The SEED that grew into a Gundam.
As far as codenames go, when I think SEED, I’m actually reminded of Final Fantasy VIII’s elite fighting force, SeeD and all the Gardens and awkward … plant-related … things. But when it comes to naming a Gundam series, SEED seems kinda weak, so my first impression of the series was already frazzled from the get-go. I wanted to see this one through, however, since I’ve heard it’s one of the more appealing Gundams for newcomers for a number of reasons. Having plowed through the 2-year run in a short amount of time, SEED is definitely the most approachable for those who aren’t as keen on mecha combat, primarily because the heavy romance elements keep the plot especially character-driven.
In the distant future, conflict rages between two subspecies of humanity: Naturals, who live primarily on Earth, and Coordinators, genetically modified humans who mostly live in colonies in outer space. As modified humans, Coordinators are capable of performing physical and mental feats that far outshine that of the most talented Naturals. On the neutral colony Heliopolis, the Naturals have been secretly developing a powerful new mobile suit that they hope will bridge the gap in fighting power against the Coordinators. When ZAFT, the Coordinator’s military, attacks the colony in hopes of stealing the prototypes, a boy named Kira Yamato is pulled into the firefight. Using his Coordinator abilities, he is able to pilot one of the new mobile suits, Strike Gundam, and fends off the attacking ZAFT military, who escape with the remaining prototypes in tow. During the conflict, Kira comes to the realization that his best friend from childhood, Athrun Zala, is a part of the Heliopolis attack. Though Athrun is confused about why Kira would side with the Naturals, he reluctantly escapes in the powerful Aegis Gundam. Joining with the rest of the Naturals force, Kira struggles to find where his loyalties lie among a crew that both admires and fears him for his ability. As the Naturals’ battleship, Archangel, makes its way toward Earth to rally with the Earth’s defense forces, they find themselves in an insidious game of cat and mouse with ZAFT and its newly acquired arsenal of Gundam mobile suits.
While many Gundam series have large-scale firefights with the titular mobile suits slugging it out toe to toe with endless waves of enemies, Gundam SEED takes a more liberal approach to combat. For a large majority of the series, Kira and his Strike Gundam are the Archangel’s primary defense, so enemies are typically smaller in number but higher in overall ‘quality.’ ZAFT’s stolen Gundams (Aegis, Blitz, Duel and Buster) serve as the primary antagonists throughout the series and most combatants that engage with Kira are named characters with relevance to the story. Very few faceless foes. Unlike other Gundam series, however the suits in SEED show a definite ruggedness that seems to reflect their prototype standing; Strike Gundam often requires recharging of its power supply and on occasion remains tethered to the ship by a power umbilical cord a la Evangelion. It definitely sets the pace of the action, as pilots find themselves burdened with time as an extra resource to manage wihle in combat.
One of the main reasons that SEED is a great introduction to Gundam itself is because of the heavy character development and emphasis on romance elements. There are specific relationships established at the beginning of the series that grow and shift, eventually forming their own polygons that serve as a wonderful supplement to the chaotic action and political intrigue. Because of this, anime fans can feel right at home not knowing a thing about Gundam and still be able to enjoy subtexts more reminiscent of a drama and not a fast-paced action series.
SEED also represents a blank slate; it’s a series that establishes a new time continuity, and has a variety of continuations and spin-offs (one of them being Gundam SEED Destiny, a followup anime that takes place several years after SEED’s conclusion, though I’ve yet to see it), so in that sense, it’s also a great way to continue on with more Gundam if this particular era strikes your fancy.
While having a well-coordinated plot and timing is important, a character-driven series like SEED needs likeable, believable characters. And it delivers in spades. Although we’ve all seen the “reluctant hero” deal a million times before, Kira is exceedingly out of place among his peers. While a character like Vash the Stampede also finds himself in this position, it’s easier to write off the gravity of any given situation due to the fact that Trigun is also a comedy series; if something’s getting too serious, there’s always Love and Peace. SEED doesn’t really have that luxury, so viewers really start to see the fighting take its toll on Kira as time passes by. Other characters are realistically portrayed as everyone tries to pull Kira by the arm over to their respective sides whether it be for personal matters, his skills in a mobile suit or his status as a Coordinator. Forunately, Kira does grow throughout the series, and you’ll see his disposition sway back and forth as he interacts with the other characters.
On that note, one of the few things that bugged me about SEED was that the magic number for character development was “two.” That is, characters only seemed to develop exceedingly well when paired with one other person for a given amount of time. Naturally, these pairings are almost always the “potential romance” types. I mentioned love polygons either and believe me, there will be some eye-rolling at how conveniently pairings ‘shuffle’ around and switch places as the story moves on. Though if you’re big on J-Drama or K-Drama, you’ll probably be right at home, so I won’t begrudge it too much for that nuance.
To be short, SEED is an extremely approachable series for newcomers that heavily favor drama and romance. If you’re looking for an introductory Gundam series with a bit more action and far-reaching political subterfuge, I’d recommend Gundam 00. Either way, I don’t think you can really go wrong if you’ve enjoyed any anime series since the early 2000s, even moreso if you enjoy Sunrise’s war-politics formula of storytelling. The HD Remaster of SEED is currently airing in Japan, and being released on Sunrise’s official Youtube channel on a weekly basis, so give it a go if you’re so inclined.
Character Ranking – Gundam SEED
- Kira Yamato
- Cagalli Yula Athha
- Mu La Flaga
- Lacus Clyne
- Murrue Ramius
- Andrew Waltfeld
- Rau Le Creuset
- Flay Allster
- Athrun Zala