Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 3: Ramba Ral

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 3: Ramba RalCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654971
Released: September 2013
Original release: 2007

Although I have been aware of the massively popular and influential Gundam franchise for quite some time, my first real introduction to Gundam was through Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. The manga is a reimagining of the 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam which launched the franchise. Yasuhiko was one of the creators heavily involved in the visual development of the original series, so it is particularly interesting to see his personal take on the story. Part of The Origin was initially released by Viz Media in the early 2000s. However, the series is now being published by Vertical in a beautiful deluxe release based on the Japanese collector’s edition. Ramba Ral is the third volume in that series, first published in Japan in 2007 and released in English in 2013. This particular volume also includes delightful contributions from Shimoku Kio, the creator of Genshiken, as well as additional Gundam color illustrations by Yasuhiko.

After the overly ambitious Garma Zabi, the youngest scion of the Principality of Zeon’s ruling family, is killed in battle, his brother Gihren resolves to use his death to rally support for Zeon’s fight, going against the wishes of his father. Garma’s sister Kycilia isn’t about to let the opportunity be wasted, either. Zeon may not have access to the same amount of resources available to the Earth Federation, but it has a cause, charismatic leaders, and more advanced technology. Now that the battle of Los Angeles is over, the Federation’s White Base carrier, along with the newly developed Gundam mobile suit, are en route to Jaburo. Its young crew is closer to reaching the Earth Federation’s headquarters, making resupply easier, but Zeon is more determined than ever to either capture or destroy the Gundam. To make matters even worse for White Base, tension continues to mount between the civilians and the military personnel on the ship, making their mission even more challenging.

One of the biggest problems that the crew of White Base faces is that they are both young and inexperienced. In some cases they are rather immature as well. With all of the excitement and battles going on in The Origin, it can be easy to forget just how young many of the characters actually are. Ramba Ral serves as a good reminder, especially when it comes to Amuro Ray, the Gundam’s pilot. He’s only fifteen—an age at which he is easily distracted and flustered by members of the opposite sex—and he makes some extremely poor decisions in this volume of The Origin. His selfishness and petulance puts everyone on White Base in danger. Amuro may be the person in the best position to save his friends, but his immaturity is what put them at risk to begin with. While I can understand where he’s coming from, I found myself rather annoyed with Amuro in Ramba Ral and wanted to shake some sense into him. Unsurprisingly, many of his cohorts harbor some very similar feelings to mine.

While the crew of White Base is inexperienced, the Zeon forces in pursuit are anything but. In particular, the titular Ramba Ral is shown to be a very capable commander in this volume. He may not have the same arrogant elegance that the dreaded Char Aznable exhibits—Ral is much more down-to-earth and straightforward in how he fights—but he is very good at what he does. He’s not afraid to personally enter the fray and takes a very hands-on approach to battle. Ral’s men are extremely loyal and gladly follow him. Ral and Zeon also have an advantage over the Federation forces. While the Gundam is representative of the pinnacle of the Federation’s technology, Zeon continues to research and improve its own weapons and mobile suits. Combined with skilled and experienced pilots and commanders, Zeon’s military can be devastatingly effective. The arms race shows no signs of slowing in the series; the development of weapons is an important aspect of any war, and so it makes sense that it would be an important part of The Origin as well.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation

Mobile Suit GundamAuthor: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Translator: Frederik L. Schodt
U.S. publisher: Stone Bridge
ISBN: 9781611720051
Released: April 2013
Original release: 1979-1981

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.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 2: Garma

GundamOrigin2Creator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654889
Released: June 2013
Original release: 2006

Though I wouldn’t consider myself to be a fan of or even particularly knowledgeable about the massive Gundam franchise, at this point I would consider myself to be a fan of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. The manga is a retelling of the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam anime series from one of the artists who was heavily involved in its creation and visual design. Garma is the second volume in the collector’s edition of Yasuhiko’s The Origin manga, originally released in Japan in 2006. The English-language edition of the volume, published by Vertical in 2013, is a beautiful, high-quality release. This particular volume includes a small illustration gallery of Yasuhiko’s color work as well as a roundtable and special illustration from CLAMP. I was quite impressed with Activation, the first volume of The Origin, so I was looking forward to reading Garma a great deal.

After an eight-month armistice, the forces of the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon have once again come into conflict. The Federation’s colony Side 7 was attacked and destroyed when Zeon discovered the Federation military was secretly developing a highly advanced mobile suit there. White Base, the supply ship carrying the new weapon as well as hundreds of refugees from the colony, has reached Earth but Zeon’s pursuit has pushed it far off course. Trapped behind enemy lines and commanded by a young and inexperienced crew, White Base may have survived the initial confrontation with Zeon but the threat is far from over. The Zeon forces are determined to prevent White Base from breaking through to Jaburo; if they can’t capture the new technology, they are more than happy to destroy it. In particular, Colonel Garma Zabi, leader of the Zeon’s North American forces and the youngest son of its reigning family, is interested in the recognition, prestige, and military honor that successfully accomplishing such a feat would bring.

