Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 8: Operation Odessa

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 8: Operation OdessaCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130686
Released: December 2014
Original release: 2011

Although I was vaguely familiar with Gundam before reading Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, the manga series was my first real introduction to the ever-expanding franchise. I was actually more interested in The Origin because it was created by Yasuhiko than for its Gundam connection, but I’ve been enjoying the series so much that I’ve started to look for other manga, novels, and anime set in the universe. Operation Odessa is the eighth volume in Vertical’s English-language release of The Origin. Published in 2015, the volume is based on the Japanese collectors’ edition released in 2011 and includes an essay by Makoto Yukimura in addition to a gallery of some of Yasuhiko’s color artwork for the series. The Origin is a reimagining of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime from 1979. The last several volumes of The Origin have been an extended flashback not found in the original anime series, but with Operation Odessa the manga returns to the story’s current timeline.

After successfully defending itself from Zeon forces at Jaburo—though not without significant casualties—the Earth Federation has set out to reclaim more of the planet and its aligned space colonies. The key to its plans is the newly developed and highly advanced Gundam mobile suit which the ragtag crew of the White Base was somehow able to deliver to the Federation’s headquarters mostly intact. The Gundam prototype will serve as the basis for a mass-produced mobile suit that will hopefully be able to rival those developed by Zeon. Up until this point in the devastating conflict between the two factions, Zeon’s impressive technological achievements have given it a distinct advantage over the Federation. But now the tide of war seems to be changing. However, neither side will remain unscathed. The battles are still incredibly destructive and the loss of life continues to be immense. Even so, the end of the war may still not be coming anytime soon.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 8: Operation Odessa, page 146The Origin began in space and has since moved Earthward, the space battles giving way to air and land battles. And now with Operation Odessa, sea battles have an important role to play in the conflict as well. With new arenas of warfare come new weapons, mobile suits, technology, equipment, and vehicles. It can actually be a little overwhelming at times, this sudden introduction of very specialized tools that don’t have much more explanation given beyond a name and a visual design. Inundated, readers are mostly left to glean the details of the differences in the capabilities and purposes of the individual units from their context within the manga. Much of Operation Odessa seems to be devoted to showing off these new toys of war in a way that is probably more meaningful to someone who is already well-versed in Gundam lore. Especially in the last half of the volume, the narrative tends to be jarring as it jumps from battle to battle, or from different points in the same battle, without much connecting material to smooth the transitions.

While Operation Odessa could arguably be considered overly focused on equipment and technology, it is important to note that the manga still has a prominent human element to it, which is what makes The Origin such a compelling series. In particular, Kai, one of the young pilots connected to White Base, is heavily featured in Operation Odessa and develops significantly as a character. For the most part he has largely been a secondary character who provides a fair amount of comedic relief in the series. Except now he’s quite seriously fed up with all of the fighting and even tries to leave, only to find himself drawn back into battle and the tragedy of war. As Yasuhiko has shown repeatedly throughout The Origin, those who are directly involved in the conflict aren’t the only ones who are impacted by it. Civilians and non-combatants must also take action out of necessity, doing whatever they can to survive and protect those they love. It’s a lesson that Kai must learn the hard way in Operation Odessa if he is to understand his own role as a soldier.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 7: Battle of Loum

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 7: Battle of LoumCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130679
Released: September 2014
Original release: 2011

Battle of Loum is the seventh volume in Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, a reimagining of the original 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam which launched the massive Gundam franchise. The Origin provides an excellent entry point into the rather daunting Gundam universe for those who don’t know where to start with it. I’d even recommend the manga to readers who don’t have a particular interest in Gundam but who are looking for a great military science fiction series or space opera. Generally, I would consider myself a part of that latter group, though after reading The Origin I find that I am more curious about Gundam as a whole than I previously was. I have thoroughly been enjoying Vertical’s deluxe release of the The Origin which is based on the Japanese collectors’ edition. The seventh volume, originally published in Japan in 2011, was released in English in 2014 and includes additional commentary from Mamoru Nagano as well as the extra chapter “On the Eve” as bonus content.

