The conclusion of the first season left a bad taste in my mouth. That taste stayed throughout the entire second season, but by the end of it, I'd gotten so used to it that I didn't care anymore.
(This review assumes familiarity with the first season of Gundam 00 and references several season one spoilers. Season two spoilers are hinted at but not explicitly stated.)
STORY - Gundam 00 had a precarious premise from the very beginning. The "war to end all wars" story is one that seems to be visited often, but because it's such an idealistic goal, series pursuing it always stand on a shaky foundation of logic and realism. As a result, it's a very difficult premise to execute well. One of biggest logical gaps for me is still the idea that Celestial Being's two hundred-year old technology can be superior to that of current-day armies, especially since Celestial Being itself seems to have a very poor understanding of the machines they're making use of. Instead, they are reliant on a supercomputer and the notes and secret power-ups passed down to them by a dead man. All of the questions I had from the first season surrounding the organization's conception and survival over the last two centuries remain unanswered for the most part, but the most frustrating thing was not knowing the ultimate purpose of CB until the series' finale.
It blows my mind that most of the characters didn't even seem to know exactly what the "real" purpose of their organization was. It's one thing to keep the audience in the dark, but seriously, even the characters didn't know? Yes, everyone fights for their own reasons, but if you're part of an organization, you should maybe know what they're up to. Just sayin'. The antagonistic Innovators are introduced this season as the new puppeteers of the world, along with their half-puppets, the A-Laws. Presumably, they know what's going on, but since the point of view of the story follows the members of Celestial Being more than the Innovators, the story becomes very reactionary. CB is trying to do this to stop the Innovators from doing this. CB does this because the Innovators are going to do this. But why should the audience care if they ultimately have no idea what anyone's fighting for? The goals from the first season seem to have gone to the wayside somewhere along the way.
The flimsy storyline also contributed to an entire season of awful pacing marred by way too many romantic subplots. Seriously, could there possibly have been more of them? It didn't take long for 00 to feel like one gigantic soap opera that just happens to take place in space with some kind of war going on in the background. In fact, I'd venture to say that the romantic storylines and drama were the main focus and the war, morals, and fate of the universe thing was the secondary subplot. Who will get Setsuna in the end? Marina or Gundam? Can Lyle save Anew from her overused mind-control plot device? Will Tieria ever be able to win Veda back from Ribbons? Will Allelujah ever actually do anything important in this series or say a word other than "Marie"? Will Saji ever stop being spineless, and will Louise eventually accept him again or just go to Andrei instead? Can Billy forgive Sumeragi for using him? Can Shirin and Klaus both survive to the end of the series for their happily ever after? Will Mr. Bushido ever give up on Setsuna? Will Patrick ever win Kati's heart??
It. Is. Ridiculous. To be honest, most of the relationship drama (romantic or otherwise) in 00 had the potential to be interesting, but the fact that there was so much of it limited the relevance of each individual subplot and put a huge strain on the viewer's ability to care, especially with an unclear central plotline to tie everything together. The conclusion of the second season and the series as a whole is just as bad as, if not worse than, the first season's ending. It felt similarly rushed, extremely anticlimatic and unrealistic, and didn't resolve nearly as much as I would have wanted. Many of the characters feel stranded at the end of the series, though you do get a resolution for most of the relationship nonsense, further supporting the idea that the relationships were the core of the series and that everything else was secondary. As far as the politics go, it was definitely more of a forced ending than a conclusion. A conclusion implies that things are actually concluded.
