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YALSA GGNT Top Ten Manga: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Volume 1-3

Mankind has moved out into space, populating huge colonies called Sides that have orbited Earth for over half a century. In the year 0079 Universal Century, one such colony, Side 3, calling itself the Principality of Zeon, declared independence from the Earth Federation, and war broke out. In just over a month, the fighting killed half of humanity’s total population. Eight months of stalemate have gone by, and rumors of a new Federation weapon being developed on neutral Side 7 brings Zeon in to investigate.

YALSA GGNT Top Ten Manga: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Volume 1-3
By Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Teen
Vertical Inc., March-Sept 2013
ISBN: 978-1935654872, 978-1935654889, 978-1935654971
456 pgs, $29.95 USD

At the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter conventions, YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association announced their Great Graphic Novels list for 2014. Of the 78 titles listed, ten of them were manga. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Volumes 1-3 were among them. It is based on a sci-fi mecha anime from the late 1970s and has been reworked into a manga by the man who was in charge of visual design on the original anime. It follows a ragtag group of survivors from Side 7 as they fight Zeon forces to try to deliver the new mobile suit, called a Gundam, and its support ship, White Base, to Federation headquarters on Earth.

Amuro Ray is the son of a scientist that is in charge of construction on Side 7. His father has been away but is returning on the supply ship White Base. Meanwhile, a Zeon ship commanded by Char Aznable has followed White Base to investigate the rumors that Side 7 is developing weapons for the Federation. A battle soon erupts that destroys Side 7, and White Base is forced to take on refugees from Side 7 as well as the only working prototype of the new weapon developed by Amuro’s father, the Gundam. White Base is pursued mercilessly by Char back to Earth, and then by Zeon forces on the planet, with only minimal help from the Federation, as the crew tries to get to the Federation headquarters in Jaburo, South America.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is another hard sci-fi series from Vertical that takes the realities of space travel seriously. Gravity is conditional, and isn’t in effect throughout White Base. There are places where people are seen floating and using handrails to get around. When White Base reaches Earth, its greater gravity is noticed by Amuro, who has lived most of his life in space. The mobile suits aren’t giant robots, they are mecha, giant exosuits with pilots controlling them. They are weapons made for battles in space with lasers and armor that can withstand planetary re-entry.

The science isn’t the only thing the series takes seriously. It shows the grim realities of war, and how young people, several of whom weren’t even prepared for it, deal with it. Amuro isn’t a warrior. He’s good with tech who just happened to see his father’s work on the Gundam, making him the only person capable of flying it at first. He is thrown into battle, something he is completely unprepared for, mentally and emotionally, and it shows. After several battles, he falls into a deep depression and won’t fly the Gundam. When it’s threatened to be taken from him, he runs away with it. He reacts very much like a teenage boy would. And his actions have consequences. Despite being the best person to pilot the Gundam, he is thrown in the brig for his desertion. The whole reason there is talk of the Gundam being taken from him is because of his unreliability. Most of the crew of the White Base are young recruits, with some or even no training at all. They are shown to be scared and to make mistakes. When they have to combat veteran soldiers, the battles can be brutal.

Mobile Suit Gundam is an ensemble series, so it has a fairly large cast. Besides Amuro, the protagonist, there is his potential love interest Fraw Bow, as well as the command staff of White Base; Mirai Yashima, the pilot, Sayla who takes over communications, and Noa Bright, the captain. Bright and Amuro butt heads throughout these volumes, as Bright has a hard time dealing with the rebellious Amuro. Fraw, Mirai and Sayla all help keep the conflict between Bright and Amuro to a minimum. Rounding out the regulars are Ryu, the senior mech pilot, and Hayato and Kai, two boys Amuro’s age who take over piloting the older support mecha, the Guntank and Guncannon.

Char Aznable starts out as the main antagonist of the series, as he ruthlessly pursues Amuro and White Base. But once the battle reaches Earth, and Garma Zabi is introduced, Char’s true agenda is revealed. He has a vendetta against the Zabi family, and is only working with Zeon to reach his goal. The Zabi family controls Zeon with an iron hand grip with not-so-subtle references to the Nazis. But working with the Zabi is necessary to survive in Zeon. Ramba Ral, a Lieutenant in the Zeon forces was loyal to Deikun Zeon before Zabi took over, and must now constantly prove his loyalty to the family. There is a connection between Char and Sayla, which is hinted at in the first volume, and is further built on as the series continues. Ral is drawn in as well, adding to the mystery.

There also seems to be a connection between Char, Sayla, and Amuro. Both Amuro and Sayla seem to be able to feel Char when he leads an attack on Luna 7. It’s appears to be some sort of psychic connection, that grows with battle as Sayla and Amuro soon can also feel Ramba Ral’s forces approaching as well. It’s given a name later, New Type, and the crew of White Base is thought by Federation command to have them. They don’t know how right they are.

Since this is a story about war, there are a lot of battles. They are mostly between mecha at first, but as White Base gets closer to Jaburo, combat becomes more face to face. The battles aren’t as bloody as they could be, but there is no mistaking that people are dying. When the story comes to Earth, Yasuhiko grounds it by using real world locations such as Los Angeles, Long Beach in North America, and Caracus in South America. It’s cool to see real landmarks used not just in the background, but in the actual story, such as the Long Beach Convention Center, which plays a vital role for White Base in the battle of Los Angeles.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is a compelling coming-of-age story. It spins personal and political drama together in a way that is both engaging and satisfying. The art is beautifully rendered, with a sketchy, pencil look, but also great attention to detail. Vertical’s limited hardback editions are just gorgeous, with heavy matte covers, color pages at the beginning of several chapters, and thick, glossy paper to make a book that will last many re-reads. Each volume includes an illustration gallery and interviews, articles and contributions from guest artists who were inspired by the cartoon and/or manga. This is a series you will want to put into a teen’s hands, even if they don’t know it yet. Once they start reading, they won’t want to put it down.

Review copy for Volume 1 provided by publisher.

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Lori Henderson About Lori Henderson

Lori Henderson is a mother of two teenage daughters and an avid reader. She blogs about manga at her personal blog Manga Xanadu as well as contributing and editing for Manga Village. She blogs about all things fandom (mainly Doctor Who) at her other personal blog Fangirl Xanadu. She's been at it so for over 5 years now and counting!

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