Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Military Sci-Fi at its Finest!

I’m a pretty big fan of Universal Century Mobile Suit Gundam stuff. For the longest time, though, I’d put off reading Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, in no small part because of the outrageous price ($30-ish, 3 times the normal price of most manga) of the hard-bound, partially colored, full gloss collections. Plus, I sort of assumed it to JUST be a retelling of Mobile Suit Gundam. In a way I was right, but in so many ways I was TOTALLY WRONG!

Awhile back I snagged the first four volumes from the library, and they are AMAZING!

The Origin is done entirely by the original series character designer, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, and he uses the opportunity to tell a far more mature and compelling version of the One Year War. Though the story and themes are primarily the same, Yasuhiko strips away the cartoonish trappings of the 1979 series, taking it even further than Tomino did* with the compilation movies in which he’d sought to remove a lot of the sillier elements. Some might cry foul, but Yasuhiko succeeds in polishing off the last of the super robot elements which Gundam was so important for having begun to erode. What we’re left with is an incredibly gripping hardcore military sci-fi story that just happens to involve giant robots. Minor characters get more time to make the White Base crew seem more filled out and less understaffed. Additional Guntanks and Guncannons in its mobile suit arsenal makes the White Base feel a lot more like a functional combat unit than just Amuro and two mooks who sometimes get assists. This also means that we lose a lot more characters that we meet; with the exception of Job John (a VERY minor named character from the original series who did survive) I fully expect all of the other named Federation Mobile Suit pilots on White Base to die. While this could’ve taken away from Ryu’s big-heroic-sacrifice death, it ends up making it more meaningful as he’s the senior most pilot who, already severely injured, has to come to the aid of other pilots, some of whom were already kia.

The biggest change to the story, however, is that Yasuhiko opted not to use the batshit crazy semi-canonical route that White Base followed from its landing in North America to the Earth Federation HQ in Brazil. Instead he manages to fit the entire original earth arc narrative into a far more sensible direct route.

The White Base’s Journey to Jaburo in Mobile Suit GundamJourney to Jaburo Anime1. The White Base lands deep in Zeon Territory, somewhere in the American Southwest, later proposed to be near the Grand Canyon. Attacked by Garma’s North American Zeon forces.

2. Somehow, the White Base ends up the ruins of New York, fighting Char & the NA Zeons. Garma killed in battle.

3. The White Base’s Quantum journey to Asia.

4. The homogeneous wasteland geography makes the first part of the Ramba Ral arc difficult to place, but it’s generally assumed to be mainland China near the Taklamakan Desert.

5. Isle of Kukurus Doan; while this episode was not nearly as terrible as people have said it was (Time Be Still was much worse), it does make fuck-all sense having White Base back in the Pacific at this point, at least based on the episode’s production number. If placed before the Ramba Ral arc, it would resolve the quantum journey issue.

6. Battles explicitly set in or near the Taklamakan Desert (retroactive continuity), though easily could have taken place across Afghanistan and Persia on the White Base’s trek toward Europe.

7. The Odessa Offensive is one of the few places (along with the battle of New York, the refit in Belfast and Jaburo being in the Amazon basin somewhere in Brazil) that has an explicit tie to a real world location. It is, however, a large regional operation.  White Base’s exact location in all of this is unclear other than that they are behind enemy lines and in an arid region somewhere near the Black Sea.

8. The White Base encounters the Black Tri-Star somewhere in the forests of central Europe. This is held to either take place in the Ardennes or the Black Forest in Germany.

9. Following the Odessa Offensive, the White Base is given refit in Belfast, Ireland.

10. The White Base crosses the Atlantic Ocean, pursued by Zeon marines led by Char.

11. White Base finally arrives at Earth Federation Supreme HQ Jaburo in Brazil. After the Zeon’s all out assault on Jaburo is repulsed, the White Base returns to space, where it is involved in combat operations near Side 6, and Space Fortresses Solomon and A Baoa Qu.