CHARACTER - With a few exceptions, most of the first season's gigantic ensemble cast returned for the second season's "four years later." A new season really wasn't necessary just for a timeskip, but it was still really nice being able to see Setsuna age. He's the most interesting character in the entire series just because he matures so much as events unfold, and even as he doubts himself, his motivation, and purpose in the world, he never falls into the trap of the Jesus-kun Syndrome -- when a character becomes a preachy moralfag and refuses to kill people, often accomplishing this by disabling mobile suits in battle instead of destroying them. That isn't to say that having morals and a conscience makes for bad characters, but I find it refreshing when the morals and conscience can coincide with the resolve to fight and the knowledge that killing is sometimes necessary. Rather than instilling the pacifist streak in Setsuna, Sunrise made a good decision in having Marina around to balance things out. As irritating and useless as she was most of the time, I think she was necessary to round out the points of views in the series; that is to say, she was a good idea, just poorly executed.
Lyle, the new Lockon, felt like a huge cop-out from the beginning. Sunrise actually succeeded in killing a character! ...But here's his identical twin to replace him. Great. It didn't help that they never utilized the "twin" or "brothers" aspect to the best of its potential, and Lyle's logic failed on so many levels. He did not want to be compared to his brother, but essentially agreed to take over his brother's previous identity when he joined Celestial Being by taking on his old codename, his Gundam, and his Haro. Lyle's romantic subplot with Anew was one of the ones that had the most potential, and there was a lot of good acting as far as Lyle's inner conflict and reactions went, but in the end, I don't think his character evolved as much as it could have, and static characters remain uninteresting.
Allelujah was amazingly disappointing throughout the second season and pretty much drops off the map after episode seven. You wonder whether his role as a Gundam Meister actually makes him a "main character" or not since he dwindles to the point where he doesn't even have any speaking roles for several episodes at a time. Since Hallelujah supposedly "died" for one reason or another, there wasn't anything in the way of personal conflict. Instead, he spends the whole time chasing after Marie/Soma Peries. Unfortunately, Allelujah/Marie interactions are idealistic and boring while Allelujah/Soma interactions are repetitive and boring. Marie's struggle with Soma and Soma's struggle with belonging and revenge are interesting for many of the reasons the Allelujah/Hallelujah struggle was last season, but the character(s) could have stood well enough on their own without the obligatory romance/attention of Allelujah. Really, Allelujah probably brought them down by turning it into a cheesy would-be romance rather than the revenge/moral conflict it should have been.
Rounding out the Meisters, Tieria changed a lot between the first and second season. It would have been nice to be able to actually see that progress rather than just accepting that development had happened, but it's still refreshing to see characters that actually grow and change, and Tieria does continue to mature. Throughout the second season Tieria struggles with the fact that he's an Innovator and his role in both Celestial Being's and the other Innovators' goals. On the most basic level, it's probably the most interesting of the Meisters' conflicts, usurping even Setsuna, but poor execution, lack of attention, and being constantly thrown back by a dozen other subplots kept it from really succeeding, especially at the end.
As previously mentioned, there are probably two dozen other characters all with subplots of varying degrees of depth and relevance. Saji and Louise's is especially prominent, but the themes of their relationship cover very little that one of the others doesn't already, especially now that they're both directly involved in the fighting and are no longer bystanders. Neither of them are particularly strong or interesting characters, and I still think that 00 would have been better off without them. It would have probably saved us about ten episodes of drama. There are also still an assload of characters aside from those listed above that make appearances at random, but aren't actually relevant to anything anymore. Ali Al-Saachez will pop up again every seven or eight episodes. As will Nena Trinity, who really should have just died in the first season with her brothers. And as will Liu Mei Wang and Hong Long, who really do anything at all the entire season. All of the Innovators aside from Ribbons are pretty much interchangeable, and even Regene didn't seem to mean much in the end.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - The animation in the second season remains slick, and the battles are all relatively fun to watch. I really missed the Gundam Exia's design, though the 0, 00, 0-Riser, and 00-Riser are all pretty interesting as well. I didn't think the Arios was much of an improvement over the Kyrios, though honestly, you don't see Allelujah in action enough this season for his suit to really leave an impression on you. The GN Archer, which actually had a neat design, could have also been featured a lot more. Seravee and Seraphim also had a nice concept, but like the others, was ever over-shadowed by the 00 and 00-Riser. And the Cherudim? As with the Dynames, the prominence of the gigantic rifle made the rest of the suit less important, but even visually, the Cherudim was less to look at than the Dynames.
