Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, volume 1 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

Posted by Yuma County Library

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Mobile Suit Gundam: the Origin volume 1 by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: In the futuristic Universal Century Year 0079, fifteen-year old mechanics junkie Amuro Ray and his friends get swept up in a war when their space colony is attacked by the rebelling Principality of Zeon. On the run from Zeon's finest, including ace pilot and strategist Char "The Red Comet" Aznable, they get semi-drafted into the military - and Amuro discovers he's a natural at piloting the new secret weapon, a man-shaped machine called a "Gundam".

What I Thought: The Gundam franchise is to Japan what Star Wars is to America - a beloved, universally-known science fiction epic; the franchise is so popular that a "life-sized" giant moving model of the original Gundam robot was recently built. This particular graphic novel retells and expands upon the story of the very first Gundam series; it's the brainchild of one of the show's original creators.

And it's ridiculously good.

Even if you don't usually like graphic novels or science fiction, Yasuhiko does an incredible job of sucking the reader into this world and keeping the action moving while sprinkling the text with small moments of character development and worldbuilding (the first sight we get of our "hero" Amuro is his being so preoccupied with the technology he's studying that he's forgotten to bathe or clean his room).  This is a comic book that reads like a novel: the story feels timeless since Amuro's on a classic "hero's journey", but the threat of pursuit keeps things interesting and the frequent use of real-world locations grounds a futuristic story in reality. It's immediately interesting and incredibly accessible.

If you start reading for the "classic" feel, you keep reading for the characters. Put bluntly, the best thing about this franchise is Char, the hyper-competent, hyper-smooth, super-mysterious masked man who seems to exist just to make everyone else in the universe look bad. (Everyone who claims they are reading Gundam for any reason but Char is lying. This is a fact.) That doesn't mean everyone else in the story's a pushover, though. I was most intrigued by Noa Bright, the "captain" of the ship Amuro ends up fleeing on. He wasn't supposed to be captain at all, but like Amuro and his friends, circumstances dictate that he step up and takes command. He's not very good at it at first, being both young and under a lot of pressure, and I really didn't like him...which made watching him mature as a character and commander all the more satisfying. (But again, come on. We're all reading for Char.)

Even with a compelling story and characters, though, the technical merits really sell this book. Yasuhiko's art is amazing - and I don't just mean his character or robot designs, though I've got no qualms there either. His page layouts continually left me gaping. It's hard to draw dynamic action scenes since frames in a comic are, well, static, but Yasuhiko manages to choreograph fights that felt like I was watching a movie. And his linework is superb. Most manga artists use pens; Yasuhiko uses a brush, which gives his drawings an old-fashioned feel that perfectly fits the story. Budding comic artists should read this book if only to get an idea of just how "animated" comic panels can be.

Since this book was originally published in Japan, where people read right-to-left, newcomers to manga will have to get used to reading a book that starts at the "back cover", but once you get the hang of it, the story flows from one panel to the next. The translation is so smooth that it's hard to tell it hadn't originally been published in English. Basically, I would have no qualms whatsoever about handing this book - tome, really; it's several hundred pages long, hardback, and printed on glossy paper, the better to show off several chapters printed in full color - to someone who's never read manga before or even never read a graphic novel. It's just that good.

So come on, put this book on hold. If nothing else, read it for Char.

Readalikes: Monster by Naoki Urusawa, another "classic" manga that reads like a novel; George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, another epic even mainstream readers can enjoy. (Any classic sci-fi novel, like the works of Asimov or Niven, also fit here.)

Or look this book up on NoveList!