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Point of Entry: Gundam the Origin

April 22, 2013

On April 7, 1979 a show debuted on the Nagoya Broadcasting Network that would that would change the mecha genre forever. 34 years later Mobile Suit Gundam would inspire a dozen TV shows, several movies and miniseries, dozens of novels and comics, and a plethora of toys and video games. So the question asked as often as there are stars in the sky is, “I am new to this whole Gundam thing so where should I start.”  Gundam fandom being hardly known for its congenial nature or unified voice argues about this question constantly.

As a person who has done several panels and posts about how to recommended series to other people I know there is no one right answer. There is no magic bullet that works on everyone. One person might be more interested in the characters or themes of one iteration while another might be turned away by the animation or robot design of another. There are distinctly some shows that have a much higher chance of success but no guarantees.  A martial arts fan that might have been bored out of his skull if his first exposure to Gundam was through Zeta might have a very different expedience if they watch G Gundam. I’m sure there is even someone who optimal first series would be Gundam oo83. I just never wish to meet this monster.

In the post we will examine the recently released Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin by whose first volume was  just released by Vertical. Who will enjoy this title and more importantly who can you show this as their first encounter with Gundam?

I’d be surprised if any anime or manga fan wasn’t at least mildly curious about the juggernaut franchise known as Gundam. But there are a ton of interactions, the fans are rabid, and no one seems to agree where the best place to start is. Plus, if you aren’t into robots you may be put off further.

But none of that matters, truly. Gundam the Origin is where it’s at!

In the year of 0079 of the Universal Century the colonies in space declare their independence from the Earth resulting in a war the kills half the population of both sides. The Earth Federation has developed a new weapon called the RX-78-2 Gundam that can change the course of the war. But when a recon team ends up attacking the base were the Gundam is stored a young man named Amuro Ray ends up as a pilot of this experimental suit. He also meets his live long rival Char Aznable who has his own agenda outside of the conflict.

In both the TV series and this manga, the story beats are pretty much the same. But in June of 2001 Yoshikazu Yasuhiko the original character designer for the TV series went back and retold the classic story with a twist. Much like Space Battleship Yamato 2199 the Origin uses the 20/20 hindsight of being made years after the original to smooth over certain plot holes and retcons while focusing on plot elements that were under explored in the original. In many ways both series are able to build on the classic story while adding new elements for new and established fans.

The character story is central to the original Gundam story. There is a robot on the cover but Mr. Yasuhiko knows where the heart of the story lies.

A young man who is thrust into the role of hero in a war he doesn’t fully understand. A man seeking slow revenge on those who twisted the ideals of his father. They nurse an intense rivalry fighting on different sides of the war despite having a common enemy.

An even larger story, a central theme in Gundam in the cost of war on those in and out of the military, whether you’re on the “right” or “wrong” side. In the first volume, you have both low-level personnel and civilians being dealt an intense hand making them responsible for the war’s greatest weapon. There is fear, there is uncertainty, there is posturing, there is courage, but characters can swing between these things which feels authentic.

And as a bonus, the women in the series already feel more solid and strong as characters in the first volume than in the TV series or movies. One hopes that will only continue as the series revs up.

Gundam: The Origin is not an overly technical story (actually most of Gundam anime isn’t either, just saying) but we are dealing with proto-type mobile suits and various other military machinery. There isn’t a lot of jargon to be had, which I am forever grateful, with the exception of the always mysterious “Minovsky Particles.” I honestly, never remember what the heck they are and the term just gets thrown around without explanation. In fact, it isn’t explained in the TV series or movies either if I recall. Hisui informed me that details are really only given in supplemental material so if you are curious go read the Wikipedia otherwise don’t worry, just roll with it!

The one group more than any other that would be perfect for Gundam: The Origin is people who mainly read manga. I have met several people whose main form of experiencing Japanese entertainment is only through manga. The problem is most of the Gundam manga is simply horrible. Try introducing someone to Gundam with say the Wing manga and see how quickly they run away. If you made bets against the average Gundam manga you more often than not would walk away a winner. But Gundam: The Origin finally introduces a Gundam manga you can give to another person with little reservation.

Firstly it retells the original Gundam story so there is no need to have any previous knowledge to jump into this story. I love Mobile Suit Gundam École du Ciel but it often assumes you are familiar with the original Gundam universe. It gives little bits on dialog to help explain certain events and terms but they work better as refreshers for someone who is already steeped in the universe as opposed to tools to new fans to understand the story.

But on the other hand the Origin still gives a reader a sense of why people love Gundam. The first few pages loving depict the Zaku’s trying to infiltrate the colony in almost fetishistic detail. It is not the full on mecha porn of Char’s Counterattack but it is fairly detailed. But after the initial robot fan service we are introduced to the characters that are the meat of the story. Quickly Amuro and his friends lives go from normal to tragic in a matter of seconds. The refugees from the colony quickly have to become soldiers despite not having any formal training while butting heads with the officials they encounter who are just as often as troublesome as the enemy. At the same time Char is hunting the survivors while engaged in his own complex political battle on the side.

This is the root of all the tropes and themes of Gundam but with a loving layer of refinement that cleans up a lot of the rough edges of the original. Weird gaps of logic, underdeveloped characters, and rushed plot developments can all be corrected now that the story is being rewritten. But at the same time the drama, characters, and spirit that made the original series so enduring have been kept mostly intact or improved upon. It many ways this is the clearest vision of the original story and a great place to start as well as revisit.

Mr. Yasuhiko’s artwork blends a 70s aesthetic with a slight modern edge. These characters are iconic so I wouldn’t want to see a crazy update, but there is a slickness to the art that gives it new life.

Bibliophiles should rejoice at this release. Not only is Gundam the Origin being brought out in a beautiful paper over board hardcover, it includes all of the color artwork of which there is a lot. And on top of that the color and grayscale pages are printer on the same premium white stock. Seriously, this book is just a joy to hold and flip through. One final gush, the cover design is super fab!

Is this the magic bullet that will make everyone understand the Gundam universe? As I stated before there is no such thing. Some people will never grok Gundam and others will only like very select portions. That is just the way tastes work. But if you randomly had to guess this is not a bad choice to throw out. It is one of those titles that casts a broad net and can catch more fish theyn most. If you need an animated introduction the Gundam movie trilogy works well but when it comes to manga there is no better place to start. Plus this helps explain the most common Gundam references for anyone who just wanted to understand Gundam from a purely academic standpoint as well.

The only hesitation I have about recommending this series is that so far Ed Chavez from Vertical has stated that they have no plans currently to expand the print run of this manga. Right now the only release are the fancy but value packed limited edition version of the series. If it is successful enough they might go back and release a standard edition without all the bells and whistles of a solid hard cover, supplementary artwork, essays, and color pages.

Therefore if you are interested in the Gundam universe, the original Gundam series, or just want to revisit the start of it all this the one to get. You should just do so while you still can.

I don’t know how many times I need to reiterate that you don’t need to like robots to like Gundam. I could never love this story without the phenomenal characters. Mr. Yasuhiko’s updated version does a wonderful job of keeping the human story at the forefront.

Buy this you loser before it goes out of print and you have to buy random volumes from the UK.

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