And so it’s here, in all its glory, the first volume of the definitive edition, in English by Vertical, of the manga version of the old Mobile Suit Gundam. A gift for my fifty-second birthday. And I have already discussed how, at the tender age of fifty-two, it feels weird to be so excited by a comic based on a cartoon I watched when I was fourteen.
But like in that old song, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
Or I’ll enjoy Gundam.
A quick recap, in case you missed the thing.
In the near future, Earth has colonized the near space using O’Neill cylinder colonies in the Lagrange points of the Earth-Moon system. The farthest colony secedes, the leader of the secession dies (heart attack? poison?) and his two kids are spirited away while a new regime takes control of the self-styled Principality of Zion, and starts re-arming to pursue an aggressive expansion policy masked as “liberating” the other colonies from Earth control. Mobile suits – basically, big combat robots – are a key weapon in the conflict.
The action of the series opens ten years after the rise of Zion and eight months into the much anticipated (and catastrophic) war. A Zion recon mission on a civilian colony brings to light the new mobile armor developed by the Earth forces, and in the ensuing battle, a bunch of civilians, mostly kids, and a handful of junior officers have to deploy the new weapon as they evacuate the civilian refugees.
The series covers the following four months of war, tracing the course of the characters’ lives as they get more deeply involved in the conflict, and is at the same time a war story, a political thriller and a surprisingly dry melodrama.
The works of Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in particular, are a heavy influence on the series, and this is hard SF – the comic book more than the series, that had to make concessions to the fact that it was supposed to present new war machines ( = new toys) every week.
The story was originally developed as an animated series, that was supposed to launch a line of toys (it did, with a vengeance) and that led to a plethora of sequels and spin-offs. At the same time as a series of three novels – that diverge dramatically from the original – was published; and finally as a series of comics, over 5000 pages of graphical narrative that expand on some character arcs, fill the gaps and take care of the loose ends. Old mysteries are solved, darling characters get the opportunity to really shine. This is the definitive version of the story.
The first volume that is now in my greedy hands is truly an object of beauty – a big hardcover, 450 pages printed on high-quality paper, with color inserts, and an appendix of interviews and essays. The art, by Yoshikazu “Yas” Yasuhiko, who did the character design for the series and directed the compilation movies thereof, is striking. The plot follows the original I remember from when I was a kid but with a number of slight deviations that make it new and fresh even to someone that remembers the story by heart. Inconsistencies have beer ret-conned, and the characters present some minimal changes.
My birthday is still a few days away, but I am already very happy.
And worried, at the idea there’s eleven more of these books out there I’ll need to get. Because we all know that in the end I’ll get them all, right?
Damn, I’ll have to live on instant ramen for the next eighteen months…