After the Republic of Munzo declared itself the independent Principality of Zeon, political tensions continued to mount between it and the Earth Federation until an all-out war between the two groups ignited. Some of the other space colonies rally under Zeon’s flag, demanding their autonomy and freedom from the Federation’s rule. Others support the Federation and its efforts to keep humanity united. Neither side of the conflict is entirely in the wrong, but as the war continues so do the crimes against innocent civilians and colonists, many of which are manufactured by members of Zeon’s ruling House Zabi who would use the war for their own designs. There are warmongers to be found among the Federation’s ranks as well, though. But then Zeon does something unconscionable. Supposedly in an effort to end the war quickly and decisively, an entire space colony is crashed into the planet and the effects are devastating.

Battle of Loum recounts two of the most pivotal events of the war between the Federation and Zeon. The first chapter or so is devoted to the colony drop of Side 2 and the massacre of the colonists that precede its ultimate destruction. It is an appalling tragedy and the number of casualties is enormous, both of Side 2’s residents and the worldwide population of Earth. Yasuhiko’s stunning portrayal of the colony drop is extraordinarily effective. In addition to the showing astonishing damage inflicted, he explores the motivations behind it, the controversy and doubt surrounding the act, and how individuals respond and react to the plan and its execution. The colony drop is nothing short of an atrocity. It’s chilling to see the propaganda touting the glory of war contrasted with the very grim reality and horror of it all. The images of the colony breaking apart and smashing into Earth and the resulting devastation and loss of life are haunting.

As can be assumed by the title of the seventh volume, the Battle of Loum is the other major incident of the war upon which Yasuhiko turns his attention. Although the Federation has the advantage of numbers and resources, it is outmatched strategically and technologically as Zeon proves just how powerful and versatile the newly developed mobile suits can be. The Battle of Loum is a turning point in the war. Neither side comes out of it unscathed, but the Federation suffers a major defeat. The seventh volume of The Origin is very dramatic, with intense space battles and devious political machinations. There are those who honestly desire peace, but there are also those on both sides of the conflict who seek war. The inclusion of “On the Eve” brings the narrative full circle to the events that begin the series. The Origin is a magnificent piece of science fiction. It’s scope is epic, but Yasuhiko never forgets the very personal human drama that underlies it all.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To WarCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130204
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2010

While I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a fan of the massive Gundam franchise as a whole, I do think that it’s safe at this point to call myself a fan of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. This actually doesn’t surprise me too greatly as I already knew that I enjoyed other manga by Yasuhiko. The Origin is a retelling and expansion of the original 1979 anime series Mobile Suit Gundam which Yasuhiko also worked on. Part of The Origin was initially released in English by Viz Media, but the series is now being published by Vertical in a deluxe, hardcover format based on the Japanese collector’s edition of the manga. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 6: To War was originally published in Japan in 2010 while the English translation was released in 2014. Due to licensing restrictions, the bonus content in this particular volume is fairly limited—only two color pieces by Yasuhiko, one of which is the basis for the cover art. Otherwise, To War easily meets the high standards of quality set by the previous volumes.

After the death of the anti-Federation leader Zeon Zum Deikun the political situation on Side 3 was thrown into turmoil as House Zabi and House Ral maneuvered for dominance. Caught up in the power struggle were Deikun’s two young children—Casval and Artesia—who ultimately were forced to live in exile, hiding who they really were. But now Casval has taken on another identity in order to seek his revenge against House Zabi, enrolling in Zeon Academy’s Space Force Officer Training School as Char. While at the academy he manages to befriend Garma, the youngest scion of House Zabi, the two of them becoming rivals in the classroom as well as out in the field. At the same time, tension continues to mount between Side 3 and the Earth Federation, the cries for independence growing louder and more violent. As the situation becomes more volatile all-out war between the two factions becomes increasingly more likely. House Zabi has already begun developing mobile suits for use in battle; the Federation is steadily falling behind technologically in the arms race which will determine the fate of humanity.

