Friday, 20 May 2011

G-Saviour - An overview

The Mobile Suit Gundam series has seen over thirty incarnations and is rooted within anime, manga, novels and games, the premise of wars being fought in space using giant robots (known as mobile suits) with focus on personal and political struggles certainly has a lot of potential for a live-action spin-off. G-Saviour/Gセイバー would be that spin-off, except that it is widely considered the weakest Gundam product out there and is a failure of anything it was trying to be. G-Saviour had the misfortune of being released to a distinct, linear target audience, therefore, it got a bandwagon of rabid anime fans calling it the worst thing ever, because it wore the name "Gundam" (just not obviously). The film was certainly ambitious, being made as an English-speaking production to perhaps bridge the fandom between Japan and the west and to portray its characters true to their origins, though the film was primarily intended for Japanese audiences. At the risk of sounding snobbish and putting people into stereotypes, I would not trust anime extremists to inform me about films, especially smaller-scale sci-fi productions. A lot of the negativity surrounding this title is quite understandable, but there's still a lot of ignorance about it, as it seems to be judged on scenes that are out of context (though you could say I'm also to blame for this), as well as no research being taken; this movie was in no way big budget, and the only thing Canada is essentially to blame for is the story and the execution, the rest is pretty much all of Sunrise's fault. Perhaps I'm starting too harshly on others.

To the uninformed, G-Saviour, along with the much more successful animated Turn A Gundam, was the centrepiece of the 20th Gundam anniversary, known as the Big Bang Project, intended as a TV movie. This anniversary project involved several screenings of Gundam shorts as well as a videogame based on Char's Counter Attack, one of the most famous stories taking place within the original Gundam universe. Produced in association with Polestar Television, G-Saviour's first signs of problems were perhaps in how the short, Mission to the Rise, was more impressive than it. Why only enough money was spent on this to be a TV movie and not a theatrical one is anyone's guess, and even though this was perhaps made as a link to American fandom, it doesn't help that it was released two years too late in the US with risible advertisement.
I have to admit though that upon first viewing I hated this movie, but over time I gradually came to like it as a sci-fi movie set in space with giant robots, this is probably because that even though I greatly disliked it, I still accepted it as Gundam canon (largely because the game redeems many of the film's faults). It was not the success Sunrise hoped it would be, and was largely disliked on the grounds of how unconventional it was with Gundam lore, which is something I agree on; being different is good, but G-Saviour just manages to feel too different at times. I personally blame the lack of exposition for damaging it so much, as there's so much content that people made the worst assumptions for; the downgraded mobile suit technology is a famous nitpicking point with fans, as for something set in the farthest stretch of the Universal Century timeline, the suits seem dated. It feels as if an unknown event caused the last few lines of suits in the preceding series (V Gundam) to be removed and as governmental powers got worse, only some money could be spent on them. This could perhaps be the case, as the plot seems to subtly hint with the weakening governmental powers, along with actual concept artwork. As I can't read the Japanese in my making-of book, I can't tell if there's a reason for why the cockpits for the mobile suits are more standard as opposed to being atmospheric like they have been for the last few later-era-UC series, for all I know it may have been for financial reasons.
If anything though, my biggest problem (as is with anyone who has seen this) is the disappointing amount of time the mobile suits spend on screen. Granted, this is because this production was by people who were never really used to what Gundam is, plus, Sunrise could have quite easily stepped in on the production of this to see how things were going if they weren't happy. I can't really confirm this, though I believe it to be the case. The biggest offence is when the protagonist pilots the titular G-Saviour to clear out some space debris to let his comrades in their ship through; through a simple bit of writing, this could have easily been a small space battle with enemy units, but it wasn't. It was nice to see the G-Saviour at least. It does culminate at a gigantic battle at the end though, but its one that not too many were ultimately happy with; I was impressed, but felt it still could have done a lot more.

