U.C. 0123. Mobile Suit Gundam F91 is Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino's attempt to launch a new Gundam saga, set thirty years after Char's Counterattack.
The story of Gundam F91 revolves around teenage space colonist Seabook Arno, his friend Cecily Fairchild, and the efforts of the Crossbone Vanguard militia, led by Cecily's grandfather Meitzer Ronah, to establish an aristocracy known as "Cosmo Babylonia".
In keeping with Gundam tradition, the civilian Seabook is forced by circumstance to pilot the F91 Gundam, coincidentally designed in part by his estranged mother, Dr. Monica Arno.
Nobody does an attack on a civilian population better than the Gundam franchise.
The opening to this movie blew me away. When a gigantic bullet casing, falling from a mecha's weapon, bounced off a lady's head on a street far below, causing her to fall over and die, I instantly gave this a 10.
This is the kind of movie I was hoping Char's Counterattack would be. A coherent and compelling movie charting everything we love about the Gundam franchise. The horror and tragedy of war, the visceral action and drama, the complexity and ambiguities of ideologies, mecha blowing shit up.
Char’s Counterattack had all
that, but to me felt like you were tuning into a movie midway through; you were thrown into a situation that you weren’t introduced to properly. It had too much plot machinations and not enough breathing space for characters, too many ideas and not enough execution. F91 however does it all correctly.
Yes, F91 is the outcome of a full TV series being cancelled midway through pre-production, and turned into a movie instead, but the movie does not reflect that at all. It does not feel incomplete or flawed beyond redemption, it actually feels like a prologue to an epic 50 episode saga, one that we won’t mind missing out on because there’s too many ways they can end up generic and tiresome, much like the Gundam show F91 is the continuation of: Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ.
The only negative thing I can say about this movie is that some of the scenes with the Crossbone Vanguard aristocracy are a bit too long and feel obligatory, but they’re still essential to understanding their motives, so they’re not a complete waste of time. Obviously there’s no villain on par with Char Aznable, but it would be too much to expect one.
Where this movie shines, and what we should focus on, is the attention to detail, like the aforementioned woman-killing gigantic bullet, the reimagining of the tropes of the genre that Mobile Suit Gundam introduced back in 1979, such as survivors of an attack forced to become soldiers, and the ambiguous motivations that spur men to want to kill millions of human beings for a greater good.
Another negative thing about F91 is the total rip-off of the Empire Strikes Back bad guys theme. I'm not a SW geek so I don’t know the actual title, but it’s probably 'Imperial March' or something.
But other than these small nitpicks (and the fact that the MSG Random Slap ratio is pretty damn low) it’s an awesome movie with brilliant animation that puts A LOT of today's anime to shame. And it hilariously keeps up another MSG tradition: stupid names for characters: Seabook.
It’s not the name of a prize-winning race horse. It’s our main hero.
Remember it. Remember F91, don’t let it get overshadowed by other Gundam shows, this one is an accomplishment.
Ever wonder what happens when a fifty-episode series gets condensed to under two hours? The answer to that lies within Mobile Suit Gundam F91 -- a textbook example of wasted potential. Though F91's core story is a solid idea that draws plenty of inspiration from its predecessors, without any flesh on its narrative bones, F91 is reduced to an inconsistent and and very much rushed tale. However, boasting its nostalgic story along with great animation, F91 is still worth a look by fans of the gundam franchise.
Due to disputes amongst the original production staff, this ill-fated chapter of the universal century gundam saga was cut
down in size in a rather extreme extent. F91 tells the tale of Seabook Arno and the crew of the Space Arc, a spaceship of civilians trying to escape the conflict between the Earth Federation and the Crossbone Vanguard, a faction led by the Ronah aristocratic family. As usual, the protagonist is forced into the cockpit of the gundam in amidst of the chaos and destruction on the civilian population and is bound there by his obligation to protect friends and family. While F91 certainly does not make new ground in the way of plot creativity, it does incorporate many of the key themes in the gundam franchise with great success. There are a number of solid lessons and morals to be learned in F91, and though there is very little originality amongst them, they provide the film with much-welcomed substance.
