Friday, February 13, 2015


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

GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN's sixth volume continues Yasuhiko's trip through the universe's backstory. This time we find ourselves following Char and Garma at the Zeon military academy, where we see them forge an unlikely friendship. Initially the stuck-up Garma feels Char is out to humiliate him, but when Char saves his life on a training exercise, Garma declares that from this day forth, they shall be friends. The story then skips ahead a few years to their graduation, amid a backdrop of growing civil unrest on Side 3. Zeon is mostly autonomous at this point, with their own military (overseen by Federation officials), but that's not enough for the Zabis, who want complete independence.

Things come to a head when a meteorite strikes Side 3, leading many citizens to believe the Federation allowed it to happen to put Zeon in its place. Char soon plants a bug in Garma's ear and, immediately after their graduation, the newest class of Zeon cadets stages an assault on the headquarters of Side 3's Federation observers. Dozle, the academy's commandant, puts a stop to the strike, but the damage is done; war is in the offing.

On the one hand, I like reading Yasuhiko's ideas as to how the war started and what political maneuvering led up to it. And I've enjoyed his handling of Zabi patriarch Degwin, who, despite his publicly aggressive personality, is adamantly against starting a war. But I find it a bit hard to swallow that the single act which began the conflict was the brainchild of Char. This is too hard to swallow. Not on the level of the unrelated identical twins we saw in the last volume, but it does stretch credibility even further. Not only did Char take his double's place to infiltrate Zeon, he practically single-handedly started the war.

Academy classmates
But the full-blown "One Year War" is still a ways in the future at this point. First Char is stripped of his commission and forced into the military reserves by Dozle, who himself has been pushed to resign as the academy's commandant. Yasuhiko takes this moment to reveal how Char knew about the secret entrance into the Federation's Jaburo headquarters a few volumes back. I had, at the time, thought he'd learned about it while living on Earth following Garma's death. But it turns out that Char spent some time working on the construction crew that built the base.

This is the sort of backstory tinkering I like. Yasuhiko kills several birds with one stone here, and it works beautifully. First is, obviously, the explanation for his passageway into Jaburo.

Two -- Char saw a "mobile worker" in action before leaving Side 3. These are the precursors to Zeon's mobile suits, and in fact it is a group of weaponized mobile workers which we saw Ramba Ral and the Black Tri-Stars test piloting last volume. Here, Char has learned that the mobile workers are being developed into weapons, and has expressed interest to Dozle in piloting one. So, on his enforced leave from the service, he gets the hang of the mobile worker by operating one on a construction site.

Three -- While working on said site, Char meets a young woman named Lalah Sune. Lalah plays a major role later in the Gundam storyline, but as I recall, in the original version, she simply shows up alongside Char late in the game with no real introduction. But here, she's inserted into Char's backstory via a peculiar -- but entertaining -- story in which he saves her from an overbearing gambler.

Also, it's interesting to note that through all these flashbacks, Char wears a pair of aviator shades to conceal the fact that his eyes are a different color from the real Char Aznable's. I found this a nice touch on Yasuhiko's part, evoking MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM's sequel series, ZETA GUNDAM, wherein Char concealed his identity with similar glasses.

Char and the Zabis
But Char isn't the only character we follow in volume six. After a brief check-in with Sayla, on her way to becoming a medical student, the story jumps to Universal Century 0078, just one year before the action of volume one. First we see Kciylia Zabi working toward establishing a Zeon presence on the moon, followed by Zeon's mobile suit developer, Dr. Minovsky, attempting to defect. Minovsky is thwarted by five Zeon Zakus, piloted by Ramba Ral, the Black Tri-Stars, and the recently returned-to-service Char Aznable. The Federation's mobile suits attempt to save Minovsky, but are roundly defeated by the Zeonic forces. This, the very first recorded mobile suit skirmish, prompts the Federation government to approve Dr. Tem Ray's proposal to construct a more advanced mobile suit -- the Gundam.

The volume concludes with Dr. Ray and Amuro moving to Side 7 to begin work on the Gundam, and a small story which introduces Amuro to Fraw Bow, Kai, and Hayato. Then, on Christmas Day of UC 0078, Zeon declares war on the Federation.

As much as I've enjoyed some of what I've seen from Yasuhiko's excursion into the past, overall this arc feels extraneous. I wouldn't have minded some "quick hits", snippets of what had gone on over the years, but much of the material is over-developed and convoluted, and there are too many instances of the main characters influencing history. Part of the original GUNDAM's appeal was the fact that these people had been sucked into a horrific war and were forced to survive circumstances outside their control. But Char and Garma practically starting the war is too much to swallow, and takes away some of the tragic "randomness" of the original story.

The next volume features the Battle of Loum, the conflict which, according to other aspects of the Gundam franchise, earned Char his nickname the "Red Comet" and his reputation as Zeon's greatest pilot. I look forward to seeing what Yasuhiko will do with the battle, but at the same time I can't help feeling that this historical tangent -- while well plotted from a technical standpoint and certainly beautifully illustrated -- has done more harm than good with its mostly unnecessary indulgences.

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