The White Base’s Journey to Jaburo in Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

Journey to Jaburo Manga

1. White Base lands explicitly in the American Southwest in Arizona and spend some time following the Colorado River Valley. They fight Garma’s North American Zeon forces, though the geography is much more concrete.

2. Since one of the few things that was explicit about the location of Garma’s HQ in the original was that it was based in California, North American Zeon Command is placed in partially ruined L.A.; Zeon leadership staff occupy the hoity-toity parts while partisans hide in the ruins. The White Base receives orders to coordinate with the partisans in an effort to break Zeon’s North American command structure. Hence the Battle of New York is moved to L.A. The results are more or less the same, however instead of a brief arc about Icelina wanting revenge, we get to see the Zeon military police put a bullet in her father’s head.  (He was changed from mayor of New York to mayor of L.A.; he’s still a supporter of the anti-Zeon partisans).

3. Rather than take a crazy route circumnavigating the globe to get to Earth Federation HQ, White Base heads directly toward South America, fighting their way towards…

4. Neutral space in Lima Peru. The Ramba Ral arc is moved to the South American highlands, though some may have also taken place in the Mexican desert. It should be noted that in this telling, Lima essentially replaces Belfast, moving up White Base’s refit to before the Tri-Star arc. The Miharu subplot is replaced with Hayato beating the hell out of some Zeons in the street with his Judo skills (which are more relevant in the manga than they were in the Anime).

5. The battle with the Black Tri-Star is moved to near Cuzco. White Base therefore does not take part in the Odessa Offensive for geographic reasons; M’Quve is demoted from his arc-villain status and replaced with rather enjoyable new character General Garcia.

6. White Base arrives at Jaburo in time to assist in the defense of Federation HQ against an all out assault launched by General Garcia. He tries to use an Adzam underground and it goes about as well as you’d expect.

As you can see, the route taken in The Origin is significantly shorter and, despite losing/moving the iconic fights at Odessa and the forests of Germany, makes a hell of a lot more sense.

I cannot recommend Mobile Suite Gundam: The Origin enough.  Even for non-anime fans of Mil-SF.  I mean, I love MSG, but I will admit that there are so many cringe inducing moments as well as slow spots and bad episodes that keep me from making an unreserved recommendation to someone who doesn’t already like Gundam or giant robots.  That is not the case with The Origin, however.  There’s really nothing I would qualify my recommendation for this with.  If you like Mil-SF, you will at least appreciate if not love this retelling of the most significant military sci-fi tales of the 20th century.

Anyway, it’s inspired me to revisit my ideas for OGRE-suit Gundam…  Coming soon…

*:Another reason why I was hesitant was that I was worried it might be like Tomino’s novelizations, which were pretty terrible.

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Why I’m Done with Manga & Anime

The Book Wars are about halfway done with their month-long focus on graphic novels and picture books. Interestingly, the focus has been way more on picture books and non-traditional graphic novels than graphic novels by the big Comic Publishers and manga. And in a way, I’m glad. I really don’t think I can get behind encouraging YA readers to get into the whole manga thing. I felt kind of inspired to go on this rant for awhile, but the post on CLAMP dug up some old memories for me of one of the first few anime I saw (click the link and support TBW to find out what it was!). I got to rib my then-girlfriend about why that girl was naked and crucified and being torn apart by razor wire while she swore up and down that the comic was better. Good times!

Once upon a time, and up until fairly recently, I used to be a big fan of a lot of manga and anime, but I really just can’t enjoy it anymore because “oh, god, are there any mainstream series that don’t sexualize children?” While I’m sure there are some titles out there that are just peachy-keen, making children into sex objects is so endemic within the medium that it really seems hardly worthwhile to bother looking. Sure, there are still some good titles that absolutely do not do this, With the Light being one of the best examples I can think of off the top of my head, but the presentation of women and children as nothing more than objects of sexual gratification is a huge problem in the medium.

