Friday, February 6, 2015


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

The majority of GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN volume 5 is set in the past, showing us the tragic childhoods of Char and Sayla, and fleshing out several of the other major Zeon characters. But first, the volume opens in UC 0079, exactly where we left off last time -- with White Base still docked at Jaburo headquarters following the recently concluded battle with the Zeonic forces. As the ship’s crew goes over their newly upgraded ship, they're joined by a quartet of new recruits. This is, again, a welcome departure by Yasuhiko from the source material. Originally it was one single pilot, Sleggar Law, who came to White Base as a replacement for the deceased Ryu Jose. But here, Sleggar has three more pilots with him, which makes much more sense strategically. I'm sure we'll learn more about these guys in subsequent installments, but first there's a lot of ground to cover in the past.

And so, after that brief introductory framing sequence, Yasuhiko takes us back in time twelve years to UC 0067, to the colony of Side 3, which will eventually become the Principality of Zeon. Zeon’s founding figure, Zeon Zum Deikun, is assassinated and his wife, Astraia, and children, Casval and Artesia, are presumed to be targets as well. The house of Ral, led by Ramba Ral’s father, Jimba Ral, takes Zeon's heirs into protective custody. Yasuhiko does quite a bit with Ramba Ral in these flashbacks in fact, which is something -- as a big fan of the character -- I appreciate. We learn that House Ral was once a very politically strong entity in Side 3, but it seems to be their protection of Zeon's family which does them in. Soon after Zeon's assassination, the eldest Zabi sibling, the heretofore unknown Sasro, is assassinated. The Zabis frame the Rals for this crime and use that as an excuse to pry Zeon's family away from them.

But Ramba Ral doesn't take this lying down, and arranges for his disgraced father, as well as Zeon's children, to escape to Earth -- thanks to some assistance from Ramba's lover, Haman, also fleshed out here as a cabaret singer with a gift for disguise and impersonation. Zeon's family is saved, but Ramba Ral is left with nothing -- his father is gone, his once influential house is reduced to nothing, and he is, apparently, forced to leave the military, becoming a reservist instead. The political maneuvering in this story is fantastic and brings to mind favorable comparisons with the likes of GAME OF THRONES. I think I could seriously read a Yasuhiko-authored Gundam manga focusing exclusively on colony politics and not miss the mobile suit battles at all.

Ramba Ral and Hamon in their younger days.
We saw in previous volumes that Ramba Ral served Dozle Zabi, and benefited from his protection until he was forced into the service of Kycilia instead. This volume features the origin of Ramba's relationship with Dozle, as we learn that, even as their houses were rivals, Dozle found Ramba to be a respectable soldier and competent fighter. Three years after Ramba's disgrace, Dozle approaches the semi-retired officer and recruits him as a test pilot for the mobile suit which will eventually become the Zaku. Also testing alongside Ral (or, more accurately against him) are the Black Tri-Stars. Again, as a Ramba Ral aficionado, I find Yasuhiko's work on his backstory to be an extremely welcome plotline.

But Ramba Ral's story is really a smaller part of the volume. After he sends the Zeon children, along with his father, to Earth, we see them taken in by Don Teabolo Mass, an acquaintance of the Rals. Teabolo adopts Casval and Artesia, renaming them Edouard and Sayla. But Kycilia is aware of the children's whereabouts and has them under constant supervision. And when Jimba Ral gets aggressive and attempts to broker an alliance with Earth's Anaheim Corporation to oppose the Zabis -- who hand now renamed Side 3 the Principality of Zeon, turning their own assassination victim into a martyr for their cause -- Kycilia sends men to kill him and the children. Jimba is slain and Teabolo wounded, but young Edouard demonstrates uncanny skill with a sword and finishes off his and Artesia's would-be assassin.

Then, at the recommendation of Shu Yashima (father of future White Base crewmember Mirai), Teabolo moves with the children to Texas Colony, a colony patterned after the U.S. state of the same name -- the idea being that Texas Colony is close to Zeon, and if Teabolo and the kids live peacefully there, under the eyes of Zeon's spies, with nothing to hide, they will be left alone.

And this is where Yasuhiko makes his first major creative misstep in the saga. Teabolo introduces the children to the Aznable family, caretakers of Texas Colony, and their son -- Char. Who happens to look exactly like Edouard. And you can see where this is going -- through a series of contrivances to long to go into here, Char is accepted to the Zeon military academy, but is targeted by assassins serving Kycilia. Char is killed, and Edouard takes his place, becoming the Char Aznable we know today in order to infiltrate Zeon and get close to those who masterminded his father's demise.

It's too silly, and far too much to swallow in what is otherwise a very realistic story. The idea that there's a kid out there who is Edouard's spitting image is ridiculous. The idea that the bloodthirsty Kycilia -- who blows up an entire passenger ship full of civilians simply to murder Edouard -- would not kill both boys, just to be safe (because her agents have seen them together and know that they're twins) -- makes no logical sense. This entire idea is ridiculous.

Look, we know that Char is actually Casval/Edouard, and that he attended the Zeon academy. We also know that everyone else knows what Casval looked like, and it's not like a teenager would be allowed to attend the academy in an ornate identity-concealing mask. But Yasuhiko himself created the idea that Casval was constantly monitored by Zeon the entire time he lived away from Side 3. And thus he was forced to come up with some way to make Casval unrecognizable to the very people who had been watching him grow up. If Yasuhiko had simply allowed Casval and Artesia to grow up without Zeon observing them, then had Casval return as an adult, this entire contrived mess could've been avoided.

But instead we're stuck with the inane idea of completely unrelated doppelgangers in the GUNDAM universe. It's just too fantastical for this story.

But the rest of the volume is good -- great, even. The early material, Zabi vs. Ral, is wonderful. The development of characters like Ramba Ral, Haman, Dozle, and more is excellent. And the stuff about Casval and Artesia is good, too -- it's just that one completely out-of-place plot element which all but ruins the story. And it's a shame, too. Until now, GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN had been an amazing retelling and expansion of the classic story. It had my highest possible recommendation. I'm going to try and move on to volume six and not dwell upon Char's "twin", but it won't be easy. Yasuhiko has tarnished what was, otherwise, a masterpiece up to this point.

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