Friday, February 14, 2014


Written & Illustrated by: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story by: Yoshiyuki Tomino & Hajime Yatate
Mechanical Design by: Kunio Okawara

GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN is part retelling, part reboot of the original GUNDAM saga. It keeps the major story beats and arcs, but adds some much welcome additional details to the characters and story.

The inaugural volume begins with a brief recap of the universe's backstory: it is the year 0079 of the Universal Century, and humans have lived for some time in space colonies. The furthest colonies from the Earth named themselves the Principality of Zeon and declared their independence, sparking a civil war between the terrestrial Earth Federation and the forces of Zeon. Both sides' weapons of choice in this war were massive humanoid tanks called mobile suits. In only one month of fighting, half the entire human population was wiped out, and a stalemate was reached.

Now, eight months into that stalemate, Zeonic forces infiltrate a Federation colony called Side 7, where Federal forces are rumored to be developing a new weapon. The infiltration quickly escalates into a bloody skirmish which sees the colony destroyed and the majority of its surviving citizens, along with the Federation's secret weapon, a new mobile suit called the Gundam, loaded aboard the Federation battleship White Base and bound for Earth.

Throughout the volume, we are introduced to the primary cast of MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM. First and foremost is Amuro Ray, the protagonist, a civilian teenager who finds himself behind the controls of the Gundam when its test pilot is killed in action. Amuro's father was behind the development of the Gundam, and the story uses that to explain Amuro's initial familarity with the suit. As I recall, in the original series, Amuro simply finds an instruction manual aboard the suit and uses it to quickly learn the machine's controls. THE ORIGIN provides a much more reasonable explanation for Amuro's immediate ability to pilot the Gundam: he had been reading his father's files on the suit for some time before the Zeon attack.

The rest of the Federation cast include Amuro's neighbors, Fraw Bow, Hayato Kobayashi, and Kai Shiden, as well as White Base crew members Lt. Bright Noa and Sgt. Ryu Jose. Rounding out the cast are Mirai Yashida, daughter of a wealthy family from Side 7 whose piloting skill earns her a position at White Base's helm when its pilot is killed in action, and the mysterious Sayla Mass, a medical student who becomes the ship's communications officer. Other minor characters are introduced as well, but these characters form the core of the ongoing GUNDAM cast.

The GUNDAM cast as originally illustrated in 1979:
Kai, Ryu, Hayato, Amuro, Fraw, Mirai, Sayla, Mirai, Bright, plus the orphans Letz, Katz, & Kikka
On the Zeon side, we meet Char Aznable, the enemy ace known on the battlefield as the Red Comet, whose mission is to stop the transport of the Gundam to Earth. He has some unknown past with Sayla, who sees him unmasked briefly when he infiltrates the Federation's Luna II outpost during a brief layover by White Base. Char receives orders from the briefly seen Admiral Dozle Zabi, son of Zeon's ruler, Degwin Zabi. The first volume's conclusion also brings us a glimpse of Garma Zabi, Degwin's youngest son and the head of Zeon's forces on Earth, headquartered in Los Angeles.

As noted above, Yasuhiko utilizes the manga format to sprinkle in details which had previously been absent or glossed over in the original version of GUNDAM. Besides Amuro's intial familiarity with the Gundam, we also get additional or altered scenes that provide better justification for a crew of teenagers taking over the White Base, and early appearances by Sayla are beefed up a bit, which will serve her later character development better.

Also notable is that we see the original prototype Gundam, designated RX-78-01, destroyed in action prior to Amuro's first outing in the RX-78-02 Gundam he will pilot for the remainder of the series. In general the Federation forces receive more depth in these early pages, with the White Base's Captain Paulo injured while commanding a gunship sortie against Char's flagship during the battle of Side 7, as opposed to the original story which had his wounds sustained while operating a gun from White Base. Paulo also receives some character development as we learn that he was retired, but returned to service to aid the war effort.

Zakus infiltrate Side 7.
One extremely welcome revelation in this version of the story is the reasoning behind why the Zeonic forces constantly refer to the White Base using the codename "Trojan Horse". To my knowledge, this was never explained in the original series, but as presented here it makes perfect sense. White Base is "undercover" as a supply ship delivering resources to Side 7, when in actuality it is a warship tasked with transporting the Gundam to Earth. Perhaps this was always the intention behind that name, but it was never clarified before.

Also notable is that in THE ORIGIN, the Gundam's support suits, the Guntank and Guncannon, are considered older mobile suit models (which can be seen as justification, at least somewhat, for why they're entrusted to civlilan teenagers, even accounting for the absense of trained pilots). In the original series, they were just as new as the Gundam, and indeed the Federation did not have mobile suit technology prior to the development of these three prototypes. I find THE ORIGIN's version of the suits' development to make much more sense. Additionally, at least at the outset of the story, the White Base is equipped with three Guntanks and three Guncannons, as opposed to one of each originally.

By the time the volume ends, the White Base has completed its daring escape to Earth, following a thrilling atmospheric entry battle between the Gundam and three of Char's mobile suits. My own favorite part of the GUNDAM storyline is the sequence on Earth following White Base's arrival, so I look forward to seeing where Yasuhiko goes from here. This is where we really get familiar with Char, following his early appearances as little more than a dogged pursuer. If the same sort of care can be applied to his relationship with Garma as has been applied to the Federation characters' iterations thus far, I'll be pleased.

Thus far THE ORIGIN is far superior to the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM in terms of backstory and character development, and the artwork is astounding. The characters look just like they always did (logical, since Yasuhiko was the visual designer for the original series), and the energy in the illustrations is in line with the best manga I've ever seen. The dialogue is a bit stilted sometimes, but that tends to be the case with anything translated from Japanese to English, so I can't fault it much.

Overall, I'm extremely pleased so far can't wait to read the next volume. This may become, as far as I'm concerned, the definitive version of the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM.

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