In some ways, it might be something of a cyclical problem, largely because until Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing started showing on Cartoon Network presented as kids shows Anime was primarily marketed in america based on its sexual content. Who can forget all of those commercials for $50 VHS mail orders warning “These are Not for kids!”, promising lots of lurid violence and celluloid sex? There are a few ‘big name’ titles from this era that many people would list as their introduction to anime (I’m not going to list them, but let’s just say they were the ones that weren’t Akira).* One of the selling points of anime/manga in the US has always been the promise of graphic content which the US comic market had never delivered (and in many ways, the US comic market may be trying to catch up).

Anyway, the drawn graphic medium is ideal for the objectification of women. These drawn women are literally objects who were created for the viewing pleasure of (by and large male) audience. And because these aren’t real women with thoughts, feelings, dreams, goals, personality, etc., one can get away with doing anything one wants to them, right? A LOT of horrible things happen to women and girls in manga, and it’s generally played for laughs. How often is molestation and sexual abuse a gag-line in manga? Way too often. And how often are underage girls in mainstream titles treated as objects of sexual gratification for male characters and male readers? Way more often than is okay! Oh, but it’s fine, because they’re not real, right? That’s something of an echo of the ‘women are not people’ quips one still hears today. It becomes easier to objectify women in the real world when people become accustomed to objectifying them in graphic art. So that’s why I’m done with manga. I’ll grin and bear it for Batman (to a point) and probably bitch about it later, but for now I’m done with what manga has to offer.

Here are just a few examples from popular titles:

Bleach – The diversity of the female cast in Bleach is less about portraying a wide array of different characters and more about the ‘offering something for everyone’ approach that anime/mangas with large ensemble casts use to give more ‘types’ for male fans to latch onto. While the soul reapers are all of various implausible immortal ages, Orihime is supposed to be 15 or something.

Gundam – In the older shows, not a lot of sex happens, but there is a fair amount of out of place nudity of the “Oh, how embarrassing, the main character saw me naked! *v*” variety. In the first two series, nothing would’ve been lost with these scenes’ omissions. We may not have got the Isle of Kukurus Doan on the ‘uncut’ dvds, but we did get to see all three of female crew members topless.

Love Hina – Compared with some of the stuff that’s on manga shelves these days, Love Hina seems incredibly innocuous and tame. Still, being a manga by Ken Akamatsu, there’s going to be lots of panty-shots and undetailed nudity. While the characters ‘grow up’ and are mostly in their early 20s by the end of the series, many of the girls are highschoolers at the start of the series.

Negima – Despite the high fantasy tropes, Negima is unabashed and unashamedly pornography. It should be noted that almost all of the female characters are middle-schoolers.

Neon Genesis Evangelion – Lots of nudity going on here, largely from characters who are supposed to be 14ish. Of course much of the show is about psychoanalysing the sexuality of pubescent teenagers and can almost be seen as a literalist interpretation of Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus on top of the Kabbalistic occidentalism. But at some point, you need to take a step back and realize you’re watching a show about kids awkwardly (and sometimes graphically) coming to terms with their sexual desires and gratifications.

One Piece – I’m not as familiar with this one, only having seen an episode or two, but it takes a ton of space on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and the thing I notice most about it are that the girls are pretty much sticks with giant boobs.

School Rumble – This is a pretty fun show/manga, and there’s really not a lot wrong with it, especially compared with other romantic comedies, but the characters are highschoolers. At some point, one needs to break away from one’s desire to relive highschool. Especially when it comes to romance. It doesn’t grow up with the reader, which can be a problem with long running series that stay focused on the crushes and obsessions of teenagers.

And yes, some of the titles I mention above I used to really like but I finally just had to say ‘damn!’, put on the breaks, and take note of just how fucked up so many of these things are, especially when taken into account of our already highly pornified culture. And after taking note, I can say “I am done with manga and anime”.

*: I don’t know if it’s true or not, but there’s an urban legend that producers originally pressured to add pornographic scenes to Project A-ko because they were afraid that it wouldn’t do well in the US without them.  Supposedly, this is also the reason for the rape scene in Mezzo Forte.

The Manga Bust of the Late 00’s May Be Ending, but is that a Good Thing?

