Title: Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt
Publisher: Viz Media
Writer and Artist: Yasuo Ohtagaki
Volume: Volume 1, $14.99
Original Concept: Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino
Since it’s debut in 1979, Mobile Suit Gundam has been a mainstay of anime and manga culture. With nearly 40 standalone titles within the Gundam universe you’d be hard pressed to find an anime fan who’s never even seen it. It’s been years since I followed a Gundam series, my favorite being Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz. However, thanks to the publisher Viz Media, I recently dove back into the Gundam world with Thunderbolt.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt doesn’t require you to have previous knowledge which is great for anyone stepping into Gundam for the first time. As with most Gundam iterations, Thunderbolt takes place during a colossal space war. In this iteration The Earth Federation is locked in civil war when a space colony known as Side 3 declares its independence and cristians itself the Principality of Zeon and declares war against the Federation. Gundam: Thunderbolt opens after a year of fighting, both sides locked in a battle over control of the Thunderbolt sector, an area of space littered with the debris of Side 4 Moore. A destroyed space station which also served as the home colony and reason for fighting for most of the main cast.
The Earth Federation forces move into the Sector in an attempt to retake it only to be stopped by the might of the Zeon sniper team and their ace Daryl Lorenz. After the opening battle where Daryl singlehandedly devastates the Federation forces Ensign Io Fleming, an ace pilot on the Federation side, retaliates showing unusual cunning and skill. Even when his mobile suit is critically destroyed and he’s ejected, Io manages to kill a Zeon sniper pilot and steal his MS (Mobile Suit) before escaping. Before escaping Io and Daryl recognize each other’s skill and form and intense rivalry declaring their intentions to destroy each other. Things ramp up to 100 when the Federation acquires a Gundam, the most advanced Mobile Suit technology, and tasks Io to destroy the Zeon sniper unit all by himself.
Gundam: Thunderbolt is a very intense read. Writer Yasuo Ohtagaki attempts to do a few things in this first volume. I think the right amount of time was spent giving readers insight into the Io and Daryl dynamic as people first and the few characters they fight alongside. Io Fleming is your cookie cutter hero, military background ace pilot. Daryl is the more complex character in the book. His motivations, reluctantly using his military service to give his family a better life, suffering a life altering disability and being conscripted in the sniper unit. Although Io gets the most “screentime” it’s actually pretty difficult to figure out which one of them is actually an antagonist. Daryl just doesn’t feel like a villian.
The artwork of Yasuo is incredibly detailed. The battle is intense and drawn beautifully in black and white. Sweat drips from the faces of the combatants as they dodge near death attacks, delight in gaining advantages and render loss at making mistakes or being outmaneuvered are all clearly depicted. By the end, I felt myself sweating as I frantically turned the pages following the battle. The weight of the battle is carried all the way to the cliffhanger conclusion as their mobile suits come within feet of each other as the final panel goes black. Where Gundam: Thunderbolt really shines and why I felt it was so intense was the contest of skill between Io and Daryl. Movie buffs may draw an easy comparison here between their space battle and the conflict at the center of the film “Enemy At The Gates” which depicted a contest of wills between two expert snipers on opposite sides during WWII and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the inspiration for this book.
I can’t recommend Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt enough. It will definitely delight any Gundam fan and if you’ve stayed away for a long time like me it serves as a nice reintroduction. For newcomers to the Gundam series of stories this is a great jumping off point. It’s engaging in both art and story and if you love the action! I can’t wait until February when Volume 2 comes to our shores.