Episode 01, "Blue-Eyed Casval"
Synopsis: In the year Universal Century 0068, the cluster of space colonies known as the Republic of Munzo is wracked with political upheaval as a call for independence is sounded by firebrand Zeon Zum Deikun. However, after Deikun dies under suspicious circumstances, the balance of power is stacked for the elite Zabi family. Jimba Ral, a colleague of Deikun, enlists his son Ramba Ral in the task of ensuring the safety of Deikun's children, Casval and Artesia, as the situation grows ever more hazardous, because the Zabi family will do almost anything to tighten their grip on Side 3 and Deikun's legacy. Casval finds himself faced with carrying on the spirit of his father, but what can a child like him do in the chaos swirling around him? This first chapter sees the first step Casval takes to becoming Char Aznable, the Red Comet.
Yasuhiko Yoshikazu is a man of many talents. Artist, writer, director, and director. And he's been with the Gundam franchise for a long time, is practically as synonymous with it as Yoshiyuki Tomino himself. However, when I heard he was working on a manga that retold the events of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, I wasn't very interested. There'd already been two manga adaptations of the TV series, one that ran during the original airing in 1979 and another in 1994. I'd already seen the show, owned the movie trilogy, so why would I care to read the manga where the robots weren't moving around? It's easier to jump from manga to anime, but from anime to manga? I have little interest.
When Vertical began releasing Gundam The Origin over here in the States, I read the first volume reluctantly, and sure enough, while I enjoyed reading it just as I enjoy watching the TV show, it's not animated, and while the Yas designs are keener and sharper than ever and his little touches even improve the story at times, it just wasn't a huge priority to collect it. I still only have two volumes at this point, but I'll collect more as time goes on.
But this, this is a bit of a different situation. Now his manga, or at least a portion of it, concerning the back story of Char Aznable, is being animated, and his little touches will be brought to motion, with effects, voice acting, and music. Having finished Gundam Unicorn, I was set to see this, even though I'm frankly offended by the staggering price for the Blu-Rays (I spent $200+ on 7 volumes of Gundam Unicorn). Yas himself is directing it in four parts, and fortunately the anime streaming service Daisuki made it available for rent, though even that's pretty pricey at seven dollars for each language track option and a limit of a few days.
(About an hour after my rental, less legal means became available for those flying the jolly roger. It figures.)
The first episode of this OVA begins with the sudden death of political agitator Zeon Zum Deikun, whose wish for independence for the orbiting space colonies, specifically the ones the farthest from the Earth at Side 3, has sparked a cult of personality. With his death, suspicions are thrown on the Earth Federation government, but it seems Deikun's close friend Jimba Ral is determined to accuse Deikun's other colleague, the ambitious Degwin Zabi, who resembles a lumpy potato. Ral is not at all shy about loudly accusing the Zabi family of a power grab (to which he is clearly correct in accusing them of), and this is bad news for everyone within earshot.
It soon falls upon his son, the much put upon Ramba Ral, before the mustache matured, before the Gouf that was no Zaku boy, no Zaku, and before the gut, to diffuse the situation in the only way he can figure, by evacuating Deikun's heirs from Side 3 to remove them from the grasp of the Zabi family. And, of course, try to get his own father out as well, because sometimes accusing the most powerful man in your government of assassinating the hero of your people leads to, shall we say, complications.
Complications like the bombing of a motorcade taxying from Deikun's funeral, which leads to the death of one Sasro Zabi, the fieriest and most critical of the Zabi children, and the injury of Dozle Zabi, a giant of a man who survives the car bombing with just some terrible scars. It's not clear who perpetrated this act (it's implied that it might actually have been Sasro's sister Kycilia, for an earlier slight), but the blame is pushed squarely on Jimba Ral. Jimba Ral, however, is not a well man, but not in a revenge-making way, in a paranoid, locking himself in his room while he's armed to the teeth way. There might be something in the Munzo water supply, because both Zeon Deikun and Jimba Ral rant, rave, and foam at the mouth like they think the government is injecting nanomachines into our food to spy on our dreams.
