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.

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: 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.

My Week in Manga: September 17-September 23, 2012

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Shojo Beat Manga Moveable Feast. One of my contributions to the Feast included an in-depth review of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles, Volume 1. Sand Chronicles is one of my favorite contemporary shoujo manga series. October’s Feast, currently scheduled to be hosted by Chic Pixel, will focus on vampire-themed manga.

Also this past week, I posted a review of Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide written by husband and wife team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt and illustrated by Shinkichi. I had previously read and loved the previous two books in the Attack! series, Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!. I was not at all disappointed with Yurei Attack! I highly recommend the entire series.

I am a huge fan of Takako Shimura’s manga series Wandering Son. Fantagraphics, the series English-language publisher, is offering a great deal for the next three upcoming releases: a special discounted subscription for volumes four through six is now available. Alternatively, volumes four and five can now be preordered directly from the publisher.

Quick Takes

The Art of Man, Volume 8: Special Edition Japan from Firehouse Publishing. I happened across The Art of Man, a quarterly fine arts journal devoted to the male figure, while looking for examples of Gengoroh Tagame’s work. The Spring 2012 issue focuses on artists (sculptors, painters, illustrators, etc.) of the male form from Japan. The artists spotlighted include Shimamura Saburou, Yujiro, Shozo Nagano, Hideki Koh, Kenya Shimizu, and Naoki Tatsuya. Masahiko Takagi, the curator and director of Japanese Gay Art, a section of Mayumi International, is also highlighted. The best part is that the volume is filled with gorgeous color reproductions of the artists’ work.

Attack on Titan, Volumes 1-2 by Hajime Isayama. The artwork in Attack on Titan is very unpolished which distracts from the story, especially in the beginning. Isayama’s artwork either improves as the series progresses, or I simply started to get used to it; by the end of the second volume I didn’t mind its roughness as much. Admittedly, the crude illustrations do make the titans (monstrous creatures threatening humanity’s very existence) feel particularly wrong and disconcerting, which is certainly effective. Despite my frustrations with the art, I really do want to see where Isayama is taking the story. It is both weird and oddly compelling. I’m also fascinated by the “three dimensional maneuvers” fighting system which has had some significant thought put into it.

Joan, Volumes 1-3 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding her family, Emily is adopted and raised as Emil, the son of Robert de Baudricourt. Emil finds inspiration in Joan of Arc; Emi’ls visions and intense admiration lead her to continue Joan’s work, who was burned at the stake roughly ten years before. Emil’s story and life actually have many parallels to that of the life of Joan of Arc. It’s an interesting narrative technique and is quite effective; Yasuhiko would use it again in some of his other historically based manga. Yasuhiko’s color artwork in Joan is lovely and atmospheric. The attention to detail given to the castles and architecture as well as the characters’ clothing is marvelous.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Volumes 5-8 by Hirohiko Araki. I wanted to try to avoid using the word “bizarre” when describing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I’m finding it very difficult to do. The series is fantastically strange and has a style all its own. It didn’t take long for Araki to work his way through the major arcana as models for his Stand powers and their users (some of the results are really quite clever); through necessity he has moved on to the Egyptian pantheon for additional inspiration. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has strong elements of horror, but they are used more as accents rather than being the main focus. Araki incorporates a lot of local color into the manga’s settings and backgrounds, making a point to visit the locations he uses when he can. I am still loving this series.

Men of Tattoos by Yuiji Aniya. When I say Men of Tattoos is tragic, I truly mean it. And not only tragic, but dark, brutal, and violent as well. But Men of Tattoos also very, very good. The characters go through terrible things and do terrible things to one another—love and hatred are tied very closely together. Men of Tattoos has an almost traumatizing intensity that sneaks up on the reader. The first chapter begins lightheartedly but the repercussions of the events echo throughout the rest of the story. It is not pretty; I can’t even begin to imagine a happy ending for anyone involved. The final third or so of the volume turns to an entirely different story which is much more benign, but still quite good.

Toward the Terra directed by Osamu Yamazaki. The 2007 Toward the Terra anime series is the second animated incarnation of Keiko Takemiya’s science fiction manga To Terra… that I have seen. It makes for a good adaptation and does well as its own work, too. At twenty-four episodes it has room to breathe and is able to incorporate much of the original. It also expands on the story and characters to some extent. I liked most of the additions, but they do make the narrative pacing a little slow in places, especially towards the beginning and middle of the series. But, much like the manga itself, the series gets better and better as it progresses and the pacing improves. The ending is somewhat different from the original manga, but I was still very happy with it.