However, after the first third of the film, the plot begins to lurch forward erratically. Viewers are expected to connect the dots in places where considerable lines of narrative have been truncated. Names, faces, places, and political intrigue are constantly thrown at the viewer and are gone before the viewer gets a chance to absorb them. The end product manages to be more or less coherent, but much of the plot is lost and damaged due to the lack of elaboration. Needless to say, this does not make for good entertainment.
Fortunately, the production value of F91 is that of a feature film rather than a TV series. Like other Gundam OVAs and films of its era, the action looks great -- arguably superior to the modern TV productions. The new generation of mobile suits (three decades past the technology of Char's Counterattack) have a number of new tricks, which makes for eye candy that will please most mecha fans.The 1991 character designs also hold up well to the test of time, though looks alone would not be able to veil the considerable flaws in characterization. Though Seabook Arno is a mature and charismatic gundam protagonist, due to the limited runtime and the large cast, most key characters are not very well developed, hence some of their actions they take seem incomprehensible. Thankfully, none of the characters manage to be obnoxious and repulsive. F91 is accompanied by a mediocre musical score that is sparingly used, though viewers will find a great theme song and plenty of classic sci-fi sound effects, for better or for worse.
There's a great story in F91 dying to get out -- a story forever lost to the squabbles of yesteryear. Chances are, if you're a gundam fan, you will leave Mobile Suit Gundam F91 satisfied to some degree under the laments of disappointment over its lost potential. If you are new to the gundam franchise, there are much better choices than F91 for your entry point into the metaseries. And if you're not a fan of gundam or mecha in general, F91 is not going to convince you otherwise.
- Great animation
- Gundam veterans will be able to appreciate the remains of the amputated plot
Potential is something that can be rather frustrating or even tragic when unfulfilled, depending on the circumstances. If nothing went wrong in terms of production and the product simply wastes its potential on bad writing, it can be rather irritating. For better or for worse, Gundam F91, Yoshiyuki Tomino’s attempt at creating a new UC Gundam saga, is certainly the latter. It's like a rising college football player dying of CTE; tragic, as the victim was unable to tap into its potential for reasons far beyond its control. What was planned as a full 52 episode series reduced to a mere 13,
and those 13 being gutted to create a film that was clearly not meant to be one. It's ultimately not the movie's fault that it's bad, it was never meant to be one in the first place until executive meddling damned this project. As we lay this tragic figure to rest, I can hear you ask: “what happened to it in its life that made it lose all the potential it had?” Well, as we look back at what happened to it, let's find out, shall we?
You know, anime like this are a testament to the importance of pacing. Since the events of this movie were originally meant to be 13 episodes, it only makes sense that a lot of information and character/world-building would be taken out. Unfortunately, this is of huge detriment to the movie. I mean, starting your saga almost verbatim like the original and having other important similarities is already not much of a good thing, but when character progressions/decisions and deaths are unexplained or not explained well at all, that's when we have a problem. There are multiple emotional scenes in this movie such as the initial attack on the main cast’s homeland, the death of Seabook’s dad, and the reunion of Seabook and his mom, all of which don't leave nearly as much of an impact because the bad pacing didn't allow us to establish anything properly, giving us little time or reason to care before tragedy or even tear-inducing happiness strikes.
