The year is 2314 AD, two years after Celestial Being's last great battle and the world faces a new crisis. A derelict Jupiter exploration ship, abandoned 130 years ago, has left its orbit and is approaching Earth. The ESF has also begun to exploit the power of Innovators. As Celestial Being and its Gundam Meisters begin their final mission to save humanity from an unimaginable threat, the Extraterrestial Living-metal Shape-shifters (ELS), Gundam Meister Setsuna F. Seiei is about to discover the true purpose of his evolution as an Innovator and the nature of the "dialogues" for which Aeolia Schenberg's plan had prepared the human race.
The Awakening of the Trailblazer is the first original feature-length film to be released for the Gundam franchise in over 19 years. As a result, I wasn't sure what to expect of the movie, with this being my first experience with a new anime movie. However, I was not disappointed when I saw it. The movie blew me away with its breathtaking visuals and intense combat. But, as usual, there exist a story underneath all the combat, and two years ago, I wrote out a few expectations that I had of the movie, despite knowing next to nothing about the story or any specifics. There are undoubtedly many elements to consider for a review, but for the purposes of discussion, only a few aspects really need to be considered. For instance, the soundtrack is sufficiently awesome that I do not have anything more to say about it at this point. We will find out shortly whether or not some of my expectations were fulfilled.
The first and foremost element that we consider will be the plot. The introduction of extraterrestrials into the universe represents the first time anyone has done so in the franchise. With no yard stick to make a reference to, the movie is literally trailblazing into new grounds. The immediate impression of the plot is one that is solidly crafted; while execution could be a little smoother, it nonetheless flows very well. In essence, the movie is about the appearance of aliens, and humanity's fight for survival. This sounds similar to the dozens of other movies out there about aliens invading, but the reality is dramatically different. The extraterrestrials are metallic shapeshifting beings that bear absolutely no resemblance to humans whatsoever; this is a highly realistic depiction of how intelligent life can develop from completely different environments with completely differen biologies. Through the portrayal of the extraterrestrials, it becomes clear of how much though went into the movie. Thus, we come to the question of how this movie about aliens is any different than most existing media about aliens. Films like Independence Day and War of the Worlds present the extraterrestrials as beings with technological superiority, and regard the human presence on Earth as we regard lesser organisms. This sets us up for a climatic battle in which humanity somehow wipes the floor of an alien fleet using heat seeking missles and tank shells (in the case of Independence Day), or sometimes, the aliens disagree with our microfauna (War of the Worlds). There's nothing wrong with this, and in fact, Independence Day was an excellent film. The main point here is the contrast between the two films; in Awakening of the Trailblazer, the plot is more concerned with understanding the ELS and their intentions, a theme which we have seen recurring since Setsuna innovated.
A program, no matter how good its function aims to be, will never be widespread if it is not designed to be user friendly. The same holds true for the movie; it is possible to have an excellent idea and never see its full realisation if execution is shoddy. With respect to Awakening of the Trailblazer, plot execution feels like running iOS 4.2 on an older iPod; it's beautiful and it works very well, but it's a little rough at times, and events may be difficult to follow outright at certain points in the film. Things start slowly, punctuated by the occasional combat sequences, but focus on developing the background for the movie. We see the defecation hit the oscillation once Descartes Shaman wipes out the derelict space station, but for a while, it's simply just unusual things happening. They're unusual, but that's about it; there's nothing dramatic at this point to unnerve the viewer. It is not until the apperance of the ELS Ribbons that we know things are truely starting to escalate. After this point, the pace of the story picks up and accelerates: the remainder of the movie becomes an exhilerating ride that remains with the viewer right up until the credits. This manner makes the first portion of the movie a little less exciting than usual, although I feel that this isn't too unusual for a movie of this type (for instance, War of the Worlds is mostly about running from the aliens until the scene at the farmer's house). When the ELS replicate the derelict space station, the pace dramatically rises from there; each battle after this one pushes the intensity further than the previous one, almost as if the producers were deliberately trying to surpass the ferocity of the previous battles. At the end of the movie, the epilogue comes as a refreshing moment to viewers- after all that non-stop action, it is relaxing to take in what the world has become since the ELS appeared. The ending sequence is (physically) set after the credits, and ends on a highly optimistic note. The ending wraps up things a little too well, and does not leave much to the viewer to guess. In short, it sets in stone everything that has happened, and for me, it kind of gives rise to the "happily-ever-after" ending that I've come to dislike, mainly because my experiences tell me that reality is rarely that kind to us.Different people will go about viewing this differently, but I find that the best endings are somewhat open, as opposed being either extreme.
