties enforcing that no military power should have more units/advancements than the other nations. But this is all just pretense: there’s very much a cold war at play what with advancements in military hardware and personnel. The story begins with a propagandized showing of one of the AEU’s cutting-edge mobile suits, the Enact, piloted by Mr. Special up there and available now from Bandai Dot Com in High Grade, Real Grade, and Master Grade model kits!

And then, in the middle of that giant global quagmire, drops four shiny new Gundam kits to absolutely obliterate every bloc’s mobile suits. Like even calling it a fight feels generous. Exia here kicks that thing’s ass into the next dimension.

Also don’t let it go unremarked upon that his name is Aeolia Schenburg. That sounds like something you need to ask your doctor about if you start finding weird lumps under your armpits. Like I heard my cousin’s sister-in-law totally died from aoelia schenburg bro.

Anyway, that’s all just in the first episode, and it’s a pretty wild setup. Usually Gundam stories are about two (or more) opposing sides of relatively equal scale. Here it’s basically four Gundam pilots against the entire military power of Earth combined. Which is an ambitious plan to say the least.

Yeah, about those pilots, let’s introduce them! So let’s start with Tieria Erde; he pilots the Gundam Virtue, an absolute unit of a mobile suit packed to the gills with heavy armor and heavy ordinance. He’s comparatively diminutive next to it, and also a massive stickler for the rules. He can usually be seen judging his fellow pilots for what he considers to be moral failings; he’s dedicated to Celestial Being’s cause, and isn’t entirely convinced the other Gundam Meisters are up to the task.


Then there’s, and I’m not making this up, Allelujah Haptism. He’s a sensitive young lad who’s pretty much the only pilot with even mild reluctance over killing soldiers who have no chance of stopping him. He pilots Gundam Kyrios, which can transform into a plane mode and thus is the coolest one.




Like, it lacks the sleek and plausible functionality of a Macross Valkyrie, but I do genuinely love this big plastic toy of a space plane.

The Kyrios is a much simpler, angular take on the Wing Gundam, seemingly designed for hit-and-run strategies. Allelujah, on the other hand, has a dark secret raging inside him, and it all has to do with how his hair cascades over his eyes. Welcome to Gundam 00.

We’ll come back to this guy’s deal later, because it’s both a) important and b) a hoot.

Oh, but another thing: he’s voiced by Richard Ian Cox in the English dub, so he’s automatically my favorite. I’m an old InuYasha fan, so sue me.

Then there’s Lockon Stratos, which in his defense is a code name to hide that he’s Irish. He’s behind the sights of Gundam Dynames, which is just all about guns. Like I don’t even think it has a close-range weapon. Just smaller guns.


Fitting for a guy named “Lockon Stratos,” he and his aim go perfectly with the Dynames, which can shoot objects in orbit with pinpoint accuracy from the surface of the Earth. “Wow, cool robot!” indeed.




Speaking of “cool robots,” Lockon is the designated keeper of Gundam mascot Haro this time around; Haro acts as Lockon’s second, controlling the Dynames’s movements while Lockon aims.

Haro is also there to troll him whenever necessary.



Imagine being one of the most wanted and dangerous terrorists in history and this orange volleyball is constantly giving you shit.
And speaking of terrorists, we have the man of the hour: Setsuna F. Seiei. He pilots the Gundam Exia, which is the main Gundam so of course it has a sword-gun and heat sabers. He’s like Sosuke from Full Metal Panic!, only not played for laughs: he has history of having served as a child soldier, and has the detached demeanor to show it.


Also he’s kinda…in love with the Exia. And like, I get it. That baby’s gotta a pretty svelte silhouette. Thin waist, broad shoulders, it looks like a model. But like, Setsuna, you’re weirding people out just a little here.

Setsuna didn’t have what you can call a “normal childhood,” hence his attachment to military equipment. An indoctrinated child soldier who might have even killed his own parents after having been convinced it was “God’s will,” Setsuna still has the resulting PTSD from it all, making him quite eager to end war by any means. He wants peace so badly he’ll kill for it.





If that sounds tragically contradictory, welcome, again, to 00! This show is pretty much entirely about the gnarled, endlessly complex web of geopolitical forces (and human nature) that make world peace seem like a pipe dream. So much so that for the first dozen or so episodes we honestly spend more time with characters who aren’t part of Celestial Being. Because trying to tell a story about the entire history of modern warfare takes a lotta legwork, it turns out.

