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Friday, July 15, 2016

G-Saviour (the Movie): Blame Canada?

Sunrise's Gundam is something that doesn't require any sort of introduction; it's one of the biggest names in anime, let alone mecha. That being said, there is the occasional lesser known or forgotten product from the franchise, like when I reviewed the very silly & fun Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G (the spiritual precursor to the fan-favorite Gundam Build Fighters) back in December 2012. That being said, there is one notorious entry in the franchise that may be too known to be considered "obscure" or "forgotten", but this is something that I've thought about reviewing here for a long whole... And now I have enough to make this worth multiple pieces.

It's time to cover G-Saviour.

The Gundam franchise turned 20 years old in 1999, & to celebrate Sunrise came up with the Big Bang Project. The main attractions of the project were two new productions, with the first being Turn-A Gundam, a 1999-2000 TV anime which brought back Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino to his baby after a five-year hiatus following the end of Victory Gundam. Today, Turn-A Gundam is considered a cult favorite & saw its first ever international release just last year via DVD. The other product was G-Saviour, a multi-media project, headed up by a live-action movie, that followed the iconic Universal Century timeline. With a budget of roughly $10 million, Sunrise teamed with Polestar Entertainment to produce a ~95 minute, made-for-TV movie that was filmed in English before being dubbed into Japanese for its December 29, 2000 broadcast on TV Asahi. It wouldn't see an actual American release until 2002, but while it received a rave review from ANN's Bamboo Dong back in the day, the movie has become easy cannon fodder for franchise fans. I remember seeing G-Saviour over a decade ago (remember, I am 30, which is "old" for anime fans), but I think it's time to finally give it another go. Is it truly as embarrassing as most Gundam fans treat it, is it simply your usual made-for-TV movie, or is it actually better than you might think?

Universal Century 0223. The Earth Federation has collapsed & the "Side" space colonies have become independently run Settlements. From this has formed two sides: The Congress of Settlement Nations, or CONSENT, which governs Sides 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, & Earth, & the Settlement Freedom League, which is comprised of Sides 1 & 4, plus the Lunar Cities. Ex-CONSENT pilot Mark Curran works at a sea lab for Hydro-Gen, a corporation that hopes to utilize hydrogen to help fight the Earth's dwindling ability to produce agriculture. One day, Mark winds up helping a CONSENT pilot whose Mobile Suit crashed into the sea, before the lab becomes commandeered by a Congressional task force lead by Jack Halle, Mark's former commander. The lab also gets invaded by spies from Side 8, Gaea, shortly after Jack arrives. While Jack's forces kill one of the intruders, Mark is able to save another, Dr. Cynthia Graves, which is only the start of his journey that will put him against Jack & General Garneaux of CONSENT, due to their goal of getting a hold of a secret experiment that could change the power balance of the Universal Century.

G-Saviour is a pretty infamous piece of the Gundam franchise, the biggest reason for which (aside from being live-action) is the fact that there's so little of it that really feels like Gundam. Sure, it takes place in the UC timeline (the furthest out ever, even beyond the non-canon novel series Gaia Gear), the colonies are still called Sides, & the mechs are still referred to as Mobile Suits, but that's really all there is that reminds you that this is a Gundam production. Hell, the word "Gundam" is never used in the movie at all, though it's obvious that the G-Saviour itself is a Gundam, which is usually the straw that breaks the camel's back for hardcore franchise fans. Though this was because none of the staff & cast were really given a lot of info regarding the franchise by Sunrise before production started, I'd argue that making something that truly felt like Gundam via live-action is more or less a lot more trouble than most would think. Remember, the only other live-action Gundam was the 1997 PC/PS1 game Gundam 0079: The War for Earth, which was developed by Presto Studios (The Journeyman Project) & looks much more rough than the direction G-Saviour went in. Anyway, taking that into consideration, is the movie any good on its own merit? Surprisingly, even to my own memory, it's better than you'd ever expect.

The plot, while relatively simple in execution, works surprisingly well, though not without some missing bits & pieces. For example, the secret experiment Cynthia is involved in was started by a never-seen but occasionally referenced Dr. Riva & involves creating a new form of bioluminescence that not only creates light but also heat, allowing Earth to use its own natural water as a new form of agriculture. Taking aside the fact that bioluminescence doesn't exactly work that way (this is Gundam science, though), it does sound a little silly that a small vial containing a proof of concept is the main reason why Mark becomes a wanted man. Still, the concept itself isn't terrible, as Garneaux wants it kept forgotten so that CONSENT can maintain absolute control, even though why Earth is so hurting for agriculture in the first place is never explained at all. This is mainly due to G-Saviour's multi-media conception, however, which means that some of the world building was explained in other products. Anyway, it's a small misstep in an otherwise well told plot that doesn't overstay its welcome.

