While several series might have been laid the foundations Yoshiyuki Tomino’s anime Mobile Suit Gundam is the father of the real robot genre. The anime brought an unpredicted level of realistic politics, warfare, and characterization to a genre that was previously filled with near magical (or is the case of Brave Raideen actually magical) giant robots fighting monsters. The idea that mecha could be mass-produced machines of war like tanks or planes changed the way those stories are told in a myriad of ways.
But there are two things to remember. The first was while Gundam was revolutionary it still had its feet half way in the genre that spawned it. There series still has some major super robot elements. The MA-04X Zakrello sums that up perfectly. The second is that Tomino is an odd duck. The good luck charm section of the Gundam novels is a prime example. While Gundam has been memorialized as a game changing series it is hardly perfect.
Jump ahead to June 2001. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko starts the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin manga. It is pretty much proof that hindsight is 20/20. It is a retelling of the original story twenty-two years later. As the original character designer for Mobile Suit Gundam Yoshikazu Yasuhiko was intimately involved with the orignal production of the series. Therefore he knew the ins and outs of the series including what worked, what they had to cut, and what had not aged well with the original production. Overall the story is the same but this time Yoshikazu Yasuhiko has had over two decades of criticism, analysis, experience to make an updated version of one of the most famous Japanese science fiction stories of all time.
Could this remake live up to the original?
Obviously the answer is yes otherwise this would not be the Manga of the Month.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin starts several years into a war between the Earth’s Federation forces and the Space Colonies lead by the Principality of Zeon. The war has been devastating for both sides but a new prototype robot, called the Gundam, developed by Federation could end the stalemate between the two sides. When Zeon tries to steal the suit it falls into the hands of a ship of civilians including a young man named Amuro Ray. Amuro has to learn to pilot the suit to stay alive in the middle of a war while fighting a mysterious and devious ace named Char Aznable who has his own agenda.
Lets cut to the chase. At this point time you probably know if you want to experience Gundam or not. It is one of those omnipresent parts of the fandom that you either love, hate, or are puzzled by. The usual question, if you have not made up your mind about Gundam, is where should you start. This is probably one of the most accessible points of access. It lays the foundation for the rest of the Universal Century which is vital for watching anything else in the original Gundam timeline. It also helps a lot when jumping into alternate Gundam universes. The books are probably the easiest place to tip your toes into the daunting franchise. They don’t require any previous experience to start and are about as welcoming as the series can get.
At the same time there is a lot for long time fans to get into. There are a good deal of flashbacks that expand on the more charismatic members of Zeon making them more human and understandable. Ramba Ral and Char’s backstories were touched upon in the original anime but actually fleshed out in The Origin. You also get a good deal of a look at how the One Year War started. Also the wonky geography has been cleaned up so the White Base does not circumnavigate the globe to get from New York to South America.
Did I mention we get more Sayla? We do. It is wonderful.
It is also worth noting how well this series improves that women in the series. While the women of the original Gundam series are surprisingly strong and progressive they are also distinctly a product of their time. They would frequently make odd emotional decisions that undermined their otherwise positive portrayal. Gundam the Origin totally cleans a good deal of that up. Mirai is far more competent and actually much more a military officer than Bright when they start. Sayla never incompetently steals the Gundam and in general comes off much more like her older brother. It is a change that newer Gundam series might want to take to heart.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin did not have to work. It might seem like an underhanded pitch but there have been countless examples of series that have been rebooted, re-edited, or reimagined that have shown all too well why sometimes you should leave good enough alone. Ask any hardcore Star Wars fans about the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition (if you have 2 or more hours that were not that important) and they will tell you that a lot can be added to completely change a series for the worse. How many times has a reboot totally missed what made the original so popular? I’m looking at you Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The fact that Yoshikazu Yasuhiko is able to so adeptly emphasize what people loved about the original while cutting out goofy and outdated parts plus at the same time fleshing out pieces that people were curious about is actually an amazingly skillful bit of writing. It has turned The Origin into the definitive version of the classic mecha series that started one of the biggest anime franchises of all time.