Episode 2, "Artesia's Sorrow"
Synopsis: The year is Universal Century 0071 and the Zabi regime grows more powerful in the group of space colonies at Side 3. The children of the deceased Zeon Zum Deikun grow up on Earth, but are thrown back into danger when Jimba Ral's plans make them a target. Now called Edward and Sayla Mass, the two find themselves enduring further tragedies and narrowly dodging death. All the while, the Zabis oversee the development of mobile suits, which a reluctant Ramba Ral participates in. What do the orphans once called Casval and Artesia have to do to position themselves out of danger? Volume 2 of this OVA sees Casval developing into the man who would become Char Aznable, the Red Comet.
"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
The second episode of the background story of Char Aznable and Sayla Mass sees the advent of bipedal mobile suits, the demise of the Ral patriarch, and nothing but heartbreak for the precious children of the revolutionary Zeon Zum Deikun. As Astraia lamented in the previous episode, why did these two children have to be burdened with being born to such a figure? All and all, it's a matter of family in this new entry.
Don Teabolo Mass is a large man, an influential man with many friends, a fine place to live, and a heart as big as his waistline. He's frankly one of the few positive father figures in the Universal Century. He takes in Casval and Artesia who've fled from the wrath of the Zabi family, looking to sweep away opposition. He even tries to countenance the wild-eyed, scheming Jimba Ral, who won't let his grudge against Degwin Zabi go. We see that he has affection for these kids and an anger over Ral jeopardizing it with his plans. Unfortunately, this goes badly for many, because mercenaries hired by the Zabis murder most of Mass' staff, injure him, and kill Ral. It's a small miracle that Don Teabolo survives at all. Meanwhile, Jimba Ral has likely been all but written off by his own son as being more trouble than he's worth.
There's a real sense of dramatic flair in the main feature of the raid on the Mass compound, namely the armored assassin. First he strikes at Mass, who falls out a window, then he murders Jimba Ral, gruesomely, and then he goes after Edward and Sayla. And apparently Edward's a natural with a sword because he manages to kill the attacker and secure his sword skills for years later at A Bao Qu (though fencing foils are a bit different). I half expected them to pull off the helmet and discover it was Old Man McCreedy, owner of the nearby abandoned amusement park, looking to secure more land from the Mass family. But Edward put him down hard, and without a Scooby Snack. This is only the first of two brutal encounters with him in this episode. He's one badass kid.
By the way, is Don Teabolo Mass supposed to resemble Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather? Does he die in an orange grove?
Even though he doesn't compromise as much of this episode as the last, in addition to Casval and Artesia's story is the continuing saga of Ramba Ral and Crowley Hamon. After his family's reputation being driven into the ground, Ramba Ral is an outcast, slouching around the bar Hamon works at, picking fights with Earth Federation soldiers. But luckily for him Dozle Zabi recognizes his talent and brings him into the testing of mobile suits, and what will eventually become the Zaku. Also participating are Gaia, Ortega, and Mash, who will gain a reputation for their tandem attacks during the One Year War. I wish they would elaborate on these tests more, but that would only mean more of that awkward CG.
That CG... it's... well, it's not horrible, but it just isn't very good. The use of CG in Unicorn was a lot better. I can't imagine why they didn't take a more combined approach with this like they did with that OVA. CG should be used to enhance ordinary animation only. It sort of takes you out of the moment when you go from these beautifully crafted character designs and animation to those startling rendered 3D mecha. It's not a deal breaker, but it's a noticeable flaw in this.
On the other hand, I enjoy the soundtrack, especially when they put in a piece from the original Gundam TV series.
Speaking of the original TV series, there's more than just heel cameos. We also get some babyfaces, and in one case, almost literally, with Amuro Ray, who appears at a space port. He's chasing after Haro, which apparently his father bought him. I was under the impression that Amuro actually built Haro, sort of as a substitute for himself to keep Fraw company while he was working on other projects. It's sort of a big deal, because it's Amuro's establishing moment in the original series, where we see what a brilliant engineer he is. Maybe he just customized it. Another upcoming White Base crew member is Mirai Yashima, seen with her father by Mass' hospital bed, advising him to move his children to the Texas Colony.
And this is where we get our interesting twist in the story which Yas created for his manga. Apparently the name "Char Aznable" actually belonged to a person before Casval Deikun. The Aznable family basically run the tourist Texas Colony, which in the original series served as the battleground where Amuro fought Char's Gelgoog and put an end to M'Quve. Char also briefly reunited with Sayla there. Here, we see that one of the Aznable family, Char, is a young man completely and coincidentally identical to Casval/Edward. I can't imagine what kind of sheer genetic freak accident caused two completely unrelated people to look exactly alike (aside from eye color) but apparently it's the kind that makes for convenient decoys (more on that in the next episode). The "real" Char isn't all and all that bad a guy, either, if a bit overzealous to take part in the Zeon military.
The person who would later take his identity, however, is changing. After the death of his father, being forced from his home, being forced from the new one, his mother's death, and the realization of his lot in life, Casval grows colder. More calculating. And as a teacher admits to Mass in one scene, honestly pretty damn scary. Is his sociopathic tendencies later in life driven by the constant barrage of evil and sadness, was he forged from circumstances, or was the Red Comet always that way and circumstances merely afforded him opportunity to use those traits? The next episode looks to be about Casval's infiltration of the Principality of Zeon as their military strengthens, and he meets Garma Zabi, so we'll see more of this then.
But I think we can all agree that being Sayla is suffering. Not that i've ever been a big Sayla Mass fan, given her standoffish attitude in the original series, but given her history, it's not exactly out of the blue. She can't even keep a cat without it becoming a dramatic example of loss. At the end when she chases her brother futilely, you can guess she knows just how pointless it is herself.
The voice acting, like last time, is solid for the Japanese version, though it is a little weird to hear Shuichi Ikeda as a teenaged Casval. Strangely enough, Tohru Furuya's child Amuro sounds a little more natural. Neither of them sound bad, it's just a little weird. They both still have "it", not losing an ounce of their talent over time. I think the strongest performances were Shigeo Kiyama and Miyuki Sawashiro as Ramba Ral and Crowley Hamon, who carry some of the dryer moments. I still haven't watched the English dubbed version, but I'm looking forward to more Kirk Thornton and what little Liam O'Brien and Wendee Lee their characters will afford us in this episode. I hope there's more of the Zabi family next episode.
Overall, I enjoyed seeing more of the backstories of various characters and elements of the original TV series, even though it's not entirely necessary. Telling origin stories can be tricky because it can take away a lot of the mystique of enigmatic figures. It's why I get tired of of these origin stories where everybody knew everyone prior to the events of the original work. If little boy Amuro starts interacting with everybody, it'll spoil my interest, but as for Ramba Ral and the Black Tri-Stars, or even Mirai Yashima and her father, I would watch ten to twelve episodes of this at least.
My Completely Pointless Grading Scale Grade:
4 out of 5 (it would be perfect if the mobile suit CG wasn't off putting)
(Read the actual review, though, you lazy bastard.)