Greetings. Guyinthe3rdRow here bringing Mecha Monday back to the table. It’s been a while. To be honest, hoping to get this back into some regular rotation in 2016.
But that’s for later. Right now, meanwhile, parts of the internet have been buzzing with Sunrise’s Christmas gift to the Gundam fanbase – the first episode of their new ONA, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt.
A part of me wasn’t sure about doing an Impressions on this just yet, given there’s only fifteen minutes of content. At the same time, it’s a quarter of the series and we haven’t received a release date on the next installment yet, so this is going to have to be what speaks for Thunderbolt as a start.
The result of which, simply put, is shaping up to be a very love it or hate it, entry into the Gundam franchise. This is in part thanks to what you go into it for, because when this does something well, it does it very well, but when it doesn’t do so well…you get the idea.
On the good side of things, this certainly looks good. From the opening sequence, a surprisingly atmospheric scene of a Zaku lying in wait in the debris-riddled Thunderbolt Sector to the final scenes of another Zaku pilot’s logs in its final moments – a suitably grim reminder of just how utterly terrifying a Gundam could be during the One Year War, the show knows what to do visually. This is a welcome relief given prior to this, director Kou Matsuo’s work on the first Berserk movie had some problems with its action scenes – particularly where CG was concerned. Here, he and his team seem to have a better handle on how to integrate the CG, and with only a brief exception or two, it works.
To this end, the action sequences are well done and fairly novel – particularly the opening assault on the Thunderbolt sector by the Moore Brotherhood’s GMs. It’s a high-speed sequence with a lot of debris, and the show does a good job of capturing that chaos, especially when the snipers are added to that mix. The other standout, as mentioned above, is the ending sequence of the first person Zaku sequence – doing an admirable job keeping the perspective and maintaining the sense of the pilot’s horror as it builds to its climax – which is arguably the high point of this first episode.
The downside of this episode – it looks pretty, but so far that’s honestly about the best thing I can say for it without an appended ‘but’. A part of me wants to chalk that up to the fact this is only the first fifteen minutes of what will be roughly an hour of story, but honestly, that only exacerbates problems that were already present in the original manga.
One of the biggest being, to be perfectly honest, it’s hard to give much of a care for anyone in this series. Of our two leads, Io is a thrill-seeker who is often coarse and crass, in the first episode murdering a Zeon pilot as his team watches and taunting them, with a jab at their lack of limbs. By comparison, Daryl is just sort of there. He’s clearly meant to be the sympathetic one of the two characters, but really, he feels like a person defined by his lack of limbs more than anything else – a point that later episodes will only make worse if they keep faithful to the manga.
The supporting cast are even less remarkable, with many barely even counting as characters. Again, this is more amplified by the limited screentime, but in many cases, this is present in the original source material as well.
…which is probably the best place to kick off my big problem with Thunderbolt overall and my main concern about where this is going – unfortunately, the anime inherits the same tonal problem of the original manga in that it can’t really seem to decide if it wants to be taken as serious or not. On the one hand, we have disabled soldiers fighting to maintain their identity, character deaths are treated as dark, shocking affairs, and within this episode alone, we see the distrust among the Moore Brotherhood and contempt around Io, these themselves at times later feeling like they’re doubled down on to the point of accidentally becoming comedic. On the other, we have Io playing drumsticks in his cockpit as he waits to launch, detached from everything around him, randomly getting allergies for seemingly no other reason than a character quirk, and then there’s the music choices.
I’m really on the fence about the use of jazz in this series so far. Some parts of it honestly work pretty well. Scenes like Io’s test flight in the Full Armor Gundam and Karla asking Daryl to avenge his wingman use their music cues, both very different scenes, to good effect. By comparison, scenes like the Moore pilots preparing to launch and Daryl and co watching powerless as Io kills one of their wingmen and steals his suit, the music feels like a miscalculation. If the former limited it to just diegetic sound during Io and Cornelius talking, it could still play, but having it cover everyone preparing to launch makes the whole sequence feel strangely jaunty and clashes sharply with the opening shot’s ominous feel. While the latter admittedly does keep it diegetic, the poppy song continuing as everyone watches Io haul the murdered pilot and hurl him out into space just seems to undercut the shock of the scene.
Honestly, I’m willing to keep with it from here – it’s not going to be a long series and it could still improve from here, but honestly, this first episode isn’t making a particularly strong landing for itself. It looks pretty enough, and if you’re looking for some good MS grunt action, this is well worth your time. At the same time, that’s really the only thing I can recommend this on. The rest isn’t ‘avoid it’ levels of bad, but if you’re going into this for a good cast or a compelling plot, you could do better elsewhere, even within Gundam’s sometimes hit and miss line.
I’ll be back with a full writeup when this is all over – whenever that will be – but for now, I’d say if this hasn’t made you go ‘pass’, give it a shot. It’s on YouTube, translated, free, and legit, so there’s worse ways to spend fifteen minutes (18 with credits and gunpla spot).
One last note though – GundamInfo’s subtitles do have a bit of a lag. Not a HUGE problem, but you will notice it.
Till next time.