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F91...It all adds up to the same old thing
on March 11, 2005
Originally intended as a TV series, Gundam F91 is the last of the original Universal Century movies (the rest being compilations of earlier series). 30 years have passed since Amuro and Char had their final climactic duel and things have only gotten worse for humanity. The corrupt Earth Federation have continued to let their power slip and are ill equipped to face a new spacenoid rebellion known as the Crossbone Vanguard. Waving the banner of spacenoid peace and supremacy, many colony citizens wonder if accepting them would be a good thing. But for every idealist there must be a greedy tyrant.Hope lies with a ragtag group of civillains and trainees and the prototype MS known as the F91...
Gundam F91 follows the classic Gundam plot structure- war comes into the mostly peaceful life of a young man and his friends and fate sees him as the pilot of the weapon which could end the conflict. By the time of it's appearance here, the structure is certainly showing some faults. The film perhaps even hurts itself by pointing out more than once that this isn't the first time this has happened in the Gundam world (This is an ongoing theme with the film- early on we see a war museum displaying old Zeon MS and the F91 receives it's 'Gundam' designation in honour of the suits which came before it).Whilst the basics are ok, the formula could really use some livening up.
Not helping things is the erratic pacing- due to being based off of half complete ideas for a TV series, F91 is a dissapointing mix of too many plot points and little resolution. Many times through the film I could see how certain elements would have been expanded in a full length series. Characters seem to be brought in just to be killed and 'develop' the main character.
Our lead is Seabook Arno, a 17 year old student who bears resemblance to Amuro and Kamille before him. Seabook has Tomino's trademark rough family life with a one parent family due to a mother who threw herself into her work, though the Arno's are perhaps one of the closer families in Gundam. Seabook's crush is beauty queen and tomboy Cecily Fairchild, who's past is somehow linked to the Vanguard's leaders. The connection is one of the key plot points and the source of much conflict between the two starstruck youths. Their ragtag group of refugees is rounded up by a bunch of fellow kids, mostly useless and annoying. Seabook's friends basically do nothing for the film and I'm constantly befuddled as to why Tomino seems to think it's a good idea including babies and toddlers in these groups. It does show that war picks on everyone, but their placement serves no real purpose and their comic relief moments fall flat.
On the other side of the cast we have the personalities of the Crossbone Vanguard, mostly the slightly deluded Ronah family. Having made their fortune by various spacenoid commodities, the Ronah's form a private army with the apparent intent of joining all humanity under one space nation ruled by themselves. The one Ronah who sticks out the most is the mysterious and creepy 'Iron Mask'. A hulk of a man with a full metal mask covering his head, Iron Mask is seemingly supporting the elder Ronah's vision but is in fact plotting something much more sinister...
On the DVD side of things, Bandai do an ok job. The release is hyped as a 'Special Edition' due to it being a 2 disc set. There's a big difference in content-
Disc 1 contains the film itself, with a stereo English and Japanese track and optional subtitles. The menus are well designed using animation of Seabook's home colony from the film. Extras consist of the always well researched Gundam Encylopedia from Keith Rhee and Mark Simmons, with technical and history information on the various mobile suits seen throughout the film.
Disc 2 is where a drop in content comes. Whilst low on extras, it's clear to see that disc 1 was at some point considered all there was to the release. The secondary disc feels rushed so Bandai could jack up the price. Gone are the well designed in-universe menus, replaced with a colour inverted image of the F91's head whilst the most annoying dialogue from the dub loops.
Disc 2 is an extras disc, but there's not much to get excited about. The best part is the audio commentary for the film between the dub's producer, one of the dub actors and a representative of Sunrise. Whilst things take a while to get going, by the end we learn some interesting anecdotes and trivia on the production of the dub and Gundam as a whole. There's also a 5.1 Dolby Digital English track for the film.
The rest of the extras are rather low- we get a brief character guide, a gallery of random shots from the film, shots of life-size F91 and Zaku heads and a brief timeline of the key events leading up to the events of the film. I really feel Bandai could have done more with this disc, such as the Gundam Evolve CGI shorts or Crossbone Gundam, the sequel manga to F91. Some of the content IS good, but as a whole it just feels rushed and unthought out.
Both casts do a great job. Bandai wisely hired Animaze/BangZoom for the project, leading to the cast being full of many talented voice actors. All the roles are perfectly cast and handled, unlike the hodge podge efforts from the Ocean Studios.
I wanted to like F91, really. This release (both the film itself and the DVD content) had alot of potential but it just comes short of the mark which is a shame because otherwise this could of been a good release. As is, I can only reccomend Gundam F91 to hardcore Gundam fans. Anyone else will likely not be interested.