Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – The Fascinating Journey of Casval the Sociopath

hisui_icon_4040_round I have said it once and I will say it again, “Streaming has changed everything about how people watch anime.” The ease and convenience have made it that watching things legally streaming has become so simple that shows that are not streaming pretty much disappear from the general consciousness. In the past , there used to be some notable exceptions. There were titles that were so popular that they retained a viewership despite the fact that they were hard to find through anything other than illicit means or importing. Now even titles with evergreen fandoms have become almost invisible when they are not streaming.

The prime examples are Macross Delta and Dragon Ball Super. Compare the conversation around Macross Frontier and Macross Delta. Macross Frontier was the talk of the town with anitwitter and Macross Delta was really only discussed by the hardcore of the hardcore Macross faithful. You could argue this has to do with something like a difference in quality between the shows but the general silence surrounding Macross Delta was present even before a single second of Delta had aired. Even the evergreen Dragon Ball series could not avoid this. Whenever anything Dragon Ball comes out through normal means the fans come out in legion beyond even the familiar faces of fandom. Just look at the turn out to the new Dragon Ball movies in theaters. So when something as monumental as the first new Dragon Ball TV series in 18 years (Dragon Ball Z Kai is not new material) comes out like a ghost in speaks volumes. It would have been the ONE series that I assumed this would not happen to but even Goku could not defeat the beast of invisibility that comes for a series without a streaming component.

In between the world of no streaming and shows with a footprint in fandom lies Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin anime. Much like a phasing card in Magic: The Gathering it seems that Gundam: The Origin spends parts of the time visible to fandom and then disappears for a time. Whenever a new episode of Gundam: The Origin comes out the previous episodes will stream for a month and the go back into Sunrise’s version of the Disney Vault. It means that Gundam: The Origin is not normally available to what you think of streaming anime but it also has a visible footprint.

If you have ever owned a Netflix account and used it actively you have probably put something in your queue and put off watching it until they day you realize it is not longer streaming through the service. It is VERY easy to put off until tomorrow what could easily be done today until it is too late. That is why we are talking about Gundam: The Origin today. With the release of the 4th episode, we wanted to muse on the OVA series while the iron is hot. In this current window of streaming in probably the best time to discuss the show. It lets everyone who might have otherwise overlooked the series a chance to sample it for free while also reminding people who have forgotten to watch it the last time it was available that they have a second chance.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Ahh, the Gundam 0079 story is the best with an incredible cast of characters. Trying to add to that narrative could be a dangerous tightrope walk but Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s storytelling is impeccable. The flashback arc that The Origin anime covers is so much less about robots than you would expect in a Gundam series, it is a dramatic, compelling story of the road to war.

Disclaimers:

  1. There may be spoilers for Gundam 0079 since this is a prequel story.
  2. To keep things from getting confusing: Casval will be the name used for the rest of the post no matter what phase of his identity he is in.

hisui_icon_4040_round Gundam has had so many different iterations over the years. A mixture of alternate universes, spin-offs, sequels, prequels, and reinterpretations. Everything from Mobile Fighter G Gundam and Gundam Build Fighters exists alongside For the Barrel and New Mobile Report Gundam Wing: Frozen Teardrop. Even more, than long-running sci-fi series like Star Trek and Dr. Who is has had many different and unique branches than all are considered part of the same property. But without a doubt, the keystone of the franchise has always been the original TV series Gundam 0079. It is the version of the series that all other iterations pay homage to and touch base with.

Gundam the Origin is a little different from the standard reimagining as is has been redone by one of the original creators. The original character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko went back and retold the Gundam 0079 story adding in bits that never made it into the original while cleaning up plot holes and later continuity. This current  OVA series is not redoing the entire run of the manga but instead is focused on flashback material from the manga. While all the manga differs from the TV series in subtle but often serious ways these are the sections that were the most original. It mostly focuses on how Casval Rem Deikun would take the identity of The Red Comet. The is also a good amount of time devoted to the Zabi family, Ramba RalSayla Mass with a little time for Amuro Ray and chums.

If Gundam 0079 is the keystone of the Gundam franchise than Casval is the keystone of Gundam 0079 so it only makes sense to center your big budget OVAs around new material for the golden boy of the story.

narutaki_icon_4040_round This prequel really puts pins in a lot of motivations in Gundam 0079 for characters like Casval and Ramba Ral. Except for the occasional strange moment (teenage Casval fighting a knight armor-wearing assassin . . . ; the rando way in which Casval gets his one of his signature masks), the backstory is great at filling in the blanks for big and small parts for the Gundam 0079 story without feeling like it is taking away any of the mystique.

Ramba Ral becomes an even more tragic character through Origin. His connections to the Zeon family make for a really compelling and unexpected story.

I found that Origin removes some of the romanticism of Casval and that is something I quite like about it. I want to be clear that I don’t think this makes him any less of a great character, but Casval certainly comes across as more of a sociopath than a anti-hero. Good thing he starts wearing a mask because his murder face is waaay too crazy. It is also interesting to note that his father wasn’t exactly all there.