The manga market seems to have recovered from the big Manga Crash that occurred along with the rest of the financial crises of 2007, but were the right lessons learned, and how will this affect mainstream comics, both eastern and western, that are released in the US?

The early through mid oughts were a golden age for people reading manga.  Titles were plentiful, relatively cheap, and highly varied.  No longer published as niche titles, released only in comic stores, or in ‘alien’ formats, such as the Darkhorse publications that would reformat a title to fit their standard western style comic issue-by-issue release, Manga had found its place in the mainstream on bookshelves of American Bookstores everywhere.  Around 2007, however, the manga business found itself hit hard by the financial crisis that led to the closure of publishers, cancellations of several titles, and an overall restructuring within the industry as survivors scrambled for licenses and shelf-space.

A number of things led up the crash.  The 00s were, despite what you may have been told, a time of extreme prosperity, freewheelin’, and luxury goods.  One of those luxury goods was manga, which publishers found to be quite the hot commodity.  Flagship Action and Shojo titles proved to be big money-makers, and with anime being shown regularly for the first time on US TV as anything other than an odd novelty, interest and demand for titles were growing faster than publishers could keep up with.  Scanlations and fansubs, despite their critics within the industry on both sides of the ocean, provided publishers with something that any media business would kill for: insight into proven hits with large pre-existing fanbases who were just waiting for the product to spend their money on.  Titles would have buzz long before their US release that publishers could capitalize on if they were quick enough and made the right marketing and merchandizing moves.  The problem began when the publishers started stretching themselves thin, however.  While early in the days of the boom, a new title would likely be a smash hit simply because there were only a handful of other competing titles, the mid 00s saw a glut of new titles, primarily shojo, slice of life, and cheesecake.  While the shelves in bookstores were becoming oversaturated with new titles, America was starting to slow its spending as the overall crash began.  Publishers found themselves out of a lot of money spent on 2nd and 3rd tier titles that weren’t selling.  While they might not have been out as much as if an expensive to license flagship title went bust, the quantity of titles that had been more or less tossed out into the market to meet what publishers thought was unquenchable demand were producing red ink that they simply couldn’t cope with.

In an attempt to stop the bleeding, some publishers cancelled titles that weren’t selling as well.  Unfortunately, this exacerbated the problem: readers were upset at having titles cancelled that they’d invested lots of money in only to find that they’d never be continued.  If there was a chance that a title might be cancelled before it finished its run, why spend the money in the first place?  And as readers were less willing to invest in physical titles, some turned to the internet to read their favorites or they quit altogether.  Neither of these were good for US manga publishing industry.  Sales slumped, several publishers closed their doors forever, and the manga sections in stores were drastically reduced to carrying only the ongoing flagship titles that had proved to be consistent sellers.  The tanking of the US economy and its failure to recover caused the market to drastically shift.  The demographic of who has disposable money is vastly different from what it was 10 years ago.  Publishers had to come up with a new strategy to pick up sales. The choice that they made is a fascinating one, especially considering what US comics have done in the struggling market.

The solution that the US manga publishing industry chose was pornography.  And that choice, one could argue, validates the strategy which Dan DiDio chose for DC comics with the New 52.

Sexually explicit material has always existed in comics and art to the point that one can say that it has always been endemic.  But the ratio of titles pushed in the mainstream and on the shelves of bookstores paints a different picture of manga as a hobby and as a medium from what was around 10 years ago.  During the height of the manga boom, the most sexually explicit titles one found were those by Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina) or Masamune Shiro (Ghost in the Shell).  I know there were several other titles with sexual themes or overtones, or titles that were not overtly sexual or written for the sole purpose of titillation that contained nudity or sexual content, but by and large, the titles tended towards your typical flagship action story, shojo romance, love comedy or slice of life titles where, if there was anything sexual, it was not focused on as a primary selling point.

