A Premature Zum Shot: Impressions of Gundam The Origin I – Blue-Eyed Casval

Prequels are invariably pretty shit.

If they’re not building upon established, well-worn backstory with unnecessary and uninteresting fluff (the Gungan-effect), they’re unnecessarily complicating existing relationships between familiar characters (the Jango Fett-effect). More over, thanks to advancing technology in both film and animation, prequels rarely look like they predate their chronologically successive progenitors, a problem that pop up most notably in the areas of graphical fidelity and design. With that in mind, hopefully you’ll excuse us if we weren’t too optimistic about the new OVA adaption of Gundam The Origin.

That The Origin manages to avoid these pitfalls, or succeed in spite of them, is due in no small part to the quality of its source material: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s sprawling manga retelling of the One Year War, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Yasuhiko was the character designer for the original Mobile Suit Gundam back in 1979, and has since become both an accomplished director and cartoonist. His Origin manga is an exhaustive retelling of one of the most familiar conflicts in anime, and its success speaks to both his strengths as a storyteller and an artist.

What sets the animated The Origin apart, at least in the case of the first episode, Blue-Eyed Casval, is that it sticks faithfully to Yasuhiko’s work. That’s not entirely surprising, considering the man’s credit as “Chief Director” on the 4-episode series, but it’s reassuring because while this may be a prequel, it’s adapted from volume five of the manga. This means it’s less of a tacked-on origin story, and more a much longer, well-planned narrative. So while The Origin OVA may be only four episodes long, it could easily be dovetailed into a much longer series, focusing on the adaption of rest of the manga’s One Year War timeframe. This is a surprisingly smart strategy from Bandai, given their last big-budget Gundam OVA was the dreadful, little-better-than-fanfiction pap, Gundam Unicorn.

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But while The Origin may be setting up for possibility of a Yamato 2199-esque reboot, the first episode makes it abundantly clear that the series is targeted at older fans, already well-versed in the nuances of the Universal Century and the One Year War. Sandwiched between some sharp looking Mobile Suit battles is roughly 40-minutes of political intrigue and machinations surrounding the death of Zeon Zum Deikun, father to both the boy that would become Char Aznable, and the villains of original Mobile Suit Gundam, the Principality of Zeon. The only time this tone shifts is with a couple of brief gags involving a cat, that while faithful to Yasuhiko’s manga style, don’t quite make a successful shift to animation. Thankfully, these gags are pretty short. If politics and Universal Century minutiae aren’t your jam, you’re likely to be frustrated and bored.

The One Year War as a World War II allegory is well-worn and tiring by now, but The Origin does well to present Munzo, the colony that will eventually become the Principality of Zeon, as something of an interwar European republic, beset by political instability and the eventual rise of fascism. It’s a clever approach considering how exhaustively World War II imagery has become conflated with the One Year War, and aside from some Gulf War-era uniforms on the part of the Federation soldiers, it’s an all-encompassing aesthetic throughout the episode.

That imagery isn’t particularly surprising considering the series’ director, Takashi Imanishi, was also the director of most of Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, and the MS IGLOO series, two shows that relied heavily on World War II imagery. He’s also Colony Drop’s de facto favorite Gundam director, which or may not mean something to you, depending on your taste in Gundam OVAs. Series writer Katsuyuki Sumisawa is also well-versed in Gundam, having had a hand in much of Gundam Wing. Perhaps with these two working together, it means there’ll be something for every type of Gundam fan in The Origin. Or maybe not.

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As mentioned earlier, there’s a lot in The Origin specifically designed to appeal to older fans, and the Jango Fett-effect, for better or worse, is a big part of that. Characters from Mobile Suit Gundam show up in spades, which while not-overbearing, often times feels a little too convenient. Sure, part of that is attempting illustrate existing relations already referenced over decades of animation and spin-offs, but it can, as it often does in prequels, feel like its trying a bit too hard. On the other hand, the biker bar from Venus Wars makes an appearance on Side 3 and it’s hard to get too upset about that.

The Origin’s most egregious prequel-related chronological offense is the shoehorning of Federation Guntanks into the story, roughly a decade too early. There’s not much point, or explanation, as to why so many prototype Guntanks are kicking around, but then again, a Gundam series isn’t allowed to have a first episode without an untrained kid piloting a Mobile Suit. It also throws off the pre-existing narrative of Mobile Suits being a Zeon-designed surprise weapon deployed during the One Year War, but hey, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket got the Mobile Suits all wrong, too, and people trip all over themselves to praise that thing.

