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 Gundam1. 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
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.