And the craziest part is how so much of it is tied together. Like, take Saji Crossroads and Louise Halevy. A Japanese student and a Spanish exchange student who is whipping him into shape to be her boyfriend, the two find themselves in the middle of many of Celestial Being’s missions—or witnessing acts of terror, like the detonation of car bombs in their city. This is between stuff like Louise trying to sell her mother on Saji being a good boyfriend or leading him on a leash through dates.




Meanwhile, Saji’s sister Kinue Crossroad is a reporter for JNN (a cable news network, yes, based off of CNN). She also tries investigating Celestial Being and its many comings and goings.

Saji and Louise are basically our eyes on the ground for this season. They’re fairly sheltered college kids who reluctantly study history as part of their required credits as school but only start taking notice of the political state of the world when it literally explodes in their faces. This being a 50-episode series, we still haven’t actually seen much of importance from them, but they wind up pretty integral to this whole thing in the long run.

Though Saji is what in modern parlance we might call “Bitchmade”.





There’s also Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Smirnov, of the HRL. A man whose greatest sin is genuinely believing in the cause of his nation, he opposes Celestial Being on purely political grounds: anything that threatens his nation is an enemy to him. He’s tasked with caring for Lieutenant Soma Pieres, a teenager from the HRL’s super-soldier program. While he’s as concerned for her as he would any other member of his army, he does care for her a bit more than others, possibly because of her age.


Ah one of those poor sonsabitches who doesn’t realize he’s in a Gundam show. Sorry man, child soldiers is kind of what this whole franchise is built on.

It’s interesting that Sergei’s staunch beliefs don’t make him out to be a villain, only an antagonist. He opposes the Gundam Meisters plenty and at one point gets within a hair of capturing the Kyrios, but it’s never out of malice or greed or any active desire to cause harm—heck, he regrets the loss of even one of his men. Sergei’s a career soldier but he’s aware of the human cost of his actions. He ultimately opposes Celestial Being because Celestial Being just isn’t his ally in his cause.

He’s far and away the most sympathetic enemy Celestial Being has faced so far, and it’s telling that even he can’t bring himself to not go along with the whole super child soldier business. We even see him rationalize it, assuming that if he wasn’t the one running these orders, the job would just be done by somebody who cares a lot less about his subordinates’ lives. It’s a nicely succinct example of how moral people can still wind up serving the war machine.
Anyway the American soldier character we get just really wants to fight a Gundam.


Graham Aker really wants to learn as much as he can about the Gundams, knowing that their advanced tech is the key to military supremacy worldwide. The problem is standing up to one in the first place; he couldn’t beat Setsuna if Setsuna rolled over and died, let alone capture him.

I love that in a show filled with tragic backstories and characters constantly angsting over the morality of their actions, and then walks in this fuckin’ flyboy who just wants to smash his multi-billion dollar toys together.

Ali al-Saachez is far more malicious: he’s not just a mercenary, he’s the man who recruited Setsuna as a child soldier all those years ago. He still engages in many of the conflicts Celestial Being has to interfere with because besides making a profit, Ali is perfectly happy watching the world burn.



Also, he’s voiced by Scott McNiel in the dub, and man was it nice to hear his weird Dinobot growl again.
And in what is either a spectacularly bad judgment call by the AEU or intentional commentary by the script, they just give the guy their most state-of-the-art mobile suit. Like yeah let’s give our strongest weapon to the guy who created a child soldier factory. This is a good plan.



Also did it come with the cool robot tattoo or did he have that done custom?
Also important to the story is Sumeragi Lee Noriega, Celestial Being’s Combat Forecaster. She’s something of a leader to the Gundam Meisters, charting all of their plans with pinpoint accuracy. She’s also their resident Misato stand-in, being a woman potentially pushing her 30s who drowns her sorrows in alcohol. She’s skilled, but she’s failed before and that failure haunts her.

I remember reading in Newtype USA (yes, that was a long time ago, and yes, I still have that issue) that the character designs for Gundam 00 were courtesy of Loveless creator Yun Kouga, who was always great at designing whole casts of distractingly hot men and women. And yeah, she’s also pretty generous to the figures of all of her female cast. So, uh. Cucumber?
There’s also Wang Liu Mei who is our (first) requisite Gundam Princess. Right down to her stealing Relena’s look from the Gundam Wing ED.


