Welcome back. It’s time to delve further into Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s re-envisioning of the classic giant robot series.
After the pattern established by the first two volumes, this one presents interesting variation to help transition into the next few volumes. After the last book ended with the series’ first major turning point in the death of Garma Zabi, this book keeps its focus on…well, the title says it all: fan favorite ace Ramba Ral.
This is also where it gets a little weirder to do the ‘run the show’ comparison. This third book takes on a larger span of the series: roughly seven episodes (would be eight but one of the events featured was moved back to the previous volume) compared to the four or five of previous installments. Despite the larger amount of material, it still streamlines it pretty easily, folding battles into one another and working new events into the material to keep the narrative from developing episodic breaks as pronounced as the first two books.
Arguably the most interesting new addition to this book is actually one that, for this book, is actually pretty minor- but hint at some major events to come. In introducing us to Ramba Ral, the book also adds some new conversations he has with his lover, Crowley Hamon. These present new elements of the character that the television series never had a good opportunity to go into – such as hints of a feud between the Zabi family and the Rals that will come into prominence in later chapters. Further, this also makes his later fateful reunion with Sayla, a development the original series did leave in, have more weight. The fact we already know of Ramba’s loyalty issues at this point makes the reunion hit him even harder. It’s still minor for this book, but it’s a bit of foreshadowing that will pay off later.
The other big development this book has going for it is the fact that – to be perfectly frank – White Base gets run through a wringer. In the original series, one of the big plot points of the Ramba Ral story arc is the fact that we see the White Base team pushed to their absolute limits. Cut off from support and hounded by enemies more experienced and ruthless than anyone they’ve fought before, tensions are running high for the inexperienced crew, and many start to crack. In his own take on this, Yasuhiko ramps up the tension even further on a number of levels -Ramba’s attacks hit harder, dealing heavy damages in both equipment and personnel, and internal conflicts between the established Federation officers and the civilian crew are only further adding divisions that put the ship at risk. The latter is demonstrated well in two main points, one old and one new.
The old is one of the classic stories of the series ñ as a battle-weary Amuro, on learning he could be pulled from pilot rotation, abandons the White Base and takes the Gundam with him. Between the writing and Yasuhiko’s art, this version helps further highlight just how much this war is wearing on the young protagonist, often just in the expressions Yasuhiko draws on his face in certain scenes. His decision to leave, while frustrating, feels a bit less petty and more like someone who’s just hit a breaking point. The newer development here is with an earlier advance of Sayla’s storyline regarding her relation to enemy ace Char. In the original series this is largely just her secret before it finally starts to come out more near the end. In this version, the secret starts to slip through earlier, leading to suspicions between some of the established crew who suspect her of being a spy and the newer crew, who see no reason to distrust her. While the inter-crew conflict is quickly resolved in this book, it’s an interesting turn to a story that the original series played a bit loosely at the time.
To this end, this particular volume is a good example of one of the advantages this retelling has going for it compared to the original source. While the series had a rough story overall, things would still have to be modified for various reasons during production- be it sponsors, episode counts changing, or just not being able to work in the elements at the time. This version of the story has all the pieces there and available, so it can properly set things up now without having to worry about whether they’ll be dropped or not. It’s another case where the medium gives this particular storytelling freedom that an anime wouldn’t have going for it.
There is one point I’d started to touch on with volume one that I want to come back to because this book has handled it well. I really, really like how Yasuhiko has handled mobile suits in this version. Taking the classic, albeit somewhat toyetic designs of the 70’s, he’s given them a restyling that maintains their distinctive looks while also managing to make them appear threatening. In the past, this was shown with great effect in the first two books demonstrating just how terrifying a mobile suit can be to infantry with devastating effects. Here, we see how, even in a mobile suit, these weapons can be a threat. One particularly effective moment being during one attack on the White Base when Ramba Ral ambushes a pair of pilots and kills them. The scene is quick, but does an effective job of nailing home just how dangerous such an enemy can be. The other standout here being this book’s early debut of the GM, the Federation’s new mass-produced suit. In earlier incarnations, the GM has had something of a reputation as cannon fodder, leading to a lot of jokes in the fandom. In this version, its debut is impressive and even a tad scary; the oft-joked about machine is first depicted here as a faceless monster, crushing a Zeonic gun emplacement with brute strength as its forces panic. As a fan of the original series, it’s a fresh take that leaves one loving the classic designs all over again.
Again – and I may sound like a broken record – I have to praise the presentation. As I’d mentioned before, the Japanese distributors for this reneged following the somewhat odd cover art choice for volume two, meaning this volume’s cover art is a much better fit to its title – offering up Yasuhiko’s updated version of Ramba’s iconic Gouf mobile suit. The inside contents, again, are high quality for a manga release. The script is flowing much better at this point, though I still have a few minor issues with formatting (splitting statements to read right to left causes certain lines to look very strange from a presentation standpoint, for example). Despite the hiccups, Vertical has done their part to make these worth the price of admission, so to speak.
On the extras front, this is probably the lightest of the three books so far, though for the extra amount of story, it’s not a bad tradeoff. Also, for a light extra, this one’s actually pretty fun. This time around, the guest contributor is manga author Shimoku Kio, best known for his college anime club series Genshiken. For his essay, he’s honestly pretty humbled that he got asked to do an extra for the series, which makes for a fun little read just for how down to Earth the man is. The real fun comes from his drawn contributions, a re-design of the story’s iconic female cast, and a short comic involving Amuro paying a visit to Genshiken‘s anime club, leaving the members starstruck in the process. It’s nowhere near as heady as the first book’s extras, nor is it as much of a look into the fandom as the second, but just on its own, it’s a nice touch of levity after a fairly intense block of the story.
Needless to say, I’m really happy with this installment. The series started out on a fairly good foot in the first two books, but here is where it really seems to find its strengths and builds on them. It’s still the same classic story, but it’s also starting to feel more like its own unique telling here, growing beyond the boundaries previously established. On this revisit, I find myself even further looking forward to the next volume when the story really starts to break away.
But, that’s a story for another time.
Next week I’ll be back to discuss volume four of the series, Jaburo. It’s about to get a whole lot more interesting from here on out.
-Story is gaining some substantial emotional weight now that the pressure is on the crew
-Update has a done a great job of balancing classic mobile suit designs with more modern touches
-Still some issues in presentation, albeit nothing that completely detracts from the experience
-While a bit more sympathetic, don’t be surprised if you get frustrated with Amuro at points in this