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.

My Week in Manga: July 28-August 3, 2014

My News and Reviews

Another week, another few posts at Experiments in Manga. First up was my most recent manga giveaway. Tell me about your favorite mecha manga (if you have one) for a chance to win the first volume of Mohiro Kito’s Bokurano: Ours. (The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to send in comments!) The first in-depth manga review of August went to In Clothes Called Fat, the most recent manga by Moyoco Anno to have been released in English. I honestly believe it to be one of the best comics of the year. (Well, at least out of those that I’ve read so far.) I also posted July’s Bookshelf Overload over the weekend for those of you who are interested in the manga that I purchase or otherwise receive over the course of a month.

Elsewhere online, Sparkler Monthly is celebrating its first year of publication by offering a free sampler download that includes the first chapter of all of its series—prose, comics, and audio dramas. Deb Aoki has a nice overview of some of the manga happenings at this years San Diego Comic Con over at Publishers Weekly. Jamie Coville has also posted audio for some of the SDCC panels, including a few focusing on manga. (Actually, there are a ton of manga related files on that page from past comic events, too.)

August 1 was 801 Day (aka Yaoi or Boys’ Love Day), and though probably not technically related the most recent Manga Studies column at Comics Forum focused boys’ love research in Japan. (Did you know that Guin Saga‘s Kurimoto Kaoru was also a BL author, editor, and scholar? Now you do!) There have been a few new Fujojocast episodes posted recently, including one specifically for 801 Day. I found episode seven, Give what’s due to Saezuru, which talks about translation, adaptation, and frustrations over publishers’ quality and quality control to be especially interesting. SuBLime made a “new” license announcement—it has gained the digital rights to couple of series that were previously print-only. The announcement is particularly noteworthy because it seems to indicate that SuBLime was able to do this because the Japanese publishers are beginning to trust that fans won’t abuse digital downloads.

Quick Takes

Cowboy Bebop, Volume 1Cowboy Bebop, Volumes 1-3 written by Hajime Yatate and illustrated by Yutaka Nanten. Of the two Cowboy Bebop manga that were released (Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star being the other), Nanten’s series is the one that is most similar to the anime. This makes a fair amount of sense considering that both the anime and the Cowboy Bebop manga were written by the same group of creators, whereas Shooting Star was really its own thing. The Cowboy Bebop manga is closer in tone to the anime’s more humorous episodes, though there is some seriousness as well. The overarching plot dealing with Spike’s feud with Vicious is largely missing, however the other character’s backstories are all filled in a little bit more. The manga, like the much of the anime, is generally episodic. Most of the stories wouldn’t have been too out-of-place with the anime itself, though for the most part I didn’t find them to be as strong as their televised counterparts. The manga will likely appeal most to those who have seen the anime and would like a chance to spend some additional time with the characters; the manga feels like bonus material and deleted scenes rather than anything substantial.

Deadlock, Volume 1Deadlock, Volume 1 written by Saki Aida and illustrated by Yuh Takashina. Though technically a boys’ love series, not much has happened in the way of romance after the first volume of Deadlock. However, there is a good deal of plot to be found, and I think that it’s a more interesting manga because of that. Yuto Lennix is a drug investigator who was framed for the murder of his best friend and partner. Incarcerated in the Californian state prison system, he has been given the chance to reduce his sentence by helping the FBI to determine the identity of terrorist leader who is believed to be a fellow inmate. That of course is assuming he doesn’t get himself killed first. It’s a somewhat idealized version of prison—everyone is very good-looking for one—but the portrayal of the racial tensions within the system is surprisingly realistic and generally avoids using stereotypes. So far, Deadlock has a fairly large cast. The social dynamics between the prisoners are a very important part of the manga as Yuto learns his place in the hierarchy while he carries out his investigation. Deadlock is currently an ongoing series; I sincerely hope that future volumes will be licensed when they’re released as well.

Madara, Volume 1Madara, Volumes 1-5 written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shou Tajima. Apparently, Madara was one of CMX’s debut manga. I’ve been discovering some fantastic series from CMX. Sadly, Madara is not one of them. I initially became interested in the series because the creators are also responsible for the extraordinarily dark and graphic MPD-Psycho. The premise of Madara also appealed to me—a young man prophesied to be king fighting demons to restore the body that his father tried to destroy—but that’s probably because it’s so similar to Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo. Except that Dororo is actually good. Madara comes across as a fairly generic sword-and-sorcery RPG more than anything else. (The series actually did go on to inspire several video games, and even an anime.) It also seems as though Otsuka and Tajima are just making things up as they go. There’s not much of an ending, either. Small glimmers of Tajima’s stunning art style (which I love) can be seen, especially towards the end of the series, but the illustrations in Madara are tragically lacking in comparison. Granted, it is a much earlier series. Here’s a fun fact about Madara, though: the series was created in a left-to-right format.

Sonny Leads, Volume 1Sonny Leads, Volume 1 written by Richard Mosdell and illustrated by Genshi Kamobayashi. Sonny Leads holds a black belt in karate but he’s unsatisfied with his progress and so has come to Japan to further his training. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does, and he’s in for a bit of a culture shock, too. Both Mosdell and Kamobayashi are karateka and instructors. Their knowledge of and passion for karate definitely comes through in Sonny Leads. I especially like Kamobayashi’s artwork. Particular attention is given to the proper and realistic presentation of karate forms and stances as well as to more subtle details like the appearance of the knuckles developed and used for punches and strikes. As with most of Manga University’s publications, there’s also a strong educational element present in Sonny Leads—it’s possible to learn a bit of Japanese language and culture while reading it. A very interesting essay about high school karate clubs as well as a directory to the various karate organizations in Japan are also included in the volume. I’m not sure that Sonny Leads will have much general appeal, but as a karateka myself I’d be curious to see more of the series.

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.