There are other problems, some of which also involve cutting. The subplot about Cecily’s earrings goes absolutely nowhere since I think it probably would've become more important later on if this were to have been the 4-cour series this was meant to be, at one point, they cut from the middle of a major battle to a scene way later where Seabook snuck out on his own (how and when did he do that, and where is the city he want back to in relation to the base he and his friends are at?) which raises a ton of problems, even aside from the ones above, since it's probably the worst and most unnecessary cut yet. There is no reason we couldn't have seen Seabook’s first major battle in full since it probably would've only lasted a few more minutes. Did they really need this movie to not go past the two hour mark? If so, there were probably other ways to trim the movie down a bit more. The finale is ok and probably the most interesting part of this movie, but the ride to get there got gutted badly. Regardless, we’re not getting a more fleshed out retelling of this (or the rest of what Tomino wanted this to originally be), and that saddens me because this movie really needed to be the way it was intended for it to actually be good.
As mentioned previously, part of the reason the characters aren't very good is that the pacing doesn't allow us to really get invested in them whatsoever, sullying a lot of the emotional impact behind the drama they face. When the introduction is a bunch of our protagonists bickering at each other, it's hard to really feel a sting when their homeland gets attacked, and when some of them die, not only is it not that impactful since we hardly get to establish a connection with these people before the attack that happens 5 minutes into the movie, but some of these guys we don't see until sometime into the attack, mere minutes before their death. The main villain is a typical royal imperial who doesn't remove his mask or have much of a personality, and the grandfather is only there for a few brief moments and is just a father who has to put on the royal guise of the Rohan family, but there’s hardly much to them. Like with the protagonists I’ll be mentioning, if they allowed this to be as it was intended, we probably could've fleshed them out a bit more to make them more interesting.
Seabook is basically another Amuro Ray in practically every sense of the word, including the fact that a parent of his left to work on the Gundam he would end up piloting by chance. Hell, his mom just appears in the movie with no introduction and then they bond but thanks to the aforementioned issues, it doesn't sell as well as it should. His sister is initially very perceptive of her mom’s true feelings and self for her age but then when she actually meets her she acts like her mom is not a good person, which is rather inconsistent. It's not like the former is realistic for a child but then to switch to the latter for no apparent reason other than their dad dying while escorting Seabook, is really jarring. Cecily is a princess character who hangs out with and sympathizes with the common people, enough so that she initially forsook the throne like her mother did and then did so again just to be with her friends after realizing that the Rohans are just as bad as ever. At least it's a fresh spin on a trope that would be as tired as a sloth. No other character is with really bringing up however, like the typical arrogant prince character, a girl who only switches to the good guy side because her master took interest in Cecily (why she has disdain for her, we'll never know), and her master who has a grudge against the Rohans and let's the good guys go in the end. I don't need to reiterate the potential lost for character building, do I? No? Ok, moving on.
Studio Sunrise did an amazing job with the animation for this movie. The character designs look pretty appealing, the mech shading is great, and the action and animation is all very fluid and simply a wonder to look at. The sheer detail and fluidity is something to grasp at and all of this simply executed the best of what 90’s animation had to offer, even though it came out very early into that decade, and it looks even better than Char’s Counterattack, which already had some of the best-looking and most fluidly animated visuals of the 80’s. The mech designs look great as well, especially the F91 and the Vigna Gina (what a laughable name by the way). Even with everything bad I've said about this film, at least it was able to look so gorgeous that to this day, it is still a top contender for the title of most well-animated Gundam anime.
For most part, the OST isn't that memorable, but at least the tracks here sound actively cinematic, unlike all of the tracks on Char’s Counterattack. The main track of note is “Eternal Wind” by Hiroko Moriguchi, which wants also the ED theme. It's a peaceful yet somewhat emotional track, though I do find it a bit odd that it sounds like it was recorded live instead of how songs usually sound in all non-live venues. Regardless, this is a decent OST for the movie.
Bad pacing and cutting aside, this film feels rather milquetoast, minus the emotional scenes that invariably fail to strike a chord with me. The action was somewhat entertaining and well animated, and it was pretty cool to see all of the new developments in technology since the events of CCA (I especially love the laser flag) but overall, my experience felt rather meh, not even in a borderline zen way but like when you watch a show with your kids and feel nothing other than just “well this is a thing I'm watching”. The fact that I have no real emotion at all during the film barring certain minor points really sells how ineffectual this film really is.