I never really thought of Char as being a real person before Casval takes up the moniker so that portion of the story is fascinating. That portion of the story is also where we start to see Casval’s cold-hearted nature. But it probably makes it self more crystal clear in his interactions with Garma which seem to leave no doubt as to whether Casval has any real affection for him: he doesn’t.

hisui_icon_4040_round The flashbacks really flesh out much of the cast of the original series. Some characters get clarifications of their personalities while others reveal some shocking secrets. Characters like Sayla and Ramba Ral just get a richer amount of examination considering they no longer have to share time with a larger cast with a war happening in the background. Sayla’s journey from the sweet and sensitive girl to the far more hard-nosed medical student who still carries a vulnerable underbelly is very clear. Ramba Ral might even be a more sympathetic character as his arc as a noble hero who sadly gets placed in the role of a reluctant villain seems just as fated. Tem Rey is still an obsessive scientist and a terrible father. The Origins merely shows that this in his general modus operandus and his actions during 0079 is not some aberration due to the stress of war.

Kai Shiden is still a jerk because he is always a jerk.

On the other hand, some of the minor characters reveal hidden depths of new dimensions that were unseen in the original series. The original series mostly seem to portray Zeon Zum Deikun as an almost saintly martyr who was cruelly murdered by the Zabi family. The Origin presents Zeon as a far more fanatical, flawed, and fervid man who is nowhere near the gentle lamb that his reputation made him out to be. The new character of Sasro Zabi acts a core to examine the rest of the family in-depth. 

As Kate mentioned that if you only watched the original series it is far easier to overlook Casval as a driven Edmond Dantès who takes down the villainous Zabi family with passion and style. He might seize his revenge with some with dubious methods but there is righteousness in his crusade. The Origin makes it crystal clear that Casval is a cold-blooded sociopath that has a bit more justification for some of his blood trail than most. It was probably best for him that he was born into a time of war otherwise, he might just be a normal criminal.

narutaki_icon_4040_round The animation has a lot of love and care put into it. There was a mix of traditional and CG; most of the CG going to the robots and battles naturally. The style in Origin looks like it was trying to adhere more closely to Yaz’s character designs.

I kinda imagine artists flipping out about being able to animate this backstory for some of the Gundam’s most beloved characters. If I have any complaints about the animation it’s that some reactions are held a moment too long or a scene is played a hair too dramatically. There are points where it can feel over-animated, over-acted.

We saw a lot of returning voice actors for their roles thankfully. For Casval, they did have a voice for when he is a child and I’m not sure about the choice of Monkey D. Luffy’s Mayumi Tanaka. Shuichi Ikeda quickly takes over once Casval is in his teen years, which mostly works, and beyond. Other new roles included Char’s voice which Toshihiko Seki plays so whiny as to be jarring.

hisui_icon_4040_round The purpose of Gundam the Origin the manga and the anime are very different. The manga is meant to be a rebirth of the center of the Gundam franchise. It allows a new and modern entry point for either people or new to Gundam or never saw the original series. It also acts as a way for older fans to examine the source of their beloved series. The anime makes no such concessions for anyone who does not already care. This was clearly made for people who already know the story of the Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s One Year War as just want to see it animated. Theoretically you could jump in here. It starts at the chronological beginning of the Gundam 0079 story but it also makes no real effort to ease anyone into the sprawling story the same way the manga does. It merely presents the material that was not in the original TV series and trusts that the viewer has done the work to know what is going on.

This is not a crime. There is a lot to like about the Gundam the Origin. They are filled with beautiful animation that hardcore fans have been begging to be animated, dramatic scenes that pop in motion, and wonderful chance to re-explore the start of the Universal Century.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Gundam the Origin kinda reminds me of something we’d see in a bygone era. But back then we would have seen it without the context and still declare the greatest anime we ever saw! I’m not sure how willing watchers would be to go along with this without knowing Gundam 0079, but I still say you should try anyway.

If you want to watch this, you can see episodes 1-3 for free on Gundam.info until December 18th 2016. The 4th episode is only currently available on Daisuki to rent for $6.99. I say this as someone who rented that 4th episode on Daisuki: DO NOT DO THAT. The audio quality was bad and the video kept skipping. Wait for it to be free or streaming elsewhere or get the BD.

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One thought on “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – The Fascinating Journey of Casval the Sociopath

  1. Alexander Case says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing how part 4 handles the Battle of Loum – the way that was handled in the manga was really interesting, and did a great job of providing a great deal of character development to Ranba Ral (who recognizes that it is a soldier’s duty to disobey an unlawful order and refuses to take part in any portion of the attack – not gassing the colony and not the drop itself).

    More importantly it takes Dozle Zabi from the big dumb somewhat bloodthirsty oaf he was in the anime and gives him a whole new layer of depth by how he reacts to the aftermath of his actions (he recognizes that what he did was both illegal and morally wrong, is horrified that he’s killed civilians and children much like wife and daughter, and then in order to spare them a similar fate decides to double down on the war for fear that any retaliation for his actions would be directed on his own family). He’s a person with the right information, who drew the right conclusions, and took the wrong action, and I really want to see how that moment is animated.

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