Today, however, with the exception of those old flagship titles, which have been ongoing since the beginning of the boom, throughout the bust, and on into this new era, titles that focus on sex, sexualization, and titillation seem to have blossomed and overtaken the manga section.  One cannot pass by a manga section today without seeing a multitude of covers featuring partial to near-total female nudity.  Titles that would’ve been shrink wrapped just a few years ago, featuring not only nudity, but graphic, sometimes violent, sex, often depicting minors, are prominently displayed on endcaps or on shelves, covers facing out, baring the laughable “Older Teen” rating.  In efforts to win the “not just for kids!” argument, manga publishers in collusion with retailers have made the manga section of their stores (usually an adjunct to the Young Adults section) not only inappropriate for children but possibly very dangerous.  Now, I know that there’s the argument of parental responsibility “hurr hurr, y r ur kids unsuprvized?”, but there’s a difference between standing behind your kid while they pick out the newest volume of the manga that their saturday morning cartoon is based on in a section where the worst one might see is the occasional cover with someone with overly large breasts that can be pointed to and laughed at as absurd to having your child in a section where you are surround by multiple and varied images of screaming and/or crying half-naked women, sometimes being groped on.

And now, I will dig into western comics for a bit.  Western Comics faced some harsh competition during the manga boom when potential comic readers were buying manga instead of western comics, and multiple foreign titles were suddenly getting shelf-space in bookstores that had been long lost to American comics.  The format was a big part of this; retailers like trades, and a lot of consumers do too.  Another thing that hurt western comics was the perceived (and real) impenetrability of their titles.  With manga, readers knew that if they picked up volume 1 of a title, chances were, they were at the beginning and could read a single unified story from beginning to end.  How often is that the case with western comics?  Another thing that western comics had to compete with from Manga was image; despite the steps taken in the 80s and 90s, western comics did not seem as grown up in a market where manga titles existed.  Part of ‘growing up’ for comics had been including more adult themes and topics, implied sex, scantily clad women, etc., all things that had been unacceptable under the old Code.  In some places, the pencilers take this to stupid extremes: particularly of note, 90s Catwoman is penciled as though she were butt naked and then inked purple from neck to toe, rendering her design rather absurd and unflattering.  So, when up against manga, western comics were jealous that their end of the medium had to compete against titles that could sell sex and sexuality up front and could contain graphic nudity and sex.  Whether it was well handled or simple exploitative pandering, they didn’t care.  They just wanted a piece of it.  So now, we have a western comics market that tried to catch up with the old boom era manga by pushing the titillation and pandering up to 11, though still unable to take that last step into full on graphic sex and nudity.  Meanwhile, the manga industry took the next step and just went for more porn.

Only time will tell if these industries made the correct choices businesswise.  The lessons learned from the bust seem odd indeed, especially since many of the titles that contributed to the glut prior to the bust were cheap-to-license cheesecake titles, though I’d imagine that hurt the anime industry more than the manga industry due to the increased overhead (which partially explains why there was a huge post-recession boom in super-saver packs containing entire series for less than the cost of 1 pre-bust dvd).  I don’t know how much criticism there has been of the manga publishing industry post-bust, but the overall response to New 52 has ranged from “Why?” to “Gross…”.  The loudest complaints are from those who loved the DCAU and/or who have kids that they wish they could introduce to the heroes they love, but are incredibly wary of taking them into a comic store based on their knowledge of what’s been going on in the industry at large.  Things must be working for the manga industry, though, since they’ve reclaimed much of the shelf-space that was lost between 2007-2009, but you’ll never see the throngs of young teens sitting in the aisles, reading their favorite titles.

Important note: I’m also not suggesting that the older manga titles were appropriate either.  A lot of them really are/were not.  Some of those Flagship titles I referred to ALSO put sex at the forefront and are still ongoing today, so I’m not making a case that those titles that carried the industry through its rough period were non-sexual or kids-appropriate.  I’m merely pointing out that the overall trend in titles carried seems to have shifted from titles that may (or may not) have included sex to titles where sex is at the forefront, front and center and in the face of anyone walking by.  I had initially considered working this into a much lengthier post about why I no longer read manga or watch anime period, but that’s a vastly different and deeply personal topic that would be better explored on its own.