The collector's box is nice and sturdy, able to contain all 10 DVDs that will make up the series. The front has a shot of our two main characters, Athrun and Kira, along with the Aile Strike Gundam. The sides show each of them with the respective standard mid-series upgrade Gundam. The top has a small group shot.
The soundtrack is from Tofu Records, one of the many labels cashing in on the success of anime and manga by releasing soundtracks. The CD is titled SEED Complete Best and is a compilation of the openings and endings for the series, along with some remixes. SEED has some great songs so there should be just about something for everyone here (truth be told, there are a few which have me reaching for the "Next Track" button). Sadly, one key song is missing. In Japan, there were two versions of Complete Best- a standard and a limited edition. The limited edition contained one extra song, the first ending. This is undoubtedly the most popular song from the series, but the group behind it (See-Saw) are signed to a different record label. It's not the greatest loss but without it, Complete Best doesn't feel so complete. The CD is in a standard case, with a pull out booklet. The booklet has a new cover of a POV shot of the Strike Gundam looming over you, whilst the other side of the case has the original Japanese cover of Kira and Athrun looking grim and angsty. The booklet contains the romanised lyrics for all the songs found on the album, as well as photos of the artists...quite a freaky bunch. The last page is a track listing with a group shot of the big four characters.
Bandai are using the Japanese cover art for the series, so the cover for volume 1 is Kira and his Strike Gundam. The insert gives a brief glossary of important terms used in the story.
The DVD menus use animation from the show eg a clip will play of Strike Gundam swinging a sword and then freeze, with the options appearing on the sword. It's reminiscent of what Bandai did with Endless Waltz and slightly confusing to navigate. Hopefully it will improve with later discs. From the main menu you can choose to play all 5 episodes, select a specific part of one of the episodes, change the settings or go to the extras.
The extras are the norm for this kind of release. We get a textless opening, mecha files (compiled by two very cool members of the fandom), three trailers (Ghost in the Shell : Stand Alone Complex, Infinite Ryvius and Dragon Drive) and credits.
Sound and video here is fine. Everything looks and sounds crisp and is helped by the casts of both languages doing a pretty solid job.
Starting in late 2002 in Japan, SEED is yet another of Bandai's attempts to draw in new fans with a series unconnected to those of the franchise's past. The last series to air was 1999's Turn A Gundam. Helmed by Gundam creator Tomino, the show took a very different approach and was only really successful with long time fans. With SEED, Bandai is clearly aiming for a younger demographic (especially females, which make up most of the show's fanbase). Whilst the AU series of the mid-90s had been piled out with little space or life, SEED was the result of alot of careful planning. The original series remains ever popular in Japan, so Bandai decided to see it lightning would strike twice. SEED takes the story of Mobile Suit Gundam and rewrites it for the modern generation. Gone are the goofy 1970s music, mecha and character designs replaced by catchy J-pop tunes, attractive bishounen and mecha which draw on the franchise's 25 years of experience.
The result is a series which, in this reviewer's opinion, is Gundam Wing done right. The story sticks to the tried and true formula- in the distant future, Earth is at war with the inhabitants of its orbiting space colonies. However the conflict here is not one of rights but race. Genetic engineering, an issue which in the real world is becoming more and more a complicated issue, is a reality. Parents willingly take advantage of this to 'improve' their children as they see fit, from anything as simple to a change of eye colour to enhanced strength and intelligence. This has split humanity in two- the Coordinators (the name given to those who have been altered) and the Naturals (the name for those who have remained untampered). The two sides each have their own share of loathing for the other for varying reasons, so war has broken out. The war had been expected to end quickly but after a massive loss of their own civillains to nuclear warheads, ZAFT (the name of the Coordinator army) developed the N-Jammer to disable any sort of nuclear power.
Both sides are forced to rely on non-nuclear power as a result. Another invention of the Coordinator's high intellect are mobile suits. Combined with the super fast reflexes of their pilots, these new weapons are giving ZAFT the advantage.
Not to be outdone, the Earth forces commence plans to build their own advanced MS. The 5 prototypes are nearly complete on the 'neutral' colony where they've been constructed when ZAFT make their play to steal them. A devistating attack is launched on the colony, forcing the civillains into shelters. It's here that our central character, Kira Yamato, gets involved. A 16 year old Coordinator, Kira and his family moved to the colony to escape the war. After saving the life of an Earth officer, Kira is forced into the cockpit with her of the the last remaining prototype. When the Natural officer struggles to control the thing, Kira is forced to step in and use his abilities to pilot. As the situation worsens, it's clear Kira is the only one who can pilot this Strike Gundam, a task he is forced into to protect himself and his friends as they flee with the Earth forces. Whilst this is frustrating enough for the peace loving Kira, he also has to deal with the fact that one of the Gundam thiefs is his childhood friend Athrun Zala. Can he kill one friend to protect others?
The characters are a likeable bunch but as should be expected we don't get to know them completly in these first 5 episodes. Kira is joined by his friends/fellow students, as well as a kind hearted rookie captain, a by-the-book second officer and a cool ace pilot who serves as his mentor. ZAFT also has some diversity, with the now-standard Char-clone (a mysterious masked blonde who's a capable commander and fearsome fighter) and their own Gundam pilots who at least partly fall into bishounen stereotypes (the quiet peacemaker, the moody gloryhog, etc).
Both casts do a fine job. In general I prefer the Japanese cast, but the English cast also have talent. There is the odd moment of flatness and silly "we need to fit the flaps" dialogue, but it never reaches the levels that have hampered my enjoyment of the Ocean Group's previous works. The Japanese version's major ace is Seki Tomokazu. The guy who played one of my favourite characters from past series (Domon Kasshu), Seki steps up to play Yzak Joule, a dedicated ZAFT Gundam pilot. Whilst alot of VAs restrain themselves, Seki becomes his character. He does a great job of channeling Yzak's arrogance and anger, as well as providing screaming battle cries like no one can
The animation is of a fine standard, but there is one annoying flaw- a high use of CGI. Computer screens are rendered this way and so ocassionly is the main ship of the show, the Archangel. Whilst it can work in small doses at times it just sticks out too much, especially for the ship animation. Archangel moves within the same physics as everything else, then becomes incredibly floaty and moveable once it switches to CGI (thankfully, this flaw seems to have been corrected for the sequel).
In general, I'd say this is the best series for someone who wants to give Gundam a shot to hop on with. It can appeal to both existing fans and new ones, especially females who may not be interested in the style of previous series. The show has some bishounen but doesn't over do it (in fact, the first episode has a scene that slightly parodies those kind of shows), instead trying to give us characters with...well, character. The mecha designs are appealing, the battles are well handled and the story is intriguing, offering the possibility of further discussion on the real world of the heart of the war (the morals of genetic engineering). Reccomended