ANIME REVIEW: “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III”

Yoshiyuki Tomino’s mecha series Mobile Suit Gundam ranks among the longest-running and most successful franchises in animation history, encompassing more than three dozen broadcast series, feature films and OVA’s. Ironically, its initial run on Japanese television in 1979 earned such poor ratings, it was cancelled mid-season.

The programs were recut into three theatrical features that played to sell-out crowds in 1981 and 1982, and audiences have stuck with the giant robots and their intrepid pilots ever since. By 2014, sales of Gundam models alone had passed ¥18.4 billion (about $200 million). To mark the 30th anniversary of the first Gundam plastic model kit, a 59-foot “life-size” statue of a Gundam Mobile Suit was displayed in Tokyo and Shizuoka in 2009-2010.

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Tomino re-imagined sci-fi anime in Gundam. Robots in early series were squat machines that might have been assembled out of old oil drums. Tomino’s Mobile Suits suggested a cross between an out-sized space suit and a flamboyant suit of samurai armor. Masterpieces of design, with every angle, shape and color carefully calculated for maximum visual impact, the Gundam robots suggested what the future should look like.

Instead of the little boxes with knobs adolescent boys used to control early robots like Tetsujin 28–go (“Gigantor” in the US), gifted teen-agers employed mechanical devices and psychic bonds to pilot the Gundams. They defied the laws of gravity and physics as they fought ferocious hand-to-hand duels with guns and light sabre-like swords on Earth, in space and even under water.

The Gundams were not only cooler robots, their adventures took place on a grander stage than their mecha predecessors. Tomino, who cited George Lucas’ Galactic Empire and the Federation in Star Trek as influences, set the Gundam sagas in complex future civilization that incorporated questions of politics, evolution, ecology and prejudice. The divisions between the psychically gifted “New Types” and standard humans, and the conflicts between the inhabitants of Earth and its orbiting Space Colonies provide the backdrop to tales of honor, heroism and, occasionally, love. The Gundam pilots were the self-conscious heirs to the samurai tradition of noble warriors. In the popular series Gundam Wing, military leader Treize Khushrenada declares, “I think fighting in wars can indeed be beautiful.”

The four-part OVA Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III (2015), the latest installment in the franchise, focuses on events leading up to the opening of original series. Zeon Zum Deikun (Marc Diraison), who champions the cause of independence for the Space Colonies, is assassinated by the powerful Zabi family. His daughter Artesia Som Deikun and son Casval Rem Deikun are raised in hiding, first in Spain, then in space, by a wealthy family.

Suspecting that the Zabi are planning to murder him en route to the Space Academy, Casval (Keith Silverstein) switches places with the real Char Aznable, who is killed when the passenger transport ship explodes. Casval assumes Char’s identity and becomes one of the top students in the Academy, befriending Garma Zabi (Chris Niosi), the scion of the enemy clan. Calculating, charismatic and unscrupulous, Char convinces Garma to lead the cadets in the seizure of the nearby Earth Federation base. The maneuver aids the nascent revolution of the Space Colonies–and initiates the hideously destructive One Year War. During the assault on the base, he arranges the death of the one cadet who knows his true identity.

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For more than three decades, Char Aznable has remained one of the most popular anime characters in fan polls, and this retelling of his story is sure to delight his many fans. Origin III begins slowly, with several minutes of Morris-the-Explainer scenes. But once chief director Yoshikasu Yasuhiko and his crew begin the story in earnest, the pace picks up. These four chapters feel like the first installments in an exciting longer series: The story concludes with a trailer that introduces Amuro Ray as a little boy. Ina few years, Ray will become Char’s greatest rival.

A comparison between Origin III and the original Gundam adventure shows how far the Japanese industry has advanced in the intervening years. With its Xeroxed lines, flat layouts, limited camera movements and Hanna-Barbera-influenced character designs, Gundam looks even older than it is. The new series boasts more original and satisfying designs, more dimensional backgrounds, CG vehicles that give the viewer a sense of watching objects moving in space, and assured direction. Like the recent Dragon Ball Z feature, The Resurrection of F, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III proves that it’s possible to update a classic property while preserving the qualities that initially won it a devoted following.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III comes in a laser disc-sized box with a color print, two booklets of artwork, a sericel and a bound storyboard.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III
Emotion: $87.48 1 disc, Blu-ray

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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