Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Video Backlog: “Gundam the Origin”

Publisher: Emotion (Bandai Visual, Japan)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English, Japanese, French, Korean and Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) Subtitles
Length: 4 episodes, 63 minutes (episode 1), 58 minutes (episode 2), 68 minutes (episodes 3 and 4)
Production Date: 2015 - 2016
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

By the year Universal Century (UC) 0068, man has ventured out to live permanently in space. Space colonies surround the Earth at various lagrangian points (where gravity from the moon and Earth are equal). Second and third generation colonists have been born over the last 60 or so years. However, tensions are brewing between the Earth government and the local governments who run the colonies. In the area called Side 3, the colony called Munzo wants to become an autonomous republic. Local politician Zeon Deikun prepares to make a rousing speech asking for the colony’s autonomy in the local parliament, but collapses and dies soon after he takes the podium. The public is outraged and allegations about who killed Deikun run rampant. Jimba Ral, a political ally of Deikun, takes in the Deikun's wife Astraia, and her two children. Jimba suspects their factional rivals the Zabi family, was behind his death. During the procession for Deikun’s funeral, one of the Zabi family cars is bombed with Sasro Zabi dying in the explosion. Rumours spread by the Zabi family implicate the Ral family in Sasro’s murder.

Jimba’s son, Ramba Ral, an officer in the local military is tasked with evacuating Deikun’s family from Munzo. However, a mob halts their escape with Kycilia Zabi intervening to save them. The head of the Zabi family, Degwin, arranges for the Deikun family to live with Zeon Deikun’s ex-wife, Roselucia, who as you can imagine is not on friendly terms with Astraia. This is to keep an eye on the family. In particular, the Zabi family fear Deikun’s children may one day seek revenge on them. The children remain with Roselucia in the main house, while Astraia is cruelly banished to a tower far from the main house. Though the Ral family’s standing in the colony has been ruined by the rumours of their role in Sasro’s murder, Ramba hatches a plan so that the two young children, Casval and Artesia as well as his father Jimba, can escape the colony. He gets his lover Crowley Hamon, to pose as a federation solider and using false orders take the children to the spaceport via a Guntank. But everything doesn’t quite go to plan. The soldiers in the Guntank ask for more bribe money and Federation soldiers attempt to stop them in Guntanks, only to have Casval commandeer the firing controls and destroy one of the Guntanks. Eventually Jimba and the two children are smuggled out of the colony in a cargo ship.

Three years later and the trio are living on Earth in Andalusia, Spain. A local businessman sympathetic to their cause, Don Teabolo Mass, has taken under his protection. He has adopted the two children who are now called Édouard and Sayla Mass. Jimba invites representatives from Anaheim Electronics in order to plan a rebellion against the Zabis, however Don strongly advises him to cancel his plans. Later that night a group of armed men enter the house to kill everyone. Édouard and Sayla fight off a killer in a suit of armour and survive. Jimba is killed but Don survives though is badly injured. In hospital Don is visited by Shu Yashima, an entrepreneur and business man. Sympathetic to Deikun family’s plight, he suggests they all move to his Texas colony which he owns. It’s close to Muzno which means they can keep a distance from the Zabi’s but also give the impression that they are submitting to them. Édouard and Sayla move in with the colony’s chief manager Roger Aznable. There they meet his son, Char Aznable, who is a dead ringer for Édouard, except for the colour of his eyes. As he enters his late teens, Édouard becomes rather cold, calculating and manipulative. He severely beats a man he suspects of being sent by the Zabi family to spy on him and Sayla.

Later Char Aznable becomes indoctrinated by the Zabi family’s propaganda as Munzo edges closer to a fascist dictatorship. Char decides to enter the Zabi’s military school. After the children receive word that their mother Astraia has died in Munzo, Édouard suddenly tells Sayla that he is leaving with Char to go to military school. She tearfully pleads with him to not leave her, but he just ignores her. Édouard has not been accepted by the military school, but plans to do away with Char enroute and assume his identity. Meanwhile Dozle Zabi heads up a development team of new robotic construction equipment called a Mobile Worker, which can easily be adapted into a weapon called the Mobile Suit. He invites Ramba Ral and the men who would later become the Black Tri-Stars, to help test these new weapons.

