Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin vol. 1

I must admit, I didn't want to get into this series. It's seemingly 11+ volumes long with each approaching $30 retail. For someone with a limited entertainment budget, investing more than $300 into one thing is not an easy decision to make. I'm also pretty much a complete Gundam newbie. My only experience with the franchise is the anime, 'Mobile Fighter G Gundam', which I only watched casually and as far as I know, it is its own universe and not indicative of the core franchise. So when Vertical Inc., released the first book last month, I had no intention of even giving it a second look....but I was forced to....again and again and again. My Twitter feed was bombarded with with praise for volume 1 and pictures of proud owners holding up their new hardcovers. Not only that, but most of the manga blogs I follow were in agreement with their critical acclaim. Still, I held out. That is, until my library got a copy...I couldn't resist anymore. Now that I could try it for free, I had no excuse not to give it a read. Well, after reading volume 1, it seems 'Mobile Suit Gundam:The Origin' has got its hooks in me for the long haul.

In the year Universal Century 0079, mankind had already been colonizing outer space for over fifty years. Gigantic cylindrical space ships with terraformed interiors were homes to millions of people who lived out their lives in normality, until one such colony declared independence from the Earth Federation and dubbed itself "The Principality of Zeon". Using massive space battleships and "mobile suits", the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation waged war with each other, but after only a little more than a month, half of the population of humanity had been killed off, and the two sides entered a state of stalemate. Eight months later, our story picks up on another one of the space colonies. This one home to the fifteen year old Amuro Ray, son of Tem Ray, project leader of the new mobile suit protype, RX-78 Gundam. At the same time, Lieutenant Commander Char "The Red Comet" was leading a recon mission against treaty, to gain intelligence on this new "Gundam" that could turn the tides of the war. What was suppose to be a stealth mission turned into a full on battle, and the colony ship was damaged to the point of evacuation. In the chaos, Amuro was forced to pilot the new RX-78 Gundam and fight for his, and his fellow colonists' lives. Amuro Ray, a young man thrust into the role of protector. Will he be able to fend of the fabled mobile suit pilot know as "The Red Comet"?!?

After the initial story setup statements, this story doesn't have a whole lot of exposition. You really hit the ground running. I'm not sure if this is because the author partially assumes the reader already knows a lot about the Gundam universe, or if this is just how the narrative is structured. Whatever the case, the reader is thrown right in to the thick of things right along with the characters. You get the sense that the plot hits them just as hard and fast as it does you. It's an intriguing way to introduce things for a first volume. The story doesn't slow down to give detailed characterization, yet gives us just enough to know who is important, but not quite enough to outright "like" or get attached to anymone. Even the main, Amuro Ray, isn't given the star treatment. The story isn't about just him. Normally, I'd be a little worried since I tend to need a likeable main character to latch on to, but instead, I feel like the author wants us to experience the story and the world with the characters, and we will get to know them and like or dislike them naturally, rather than have their backstory and personality forced on us at light-speed in an attempt to grab readers.

I was a little surprised how good the action in this series is. It's not as if I had low expectations or anything. Mobile suits battling in space screams "action". It's just that I didn't expect the action to be so coherent and dynamic as it is. Being in the blackness of space, I could see how it would be easy for the art to turn stale and just be two mobile suits fighting on a black background. The artist keeps it fresh though and utilizes light trails, cannon fire, beams, explosions and thruster flames to illustrate motion really well. And that brings me to the topic of art. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko has a nice style. It's got a charming, old-school look to it that I feel is timeless. You could send this book back in time to a kid in the 1970's, or send it into the future and I think it would fit in in any era. I also feel like the all the qualities of the art; paneling, inking, character designs, action choreography, could be universally liked the world over. Not just by manga fans.

I complained about the price earlier, but after you hold the book in your hands and flip through the pages, you know that you get what you pay for. Its got an over-sized, durable hardcover that will look great on my shelf. Heavy, glossy pages are complimented by many color pages throughout the book. And it's topped off with essays by famous Gundam fans like Evangelion's, Hideaki Anno. Quite a nice presentation by Vertical Inc. I'm sure that Gundam fans already have this book, but as someone new to the franchise, I have to say that this is well worth a look. In fact, being new to the franchise might be even better. I get to experience this legendary anime story for the first time through my preferred medium of manga. Of course, I'm highly anticipating volume 2.

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