By this point in The Origin it has been well established just how incredibly capable Char is, both physically and mentally. He is extraordinarily calculating and a master manipulator, taking advantage of events as they develop and influencing the people around him, often without them realizing entirely what is happening. Char’s relationship with Garma is one of the main focuses of To War. Although it is already known that it will end very poorly for Garma, it’s interesting to see the complexities of their friendship—if that’s what it can really be called. There are moments in To War when Char seems to exhibit genuine kindness and affection towards Garma, but at the same time he never wavers from his ultimate goal and desire for revenge, aiming for the complete destruction of House Zabi. Perhaps what Char is really showing is arrogance and pity. Either way, the scenes are striking because there are no witnesses to Char’s actions; they serve as examples of the very few incidences in which Char’s behavior has not been carefully and completely crafted and calculated for a very specific purpose.

Though they are certainly an important part of The Origin, the developing relationship between Garma and Char and Char’s personal vendetta and war against House Zabi are actually small pieces of a much larger story. Yasuhiko’s multilayered approach to The Origin—showing how the private struggles of the individual characters dovetail with the more far-reaching events and the unstoppable progress of the war—is one of the things that makes the series so effective. In addition to the continued characterization, Yasuhiko also pays close attention to technological advances and weapons development in The Origin and what those mean for the impending war. To War also includes the first mobile suit battle between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, a critical turning point in its crusade for independence and domination. The gears of war will continue to turn and the personal and political machinations behind it will continue to advance in the next volume, Battle of Loum, as more is revealed about the characters and their pasts.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 5: Char & Sayla

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 5: Char & SaylaCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130198
Released: March 2014
Original release: 2009

My knowledge of and exposure to the massive Gundam franchise has admittedly been limited, but so far Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin has easily been my favorite work to come out of it. The manga is a retelling of the original 1979 anime series, with which Yasuhiko was also involved, and will soon have its own anime adaptation as well. Part of The Origin was initially published in English by Viz Media, but now the series is being released by Vertical. Based on the Japanese collector’s edition, Vertical’s release of The Origin is of very high quality, making the manga one of the best-looking comics currently being published in English. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 5: Char & Sayla was originally released in Japan in 2009 while Vertical’s edition was released in 2014. The bonus content collected in this particular volume of The Origin includes an essay by Yasuhiko explaining why he chose to delve so deeply into some of the characters’ backstories as well as an amusing short manga by Koji Kumeta, the creator of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.

Nine years before the Republic of Zeon began its war of independence from the Earth Federation, before the republic even existed, the charismatic anti-Federation leader of the Munzo space colony on Side 3, Chairman Zeon Zum Deikun, was assassinated. Said to have been coordinated by the Federation, Deikun’s assassination may have actually been the work of House Zabi, another family vying for control in Munzo. Deikun’s death ignites a vicious power struggle between House Zabi and House Ral, the allies of House Deikun and of the chairman’s young son and daughter Casval and Artesia. For their protection, and with great effort, the children are separated from their mother and smuggled off of Side 3. The chaos surrounding the death of their father and their escape leaves neither one of them untouched and they must grow up far too quickly, navigating hostile political machinations and surviving multiple attempts on their own lives.

I won’t lie—Char is one of my favorite characters in Gundam and so I was very happy to see Yasuhiko thoroughly address his past in Char & Sayla. The volume explores his formative years and how Casval comes to be Char, one of Zeon’s most formidable, and manipulative, commanders. Even as a child he is extraordinarily intelligent, perceptive, fearless, and cunning. The turmoil of his childhood, which forces him to fight for his own life and for the life of his younger sister, awakens his potential and hones his natural talents even further. Ultimately he is driven to seek revenge against House Zabi for the destruction of his family. He is willing to do anything that is required of him to attain this goal, readily using and sacrificing the lives of those around him to achieve his vendetta. The transformation of Casval into Char is a tragic and terrifying one. He and Artesia, who will become Sayla and eventually join the Federation’s forces, have no chance of ever having an innocent childhood.