Wang Liu Mei is a socialite who helps Celestial Being acquire the funding it needs. But she’s nowhere near as important to the story as the actual Gundam Princess, Marina Ishmail. The crown regent of the country of Azadistan, Marina is desperate to restore her country’s economy. Unfortunately, Azadistan used to be renowned for exporting oil—with solar energy being the main fuel source and Azadistan not having helped build any of the orbital towers, it’s all she can do to beg other countries for aid.

Allllllllso Azadistan was the country that, y’know, invaded Setsuna’s home country and led to him becoming a child soldier and all that. So it’s kind of a whole thing when they meet by chance.




Granted, Marina wasn’t in charge back then, but still awfully fuckin’ awkward.

So, I’ve been dancing around this, but: Gundam as a franchise loves reusing old archetypes and themes. As I mentioned in our old Gundam Wing column, Gundam 00 feels significantly like a retread of Gundam Wing. Marina fulfils much of the same role as Relena Peacecraft, but I think Marina works a bit better: while Relena wasn’t nearly as useless as her haters make her out to be, Marina feels much more important to the story by virtue of starting with actual political rank. She too hates war, just like Relena, but where Relena is coming from a moral and idealistic standpoint, Marina is coming from a much more urgent one. She knows the cost of war. She knows how much it hurts people, and she deeply feels for the people who’ve been hurt. More than restoring Azadistan to its former glory, she just wants people to live without having their lives destroyed like Setsuna.

Also, y’know, if Setsuna did want to kill her he’d at least have a better reason than Heero ever did. So while he’s still a messed up little weirdo I can actually understand his motivation and the dynamic of their relationship. So yeah, I’d say it’s better than Wing in that regard.


Definitely. Where Heero and Relena had a bizarro teen romance going on, the relationship between Marina and Setsuna feels much more engaging. Setsuna represents all of Azadistan’s past sins; Marina can’t afford to be an idealist like Relena because good intentions won’t unmake Setsuna’s past as a child soldier. If she wants peace, she’s going to have to reconcile with the fact that there are decades’ worth of bloody messes that need cleaning up first, even without her country’s conservative and reconstructionist sects at each other’s throats. Meanwhile, Setsuna feels like he takes Heero’s “child soldier” angle and plays it more for drama. Gundam Wing glazed over Heero basically being a trained child assassin, Gundam 00 shows how much Setsuna’s been outright scarred by his past. He’s not a robot, the kid has PTSD and doesn’t know a life without killing. He doesn’t have any anger for Marina, he just doesn’t quite see her as an enemy—but he has every reason to.

Again, the “War on Terror” stuff feels extremely on-the-nose, especially for someone like me who grew up in the thick of that era and its constant debates on religious fervor causing war, clamoring for expendable resources and military interference. But sometimes, you need to drop those anvils.

It’s a lot and I’m not gonna pretend the show is totally graceful about juggling those ideas along with its huge cast. It was surprising to me just how far into the runtime it was before we started actually developing the Meisters beyond their role in Celestial Being, but it turns out trying to create a literal “Us against the World” conflict that’s at least 80% allegory takes a lot of leg work and exposition. It’s a good seven episodes of geopolitical strife before we actually start learning anything about this trauma-themed boy band.





And even then, only one of the Meisters gets much insight. Well, technically two…

Yeahhhhhhhhh. So there’s a reason we specifically went up to episode 11 for this column. Because that’s when we formally meet the best part of this show.

So, remember how Soma Pieries was from a super-soldier project from the HRL? Well, it turns out… so was Allelujah. His brain was experimented upon using quantum brain particles, and the results were a split personality—one you can differentiate from his main personality from how his hair falls over his face.

It’s fucking amazing. This is where the real 00 starts. The moment you figure out what’s going on all the political commentary just falls away as you realize they’re pulling out the wackiest plot device possible.
Trust no one. Not even yourself.

Where Allelujah Haptism is much more mild-mannered and cautious, with tons of reservations about killing… Hallelujah Haptism is cold-blooded and blood-thirsty. Is he a split personality Allelujah simply developed as a result of trying to dodge the weight of killing his fellow test subjects? Is he a whole other person living within Allelujah caused by exposure to quantum particles? The real answer is simple: he’s both, and it’s wild.

And wouldn’t you know it, anytime Allelujah and Soma are within spitting distance of each other, their brain waves make each other wig out—and it awakens Hallelujah from within Allelujah’s brain.


