After initially waiting three months or so between each release, it’s interesting to take another look at these in close succession.
Like the previous volume, this eschews the broader overview favored by most retelling mangas in favor of a detailed reading of roughly five episodes worth of material. Compared to last time, I think I actually like the expansion Yasuhiko has to offer in this volume even more than the first.
For those playing along at home, this picks up just about where we left the story off last time – after escaping both the assault on Side 7 and Char’s assault on Luna II, the White Base and the Gundam have finally made it to Earth. However, any celebration is quickly checked by realizing their location; rather than descending to Jaburo as originally planned, they’ve touched down in enemy occupied North America, and have now come into the crosshairs of Garma Zabi, the youngest son of Zeon’s ruling family.
On this project, I have to hand it to Yasuhiko as a writer here and now: the man can take a small batch of events – in this case the book is roughly four major points – flesh them into a good 400+ pages of material, and still keep the whole thing tightly paced. Even moments that tended to lag in the television series, such as a recurring storyline regarding unruly refugees, are tightened up to the point where things come to a head in a believable time frame without it feeling like a repetitive element that’s otherwise interrupting the flow.
With that in mind, I want to clarify – while I’m a fan of what The Origin is doing, this is not meant to be seen as a slam on the original series. I still enjoy it, and honestly will argue it’s just as relevant as the film trilogy, even if only for a better appreciation of what made the brand so unique to begin with. In this case, it’s more of an acknowledgment of the fact that the manga format, running at a chapter a month, has advantages over a television series that had to be delivering new material on a weekly basis with a higher price tag and subsequent demands from the sponsors requiring for the ‘fight of the week’ format. This is a story that’s worth seeing all the variants on to compare, but for the sake of this version, well – I’m gonna point out the aspects and advantages the manga version has that makes it special.
That said, there are two changes in particular that I like with how this version of events unfolds, one of which was also in play last time, but it really sinks in here.
The first of these is the fact that this version gives the White Base more to work with in terms of a mobile suit rollout and pilots. Now, just on its own, this doesn’t add a whole lot to really upset the story – it’s mainly extra Guntanks and Guncannons and a few pilots the story hasn’t really done much with – but it does also provide an extra element that, again, a show wouldn’t have quite the liberty to get away with. The big advantage here is that, for the start, the characters we’ve come to know as the main cast are somewhat underpowered. As a result, having extra suits and pilots allows them to have a bit more of a learning curve in the narrative – with other pilots picking up the slack, they can afford to make mistakes, fail, and learn from it. On top of which, those extra pilots can be killed, and some are. This serves both to remind us of the stakes that the ‘battle of the week’ format of the show sometimes has to sacrifice, and also helps reduce the idea that a ship full of green rookies is able to throw down against the enemy’s finest and get out unscathed. It’s a little touch that helps give this a more natural growth.
The other big standout here is in regards to the title character of this volume. Garma, this arc’s main antagonist, is prominently in the limelight. Even in the original series, he was an interesting character – not quite evil, but also somewhat naive to what his faction is doing, coupled with a heady dose of idealism and a need to prove himself. That personality is still present here, and his interactions with Char build on that. To that end, the interactions with Garma are also some of the better material Char’s had in the two volumes so far. With the first volume he’s mainly just left to deal with various degrees of calm and frustration at the survivability of the White Base, with Garma, we get to see more of his true nature. Their interactions are laced with lots of little scenes of Char prodding Garma’s insecurities and feeding into his need to prove himself to his family. All of which the art further lends to by the knowing, calculating expressions Char has as he watches Garma take the bait every time. The first book hints that he’s running his own game, this is the book that confirms it.
Speaking of the art, it once again provides some of the best bits of character development in this book. The writing is still quite strong, but for many of the characters, in certain scenes you feel like you get more from their personalities simply through their expressions and body language. The big example of this being Kai – he’s still the same snarky punk he was in the first book, but the personality therein really shines more here in his motions and looks than it does in his dialogue. There’s almost no really static faces or bland moments in this series – between the expressive casting and the mobile suit combat that’s a mix of hyper-detailed and surprisingly fluid, the artwork alone is enough to make a draw even before the solid writing is factored in.
In terms of presentation, this installment improves on Vertical’s already pretty solid showing from the last volume. There’s still an occasional line or two that reads oddly, but the script flows smoother this time. I’m a bit mixed on the cover, though I realize that ball was partially out of Vertical’s hands. To clarify – according to their representatives, at the start of this project, one of the provisos from Japan’s end as far as cover designs went was that all the covers were to feature either Amuro or the Gundam. Thankfully, they apparently relented on this policy for volume three, but in the meantime, it resulted in the odd mix of a book titled ‘Garma’ with Amuro Ray on the cover. On top of this, while the piece of art chosen isn’t bad for Amuro’s story arc in the series, the title graphic over his torso did cause some confusion (and no small amount of joking implications) when it was first released. In terms of extras, this book does well – starting with this volume, the releases include a gallery of Yasuhiko’s color cover art, which really lets his art further shine here (albeit while also reminding they had better options for this volume.) Alongside that, this volume’s guest piece is a roundtable interview with the manga group CLAMP. Besides their own artistic rendering of Amuro Ray, it’s an interesting change from last volume’s approach – rather than discussing the cultural impact of Gundam and this work, this is just a refreshingly candid discussion with four fans of both the original series and Yasuhiko’s artwork. The roundtable further gives it a relaxed atmosphere that makes it a fun little read at the end of this installment.
With this volume, Vertical’s getting a bit more of a handle on the overall release. It’s still on the pricy side as manga go, but between its content and the possibility of finding sales or discounts, you’re more than getting what you pay for out of this series. Even if you know the story, this provides a great companion piece and this volume further deepens that narrative. For a series that initially was touch and go on sales numbers, Vertical has stuck with this and continues to do it justice.
With this, the story is gaining momentum as we pass one of the first big turning points. Next week marks the review for volume 3 – Ramba Ral.
-New material continues to flesh out the classic story
-Yasuhiko’s art does just as much for development of the cast as the writing
-Thanks to Yasuhiko’s word bubbles, text layouts are sometimes awkward
-Naming the volume for Garma makes using Amuro on the cover an odd choice