OVERALL: 5/10 RAW SCORE: 53/100
This movie feels like the first special edition recap to a series we were robbed of. It's a real shame since this was supposed to be a grand and involved jumpstart of a new saga in the Universal Century timeline. We all know the story now, and I think it's really sad what happened here. Now, all we're left with is this unfortunately mediocre movie, regardless of how visually stunning it is. Well, with all that said, I think it's time to bury this one and pray for a revival or the long awaited adaptation of Crossbone. I bid you adieu.
Oh boy, the weird one. Mobile Suit Gundam F91's production background is probably more well-known than the actual contents of the movie. Originally planned for a full-length series, vague reasons that were never really elaborated on halted Gundam F91's production after screenplays were written for a mere 13 episodes. Probably wanting to keep the Gundam brand strong, the decision was ultimately made to make what existed of the planned series into a single theatrical film. What resulted was the most universal reception of a Gundam series ever: that the movie was a very apparent hackjob of a story and ultimately not very satisfying. It's universal
to the point I have to agree on both of those accounts. But before that conclusion, let's take a more detailed than usual look of this nearly "lost" Gundam entry.
In keeping with the mecha tradition of terrible names, a young man named Seabook Arno and his friends end up on a war ship after their space colony comes under attack by forces calling themselves the Crossbone Vanguard. It’s a mostly typical Gundam set-up and story. Seabook reluctantly fights but still finds the time to complain about adults, and the “brat pack” here is reminiscent of ZZ Gundam’s except they are thankfully far more resourceful and mature. In the movie’s beginning as the group attempts to escape from the colony war zone, it’s actually rather refreshing to see such a reasonable bunch of teenagers interacting with each other without going into fits over nothing or trying to sell each other out to the enemy, but I digress. It turns out Seabook’s childhood friend, Cecily Fairchild, is actually part of the Crossbone Vanguard’s royal family and through the typical cheap plot device of Newtype mind tricks ends up going along with them despite having no reason to do so (she’s practically a stranger to her real family). I also don’t see why the Vanguard put so much effort into retrieving her in the first place, as they reveal they don’t actually care much about the possibility of her dying despite their original plans to use her as a spokesperson for the commoners.
And already I can’t ignore Gundam F91’s hackjob story construction. If you thought Tomino Gundam series were hard to follow before with the thinnest excuses possible for major character motivations, then F91 is just bewildering as a result of its editing. The script feels no better than if full episodes existed before the movie’s production were simply cut into snippets like one of the Gundam franchise’s many compilation movies. Scene transitions are extremely improper, with abrupt cuts and any establishing detail skipped over to save time. A sense of movement is often removed, which means you get scenes like characters flying around at the end of battles and suddenly they’re instantly back on the mothership without smoothly aiming the direction there first. There’s pretty much no character development because there’s no time, and the supporting cast from the beginning never gets to rise above background noise. Without scenes spent on characters deliberating or giving introspection to their choices, you end up with those same thin motivations as mentioned before to the depth of being transparent. In Gundam F91 a minor enemy character who is important to nothing in the larger plot makes the huge decision to defect after a five second scene that just barely implies she’s jealous of another pilot’s special treatment by her captain, and then five minutes after this she’s dead forever. In a movie struggling to save time, they give scenes to someone that doesn’t matter that amounts to no emotional payoff.
Gundam F91 jumps all over the place like that which makes it a frustrating watch, because there’s enough here to make someone think it could’ve made a solid series. The writing (or at least what we get to see) comes across as more tolerable than some Tomino works. It’s relatively rare to see our characters make completely nonsensical choices and the whining about adults and “needing to understand each other” while blowing other people up is kept to a minimum this time around, although all of the usual Universal Century Gundam tropes do still exist. It’s one of the easier Gundam settings and casts to buy into, and what inhibits further investment isn’t immersion-breaking inane plot details like some series, but rather the lack of plot details entirely to greater establish that setting and its characters. The movie is still attempting to be a character drama, but there’s no breathing room for them to grow on you because the movie keeps shoving details about the actual war down your throat with little else. There’s still some top dollar Tomino dialogue (“When you had to stop breast feeding, your mother was hysterical”) but again, relatively speaking, the core of Gundam F91 is fairly solid and usually keeps its head out of the clouds.