As for the characters, they are the main appeal of the movie, & they even have moments where they feel like they are Gundam characters. Mark Curran is easily the main attraction, featuring some good charm, a fair bit of sarcasm, & a good sense of wit. For example, when getting ready to join in for the climactic battle in space, he kisses Cynthia for good luck & then passes by her father, the leader of Gaea, sarcastically saying, "No kiss for you." Mark also has a strong sense of justice, resulting in him going against his natural urges to protect his own life in order to help a cause that has a good reason. Naturally, being an experienced former soldier, & an adult, makes him pretty different from the usual UC Gundam lead (Amuro Ray, Kamille Bidan, Judau Ashta, etc.), but he honestly fits right in with the leads of the various spin-offs, like Chris Mackenzie (0080), Kou Uraki (0083), or Shiro Amada (08th MS Team); even his normal-sounding name matches the OVA leads rather than the TV leads. Cynthia Graves is also instantly likable, being a no-nonsense doctor who's not afraid to risk her own life if it can lead to the betterment of humanity in the end. While she & Mark are not the first multiracial couple in Gundam (Victory Gundam's Üso Ewin & Shakti Kareen got them beat by seven years), they are an enjoyable duo that play off of each other very well.

Of course, Mark already has a fianceé in Mimi Devere, a woman who plans on being a notable name in the CONSENT government. She winds up tagging along after realizing that CONSENT has been keeping Cynthia & Riva's "Project Sea-Sun" research under wraps, but once she sees Mark & Cynthia's relationship start to bud she becomes a traitor to the cause; this is not unlike previous Gundam characters Reccoa Londe (Zeta) & Katejina Loos (V). She does wind up having a bit of a redemption, as well, mainly due to the fact that she truly did want humanity to go down the right path, though, so she's not outright unlikable. In fact, I felt that she had every right to betray Mark; you can't let your finaceé join your defection from CONSENT, only to dump her for a new girl. There's also Franz Dieter & Kobi, Cynthia's "interns" who help out throughout the movie, & they're overall harmless. Kobi has a good heart, even when faced with potential defeat, while Dieter is obviously in over his head but still wants to help in any way, even in battle. Finally, the main two villains, General Garneaux & Jack Halle, fit their roles very well, with Garneaux being the leader who never wants to get his own hands dirty & Jack being someone who seems to take great glee in the despair of others, especially Mark. When you see Mark & Jack finally face off, you want to see Mark come out the victor, which is essential. Finally, there is some involvement of a resistance group from Side 4 called the Illuminati, but they don't have a major focus here; like Dr. Riva & some world-building backstory, the Illuminati sees more focus in other productions.

That's all well & good, but what about the Mobile Suits, which (depending on the person) is always the highlight of any Gundam? Well, they are all well designed, which is no surprise seeing that Kunio Okawara himself designed all of them. Also, they follow UC tradition by having some downright odd names, like Bugu, Spear Head, or Rai (pronounced "Ray"), as well as some more (retroactively) identifiable names, like the GM equivalent being called the Freedom; however, none of the mechs, minus the Rai, are actually named in the movie itself. In fact, Gundam Seed would seemingly take a fair bit from G-Saviour, with the GINN looking almost exactly like the Bugu, as well as the obvious naming of the Freedom Gundam & Saviour Gundam (same exact spelling, at that). Of course, the eponymous Gundam itself, the G-Saviour, is another excellent design by Okawara, feeling like a natural successor in some ways to the F91 & Victory/V2 Gundam. The I-Saviour Illusion seen at the end, piloted by Illuminati leader Philippe San Simeone, is also very nice looking, though you don't get too many shots with it in the movie. Quite honestly, even if you're not a fan of anything G-Saviour, it's still well worth checking out the design work on all of the Mobile Suits created for this project, as they are right up there with Okawara's other Gundam creations; it's a shame only one of them received a model kit, but that's for another time.

The movie was directed by Graeme Campbell, whose resumé is comprised only of made-for-TV movies, mini series, & episodes of various TV series. Though not a notable name by any means, Campbell did a more than fine job with G-Saviour, with nothing really feeling supbar when it comes to anything that was actually in front of the camera. There was a quick moment or two where the footage moved rather fast when starting a scene inside of a cockpit, but that's really the only notable fault I could remember noticing. On that note, I must say that the cockpit designs by David J. Stollery were excellent & really looked like what a hypothetical Mobile Suit cockpit would look like. Also, I must bring up that the CONSENT soldiers' outfits were literally the same ones used in 1997's Starship Troopers, because that always gets brought up, but you see so little of the soldiers after the first half that it's nothing more than a funny bit of trivia that's always used for a petty joke (because almost no one brings up that Firefly did the same exact thing). The original outfits by Terry Barder are good, though, & even a little Zeon-ish for CONSENT officers. The music by John Debney & Louis Febre, while nothing exactly memorable, is more than fitting for the scenes that they're used in, though the main theme by Debney is a very good one.

