Mike Toole rates it:
If I were a Gundam fan in 1991, I would have been pretty excited. The franchise was riding high on recent fare like Char’s Counterattack and Gundam 0080, the supremely entertaining Gundam 0083 was beginning its release, and there was a brand new feature film from the original Gundam creative trio of Yoshiyuki Tomino, Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, and Kunio Okawara. This film, entitled Gundam F-91, would push the story even farther forward, taking place in the distant year of U.C. 0123. After thirty years of peace, spacebound colony life has flourished, and the earth, long devastated by war, is finally making a comeback. Trouble is, there are still mobile suits everywhere, so eventual conflict is inevitable, and it comes in the form of a surprise attack eerily reminiscent of the one that kicked off the original One-Year War.
This attack catches the colony of Frontier IV completely off guard, as scores of unfamiliar enemy mobile suits sweep in and start blowing up everything in sight. This is probably the movie’s most compelling moment– there are scenes of enormous collateral damage, with vehicles exploding, buildings collapsing, and lots and lots of people getting sucked out to the hard, unforgiving vacuum of space. Engineering student Seabook Arno and his buddies, including would-be girlfriend Cecily Fairchild, are caught in the middle of this, but some quick thinking and a short ride on a vintage, museum-piece mobile suit saves their bacon. Who’s responsible for the attack and subsequent takeover? Why, it’s the Crossbone Vanguard, of course!
The Crossbone Vanguard, which sounds more like an 80s hair metal band than a rogue military faction, are a group of disgruntled aristocrats led by the Ronah clan. They have this idea– it’s a rather interesting one, actually– that society was much better and more sensible when there was a specific, controlled ruling class made up of nobles and their attendants. Democracy was a mistake, and the Federation have become corrupt because they follow the winds of change blindly instead of deferring to the Highborn. In other words, it’s kind of like what would happen if the empire from Legend of the Galactic Heroes invaded a Gundam colony.
Sadly, it all goes to hell at this point; Cecily seems to be related to the aristocrats, who are led by some freak in an iron mask, so she gets spirited away to join them. She actually finds the idea of re-establishing the Highborn to be kind of compelling, and grimly sets to work with her old relatives. Meanwhile, Seabook and his buddies seek out his mother, a brilliant engineer, because she designed a new mobile suit called the F-91, a suit that could turn the tide of the conflict. There’s also some nonsense about a Crossbone guy in an eyepatch and two female pilots fighting for his affections, and a background that swarms so thickly with minor characters that you’ll quickly lose track of who’s who.
You know what? I’m sick of this fucking movie. I’ve had to watch it three times over the last few months, because the details and characters keep seeping out of my head. Thanks to this, I know how it must feel to be director Yoshiyuki Tomino, because he sure as hell doesn’t know what’s happening, either. Here is a detailed character relationship chart I drew up after watching Gundam F-91 the second time. I hope you enjoy it.
As you can see, it’s a goddamned mess. This movie suffers from an acute case of Tominosis. I’ll admit, Tomino is awesome at coming up with scores of interesting characters (his huge cast in the generally excellent Aura Battler Dunbine are all pretty well-developed), but he can’t fit them all into a movie of this length. On top of that, the script is a horrible, wretched mess. It seriously sounds, at times, like Tomino assembled the entire script using a stack of post-it notes and just lining them up at random. Characters will speak to each other, but it will sound like they’re not in the same room, or not even talking to each other at all. This isn’t helped too much by he mediocre dub; my favorite line in the whole thing is when Seabook’s mysterious mom expresses gratitude to an officer with the line, “Thank you for that, acting captain,” only it sounds more like “Thank you for that acting, Captain.”
In the movie’s favor, the animation is great, especially the battle scenes. That’s one aspect of Gundam F-91 that Tomino really can’t screw up; no doubt thanks to veteran character animator Shuko Murase, the movie looks fantastic. I have to say, though, that this is not a worthy addition to the Gundam pantheon. Gundam F-91 is tangled and overly-long; its sprawling, rapid-fire dialogue lacks clarity, to the point that it’s difficult to tie it to the rest of the Universal Century continuum. It all wraps up with the text, “This is only the beginning,” a prophecy which thankfully failed to come true.
Added: Saturday, August 13, 2005
Related Link: Bandai Entertainment