Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 23rd 2007
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed X Astray
In C.E. 70, The Junkers (a group of people who recover and repair war salvage) have come into possession of a special Gundam type called Astray, as has the rival mercenary group Serpent Tail. The Junkers are contracted by Reverend Malchio to meet up with Prayer Reverie, a Junk Guild agent loyal to the Reverend, over a matter of great importance, but before they can precious equipment belonging to the Gundam Dreadnaught, which Prayer was escorting, is seized by Serpent Tail. They ultimately have second thoughts about what they're doing once they realize what it is, but both they and the Junkers must deal with Zaft forces spearheaded by Canard Pars, a “Super Coordinator” reject who obsessively seeks to gain legitimacy by finding and defeating the greatest success of the “Super Coordinator” program: Kira Yamato. He pilots an extraordinarily powerful Gundam called Hyperion.
Meanwhile Rondo Mina Sahaku schemes in the background about making a power grab once the Zaft-Alliance war is over.
Gundam Seed X Astray is a sequel series to Gundam Seed Astray, which was itself a complementary set of side stories to the Gundam Seed anime series. Although Kira Yamato's name figures quite prominently into the story, neither he nor any other character from Gundam Seed actually makes an appearance here. In fact, even if one hasn't read the original Astray series, it won't take long for a reader to pick up on what's going on, as the included Character and Story Introduction is quite handy on introducing the key players and much of the plot focuses on the entirely new characters Canard Pars and Prayer Reverie. (Gods, what names!) A reader even gets a substantial bit of background on Canard, so it won't take long to figure him out and makes sense of why he has such a mad-on to find and defeat Kira. At least a passing familiarity with the Gundam Seed universe is recommended, however.
So much of the page count is taken up with action scenes and displays of various exotic Gundam models that the four full and one mini chapter actually generate very little plot or character development beyond the details on Canard's backstory. What plot does exist is very basic fare: special equipment that could affect the balance of power in the Zaft-Alliance war is stolen, with Serpent Tail and the Junkers initially finding themselves on opposite sides of the issue until all parties involved discover what it really is and what it means. Meanwhile Canard goes around trying to find Kira and fighting anyone who gets in his way – and that's it. Beyond Canard, few of the characters get much chance to establish any kind of personality; merc leader Gai and Junkers ace pilot Lowe Gear (ugh) both get a bit of emphasis, but the rest of the supporting casts are so undeveloped that keeping their names straight can be difficult.
Anyone reading this manga expecting depth, character development, or complex plotting is already operating under an ill-conceived notion of what the title is or is supposed to be, for all it's really about is the action. Half-mad fight-at-the-drop-of-a-hat Canard gives the storytelling a convenient excuse to stage lots of Gundam battles and show off all these supposedly cool Gundam designs, many of which are originals designed for this series. And maybe these models and their equipment are cool to mecha fanatics, but beyond the Hyperion's Armure Lumiere ability they are unlikely to impress anyone else. It doesn't even succeed well at the action, as who is piloting what and on which side is often very difficult to track in the assorted battles. Without the color the pilots themselves are supposedly using to identify particular mecha, the various Gundam models blend together too much. If any manga title suffers from being done in B&W rather than color, it's this one.
The character designs used by artist Kouichi Tokita are so typical of Gundam series designs that they look generic despite being relatively well-drawn; is there some rule that all Gundam pilots of a certain age have to have a certain kind of look? Background art is more detailed than normal, and heavy use is made of shading effects even when battles aren't going on in the dark of space. In some places the attempt to use varied levels of shading to differentiate parts of a Gundam's body don't reproduce well, making the various parts blend together. Overall it's not bad artwork, but it isn't very distinctive, either.
Tokyopop's production has retained all the original Japanese sound effects and provided some nice cover art featuring Canard against a red-pattern background. In addition to the invaluable Character and Story Introduction, other Extras include two pages of bonus four-panel strips, nine pages of character and Gundam profiles, and a brief bio page on chief mechanical designer Kunio Okawara, the original Gundam mechanical designer who is, here, providing new designs for comics for the first time in his long career. Tokyopop does have some binding issues in places which results in pictures and word balloons being slightly cut off. It doesn't happen often, but it shouldn't be happening at all.
Gundam Seed X Astray is a title purely for Gundam completists and hard-core mecha fanatics. All others are unlikely to find much of interest here.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B
+ Good drawing, nice cover art.
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