While in Activation the fighting primarily took place in space, the battles and skirmishes in Garma are surface based, occurring on Earth’s land, in its air, and even within a demolished urban center. Both Yasuhiko and the characters must make adjustments because of this. They must take into consideration and use the terrain and topography as part of their strategy. The battles in Garma literally, figuratively, and visually have weight. Even during the aerial maneuvers, Yasuhiko is constantly aware of the forces and gravity in play. The way he draws the battles makes them feel very different from those in Activation and they should be different—tactics and equipment change depending on the environment. Fighting on a planet is very different from fighting in space and he captures that remarkably well. The battles in Garma are engaging. Yasuhiko’s excellent pacing and layout combined with his color work result in some exceptionally stunning, cinematic sequences.

While the military aspect of The Origin is certainly important, perhaps even more important are the more personal human dramas of the story. As can be inferred by the volume’s title, Garma plays a particularly critical role at this point in the manga. Introduced at the very end of Activation, Yasuhiko quickly reveals Garma to be an arrogant and privileged young man. His relationship and association with Char, one of Zeon’s most formidable and calculating commanders, is crucial to the development of the story. Perhaps Garma’s complete opposite is Amuro Ray, the young pilot of the Federation’s new Gundam mobile suit. Drawn into war more by chance than by choice, at the age of fifteen he’s already seen more of battle than he ever wanted. He’s understandably terrified and struggling with the grave responsibility that has been thrust upon him. I’m very interested in seeing how the two sides of the conflict react to the events in Garma because they will have some major consequences.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 1: Activation

Creator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654872
Released: March 2013
Original release: 2005

Before Vertical’s 2013 release of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 1: Activation, I never had a particular interest in Gundam. I’m certainly aware of the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam anime series and the massively influential franchise it spawned, but beyond a basic understanding I’m not especially familiar with the metaseries. But while I may not be a Gundam fan, I am a huge fan of Yasuhiko and his manga; that is the primary reason I decided to give The Origin a try. The manga is a retelling of the original Gundam series. Yasuhiko’s involvement was critical to the visual development of the anime, so it’s interesting to see him return to the story. Viz Media originally began releasing The Origin in 2002, but canceled the series before it was completed. Vertical’s release of the The Origin is based on the Japanese collector’s edition which began publication in 2005. With color pages, a hardcover, essays, and glossy paper, it’s easily one of the highest quality releases of manga in English in recent days.

In the year of Universal Century 0079, the space colony Side 3 began its war of independence from the Earth Federation. As the self-proclaimed Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation fought, half of humanity’s total population died. For the last eight months the opposing sides of the conflict have entered into an uneasy truce; violence could erupt again with very little provocation. Unknown to the civilian population of the Federation’s Side 7 colony, a new weapon is being developed by the military stationed there in the hopes of tipping the balance of the war. The Gundam mobile suit is the most highly advanced and powerful model to have ever been created. The Principality isn’t about to let this pass unchallenged; its reconnaissance mission quickly turns into an attack on Side 7 and its people. The colony is destroyed and the survivors flee, pursued by one of the Principality’s most notorious and feared commanders.

Yasuhiko’s color illustrations are a marvelous addition to Activation but his black and white work is just as impressive. The pure white of flashes and explosions is a striking contrast to the blackness and quiet of space. Yasuhiko’s line work is delicate but conveys the destruction and devastation of battle as well as the immense proportions involved in the conflict and the power driving it. The action sequences are dynamic in their intensity and danger. Debris, chaos, and detritus leave a visual impact that enforces the sense of desperation felt by those caught in the wake of the attacks. Yasuhiko makes it quite clear in Activation that there is a very real threat to people’s lives. The consequences of war are terror and death no matter who claims to be in the right. Activation and the tragedy that unfolds at Side 7 is only the beginning.

After reading only the first volume of The Origin, I am convinced that the complete tale will be an epic an multilayered one. The world-building is fantastic and the scope of the story has tremendous depth. In addition to the larger overarching conflict between the Federation and the Principality are the smaller more personal conflicts between the characters as individuals. There is the clash between the military and the civilian population of Side 7 as they are forced together just for the chance to survive. A younger, less experienced generation is thrust into leadership roles when their predecessors repeatedly fail them. Sacrifices and growth are demanded from those who in an ideal would should have never been asked. Activation is and exciting and engaging beginning to The Origin. I am looking forward to the next installment in the series, Garma, a great deal.