Another thing that most viewers complained about were the characters, who don't have a great deal of time to develop themselves. I do have to admit, even with how short-lived they are, they still could have been characterized a bit better in this feature. Protagonist Mark Curran is a former soldier of CONSENT's (Congress of Settlement Nations) Congressional Armed Force, we don't learn too much about his past involvement with them, except that he went against his commanding officer's orders and tried to rescue a comrade but failed. Mark is frequently shown shown as having nightmares about this event, and he's just trying to forget it as he works in his deep sea agricultural facility. There's a number of problems with this; Mark's orders to not rescue his ally was because he was at risk of jeopardizing an expensive test ship he was piloting. First problem is the vagueness of his test mission, we have no idea what state CONSENT was in if this ship was supposedly too costly to lose, nor do we know exactly what ship this is; is it an actual carrier or a mobile suit? Related to all this is his former superior, Jack Halle, a perfectionist all about his work who seems to have just been born evil. His conflict with Mark is bitter, though there is little to no explanation as to why; exposition explaining something such as a loved one being accidentally killed by Mark would have sufficed, anything that's strong enough to justify how sour he is. Being an adult protagonist of a Gundam story (one of the few but not the first), Mark doesn't have the teenage angst that previous protagonists had, so it feels as if they were at least trying to bring onboard the things that an adult's life entails; most notably the love triangle, which is between him, the character Cynthia Graves who has kickstarted a series of events for him, and his fiancee Mimi Devere. Essentially, he cheats on Mimi for Cynthia who seems to have grown close to. Unfortunately, this is more or less not a brilliantly thought out romance as Mark and Cynthia don't come off as being in love from spending a lot of time together (they don't), so it feels more like they're just horny.
Which brings up another problem, we don't know anything about the relationship between Mark and Mimi at all, except that he seems to be torn between how he must get Cynthia to safety while Mimi is in league with CONSENT. It makes for an interesting conflict but it's really not touched upon at all. In all seriousness, this could have easily been corrected by Sunrise themselves; through an adaptation of some way, they could have added much more to these characters. Two movie novels were actually released in Japan, but it is extremely hard to find information on them, though I have heard they are a bit more fleshed out and better than the movie. Additionally, there were three audio dramas that expanded the plot. Again, given as how these are only available in Japanese, I cannot say anything on them. There was also a game released as a launch title for the PS2 that came out before the movie but was set after it, it was essentially a marketing tool, but we'll get more into it later.

Back to the movie at hand though, for all its problems concerning characters and their development, it is a fairly decent film, and for a made-for-TV sci-fi, it is a huge cut above the rest. It features some breathtaking CG shots, particularly when the camera flies through the interior of the settlement Sides and swings to zoom in on Mark and Jack's mobile suit battle on a solar panel. It's all heavily complimented by John Debney's tremendous orchestral score, which is one of its exceeding strengths and puts it with the best of Gundam-related soundtracks. Actual camerawork and prop use isn't bad at all, and really, the recycled armour from Starship Troopers should be the last of your worries. The acting, all done by people who aren't big, is actually quite good and pretty entertaining, and they do bring the characters out a bit well, even if some of the dialogue feels too cheesy to even belong in this. The film most definitely has its weak points, but for some reason I can still enjoy it, probably because I accept it for what it is and am more annoyed at how Sunrise takes such an ignorant attitude toward it. A complaint I don't seem to share with others is the movement of the mobile suits, in which they are depicted as being hulking and fairly sluggish, to really emphasize their power and weight. I think it's effective, whereas most see it as too slow. Frankly, they're not that slow, but if you've just come off the hyper speed of any Gundam anime, they do feel like snails. The CGI has aged quite well, and while it doesn't jar too much between reality, some instances are so obviously fake, particularly the space shots. The CG mobile suits are quite obviously the stars, and while they look good, they appear to have changed quite a lot in the transition from their initial designs to the California-produced CGI. The game actually depicts the suits more accurately.

Two Japanese versions exist; the movie as it was produced in Canada with a dub track, and one that seems to have been altered for broadcast on Japanese TV with the same dub. Even though it's the same film, it's somehow terrible. This broadcast version includes a new title sequence, but it looks awful as it just shows footage of various characters with their actor's names, as well as spoiling various scenes by showing them to you in the first minute; it's pointless and looks cheesy, but not in a way that helps it at all. The editing itself is also quite bad; scenes are shortened by seconds being shaved off of fades and dissolves, so now scenes have jump cuts that don't feel smooth. This leads to a different arrangement of music, but it's not effective at all as the original cues were perfect. It feels so abrupt when it jumps to a new scene and the background music is in the middle of a different track, instead of continuing over, it's terribly jarring. Quite pathetically is how this version tries to squeeze every second out of the mobile suits as possible, as when the camera should be focusing on a human character, it will jump back to the suits for a brief second, thereby looping previous footage when they were last seen, while the character speaking now becomes a quick voice-over; it's abysmal. Worse still, it repeats the offence its opening committed by repeating footage you've just seen in the end credits. The song they threw in for promotion's sake is a little nice, but everything in this feels so counter-productive, as if they were trying to make it a bit more anime-style. Some parts of it work quite well, it feels like they made a good attempt to remove some of the less exciting scenes and give it a faster pacing, but overall, I don't think it was an entirely good choice. I'm not sure if this version is still available in Japan somehow; the American DVD is no longer in print but the Japanese version is apparently still produced. It should be noted that the Japanese dub contains 'cleaned up' dialogue, so most of the cheesier lines have been changed and more Gundam-friendly terminology has been injected, but unless you know Japanese, no one seems willing to subtitle this version of it as no subtitles were featured on the US DVD.