Long story short, old characters make a return. Their roles have been expanded upon and take a different direction, so their development is fine with respect to the story. There are a few notable aspects I particularly found enjoyable. The reintroduction of Graham Aker as a protagonist was simply glorious; no longer obsessed with surpassing Asura, he is now a mature commander who bravely leads his soliders into battle. Graham brings the Sol Braves in to save the Meisters on their first appearance. Saji may be a civilian again, but he is a lot more decisive now. When the ELS Ribbons appears and makes a move towards Louise, he responds by chucking a chair at Ribbons (I'm certain that had the season one Saji been present, he would have broken down), and goes to assist the effort against the ELS in his way by helping out with the maintainance of the orbital elevators. This action shows us that he fully understands that fighting does not necesssarily mean picking up a weapon and pointing it at someone's head, and that each action contributes to a cause. The newly introduced characters see little development with respect to their backgrounds, although each character has had their share of distinct and memoriable elements in the movie. Descartes Shaman's initial appearance in the trailer led many to assume he'd be the new antagonist, but he is merely a pure innovator who happens to be a pilot for the ESF. Meena Carmine is the "girl who looks like Nena and clings to Billy like static makes wool cling to a cotton shirt". Amia Lee will be remembered by everyone as "that girl who got picked up by the ELS". Finally, all those ESF commanders we see are simply there; I'm sure people don't mind that, given that nameless commanders are present in every other science fiction film out there. Despite recieving minor development, each of the aforemenetioned individuals contributed to the story. I'm certain many have heard that there are no small roles, only small actors. This phrase very much applies to the movie. I'm not going to address the roles of Feldt and Marina, as those are highly sensitive topics (read "angry fans who did not see their preferred pairing will complain vehemently"). In my eyes, Feldt is able to do what Kanae and Tohno couldn't: let go of someone they love.
Seiji Mizushima has always ensured that the animation quality in the Anno Domini universe is top-of-the-line. When it was released in 2007, it was the first anime to ever be animated in HD. The visuals were incredibly detailed, and set the standard for all anime to come. It comes as no surprise that Awakening of the Trailblazer raises the bar further, only this time, it is in the form of subtle details. Whether it is watching the ELS assmililate a Federation Cruiser or the displays the characters are viewing, every detail is masterfully attended to. Of particular note were the behavior of the ELS Swarms. Having spent a full summer studying agent-based modelling, I can appreciate how difficult it is to model systems involving hundreds of thousands of agents. Animating these cannot be any easier, and when we see the quantities of ELS on screen, we cannot help but be blown away. Their assimilation of whatever they contact is also masterfully portrayed; ranging from behaving like the growth of sucrose crystals to behaving like a virulent vial of mercury, the ELS have the appearance of solid metal, but distinctly feel organic when they begin to assimilate their victims en masse. It is the attention to these kinds of details that make the movie worthwhile, and even viewing the movie in 480p, there is little doubt that the quality of the art is astounding. For those doubting me, my images are 720p images condensed into 360p for the sake of convienience. We move from this topic to execution of all the combat scenes. There is no surprise that the battle sequences are what define a Gundam series, separating an excellent series from a good one. In the case of Awakening of the Trailblazer, no words can really describe the action we see on screen whenever a faction sorties. The sheer scope and intensity of the battles give testament to just what humanity is up against, and at times, it feels like I am piloting a suit alongside the characters in the movie. I cannot really do the movie's visuals justice by merely putting words down. Even the images I have below can convey a small amount of information about the battles they represent.
It's a little challenging to give a movie a grade the same way the university evaluates my work. The latter may be a little unfair, but it still follows a set of guidelines and rules, whereas evalutating a movie is rather more subjective. My lasting impression of the movie is one that is very well done, but not quite a masterpiece; Seiji Mizushima's decision to trailblaze and introduce aliens into the Gundam franchise was very smooth and realistically portrayed (not all the aliens we may meet will be bipedal vertebrae). Animation and attention to details are of a high grade, making every scene visually pleasing. There are some shortcomings in the movie, especially with respect to execution of the plot. Those who are seeking a emotional journey for the Feldt's unrequited love will not find anything remotely to the same level as Five Centimeters per Second, but for everyone else looking at the battle sequences, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. The movie is definately worthwhile for any anime fan, although the movie itself may not live up to the DVD's price tag. Thus, for those who are itching to get down to the screencaps of the battles, I won't keep you waiting any longer.