The updated character and costume designs did a lot of good, I think, and I'm fond of Setsuna's older appearance. The only new characters that are introduced in the second season are the score of Innovators. They come in pairs with hilariously punny names like "Revive Revival," "Anew Returner," and "Bring Stabity." They also come in a variety of colorful flavors! Way to make it easy to spot the plot devices hiding out in the army and in Celestial Being, guys. There had to have been a better way to illustrate the concept of a race superior to humans without making it ridiculously obvious, right? The ease at which it is to spot these characters also makes the montage at the end of the series open to a lot of debate, but I really just think Sunrise is trolling us at that point.
MUSIC - The music is probably what I ended up enjoying the most in this entire series. I didn't much care for the second season's first opening and ending themes, but chalk that up to my general indifference to UVERworld and Chiaki Ishikawa. Neither are terrible songs or particularly annoying -- just not my thing, I suppose. The second opening and ending, on the other hand, are probably why I even bothered to sit through some of the later episodes since neither of the singles had released at the time. "Namida no Mukou" by stereophony actually took a while to warm up to me because I found the timing awkward in many parts, but I loved the vocalist's voice and the energy in the song is just fantastic.
Meanwhile, I loved "trust you" by Yuna Ito pretty much immediately. I'd only listened to a few of Ito's songs prior to that, but "trust you" just blew me away. The melody is beautiful and the steady tempo really carries it through. Furthermore, the accompanying animation was gorgeous and well-timed to fit with the music, and it left a wonderful contemplative feeling at the end of each episode -- more than most of the episodes deserved. It was also a great follow-up the animation for the second ending of the first season, "Friends" by Stephanie. There are a few episodes that end with a brief a capella version of "trust you" that I found really unnecessary and awkward, but the song itself is great.Oddly enough though, I like the TV Cut much better than the full single.
Tommy heavenly6's "Unlimited Sky" is used as an insert song for some of the later episodes, which was also pretty awesome. I adore Tomoko Kawase's voice in general, but I always find her anime songs much more energetic and upbeat than her other work, and "Unlimited Sky" is no exception. It always made the battle scenes that much more exciting -- a very needed extra when you're having a hard time caring about the characters involved or the storyline at the time.
Lastly, the instrumental soundtrack for 00 seemed markedly improved in the second season. The leitmotifs are a bit more prominent and the music in general seemed to compliment the mood and feeling of each scene a lot better. It was really refreshing to see/hear something actually improve between the seasons.
VOICE ACTING - Average for the most part, though I suppose Shinichiro Miki gets special mention for some excellent acting involving a very emotional Lyle, and Noboru Sougetsu (Ribbons), for managing to not remind everyone of Amuro Ray, at least most of the time.
The dub is still pretty awful. The best of the dub cast is Brad Swaile as Setsuna and maybe Alex Zahara as Lyle; both are pretty average. The rest of the cast either sound painfully uninspired or just... the same. Half of the female characters in this series sound the same in the dub. It's must be pretty bad when I'm offended at how poorly done the voices are for even characters I don't care about (which, in 00, is most of them).
OVERALL - When I reviewed the first season of Gundam 00, my main complaints included the fact that they had more details than structure, that they didn't bother to explain a lot of what I would consider to be important backstory, and that there were far, far too many characters, all of whom were trying too hard to be the focus. The lackluster ending to the first season didn't lead me to have a lot of expectations for the second season, but I'm still rather disappointed that they managed to let all of their problems get worse rather than better. In the end, I only saw 00 through to the end for the sake of having seen it to the end, which is never a really good reason at all. Then again, maybe I only saw it through so I could eventually bitch about it here... which really isn't that great of a reason either.