Speaking of the Crossbone Vanguard, I have no idea where they got their huge forces since they were apparently secretive rogues and it seems no one in the movie cares. They have a Zabi family-esque monarchy rulership and clearly want control over space, but any attempts to make them a little more interesting fail because of how unclear they are. They want to unify the colonies and stop Earth’s pollution and blah blah blah, but in one scene they’re ordering their troops not to harm colony civilians and in another they’re killing them indiscriminately with automatons. If there were reasons given for this and I missed them, it’s probably because they were established in one five second scene.
The real head of the antagonist side is Cecily’s father, a man known primarily as “Iron Mask” due to the metal helmet he wears over his entire head (because his wife left him? What). Let’s cut to the chase: Iron Mask is Darth Vader. He is literally Darth Vader. The dub track makes him sound exactly like Darth Vader because they knew it too. Iron Mask also has a long black cape, and there’s literally a scene where he’s implied to have killed someone with Newtype mind tricks. And you know what? I don’t even care. This guy still has some of the most charisma out of any Gundam villain, because if you’re going to rip a villain off then Darth Vader is an extremely worthy candidate. Iron Mask may not amount to much by the end, but in a movie where no one does he’s at the very least [i]cool[/i], which works.
The hilarious Star Wars knockoffs don’t even end there. The royal family structure and culture bears resemblance to that of Star Wars as well, even down to Cecily being Darth Vader’s daughter. And before you ask, no, Seabook is not related. One of the first songs played in Gundam F91 opens very similarly to the main Star Wars theme, and a later one is even more unmistakably a copy of the Imperial March theme. It’s downright uncanny. Return of the Jedi came out nearly 10 years before this movie, so why Gundam is copying it now and why they feel the need to when the original series debuted alongside Star Wars is as much of a mystery as anything concerning this movie’s production. On the subject of audio, the English dub is also a fairly high quality and practically a who’s-who of big 90s anime voice dubbers.
Being a movie, the animation is extremely nice and the art looks like it came from a classic 70s Gundam series due to the return of franchise original, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The fight choreography is tight, almost always large-scaled battles full of movement without frames getting too chaotic, and those just looking for quality Mobile Suit animation from this movie won’t be disappointed. Gundam F91 also possesses some of my favorite Mobile Suit designs of the franchise, courtesy of Kunio Ookawara. Gundam F91 takes place very late in the Universal Century timeline, and this distance is accentuated by the complete lack of Zakus (finally) and their replacement with Crossbone Vanguard’s grunt suits that have an unusual “gas mask” face and wield lances instead of sabers. There’s a subtle mystique to many of the Mobile Suit designs that make them look like a part of a distant culture, such as the F91’s shoulder “feathers” and the Vigna-Ghina’s back fins. It’s a change of pace from standard Gundam designs without what makes them unique being too over-the-top and ridiculous.
Though it has more to offer than its reputation implies, Mobile Suit Gundam F91 is still ultimately just a well-produced, somewhat fun adventure that never has what it takes to be emotionally rewarding. For a two hour romp it’s worth the time to UC fans as it possesses enough of the attitude that made those longer series endearing. It’s a shame that the reunion of the original Gundam series’s team was prevented from creating a more fruitful experience, because Gundam F91 seems to show there was enough of that skill still left in them. In the end, this movie that doesn’t even have a real conclusion might be all we have for a long time, and it’s still somehow more enjoyable than some 50 episode Gundam series.
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