It has been two years since the A-Laws were defeated, and while the Earth Sphere Federation has begun in earnest to reach its goal of global peace, there still existed insurgent factions which occasionally threatened this new peace. Over the past two years, Earth Sphere Federation had established a pacifist policy, employing the help of Innovators and the supercomputer Veda. In order to make up for the heinous acts committed by the A-Laws, the Federation decided upon a more peaceful approach towards unifying the world. The appearance of a derelict exploration ship from Jupiter, however, caused a great deal of concern with the ESF government. At this time, Louise remains hospitalized by the events that unfolded two years previously.
Marina, meanwhile, takes up a diplomatic visit to a colony, but her decision is met with opposition from a Union company, who plan her assassination by deploying a squadron of GNX-603T GN-Xs to intercept her shuttle. Celestial Being steps in and effortlessly thwarts the attempt; Setsuna piloting a Flag into the battle and single-handedly destroying three GN-Xes. The other members question him as to why he does not wish to meet up with Marina, to which Setsuna simply responds that the time was not appropriate.
Back on the surface, the ESF have reached a conclusion with respect to answering to the presence of the 130-year old exploration vessel, which is headed on a collision course with the surface. Descartes Shaman is present at this conference, during which it is agreed the vessel to be destroyed quickly. However, the missile bombardment fails to damage the vessel, so Descartes Shaman is deployed in the Gadeleza. He effortlessly annihilates the derelict station with the mobile armour. The fragments of the vessel burn up in the atmosphere, although some survive and end up in remote regions on the planet. Observing this, Setsuna and Feldt both share feelings of doubt and concern over the fallout of this event, and their suspicions are quickly vindicated as unusual events begin occurring; machines operate independent of human command, leading to accidents.
Having recovered all of their members, Celestial Being convenes just as they come under attack by the presumably destroyed Jupiter Exploration ship. Unable to simply observe the events any further, Setsuna sorties in the 00 Raiser, although the unknown forces direct a mental assault on Setsuna and cripples him. Eventually, 00 Raiser's left arm and shoulder binder are hit and the suit begins to be assimilated. He is only saved by Tieria's intervention, who arrives in the CB-002 Raphael Gundam and tears off the metal assimilating the 00 Raiser's arm. Tieria later questions Setsuna as to why he made no attempt to shoot down the unknowns once they are onboard the Ptolemaios. Setsuna simply responds that he didn't understand why he wasn't able to fire.
On Jupiter, matters complicate when one of its innermost moons is drawn into its atmosphere as the ELS prepare to deploy a massive fleet from the Red Spot. This does not go unnoticed by the crew of the Ptolemios; Setsuna asks Feldt to run an analysis on the unknown fleet. It turns out that the fleet is set to arrive in Earth's orbit in approximately 3 months. The information is conveyed to the ESF, who promptly rush to piece together a means of answering to the threat of the ELS, all the while covering up what has already happened thus far. They assemble a recon unit and select Descartes Shaman to lead the assault, but the unit is completely wiped out in a matter of moments, losing everything to the sheer numbers of the ELS. Setsuna realises that the appearance of the ELS may be relevant to the "coming dialogues" that Aeolia Schoenberg had foretold centuries ago, and together with Tieria, sorties once more to communicate with the ELS. His attempt fails and sends him into a coma, leaving him idle in the midst of the battlefield. In order to save Setsuna, Tieria is forced to reveal CB-002 Raphael Gundam's backpack (containing the GN-008RE Seravee Gundam II) and forcibly removes the 00 Gundam's cockpit from its frame, handing it to Lockon as he tries to hold off the ELS with his quantum brainwaves. The situation worsens as the ELS swarm the battlefield, making rescue a difficult task, but Graham Aker and his Sol Brave squadron make a timely appearance to distract the ELS. The Ptolemios wastes no time in retreating, and although Tieria activates Trans-Am to defend against the ELS, his efforts are unyielding as the ELS assimilate both his physical body and the Raphael. Setsuna is placed in intensive care and is found to have a degree of brain damage. Feldt is most visibly shaken by the ordeal, and cries at Setsuna's plight.
