Judge Joel Pearce wonders what "minions" sounds like in Japanese.
Trapped in a Strange Land!
Sitting down to this fourth volume of SD Gundam Force, I was a little bit scared. The three episodes on the third volume were very formulaic, and I thought I was in for a lot more of the same.
The first episode on this volume, "Triple Gundam Attack!," is the culmination of the episodes up to this point. Returning again to the theme of friendship, the three Gundams must work together in order to defeat all three of the evil minions who have learned how to work together. This showdown was better than anything I have seen previously in the series, even though it still fit into the same pattern. The lack of direct violence is still a problem, though. Most of the actual violence of the assault on Neotopia happens off-screen, which does not work as well in an action show as it does in a Greek tragedy.
Also a problem is the continuing ignorance of Shute's mother. I just find it hard to believe that she would believe Zero (a robot) needs to go see a doctor for a fever, coincidentally at the same time that Neotopia is under attack. As well, if the city is really in danger, subplots about Shute's homework seem both trite and incidental.
Then, in the second and third episodes on the disc, the unimaginable happens. Instead of a retread of the plot used in the rest of the episodes, it is the first two parts of what will be at least a three-episode plot focusing on Lacroa, Zero's defeated home world. Transported accidentally to Lacroa, Shute, and the three Gundams must face a competent villain and his minions in order to rescue the land from the Dark Axis. This solves several of the problems I have had with the series up to this point. First, the bad guy is a real threat for the Gundams. The minions can be destroyed as well, which turns them back to their original form. While the violence in this pair of episodes is light, there is enough that the Gundams seem more than a joke for the first time.
This is helped by the hesitation of Zero to accept his destiny as savior of Lacroa. His gradual acceptance of his role in rescuing Lacroa is interesting to watch, and it places this part of the series as part of a fantasy tradition, giving it a different feel than the rest of the series. The friendship of the other Gundams encourages Zero to step up and do what's right, which is how the lesson of friendship and teamwork should be approached.
Also, the plots of these episodes are enough to fill the full half-hour. Gone is the obnoxious and pointless "Zaku Zaku Hour" at the end of each episode that fills out the last five minutes to make up for the flimsy plotting. Adding that five minutes back into the main plot of the episode makes a big difference in the overall feel of the show.
Unfortunately, there are some other problems that have not been solved. Topping this list is the terrible voice acting. The voice of Zero is especially weak in this volume. He is supposed to be a legendary knight of Lacroa, but he sounds like a whiny preteen boy. As well, the bad joke timing, childish sight gags and terrible lines from Zero undermine the serious drama of the second and third episodes.
The technical quality is on par with the rest of the series. The backgrounds in Lacroa are slightly more detailed than those of Neotopia, which adds some helpful visual depth. There are still occasional clipping problems, but I still prefer this look to small budget hand-drawn animation.
SD Gundam Force: Unknown Dangers is a much-needed step in the right direction for the series. It's still aimed at the same audience, but the quality of the entertainment is quite a bit higher. The solution of some of the plot problems will not bring in any new fans, but it is sure to solidify its popularity with kids that already like the series.
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