One last complaint: early on, a particularly eye-rolling reference is made to Char’s eventual nickname, a line so bad that the best equivalent I could draw would be line from the first episode of Gundam 00, where a character reads “Gundam” on the forehead of a mobile suit and wonders aloud if that’s the mobile suit’s name.

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We’ll refrain from drawing any strong conclusions from the first episode, mostly because it’s too early but also because we were way, way wrong about Gundam Unicorn. The strict adherence to Yasuhiko’s work in Blue-Eyed Casval means that, if things continue, we know what we’re going to get because we’ve already read it. The adaption is strict enough that it likely won’t be filled with too many surprises, but considering how terribly most Gundam series finish, that’s not so bad.

The last thing we’d regret not mentioning is just how absolutely pathetic Bandai’s recent efforts with Gundam have been in the U.S. While Build Fighters was streamed nearly simultaneously for U.S. viewers, the currently-airing Gundam Reconguista in G is five months behind U.K. and Australian streams, for no explicable reason. Similarly, as of the time this article was published, the first episode of The Origin is available only via Google Play and Daisuki. The former limits you to browser-playback and Android devices, while the latter apparently doesn’t like credit cards very much (we had to use PayPal). It’s a baffling strategy for a major Bandai franchise, in what we’d assume is a pretty large market.

Perhaps there’s a decent explanation Bandai hasn’t shared, or perhaps they’re purposely sabotaging U.S. releases, but either way, if you’re in the U.S. and trying to watch new Gundam shows like The Origin, it’s a genuinely shitty situation.

Edit: Shortly after this post went live, the episode was added to Amazon’s streaming service.

5 Comments

  1. I myself thought it was well played out, but rang too much as a comedy than anything else. Zeon Zum himself has been regulated to a madman on level with a messianic complex that rivals even the madness that was Robespierre during the French Revolution. I do say though that it gives us a good glimpse into the ramping up of the eventual conflict that became the OYW and how Casval can be seen growing into the jaded character he will be when he becomes Char, frankly…it seems he has had a chip on his shoulder even before his fathers death. As far as it appears, Artesia and her mother are the real victims here.

  2. The Guntanks’ presence makes sense in context; The Origin manga retconned them to be an older generation of MS that is obsolete by the OYW period.

    • Yeah, the very first chapter of the manga has Denim’s recon party stumbling across wreckage of Guntanks and Guncannons on a test range. They’re familiar with both.

      The Origin manga in general retools many events in the television. Sometimes for the better (like altering White Base’s nonsensical journey across the Earth), sometimes for the worse (as a consequence though, Odessa is now in South America and is still called “Odessa” for whatever reason).

  3. We actually came out with our review of this OVA in our recent podcast episode, which my co-host and I agree this is up our ally, and of course wanna see more of it: http://aoypodcast.com/2015/03/09/aoy-podcast-62-mobile-suit-gundam-the-origin-blue-eyed-casval-ova-review/

    I know one of the comments I made about this OVA is how is it going to “fit” in the order for someone new getting into Gundam for the first time. Is it going to follow the same way as the Star Wars films where some people suggest you see the latest movies before the original ones or vice versa? Personally, I think if someone is getting into Gundam likes the original films, they can see this to clarify some of the backstory and to know what Char’s motives are for backlashing/killing the Zabi family.

    >>Antialias: I have a little problem with your statement, which is kinda discussed on our episode. And that is because Origin is coming out, is the original series completely “retconned” in terms of how the events happened with certain mobile suites are inserted into the timeline? I don’t think it really is. To me a retconn is like what happened in the latest X-Men movie, where as this is just adding to the universe and not really taking anything major out but adding in older Guntank designs. It’s simply a set up of a retelling of the show. I’m not gonna retconn the original series because “oh old ass Guntanks are in this, so the original Gundam means nothing now I guess.” That would be a lame reason to state that it is retconned to me at least. If thats the case, wouldn’t the Gundam novels already discredit and retconn the original show by this point?

    That’s all I have to say right now.

  4. BTW, since you reviewed other Haikasoru books, did you get a load of http://www.haikasoru.com/excerpt/gene-mapper/comment-page-1/ ?

    That excerpt’s basically some dude watching accusations of his scene fucking up the world because they don’t give a shit if they hurt other people, agreeing with all the accusations, and whining about the accuser making it sound bad instead of good.

    Looks like Haikasoru’s pandering to anti-people people half the time (thanks for warning me about Yukikaze, the girls in Harmony by Project Itoh seem less like what girls are than like what salarymen with Lolita Complexes want girls to be, Hiroshi Yamato’s The Stories of Ibis was all “machines are good and humans are icky!!!” too, etc.), and the other half translating cool writers for down-to-earth people like Miyuki Miyabe and Yuya Sato (seriously, Dendera rules).

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