Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Collin Henderson recommends Mobile Suit Gundam Thunerbolt and Hawk Ripjaw can’t stop gushing about The Mitchells vs the Machines.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt
Collin: This past week I caught up on the manga Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, which, unlike most other entries in the franchise, is not a manga based on an anime, but an original work that turned into a short anime series. I’ve always adored the aesthetic of Gundam, and I’ve watched a few series at this point. Apart from the pure spectacle of seeing giant robots with lightsabers beat the tar out of one another, there’s often real nuance to how war is depicted in each separate series. Sometimes it’s more whimsical (08th MS Team), and other times it’s about as gritty as giant robots can get (Iron Blooded Orphans). Thunderbolt falls into the latter category, although it’s not without whimsy.
Taking place in the Universal Century timeline (where the original series, as well as others like Unicorn take place), Thunderbolt centers on the rivalry between two young mobile suit pilots. On the Earth Federation side is Io Fleming, a hotheaded lover of jazz who views battles as a way to express himself. On the Zeon side is Daryl Lorenz, a disabled sniper who is devastating when put in the right position. The really fascinating trick that Thunderbolt pulls off is that neither of these characters is the “good guy” or the “bad guy.”
It’s difficult to describe without spoiling a lot of the later volumes, but Thunderbolt excels at humanizing both sides of the Earth Federation vs. Zeon conflict. Each side has characters who are genuinely likable, and the reader comes to understand their position. In a really cool move, Io and Daryl are both their own protagonists, and the antagonist to the other. They both fight because, well, that’s all they’ve ever really known, and the greater conflict pulls in not just them but those they care about as well, which makes the eventual casualties all the more heart-wrenching.
Of course, this is a manga, and it wouldn’t be half as effective without the superb art and panel layouts. I can’t imagine that it’s easy to make giant robots feel weighty and powerful in a static medium, but writer/ illustrator Yasuo Ohtagaki often uses double-page, large images to convey really dramatic and important attacks. Somehow, even though you’re only looking at ink on a page, you really do feel the enormity of every attack, every explosion, every casualty thanks to the way he lays out each page.
Plus, the mech design is, as always, great. The series starts off with an armored up version of the classic RX-78 Gundam (the one featured in the original series) and grows to add in Ohtagaki’s own spin on the series designs. It never hurts to have your giant robots in your giant robot stories look awesome, and they definitely do in Thunderbolt.
I really can’t recommend it enough. Even though it takes place in the Universal Century timeline, I think it’s pretty accessible; as long as you go in knowing about the conflict between the Federation and Zeon, you shouldn’t be too lost. It very quickly breaks free of that primary conflict to tell its own unique story about how war affects people. The only bad thing I have to say about it is, now that I’m caught up, I need to wait for the next volume to receive a translation.