Really, though, what made G-Saviour such a surprisingly good movie for me was the cast, because everyone put in a really good performance. Without a doubt, the best performance is Brennan Elliott (Dr. Nick Biancavilla in Strong Medicine, Todd Beamer in Flight 93) as Mark Curran. Elliott just fit the character like a glove, delivering the sarcasm & occasional bit of snark perfectly, not to mention just having so much natural charm that I couldn't help but like his character; Elliott made Mark work. Cynthia is performed by Enuka Okuma (Lady Une in Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, Android 18 in Ocean's Dragon Ball Z), who has excellent chemistry with Elliott, which definitely makes the Mark/Cynthia couple work as well as it does, and she pulls off a very solid performance. Jack is played by David Lovgren (John Hogarty in Intelligence, Swiss Captain in Cool Runnings), who actually manages to be as blatantly "evil" as possible without doing so in a hammy fashion, minus during the final battle, but at least there it makes sense & works. Kenneth Welsh (Vice President Raymond Becker in The Day After Tomorrow, George Nagobads in Miracle) plays Garneaux pretty well, giving off a nice feeling of natural superiority, which makes his "hoisted by his own petard" moment very enjoyable. The rest of the notable cast, like Blu Mankuma (Councilor Graves, Tigatron in Beast Wars: Transformers), Catarina Conti (Mimi; also a producer for the movie), Alfonso Quijada (Dieter), & Taayla Markell (Kobi), also deliver very good performances. While I've heard some say that the cast took their roles "too seriously", I feel that they all did a very nice job.

Also, Sam Vincent makes his Gundam debut here as a nameless pilot who goes down with Garneaux at the very end. Vincent would go on to voice both Athrun Zala in Gundam Seed & Tieria Erde in Gundam 00. The more you know...

Bandai Entertainment's DVD release of G-Saviour in 2002, which quickly went out-of-print when Yoshiyuki Tomino publicly decried it at Big Apple Anime Fest 2002, includes the Japanese dub, though there are no English subtitles. Supervised by George Iida (Night Head, Sci-Fi HARRY), the Japanese dub actually saw two variants: The "TV/DVD/VHF Version", which featured a new opening theme by Yoshihiro Ike (Tiger & BunnyCobra the Animation), & the "Special Edition Version". Really, the only differences between the two seem to be that Mark, Cynthia, & the Narrator have different actors voicing them. Bandai's DVD doesn't credit the Japanese cast, but I believe it's the Special Edition, which means that we have Masato Hagiwara, Mirai Yamamoto, & the late Ken Ogata, respectively, instead of Haruhiko Kato, Ryoko Shinohara, & the late Kenji Utsumi. Having only been familiar with Hagiwara via his performances as the leads in Akagi, Kaiji, & One Outs, I couldn't tell it was actually him at first, but he does a fitting job as Mark. Yamamoto, likewise, is a very good Cynthia, while Ogata's short time as Narrator works well to establish this as a Gundam offshoot. For the rest of the major cast, it's a small mix of veteran seiyuu & guest casting, featuring the likes of Takaya Hashi (Jack), LaSalle Ishii (Garneaux), Yumi Takada (Mimi), Rei Sakuma (Kobi), Takayasu Kojima (Deiter), & even Kenji Utsumi pulling double duty as Councilor Graves (which is how I could tell it was the Special Edition, as the Narrator didn't sound at all like Utsumi). While it is a bit awkward in the way that watching an English dub of a foreign film is awkward (i.e. the lip flaps don't match up often), everyone involved puts in a nice performance & their voices match the characters well. Still would have liked to have English subtitles, though, because all Bandai did was remove the Japanese subtitles that the Japanese DVD featured.

Trust me when I say that I did not expect the reaction I had to this movie. I first saw it a good while ago out of curiosity, but before I was more experienced with Gundam (at that point, I had only seen G Gundam & Gundam Seed via Toonami), and back then I didn't really know what to think of it; I simply had nothing to base it off of. When I started this blog I had planned on covering this movie one day, but kind of hesitated because I didn't know how it would "hold up" (for lack of a better phrase) all these years later. Now, though, I must admit that I am a fan of G-Saviour "the Movie". I'll admit that it can feel very little like a Gundam production at times, but the story is well paced & works, the characters are enjoyable to watch, & while the Mobile Suits on the whole move fairly slowly compared to the kinds of units seen in the "Cosmic Frontier" productions (F91, Victory, etc.), I think the CG by Digital Muse looks well enough that it doesn't detract; Okawara's excellent designs certainly help it out, too. Before watching this, I though Bamboo's review for ANN was a bit silly (she gave it all "A"s), but after watching it for this very review I actually kind of agree with her.

I wouldn't give it nothing but A ratings, but G-Saviour is seriously way better than its reputation gives it. Luckily, Bandai Entertainment's DVD is still super cheap to buy used over at Amazon, while Bandai Visual in Japan still sells the movie for 6,000 yen... Which is pretty ridiculous, to be honest. Sadly, however, I doubt Sunrise & Right Stuf will ever give G-Saviour a re-release, but them's the breaks. Anyway, I got more to talk about with this part of the Big Bang Project, so check back later this month for a game review.

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