And he’s not just like, aggressive and merciless. He’s a god damn supervillain. He slowly kills an enemy in the vacuum of space just because he can, while mocking his kinder half who’s stuck inside their shared brain and screaming for him to stop.







Part of the reason 00 has such a muddled reputation is it earnestly tries to marry its blunt political commentary with some of the goofiest plot devices possible, and the result is somewhere between amazing and embarrassing. Shit like this has to coexist with allegory surrounding contemporary war crimes, and you either love that or cannot stand it.

Mixing political intrigue with Shenanigans™ is already Gundam‘s bread and butter, but yes: Gundam 00 veering between hard-boiled real-world political discussion and a killer pretty-boy with a split personality definitely seeks to rival the madness that was SEED or SEED Destiny at its worst.

Also it’s not even the dumbest thing this show pulls. I won’t go into spoilers but Season 2 straight up takes a joke from Beerfest and plays it 1000% straight. It genuinely made me wonder if I was going crazy the first time I watched it.



Oh, also this whole mini-arc for (H)Allelujah ends with him bombing a whole building of super soldier orphans. Which is probably not the best thing for one of your heroes to do.
Years ago, our buddies at Anime World Order had an episode about Gundam 00 and I do agree with them that the Beerfest twist was probably written in after the fact to respond to fan outcry. I’m just saying, Sunrise went back and edited Gundam Seed following a character reveal in SEED Destiny; Gundam 00 foreshadows the twist, but you can’t convince me it wasn’t tossed into the story after the fact in an attempt at covering their butts. Sunrise has done it before, and they’ll do it again!

Honestly though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. While I can appreciate some well-intentioned politicking, having a show that’s only that could feel pretty dry, as evidence by these early episodes! So mixing in wilder stuff makes it all go down a lot smoother and feel less like homework. Like, hell, my favorite part of Iron-Blooded Orphans was this absolutely insane character arc:




So I’m not gonna act all high and mighty or pretend I didn’t ultimately enjoy the hell out of 00 when I first saw it. It’s just that the rough edges stand out a lot more on rewatch.
Ever since the original Mobile Suit Gundam made its villain have a disco song as his theme, Gundam has been goofy. I mean, for Christ’s sake, they put a toilet in the cockpit in G-Reco. But a lot of people might not be able to handle this brand of insanity. It’s one thing when your show goes all-in on the madness, like G-Gundam. It’s another when your show paints all of the madness with melodrama, as with Gundam Wing. It’s another when you have this, which feels like an old Dick Tracy strip where Dick Tracy has to take on Al Qaeda.

It’s not a bad decision, just a very bold one and if you can pull it off I’ll congratulate you on your huge, huge balls. But if you slip and mess up… well, you’ll forgive me if I keep my camcorder handy.

I can’t pretend 00 is perfect, or even necessarily good. But even upon revisit there’s a lot of interesting, or even just plain weird choices to it that make it compelling. Kyrios was the first gunpla kit I ever built, so it’ll always have a place in my heart. Plus any show that gives us Mighty Morphin’ Haro Rangers can’t be all bad.


I’m gonna be frank: I love Yun Kouga‘s character designs. This is the thirstiest Gundam, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s not even the one where someone boned in the pilot seat. And the Gundams themselves have amazing, varied designs, so it’s eyecandy everywhere! But also: I definitely appreciate Gundam 00 and its story. As I said, it’s weird and goofy and on-the-nose but I find that the political allegory works. Yes, even with the weird, crazy movie that throws a massive curveball to the whole show. Having seen 00 after Wing also makes me appreciate how its themes and character archetypes are used even further. It’s a shame 00 never aired on Toonami because I think the old Wing crowd would have gotten a lot out of it. Also, my aged anime fan heart appreciates that this was the last Gundam to have a dub cast featuring the old Canadian stand-bys. Richard Ian Cox, Scott McNiel, the late Kirby Morrow, Tabitha St. Germaine… I get really nostalgic when I think of Canadian dub casts for Gundam shows. You had to be there, man.
It’s also getting a CG(?) sequel film of some kind that was just announced, so there may be a nascent 00 revival on the horizon. At the very least this rewatch got me hankering for more Witch From Mercury footage. So I guess even now it’s still working as intended, though now I’m thinking about the current state of gunpla kits in the U.S…

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