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
The ELS finally reveal their main body; a massive planetoid 3000 kilometres in diameter and a fleet of close to a million vessels. The ELS begin their course for Earth, forcing the ESF to declare a state of war. They deploy every unit stationed and place these as a final defensive line against the ELS forces. The first strike by the ESF is initially successful at demolishing some of the ELS vessels, but this is short-lived; the ELS manage to replicate GN Fields and deploy them to halt the effectiveness of the missile bombardment. As the combat escalates, Andrei, Patrick and Graham immediately sortie to take on the ELS. Even Saji goes as a volunteer to assist with maintenance of space facilities. The situation worsens as the ELS replicate hardware to repel the ESF's weapons; even the superlaser mounted on Celestial Being is ineffectual. Despite the increasing bleakness of the situation, Kati Mannequin resolves not to lose hope, and tells her units to continue resisting the ELS. Despite the combined ESF/Celestial Being effort to repel the ELS assault, the ELS manage to break through their positions and begin to assimilate all the technology in their path, allowing them to take on the form and function of all human technology.
On the Ptolemios, Setsuna remains in a critical state from his previous ordeal. With her emotions breaking forth, Feldt runs to his side and grasps his hand. Still in his coma, Setsuna enters a flashback, where older members of Celestial Being remind him of his motivation, and what his fight is for. He sees the flower Feldt gave him years ago and grabs makes a grab for it. Finally regaining his strength and resolve, Setsuna returns to consciousness to a tearful Feldt at his side; she hugs him warmly.
With his objective in mind, Setsuna boards the newly built 00 Qan[T] and roars off onto the battlefield. Feldt returns to bridge, and is asked why she didn't go with Setsuna, to which she replies that she had to let Setsuna go to fulfill his destiny. On the battlefield, the ESF forces are slowly folding under the sheer numbers of ELS units. Patrick's GN-X IV is hit by an ELS probe and is absorbed by the probe. He messages Kati a final goodbye, which causes her to nearly break down, but before the ELS can fully assimilate him, Setsuna's sharpshooting allows Patrick to break free. Encouraged by Setsuna's success, the remaining Gundams sortie and engage the ELS forces in face-to-face combat. During the renewed effort, Andrei dies during an ELS Kamikaze attack in an effort to prevent the alien ship from reaching Earth.
"This is not death! It is a sacrifice for humanity to live on!"
In order to clear a path to the planetoid, Setsuna activates the Trans-Am system on the 00 Qan[T] and directs a massive beam sabre to the planetoid's surface in the hopes of cutting a path open. However, this fails, and it is only through Graham's selflessness (he rams his Brave to the planetoid's surface in a kamikaze attack) that Setsuna finally gains access to the planetoid's core. Back in space, Zabanya and Harute enter Trans-Am to combat the endless waves of ELS. Their efforts are to no avail, as the Ptolemios is infected by the ELS and is slowly being consumed. In spite of this, the crew's trust in Setsuna holds, and thus, they remain on board. Setsuna, having found his way to the ELS's core, learns of their origins. The ELS were forced to leave their home world when their system's star entered the final stages of its life. They became spacefaring and travelled in search of a new home, eventually finding a system to settle in and call their own. They also began to explore other systems, including the solar system, but panicked when they encountered the human Innovators. In an attempt to understand humanity, they had arrived to assimilate and learn about them, but their intentions were not known, leading to open conflict.
Sympathetic to their story, Setsuna shares his own memories and thoughts on humanity. Finally reaching mutual understanding, the ELS agree to end hostilities with humanity. Setsuna and the alien race decide more understanding is required between species, and Setsuna decides to open a gateway to the alien world as humanity's ambassador. As a token of understanding, the planetoid expresses itself as a massive flower, which is seen on Earth by its citizens.
Centuries ago, a younger Aeolia Schoenberg mentions his plan to evolve humanity to evolve and overcome their differences, and how disappointing it would be for human progress if the first thing they do is start a war once they became space-faring.
Fifty years have passed since the conflict between humanity and the ELS. Setsuna had left on a journey to understand more about the ELS, and the flower-like space station is now Earth's foothold for humanity's first voyage into deep space. A ship, called the Sumeragi, full of awakened Innovators (including a quick glimpse of Tieria and the half metalized girl who has recovered) prepare for their maiden voyage into space. 40% of humans have become Innovators and as they were physically evolved; they were to spearhead the first voyage until the rest of Humanity evolves.
Out in the country in a field of flowers lies Marina's retirement home. Marina has since aged and has lost her sight. She senses someone entering her room and politely asks who is. It is none other than Setsuna; despite the 50 years that had passed, he has not aged in the slightest. He tells Marina how he finally came back and kept his promise, albeit it was rather roundabout for both of them. They embrace each other as a token of understanding. Outisde, the 00 Qan[T] is resting in the field of flowers, glistening in the sunlight.