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Doubletakes: Gundam SEED Destiny (Episode 1)

March 4, 2019

Before Code Geass stole my soul, I was obsessed with Gundam SEED. And I don’t mean I knew all Lacus’s songs, learned about Gunpla so I could build the Le Creuset team’s mobile suits, wrote forty-one fanfics including one in a second language, named vehicles after mobile suits, or took two college Philosophy courses — The Ethics Of Peace And War and The Ethics Of Genetic Engineering — because of SEED that I wrote SEED-related essays for (but I did absolutely do those things). I mean I could name you every character on the PLANT Supreme Council and tell you their political persuasions. I could point out on a map every base or battle site on both sides (my favorite location to say aloud has always been “Jachin Due”). I knew the battleship classes. I had all iterations of the GUNDAM acronym memorized. I can still rattle off mobile suit model numbers. I can name and locate every gun the Archangel is equipped with. I know the key code Athrun Zala plugged in to self-destruct the Aegis, I have Nicol’s sheet music, I can— You get it.

 

Then Gundam SEED Destiny came out. Obviously, I was excited to see it. But I got roughly ten episodes in, sensed it for a train wreck, and panicked.

 

I ran from it. I bolted with excuses about why running away was actually a necessary sacrifice — like I was Zala zipping into GENESIS to destroy it via suicidal act... except there was no Cagalli to scream at me, “The hardest battle is to keep watching!” I was so terrified that Destiny would tarnish my good opinions of the original SEED that I avoided viewing it — and have avoided it (and, miraculously, all major spoilers for it) for over a decade.

 

Until now.

 

Yes, I’m finally watching Gundam SEED Destiny. My reactions, opinions, and/or strong takes in response to it could, I imagine, fill more college essays. However, instead of write said essays, I’ll be writing multiple short posts per week that I will call my “doubletakes.” In each post, I will focus on one episode (maybe two, length depending), and present two relevant or interesting “takes” from said episode(s). Think of a “take” as a reactive commentary. Because I am a fiction writer as well as an anime nerd, each take will be explored from two perspectives — the fan’s perspective, and the writer’s perspective. Hence “double takes...” and “doubletakes,” due to the reactive nature of the fan side of viewing. (Look… the pun made sense to me, okay?)

 

In other words, you’ll get amusing, possibly thermonuclear freak-out fan reactions over a character or plot point that stood out to me, but also a professional assessment of the same point from the perspective of a writer. Hopefully anyone reading will enjoy some nostalgia-factor, too — ‘cause I’m late to this game and everyone else saw SEED Destiny a decade or more ago.

 

That said, let’s go.

 

Frongi, Gundam DEE CORe... LAUNCHING!
 

 

EPISODE 1

Take 1 — The Opening Scene

Since this is the first scene of the series, and first scenes are incredibly important storytelling devices, let’s honor it with more recap than I’ll aim to deliver otherwise.

 

We witness an event from the original SEED series (from the perspective of a new boy we can safely assume is our Destiny protagonist). It’s the battle at Orb, in which Azrael — a Blue Cosmos member working for the Earth Forces — lets Calamity, Forbidden, and Raider loose on the neutral nation, because said nation has refused to participate in the war on behalf of the Naturals. Orb is trying to evacuate its citizens while defending itself with the help of Kira and the Archangel’s crew. Our new protagonist and his family are fleeing, lagging behind the other evacuees.

Evacuating does not go well. A blast from the battle orphans our protagonist immediately, killing his entire family in the space of a heartbeat, leaving him in shock as he registers their corpses. Worse, the blast that kills them comes as a direct result of Kira’s engagement with the Calamity. Our protagonist loses his shit — understandably — and the scene ends with his shock transforming into outrage; he fixes a hateful look upon the battle raging overhead and screams.

Reaction as a fan: WELL, I DIDN’T EXPECT I WOULD CRY IMMEDIATELY. I barely know this protagonist and I’m already mortified for him. He and his terrified family were just trying to survive, yet BOOM, there goes everyone but this kid. The poor kid’s facial expressions and reactions as he registers his family’s body bits are heart-wrenching. It's like, "Welcome back, viewer, to one of the shittiest realities of war; in case you forgot the scale of atrocities Gundam SEED likes to explore, please start by acquainting yourself with these gory, mangled bodies of innocents!" (Frozen mother and child in the Junius Seven wreckage, Nicol’s helmet cracking and filling with blood, bodies bubbling, expanding and popping when hit by killer beams in Alaska — not enough. Now have some crushed families, too!) WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STARTING WITH THE PROTAGONIST FALLING INTO THE COCKPIT?

Reaction as a writer: This. Is. A. Good. Opening. It hooks us instantly, and makes promises about where the show will go. I see well-executed, fascinating set-up— which is exactly what you want out of a story’s opener. Good writing is all about making promises to the viewers about the story’s direction/content/merit, then delivering on those promises by executing everything in a fashion that satisfies expectations but also still surprises. Destiny is showing from this opening that it understands that concept.

 

But how exactly so? Well, I see that Kira could be considered responsible for the protagonist’s family’s death, which suggests Kira may have to account for that at some point (probably with angst, guilt and tears). That sort of struggle makes for engaging character development. Plus, if Kira Yamato has to account for his past, we know his story is not over despite this new protagonist. Additionally, that the new protagonist is so furious is another promise of a great story. We know that at the end of SEED (or at least at the end of the 5-min OVA, “Between The Stars”), ZAFT and the Earth Alliance were entering peace talks. Well... peace does not make an interesting backdrop; it doesn’t promote the conflict that drives good stories — hence an outraged protagonist is effective story fuel. Mr. Angry is going to have to do something with all that violent fury, and that will drive the narrative.

 

I’m excited. Let’s see if SEED Destiny can execute and deliver on its setup/promises!


Take 2 — Athrun And Cagalli’s Current Relationship

While Athrun is escorting Cagalli on her errand as diplomatic representative from Orb, he gets snippy toward her. He seems tense, even exasperated with her. He phrases his replies, chastising, and advice from a mature, diplomatic, “for your own good” perspective, but there’s an obvious clash of... something subtle there. I could be reading too far into it — but Athrun seems to think Cagalli is naive or immature.

Reaction as a fan: It feels uncomfortable watching these two interact. I wasn’t expecting fluffy bunnies between them — because they’ve come out of a terrible war and are obviously still knee-deep in post-war politics; stress is a given. But the last time we saw these two, they were solid. They had chemistry. They understood and supported each other. WHY DOES IT FEEL LIKE ATHRUN ESPECIALLY IS SO MUCH LESS INVESTED IN CAGALLI NOW AS ANYTHING OTHER THAN AN OFFICIAL HE NEEDS TO PROTECT? I... I shipped them; DON’T TAKE THE SHIP AWAY FROM ME!

Reaction as a writer: If the semi-fraught interactions between Athrun and Cagalli here are meant to foreshadow further tension between them, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tension creates conflict, conflict creates story. I am nervous about how wise it is from the creator standpoint to threaten the integrity of an iconic pairing from the first show... but I can’t say the writers have made any unwise moves yet. I’ll watch where it’s going.

That's it for my ranting and raving today — but I'll be posting Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays until I've finished watching Gundam SEED Destiny.

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