First time doing one of these under the Mecha Monday banner, but it’s merited under the circumstances.
At this point- debates about individual title quality aside- it’s been a pretty good few years for Gundam as a brand. Yeah, it was already in a good spot with the AU reboot starting with SEED back in the early 2000s, but with the boom brought on by Unicorn and last year’s 35th anniversary, the amount of material for the brand has been at a peak. Even the underwhelming sales of AGE haven’t slowed the momentum.
In the middle of all of this, Sunrise announced something last year that had been hinted at to varying degrees for some time – an animated adaptation of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s hit manga retelling of the original series, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin.
Rather than try and reboot the original story from scratch (at least that we’re aware of), Sunrise appears to be focusing this adaptation on the new material introduced in books 5-7. This arc is a protracted flashback exploring, among other things, Char and Sayla’s younger years, the rise of the Zabi family, and the outbreak of the One Year War.
The first episode, Blue-Eyed Casval, (available for streaming over on Daisuki) follows roughly the first half of book 5, focusing on the aftermath of the death of Zeon Zum Deikun and the efforts to protect his children from the influence of the Zabi family.
As Sunrise’s first big OVA project after Unicorn, this has a lot to live up to, if not in quality, then at least expectations. This is even trickier since this particular arc is rather light on the mecha overall, with only Guntanks present. They try to amend some of that with a fast-paced and intense (if sometimes dodgy) depiction of the Battle of Loum, but the fact remains, most of this episode is focused on the Deikun-Ral-Zabi family conflicts.
Fortunately, said conflicts still make for some compelling material to work from. In particular seeing familiar characters like Ramba Ral, and Degwin’s children fleshed out beyond the limited screentime of the original series.
I will admit, thanks to how the rentals are currently set up I can’t speak to the quality of the English dub (right now it’s you either rent the sub or the dub, it’s like the age of VHS again!). For the Japanese cast however, there’s a great blend of old and new going on here.
Returning for this project, we have Shuichi Ikeda and Banjou Ginga reprising their roles as Char and Gihren respectively. Much of the recasting, meanwhile, does a surprisingly good job matching their previous parts- I had to check to confirm that was Akeno Watanabe and that they hadn’t brought Mami Koyama back to replay Kycillia.
Meanwhile, covering new ground for characters, Megumi Han and Mayumi Tanaka both turn in great performances as young Artesia and Casval respectively. Tanaka in particular does a great job with Casval’s defiant, protective streak, keeping it serious despite being known for several more humorous characters.
The direction is fairly strong for a debut. Two sequences in particular stuck out for me in this regard: first being a sequence in which Guntanks are deployed to put down a protest- a scene this version does well by showing us the on-the-ground confusion and terror as protestors flee from the excessive force. The second being during the movie’s climactic tank sequence, as a horrified Artesia watches her brother operating guns during their escape attempt – a sequence cut with a conversation the two children had with their mother in an earlier scene. It’s a nicely executed emotional note, especially for helping contrast the natures of Casval and Artesia.
If there’s any one area that this OVA is really going to need to keep an eye on in future installments, it’s animation. The character animation isn’t bad, actually. Some of the lighter sequences may be off-putting to some viewers, but it does a great job with capturing Yasuhiko’s art style. By comparison, the CGI used in some of the crowds and mecha sequences can be pretty hit or miss. Mostly it’s not that bad, but there’s a few moments – one procession comes to mind – that evoke memories of some of the choppier animation from the Berserk movies
It’s still only the first episode, so I’m not going to rule on the project fully just yet. As of this point, however, things are off to a relatively promising start. There’s some room for improvement (often the case with first episodes, anyway), but even with that in mind, it’s starting on a good foot.
With the second episode Artesia’s Sorrow slated to come out this fall, it will be interesting to see what lessons they take from the response to this and how things progress from here. Personally, I’m sold enough to keep watching, so hopefully they can keep up the momentum.
-Cast a good blend of old and new voice talent for revisiting familiar characters
-Offers some great perspective into characters that were only featured in the original series in smaller doses
-While faithul to the manga’s style, some of the sillier interludes may be a turn-off to some
-The CGI is mostly good, but not without a few choppy sequences