While Char and Sayla’s story is a very personal one it is only a small part of the greater whole of The Origin. One of the things that Yasuhiko does best with this series is develop the characters as individuals while showing how the roles that they play affect the overall direction of the story. While Casval is fighting his own battles, the tension between Zeon and the Federation continues to mount, something that has an impact on everyone, even those who are only tangentially involved. House Zabi is gaining more and more control, but there is some dissension among its ranks. With these internal conflicts, its rise to power isn’t a smooth one. War is coming and it doesn’t seem to be avoidable—or at least it is already known by the readers that it couldn’t be, or wasn’t, stopped. Char & Sayla gives Yasuhiko the opportunity to explore the past of the characters, some of whom won’t survive the upcoming conflict, as well as the chance to examine the history and precursors of the war itself.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 4: Jaburo

 Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 4: JaburoCreator: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Original story: Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate

U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654988
Released: December 2013
Original release: 2008

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin was my first real introduction to the massively popular Gundam franchise. I was somewhat hesitant to enter into the fray; Gundam can appear rather daunting to a newcomer considering the sheer number of series and alternate timelines involved. However, I was already a fan of Yasuhiko’s other manga. If I was going to start anywhere with Gundam it made sense for me to start with The Origin. So far, in my admittedly limited experience with the Gundam franchise, The Origin has been my favorite rendition of the story. The manga is a retelling of the original 1979 anime series with which Yasuhiko was also involved. Jaburo is the fourth volume in the collector’s edition of The Origin, initially published in Japan in 2008 and released in English by Vertical in 2013. The guest contributor for Jaburo was Yokusaru Shibata, which I believe makes it his manga debut in English.

After a far too brief stalemate in which fighting had all but ceased, the war between the self-proclaimed Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation has quickly begun to escalate once more. Escaping from the destruction of the Federation’s Side 7 space colony, the ship White Base is carrying with it the Federation’s best hope to regain technological superiority over Zeon—the newly developed Gundam mobile suit. Crewed by a mix of civilians and inexperienced military personnel and doggedly pursued by some of Zeon’s finest commanders, White Base has surprisingly been able to persevere. The ship is drawing closer to Jaburo, the Federation’s headquarters on Earth, but the journey will still require passing through Zeon-occupied territory. The mission’s success and the crew’s survival will not only depend on their own inherent skills and talents but the support received from what remains of the Federation military and its dwindling resources.

While the war between Zeon and the Federation continues on a grand scale, Jaburo reveals some of the very personal reasons why the individual soldiers have chosen to fight that war and why some of the civilians have joined in the battle as well. Over the last couple of volumes in The Origin, Zeon has suffered several deaths of particular significance. Garma Zabi’s death has served as a rallying point for Zeon’s forces as a whole, but Ramba Ral’s death has triggered a much more aggressive vendetta from those who knew him best. They are less concerned with Zeon’s cause than they are with their own personal revenge. But neither side of the conflict is immune to the effects of war. In Jaburo, it’s the Federation and the crew of White Base who must face some severe losses of their own. Death and destruction has not been lacking in The Origin, but growing to know the characters, what they hold important, and what they are willing to die for make their demise even more potent.

In addition to the excellent character development found in Jaburo, I was also particularly impressed by Yasuhiko’s artwork in this volume. The color work is especially effective. In general, I have largely favored Yasuhiko’s black and white illustrations in The Origin, but the color artwork in Jaburo is simply gorgeous. The lush greens and blues of the Amazon and South America are beautiful, contrasting with the reds and oranges of fires and explosions as humankind continues to destroy itself. Yasuhiko’s black and white art in the series remains very strong as well and has a fantastic “old school” feel to it. The battles are fierce and dramatic, but Yasuhiko handles the chaos in a controlled manner that still retains a sense of pandemonium. The story has moved from space to Earth and so the technology, mobile suits, and strategies have to be adjusted for the new environment. Both the characters and Yasuhiko are aware of this, and it shows in Jaburo. I’m continuing to enjoy The Origin and look forward to reading more.