Ramba Ral has to juggle political loyalties and favors and his increasingly agitated father. But fortunately, he's a Grade-A badass with a hyper competent aid in Crowley Hamon, master infiltrator, master of disguise, swift with a kick, and pretty good with a Guntank mobile suit. If this OVA has what Bennett the Sage calls "Valkyrie Bitches", it's Crowley Hamon and Kycilia Zabi, women who don't take shit, give no fucks, and stride confidently in front of the armed and dangerous with sheer confidence. Forget the blue-eyed Casval for a moment, because these two have iron ovaries and they'll fucking cut you, man. Cut you deep.
They're not the only strong female characters, however, because there is something to be said about Casval and Artesia's mother, Astraia Tor Deikun, actually Zeon's mistress (though she took his name?). Bearing the stress of her husband's increasing madness and then death, raising two children in the wake of their father's legacy and mysterious demise, thrust into danger as the target of the Zabis, forced to part with her children in a desperate bid to smuggle them out of harm's way, having to put up with Deikun's legal wife, a bitter, spurned old follower who resents her. She wonders why her children have to suffer for being the progeny of a figure like Zeon, but cherishes that she was able to bear such a man children.
And for their part, Casval and Artesia are both very endearing in their own ways. Little Artesia is, of course, one of the cutest things you'll ever see in your life, full of spirit and wonder, mostly unencumbered by the concerns of the adult world. But you can also see that Casval is already shouldering the burden of his father's legacy, with a look of fierceness and a burning hatred in his expression. He has a determination to strike back at the people who robbed him of his father, who separated him and his sister from his mother. This is the boy who will one day became the Red Comet, Char Aznable, and even a threat from Kycilia herself does nothing to extinguish the flames in his gaze. The kid's pretty damn good with a Guntank, too.
The show is mostly political intrigue, with very little mobile suit action outside of a couple of scenes, like in the opening sequence set during the One Year War. And the mobile suits are CGI rendered in a way that can, at times, seem very off putting. But it doesn't take that long to adjust, even if you come away wishing they had just stuck with more traditional methods.
The music takes some cues from the original Gundam TV series at times, but other times comes across as more theatrical, like Gundam Unicorn's pieces. Composer Takayuki Hattori mostly plays it safe, however, not nearly as adventurous as Hiroyuki Sawano was. It doesn't just come across as wallpaper, though, it compliments the scenes well enough without blending together, but without really standing out most of the time. So, pretty average.
The voice acting is much stronger than the music. Our titular blue-eyed boy Casval is here played by veteran Mayumi Tanaka (Kuririn in DB/Z, Monkey D. Luffy in One Piece, among many roles), and he does sound like a young, very formidable child. Shuuichi Ikeda reprises the role of adult Char Aznable in the few seconds he appears at the beginning. The latest voice of Fujiko Mine, Miyuki Sawashiro, steps in to play Crowley Hamon with a mix of ferocity and coyness. Shigeo Kiyama is the new, younger Ramba Ral, playing the sides of him that are friendly and approachable and the part of him that is a force to be reckoned with. And Ayumi Tsunematsu plays Astraia with a wistful, sad, but warm sensibility.
I haven't heard the English track yet. That's another seven bucks. Give me some time and I'll report back on that version.
Anyway, if you're looking for a little backstory for the One Year War depicted in the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series and compilation movies, with several nods to characters from that series, both the big and small roles (Tachi and Clamp!), I think you'll find, as I did, that this was an enjoyable watch, even if it only covers a fraction of the story.
When chapter 2 premieres in the autumn, maybe I'll have another seven bucks to burn.
My Completely Pointless Grading Scale Grade:
4 out of 5
(Read the actual review, though, you lazy bastard.)