Based upon Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga of the same name from the early 2000’s, this is another big budget OVA/movie series release from Bandai Visual and Sunrise. It’s being released in a similar manner to “Gundam Unicorn” with theatrical releases in Japan, a BD release in cinemas on the same day, an English dub and subtitles in various languages on the BD. This time it’s a bit different with the same Laserdisc sized limited box set (only available in Japan directly from the Bandai Visual Club website) being sold in the US, UK and Australia without the option of the cheaper regular editions sold through regular retail outlets in Japan. The difference is pretty significant (about $40), so I opted to buy the regular versions from Amazon.co.jp.

The set of OVAs (or movies) generally follow the life of Casval Deikun who would later become Char Aznable. This series generally follows the first arc of the manga which leads up to the One Year War just before the events of the original Gundam TV series. The series is directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko with Takashi Imanishi (mostly know as the director of “SPT Layzner”) doing the actual direction of the individual episodes. Apart from Char’s backstory we also see his family, the Zabi family, the Ray family, the Ral family and of course a number of cameos of various characters for the original TV series. Also key to the series is the development of the Mobile Suit on both sides of the conflict.

As you’d expect from a big budgeted series like this, the animation is extremely well done with some really nice battle scenes on occasion. However as this is set before the One Year War, big battle sequences are far and few in between. Most of the series deals with the political machinations between the Zabi family and the Deikuns and Rals. Most of this is scripted quite well. Some of the drama in the first OVA heads into melodrama and feels quite silly. This is especially true for Zeon Deikun and Jimba Ral’s scenes. There’s also a scene where a very young Casval Deikun confronts Kycilia Zabi. I know that it’s important to show what Char was like as a kid, but the entire sequence is hard to swallow. I mean he’s still a prepubescent child at this stage. The other three parts fare much better as the teen Casval metamorphosises into the cold blooded Char hell bent on getting his revenge on the Zabi family.

However the lead up to how he became Char also had me seriously attempting to suspend disbelief. As you may have seen from the trailers for the second part, Édouard and Sayla Mass meet a teen boy Édouard age, Char Aznable, who is pretty much a clone of Édouard. It’s patently obvious what happens next, but the whole set up just feels a bit too forced. I also found it hard to believe that the spies sent by the Zabi family could not figure out what happened. How thick are they? The cameos of characters such as Mirai Yashima, Kai Shiden and Hayato Kobayashi also feel unnatural. I especially felt that Mirai’s cameo was completely unnecessary. What kind of businessman would bring their young daughter to a meeting in hospital? The scenes in the last part which showed Amuro’s school and family life also seem out of place in the context of the series. What really worked well however was the beginning of the friendship between Char and Garma Zabi at the military school. In this series Garma is shown to be much kinder than his siblings and seemingly uninterested in family politics. Char’s character is also developed very well in this section as it is revealed that he is a man that will go to any lengths to sate his lust for revenge, and certainly is quite patient and calculating in doing so.

The standard versions of the series I purchased include slipcovers with brilliant artwork by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, a booklet featuring character and mecha designs and second larger book which compares the rough drafts from the manga with the completed animation. I also got a couple of bonus clear files, one when I bought the second part at Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku and the second from Amazon.co.jp for the fourth part. In conclusion this is a pretty exciting series. I think sometimes it ties itself up in knots trying to explain certain parts of Char’s origins and some of the cameos are too obvious for my liking. A lot of the drama is offset by a lot great humour which I really enjoyed. While these scenes with Amuro feel out of place, the sections covering the development of the Mobile Suit work well within Char’s story. Sunrise have announced the second arc of the manga, known as the Loum Arc, as two movies/OVAs for 2017. I’m looking forward to them. 8 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eleven TV series, two OVA series and three movies. In addition I am also waiting for the second parts of two TV series to be released before viewing them.

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