At least Gundam Wing is fairly beloved, at least as far as Gundam series go. Today's selection is an adaptation of one of the most divisive entries in the franchise, and like the last review its adaptation doesn't do it any favors.
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED (Kido Senshi Gandamu Shido), based on the story by Hajime Yatate & Yoshiyuki Tomino & art by Masatsugu Iwase. First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2004.
In the Cosmic Era, war rages between the genetically enhanced Coordinators and the unmodified Earth forces for control of the space colonies orbiting Earth. For Kira Yamato, though, it was just a distant conflict until he was shanghaied into service to pilot the Earth's latest secret weapon: the Gundam. Now he and his friends have been conscripted into battle, but in doing so his darkest secret is brought to light and a former best friend becomes his enemy.
To say that Gundam SEED has a bad reputation with anime fans is an understatement. In Japan, it was wildly popular in its day and remains a perennial favorite to this date. While it has some fervent American fans, it also has many detractors who scorn everything from Kira to the mobile suit designs to the look of the production. So does the manga shed any light on what makes its so divisive? Well...it's hard to say.
The story onto itself isn't terrible, but that's mostly because it cribs a lot of ideas from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. That onto itself isn't unusual; many non-UC Gundam series have been guilty of this. Few can be said to have been so obvious about it as Gundam SEED. It's not just that Kira is an obvious expy of Amuro Ray, there also equally obvious parallels to Bright Noa, White Base, and the Coordinators are clearly a combination of Zeon military might and the vague esper threat of Newtypes. What the real problem is that it's told in the most boringly straightforward manner possible. The reader gets little sense of Kira and company being in any sort of danger , even when everyone is apparently shouting and rushing about. New characters keep getting introduced and unsubtle hints are thrown out at those that are meant to be important later, but we're given little reason to care who they are, much less what they might do.
The biggest flaw is that NO ONE has any real sense of personality to speak of. I'm serious, everyone from Kira Yamato down to the lowliest ensign are practically interchangeable as people. I read this entire volume cover to cover and I still couldn't tell you thing one about Kira Yamato beyond 'can pilot a Gundam' and 'is secretly a Coordinator.' His moods, his motivations, all are a mystery. Not surprisingly, when the manga can't be bothered to give its protagonist any sense of humanity, the rest of the cast isn't going to be treated any better. There are loads of characters on both sides, many featuring the sorts of ridiculous names that have become Gundam tradition, but they might as well be potted plants for all the impression they make. Maybe things pick up later once the introductions are out of the way, but as an introduction this manga fails. Instead of spurring interest, it just delivers a flat, wet thud of a story.
That impression is only bolstered by the quality of the art. Its biggest problem are its character designs. Fairly quickly, you realize that every named character has the same exact face. The hair, clothes, and gender may differ, but every single one of them will have the exact same face. That wouldn't be a problem if it was a good-looking or expressive one, but it's not at all. It's stiff as hell and whenever they try to draw it from any angle other than straight-on, bad things happen. Maybe that's part of the reason that there's no sense of mood in the story: the characters themselves can't express any sort of emotion.
The rest of the visual design is largely fine, although the lack of shading makes everything look flat and lifeless. The mech designs are...OK, I guess? They tend to be weirdly wasp-waisted and the designer's fondness for giant pauldrons makes most of them appear to have tiny heads. Kira's is probably the plainest and thus the most tolerable of the lot. I wonder if the artist wasn't fond of them either, as he doesn't do much to show them off in battle. He frames them much like everything else: lots of straightforward medium shots without a lot to convey movement. At most, he fills up space with lots of laser beams for the space-based battles. Even if the story is a non-starter, couldn't they have found an artist who could have given this world some sense of life?
This is more trivia than anything else, but I wanted to share this with others. The back of the book trumpets the fact this was one of Del Ray's four debut titles! What other books did this have to compete with? Why, nothing less than Negima!, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, and xxxHolic, at a time when Ken Akamatsu was still riding high from Love Hina and CLAMP hadn't burnt themselves out on plot twists.
Yeah, this series never had a chance.
Gundam SEED was meant to breathe new life into the franchise, but this manga adaption can only muster boredom and confusion at the bad faces. Just like last week's entry, this is a poor substitute for the anime it's adapting.
This series was published by Del Ray. This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available. All 5 were published and are currently out of print.