What personally draws me to the G-Saviour mech itself is that as a result of how technology seems to have deteriorated in the Universal Century year of 223, Gundams no longer seem to exist, but their legends and perhaps even design specs live on. With that, I see the G-Saviour as a unit built as something in the spirit of a Gundam, outperforming the rest of the mass-produced Suits that its era has and being designed for versatility with how it can exchange body armour for terrain and space. Unfortunately, due to the movie's bad pacing at times, you don't see much of this at all, and the terrain mode gets less than a minute on screen. Incidentally, a teaser created for G-Saviour, which showcased earlier CGI, believedly had more Mobile Suit action than in the movie, as a few rare screenshots on the web and what's in the pages of my Newtype 100% Collection guide show. This footage apparently included the G-Saviour and an ally Suit doing battle with enemies in outer space, as well the terrain mode being used to dispatch enemy Bugu Mobile Suits in an outer-colony New York. It's a damn shame none of this footage surfaced in the final product, and it's even worse than it seems to be impossible to find it anywhere; it's nowhere online, so we can only assume it's locked up in a vault somewhere.

My final word on the movie is that I enjoyed the plot, in which CONSENT are aiming to seize the colonies still not under their banner while poverty besets some of their nations. A colony not in league with them, Side Gaea, has developed an agricultural breakthrough known as Bio-Luminescence that will solve humanity's resource crises, but General Garneaux of the Congressional Armed Force wants the sample of Bio-Luminescence so that he can dictate colonies and nations through selective starvation. It's quite seedy and the CONSENT's conspiracies extend to the game's plot as well.

What I could have done without though were some of the film's more needless elements; the very strange bartender Mark and his allies meet when they reach New Manhattan is a prime example, especially with how asking for a martini is apparently code for being shot in the head. General Garneaux even seemed to have his own pleasure girl, which just felt tacky; it may say something about him being a corrupt politician, but it comes off reverse and therefore feels cheesy. Of course, some of Mark and Jack's one-liners simply don't feel like they belong, but are somewhat funny enough to be likable in that you can't imagine Gundam characters ever saying them.

Characteristic of the Gundam metaseries is the merchandise it produces, particularly the model kits. The only kit to come out of G-Saviour was the titular mech in its space mode as a High Grade 1/144 scale model, it's not a bad model at all, but is unfortunately the only thing there is of it. Other Mobile Suits from G-Saviour, particularly ones from the game, were slated for release, but ultimately never happened. However, Sunrise did release several miniatures to promote the G-Saviour game and another game made by the same developer and using other mech series under Sunrise's licsense, Sunrise: Tales of Heroes R/Sunrise Eiyuutan R. The free giveaways included the G-Saviour in space mode as well as a Bugu, some people were also given miniature G-Saviour model heads. Unfortunately, they're extremely rare to find, even if they surface at all.
The game itself is usually considered better than the movie for a number of reasons; it is entirely mobile suit-focused, paying much more attention to them than the movie does, but it's not without its human characters (and their English voice-acted charms). For a launch PS2 game, its graphics are very basic but serviceable, and its very simple gameplay is quite fun, usually involving no more than destroying every enemy in sight and reaching the end of the level with several G-Saviour variations to play as. Playing it for the first time is quite hard, but once it's been mastered it stays a bit on the easy side, though it can sometimes put up a consistent challenge. Its unique electronic soundtrack is one of its definite strengths and it's attributive to G-Saviour. Being that this was released before the film, it contains 17 minutes worth of promotional footage, however, it pretty much showcases most of the mobile suit action in it, which is arguably the only thing worth seeing in it. It's quite a poor move by anyone who considered this. Despite the English voice-acting, the game was only released in Japan, a very small manga printed across several magazines was printed to promote it, but as you'd imagine, it's damn near impossible to find.

As it stands, G-Saviour is the final chapter in the Universal Century timeline of Gundam, only because Sunrise is refusing to go forward and finish it from the looks of things, while they desperately try to fill up every nook and cranny in earlier Gundam stories with new content. It's a shame as it still has a lot of potential. While the film has its faults, it's the fact that nothing has been done with it that most annoys me. Fortunately, G-Saviour has not completely died as Japanese fan art can still be found, including some fan models at times, but it's unknown whether or not it will definitely return. I am yet to find translations of the novels and it will possibly be even longer waiting for translations of the audio dramas, some of my questions might be answered in the book I own of the movie, but as I've already said, I can't read Japanese. Given that this near enough ruined the 20th anniversary of Gundam, it's quite hard to recommend it to anyone other than fans of oddities and sci-fi.

I'm really stuck in a rut as to what my final word should be, as I feel it would contradict something I've already said. When not viewed as a story set in the Universal Century, it's a bit easier to accept, as there's way too much to live up to in the UC timeline, but I do like thinking it is the final UC chapter. The film is arguably not good for getting people into Gundam, though it does seem to fare better with casual audiences. Because it's live-action and does not rely so much on the conventions typical Gundam stories use, it can be an easy way to generate interest. Of course, you could quite easily argue that the best way to get into Gundam is to just watch a better show from that series. Of the two only live-action Gundam properties, it's the one that's not a massive joke.

-James, 17 August 2009 (original date)

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