Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
Chronicle Of Char And Sayla Collection
As the son of an influential politician, Casval Rem Deikun was never going to have an ordinary life. But after Zeon Zum Deikun dies under mysterious circumstances, the young boy vows to get his revenge. As he grows to adulthood, going through several aliases, the man who comes to be known as Char Aznable remains single-minded in his goal. He hones his skills, intellect, and athleticism, all to achieve his bloody intentions. This is the story of the man who would be known as “The Red Comet,” a stark coming-of-age adventure of how a young boy grew up into a cold, ruthless killer.
Gundam: The Origin initially was released in North America as a 12-part manga, which Rebecca Silverman praised as “well-written, nicely illustrated, and full of interesting characters.” The collection quickly rocketed to the top of the New York Times manga bestseller list, where it stayed for years.
Following the international success of Gundam: The Origin's manga, a 4-episode movie adaptation was announced in 2014, to coincide with the Gundam franchise's 35th anniversary. While this was eventually expanded to include two more movies (releasing this September and next spring), the first four have been released as a Blu-Ray set: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin: Chronicle Of Char And Sayla Collection.
The result is a detailed origin story focusing on the primary antagonist of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Char Aznable. Addressing the events leading up to the One Year War in 0079 from Char and his sister Sayla's perspectives, it takes a humanistic, character-driven approach to Gundam's mecha-heavy tale. While the 1979 show explains the “how” of the Gundam universe, Gundam: The Origin focuses squarely on the “why.” It fills in some longstanding blanks of the series while also serving as a polished, modern introduction to the franchise for newcomers.
This movie collection has been brought to life by a star-studded production team any Gundam fan will recognize. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the character designer and writer of the Origin manga—not to mention the original character designer of the 1979 show—provides the screenplay adapted from his bestselling manga. Kunio Okawara, who produced the mechanical designs for nearly every Gundam show from the original to Zeta Gundam to Gundam Unicorn, reprises his role as the mechanical designer. The producer is Ichiro Itano, who drew key animation for everything from Mobile Suit Gundam to Macross, and the director is Takashi Imanishi, who directed Gundam 0083, Gundam MS IGLOO, and countless others.
While the combined staff has a lot of experience with mecha, it's Yasuhiko's character designs that steal the show. Yasuhiko has retained most elements of his designs for the original show, meaning the Origin's characters have a delightfully vintage feel while taking advantage of modern production values. It's delightful to recognize so many familiar faces: Char and Sayla as children, Ramba Ral as a much younger man, the Zabi family rendered with a full range of emotional expressions. Even if these characters are not recognizable to newcomers, their stories are told in such detail that their motivations and personalities are crystal clear.
This is most starkly demonstrated with the antihero of the story, Char Aznable. We know that Char is a bad guy, who will have even his friends killed if it will help him attain his goals, but this story explains how he got to this point—even if it doesn't justify his actions. Dramatic irony is used to great effect, employing the audience's awareness of Char's future. “He terrifies me,” Char's schoolteacher confesses. “He's like a drawn knife. I can only hope that he doesn't cause some great calamity in the future.” It gets increasingly interesting as Casval grows ever closer to his Red Comet persona. As Char gets older, smarter, and more dangerous, the stakes are constantly raised, since we know what kind of damage he's capable of. Char's coming of age culminates with a military school rebellion, seemingly launched by Garma but of course orchestrated by Char in the shadows. With life-or-death stakes and action-packed sequences, it's a pivotal moment in the the Origin as well as simply great entertainment.
Accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack, the major milestones in Char's journey to adulthood are punctuated with all the right notes. Also impressive is the Japanese dub, for which nearly every living actor has reprised their original Gundam role. It's a little odd to hear Shūichi Ikeda, Char's original voice actor who is now in his late 60s, voicing Char as a teen, and an equally aged Toru Furuya as teen Amuro—though honestly, I can't imagine this pair with different voices anymore. The English dub is equally familiar, with veteran anime VAs in all the major roles, and if you're a dub fan you'll find nothing to complain about.
In the first three one-hour movies, this is unquestionably Char's story. We focus mostly on Char's youth, while occasionally veering to a concurrent political or technological development that served as a countdown timer toward the One Year War. But in the fourth movie, things start to go off the rails. We suddenly get into Amuro's pre-war life. We spend a lot of time on the moon with Kycilia in disguise. Char's hanging out with Lalah and then suddenly in the military—and it bothers me that we never see how our maverick hero arranged that transition. Sayla is hardly present at all. It's more similar to the trajectory of the Origin manga, which was released in 12 parts and has plenty of time to jump around without feeling lopsided. For people buying the Chronicle Of Char And Sayla Collection who might presume this is Char and Sayla's story, it feels a little jarring.
Surprisingly lacking as well is the mecha side of the story. I have no complaints with Okawara's inventive renderings of Gundam prototypes. What I do take issue with is the films' heavy and distracting reliance on CGI. Just like in Gundam MS IGLOO, which Imanishi previously directed, mobile suits seem too light and quick in their movements to match the way Gundams move in the hand-drawn installments of the series. To me, these movements look cheap, though I'm sure they were costly to render, and it's likely a matter of preference.
Overall, Gundam: The Origin blends old and new—vintage character designs with modern flair, legacy mobile suits with computer graphics, the timeless Gundam story of teens getting wrapped up in the turmoil of war with a fast-paced, cutting-edge storytelling style. Yasuhiko's character designs and original story are the clear outliers here, so I understand fans who might rather read the manga. Still, there are some tense, pivotal moments that make for an enjoyable anime adaptation too. It may not always be successful, but it's the origin story that the Gundam franchise deserves, shining a light on exactly why these classic characters become who they are in the future.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Beautiful character designs merge a classic look with modern production, storytelling offers new depth and dimension into the motivations of the One Year War's key players
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