Number of Episodes: 4
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Date of Review: June 20, 2016
In the nightmarish Thunderbolt Sector, Federation and Zeon forces slog it out amongst a backdrop of lightning crackling through space. Break out your drum sticks and crank up the jazz as ace pilot Io Flemming takes on sniper Darryl Lorenz of the ominous Living Dead Division!
Based on the stellar manga of the same name, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt provides a look at soldiers in the One Year War who aren’t our usual heroes and villains. In this case, we’ve got our usual opposing factions from the Federation and Zeon, but both sides are mired in the same dump: the Thunderbolt Sector, where ruined colonies, ships, and mobile suits alike have made the surrounding space incredibly dangerous, with energy bolts arcing between debris and making life hell for anyone caught inside.
Thunderbolt continues the franchise’s fine tradition of depicting war as a series of gray areas instead of stark black and white, good guys and bad guys. As you’d expect, this is achieved via some excellent characters. Aside from our protagonist and antagonist pilots, the two larger sides of the conflict are just as important. On one hand you’ve got the Living Dead Divison, a group of Zeon soldiers who have all lost various limbs only to have them replaced with cheap prosthetics. You can’t help but feel sympathy for them, Lorenz in particular as he’s forced to undergo further mutilation to test Zeon’s latest war machine. On the Federation side, many of the soldiers stationed in the Thunderbolt Sector hailed from Side 4 Moore, a local colony that was destroyed. They’re haunted by their own ghosts as well as a need for revenge. Finally, romance is obviously complicated in such a setting; Flemming’s relationship with his childhood friend and commanding officer Claudia Peer is mirrored by that of Lorenz and Karla Mitchum, the very woman who is forced to operate on him.
Thunderbolt features many of the classic One Year War-era mobile suits you know and love, with some slight tweaks to their design to better serve and protect them amongst the thunder and lightning. All of these new looks are great, from the heavily shielded GMs to sniper cannon-equipped Zaku IIs and, of course, a newly armored Gundam. The mecha really get their time to shine during the white-hot battle sequences (esepcially during the fights inside the ruined colony), which are a showcase of insanely fluid animation with plenty of detail and realism. All of the art and character design closely matches that of the source manga, giving the whole thing an extra layer of polish.
Unlike most other Gundam series, high-intensity jazz forms the base of Thunderbolt‘s soundtrack. Not only does it make a fine and unique backdrop to the series’ action, but it also appears in-universe as Flemming’s personal playlist of choice when he sorties in his mobile suit! The fact that said music and pirate radio stations within the Thunderbolt Sector are forbidden makes the tunes even more important to our characters and their development. Lorenz has his own old radio that was a gift from his father, but what will he do when he hears jazz over the comm, meaning that Flemming’s coming for him?
The only downside to all of this is that at times Thunderbolt feels rushed, as the manga has so much more content. (Not to mention that we only got four ONAs while the manga is still ongoing.) But it’s still an admirable adaptation in its own right, and any Universal Century fan will be most pleased with Thunderbolt on screen. Shortly after the time you read this, the four episodes will be compiled into a film known as December Sky with extra material. Whether you watch that or the ONAs, Thunderbolt won’t disappoint.