Mamerto Adan is an engineer by profession but a writer by night. He's interested in science, history, and martial arts.
Overall, nothing is perfect. Even well-funded animated films have flaws of their own. And this became apparent when you are running your TV series, whereas your time and budget are limited. So don’t be surprised if we see occasional, but hilarious fails in several episodes. At least now in the age of social media, failed animations will give one extra publicity if someone turned it into memes.
As in the case of the Gundam series, we all know how it was once plagued with imperfections. But overtime, people perfected the art of delivering top notched visuals in the small screen. I mean aside from mechas, modern Gundam series boast some of the best character designs. Well, the characters of the Gundam universe were always well-drawn from the beginning, and modern animation techniques, tools and technology just made them even better. They are detailed, proportioned or simply nice looking. Some even appeared to have a shojo vibe.
But again, nothing is perfect, and fans were quick to notice how something is not right about the characters designs of SEED. They are not exactly ugly, but as a meme pointed out, well they look like recycles of each other.
The SEED Designs
To begin with, the man behind the character renderings of the SEED series is Hisashi Hirai, known for his other works like the Fafner in Azure series, and Majestic Prince (which explains why an Athrun Zala look-alike was there). As what my friends noted, Hirai’s signature approach gave the SEED characters a distinct appearance. I mean the Universal Century style of animation has more realistic renderings when it comes to their characters. They got smaller eyes, more natural proportions and non-spiky hairstyles (most of the time). And as the Gundam World departed from the Universal Century, the characters got less formal, and wilder like what Gundam G showed us. Nevertheless, it still kept some of the UC style aesthetics, as what we see in the Wing and X. Turn A on the other hand got bolder and experimented with traps, which paid well among fans.
Going back to SEED, some fans noted that its style of iconography is more of a traditional anime than the usual Gundam character designs. We are already getting a lot of Bishounens and traps, thanks mostly to Wing and Turn A, but SEED upped the ante by doing a more Shojo approach. The eyes are bigger for both genders (mostly), and the mouth smaller. The boys and men tend to be slimmer than their peers in other Universe, while the girls are curvier. Feminine cuteness was the signature character aesthetics here, though it’s not exactly a bad thing. The SEED focuses less on mecha action, and more on character drama. The feminine appearance of the characters, the large expressive eyes, not to mention the waifus getting splattered everywhere were meant to convey emotions.
The style of SEED character animation was meant to reflect a more emotional narrative of the series. It may not appeal to everyone, but me and my friends notice a problem in later episodes.
SEED Characters Resemble Each Other
It was not really noticeable in the first few episodes, as we only got a handful of characters here. But it began to surface when the others poured in.
Let’s start with the ill-fated chick Juri Wu Nien.
We all know her, that female Astray pilot that got blown off by a Strike Dagger before she could gain a fandom. But when I first saw this waifu material, I mistaken her for Athrun Zala. I mean, I thought, what the heck was Athrun doing in the Astray, and what’s with the Meganekko spectacle? It was not until I saw the full body shot and hear her shriek that I realize she was a girl.
And Juri, being a gender flipped Athrun was just the start.
My friend joked that the only thing that made a difference among the SEED character is the hair. So, he swapped their hairstyle, and he discovered that:
- Lacus could become Flay.
- Murrue could become Natarle
- Yzak could become Athrun.
And of course, no one will notice unless you got Photoshop skills and extra time to kill. The colorful hairpiece did its job of making the characters look different.
But SEED Destiny came, and the problem become more apparent.
SEED Destiny is More Guilty
People complained that SEED Destiny is just a lazy repeat of the original SEED. And somehow, I agree. And this became apparent on how they render their characters. Just make sure, you don’t miss the pilot episode, or else you will confuse Shinn Asuka with Kira Yamato. My first encounter with that psychotic crybaby was during a trip to the hobby store. Back then, the kit and toys came first before the series in my place. And my first reaction was, wow, Kira joined ZAFT! And look, Kira has an updated version of his Strike, the Impulse Gundam!
But upon watching the series, I was wrong. That Kira lookalike was Shinn, the most hated character of SEED Destiny. And to add up to the confusion was Stella, who was basically a more sexualized Cagalli with less spiky hair. And I have to give Lunamaria and Meryin a second look, because I couldn’t tell which is which. And both looked like the resurrected Flay! And there was a running gag in our place that Talia Gladys is just Murue Ramius with different hairstyle.
To be fair, duplicated iconography is also prevalent everywhere, even in western animations. The unique approach of the character designer and his own art style meant that similarities are unavoidable. But in the case of SEED and SEED Destiny, the similarities are simply confusing!
In the end, the duplicated character styles are one of the reasons why SEED Destiny never got it big. It worsened the perception that SEED Destiny is unoriginal and a repeat of SEED. But it did keep a generation happy by providing them with materials for online gags and memes.