The first part of the massive Gundam franchise to be officially released in English was a trilogy of novels by Yoshiyuki Tomino that were initially published in Japan between 1979 and 1981. The novels are a reimagining of the original 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam which was directed and primarily developed by Tomino. Based on the trilogy’s 1987 edition, the novels were originally translated by Frederik L. Schodt and published by Del Rey between 1990 and 1991. They subsequently went out of print but were released again by Stone Bridge Press in 2004 in an omnibus edition with a revised translation. The omnibus, too, went out of print only a few years later. It wasn’t until 2012 that the license was able to be re-secured, but Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation is once again available in a newly redesigned omnibus. It also includes some of the concept design sketches form the original anime series as illustrations.
In Universal Century 0079, the colonists of Side 3 rebelled against the Earth Federation, establishing the Principality of Zeon. During the ensuing war, half of the solar system’s human population was annihilated before the two sides of the conflict could reach a temporary ceasefire. In less than a year, the relative peace came to an end. The fighting began again as the Federation and Zeon forces were caught up in an arms race. Each side continued developing more and more advanced and powerful weapon systems and mobile suits. Combined with the emergence of Newtypes–humans with astounding powers of intuition and expanded consciousness–the conflict quickly escalated. No one is entirely sure what the Newtype phenomenon means for the future of the human race or what dangers those with Newtype potential will present, but both militaries are resolved to harness their abilities in order to gain an advantage in the war.
I haven’t seen the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam anime series in its entirety, but I do know that the novels are a darker, more mature, and more detailed take on the story. The ending of the trilogy is significantly different from that of the anime, as well. My first real introduction to the Gundam franchise was actually through Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, which is also a retelling of the original anime. If I am to be completely honest, I much greatly prefer the manga over the novels. However, simply by the nature of the medium, the novels allow Tomino to explore the world of Mobile Suit Gundam in greater depth than either the anime or the manga; some of the specifics about the characters and their motivations can be found nowhere else. But this can also be a drawback–at times, Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation reads more like an insider’s guide to the Gundam universe rather than a set of novels.
I like the story of Mobile Suit Gundam as well as its setting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly as fond of the novels’ execution. There was an annoying preoccupation with who was or wasn’t, or who could or could not possibly be a Newtype. Though frequently debated, the characters never reach a solid conclusion and constantly change their opinions on the matter. This is somewhat understandable since the Newtype phenomenon is a new step in human evolution that has yet to be strictly identified or defined, but it’s particularly frustrating when the author doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp of the concept, either. I do like the Newtype theory, though, and it is a very important part of Mobile Suit Gundam. I also like that the novels show both sides of the conflict between Zeon and the Federation from multiple perspectives. Mobile Suit Gundam is an ambitious war tale with a fairly large cast of interesting characters. But in the end, I have a feeling that the novels will appeal most to readers who are already fans of the franchise.