Category Archives: reviews

Gundam Build Divers

Type: Series
Number of Episodes: 25
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha / Tournament
Vintage: 2018
Date of Review: October 1, 2018

Riku Mikami and his classmate Yukio Hidaka join the hot new game Gunpla Battle Nexus Online (GBN), a virtual reality world where Gundam enthusiasts from around the globe compete for glory. They’ll make new friends and rivals along the way, partake in a variety of battles, and even face a moral quandary the likes of which the world has never seen.

This is the third series that focuses on Gunpla battling, but Gundam Build Divers is not in the same timeline as previous efforts Gundam Build Fighters and Gundam Build Fighters Try. It’s much more of a spiritual successor. This time around, Gunpla battles take place inside a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), which is a natural evolution of the concept as well as being grounded in real-world pop culture and technology. It also makes a lot more sense than magic particles physically animating Gundam model kits!

The art style, animation, and music matches that of Build Divers‘ predecessors, which is a good thing. It’ll easily keep longtime fans glued to their screens, and drawing in newcomers shouldn’t be a problem, either. Character design was able to expand quite a bit this time around, as not everyone’s GBN avatar is human. We’ve got wolfmen obsessed with martial arts, fox prettyboys, saurian space commanders, and even a hardline military ferret. Oh, and if you don’t have an avatar yet, your default appearance is that of a Haro. Cool, huh? Riku and his friends stick to recognizable human forms, at least; their pal Momoka sports cat ears and a tail, but that’s about as far as it goes. Overall, the diverse cast is quite a fun bunch, and they all bring something unique to the table. Riku is decidedly less of a Gundam dork than Try‘s Yuuma, for example. In fact, being a Gundam fanboy seems to play little to no role in Divers, which is good. The countless cameo appearances are there for the audience, not the characters, so the latter can focus on the story at hand.

As expected in a Gunpla battle show, plenty of classic mecha from across the Gundam multiverse return in Build Divers, and we’ve got a slew of new customized mobile suits as well. Everything looks really great in motion, and some of the upgraded designs are particularly impressive, like the Ogre GN-X and the Momokapool. The constant battling is unfortunately nothing new at this point, but it still makes for an exciting series.

I don’t normally do this, but I need to venture into spoiler territory for a moment, as Build Divers has a critical flaw that rears its ugly head in the final act of the show.

Our heroes discover an electronic lifeform that grew within GBN, complete with thoughts, feelings, self-awareness, all of that good stuff. Of course, this being’s mere existence and continued growth threatens the stability of the entire system…so GBN’s Game Master and his Coalition of Volunteers decide to kill it. This sets the stage for a massive battle against Riku and those who wish to protect this lifeform.

This all sounds fine, until you realize something really important: how come no one reported any of this to the press when they logged out of GBN? The creation of a new sentient lifeform would literally be the biggest news story in human history. After that news got out, there’s no way in hell the Game Master could’ve done anything about it. Sure, maybe GBN would get shut down as a result — the exact outcome that the Coalition feared in the first place — but that’s a small price to pay for the preservation of a life. This ethical dilemma is brought up during the show, but again, it’s missing that crucial piece: there’s no way that real world powers would not have found out about this and immediately intervened. Worse yet, the ultimate resolution of this dilemma raises even more ethical and technological questions, which are never addressed. All of this snaps the suspension of disbelief right in half, and this is show about superpowered fighting robots!

Aside from that glaring flaw, Build Divers is still an entertaining show. The Gunpla battle format is sadly starting to get a little bit tired, as it’s becoming more and more of an excuse for Bandai to cram in lots of reused models and references to other series. Lighthearted fare like Build Divers will always be welcome, however, especially coming right after the incredibly grim Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans.

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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower

Type: ONA/Movie
Number of Episodes: 4/1
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2017
Date of Review: August 6, 2018

The trials and tribulations of Io Flemming and Darryl Lorenz continue as the aftermath of the One Year War is upon us. Something’s brewing in the South Pacific, and neither the Federation nor Zeon remnants are truly ready to face this threat. Worse yet, Flemming is shocked to discover that someone he thought was dead is now on the opposite side!

Just as December Sky adapted the first arc of the Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt manga, Bandit Flower handles the next story (through volume seven), comprising four more ONAs combined into a single film. The action’s confined to the Earth this time, but that doesn’t make it any less intense. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, as the story alternates between the depths of the jungle, battles among the clouds, and brutal arctic warfare. Even though the One Year War is over, there’s clearly many more skirmishes to be fought!

While the Federation and Zeon remnants are still at loggerheads, the real threat this time around is the South Seas Alliance, a religious cult made up of incredibly skilled warriors with no fear of death. They’ve also got a mysterious, powerful leader, showcasing another example of the Federation’s questionable ethics coming back to bite them in the ass. Their battle tactics are unlike anything you’ve seen, making the story all the more exciting and unpredictable.

Naturally, alongside the return of our hero Flemming, we’ve got some new characters to meet. The greatest of these is easily Federation ace Bianca Carlysle. She’s a natural counterpart to Flemming, and of course the pair get along from the start. This isn’t your cliché romantic interest, though; Flemming and Carlysle bond over a love of battle and jazz more than anything else. There’s clear sexual tension between the two, sure, but it never blooms into a real romance. (At least not yet.) Anyway, Bianca’s a solid pilot who prefers an Aqua GM to the expected Gundams or other prototype units, and she definitely holds her own during an amazing battle in the north.

Bandit Flower features loads of new and familiar mecha, with some awesome modified Acguys and other aquatic units in particular. Of course, the real star of the show is the new Atlas Gundam. Despite his loss of the Full Armor Gundam, Flemming’s performance in the Thunderbolt Sector is rewarded with the new prototype mobile suit. The Atlas is the standout mech in Bandit Flower, as you might’ve guessed by its image dominating just about every bit of promotional media for the series. (And at the top of this post!) It’s notably different from most Gundam units we’re used to, as there’s a lot of curves and spheroid parts. This is an amphibious machine by design, and we rarely if ever see that in a Gundam! Meanwhile, Lorenz is stuck with a “mere” Acguy, but he proves his skill during a mission gone wrong when he outfoxes multiple South Seas Alliance mobile suits. Just a few minor upgrades here and there really made his Acguy and those in his crew a force to be reckoned with.

The soundtrack is rife with jazz, as would be expected from a Thunderbolt project. It fits the battle sequences just fine, and always provides a nice alternative to the usual science fiction scores. It know I’ve said this before, but the high-energy jazz suits the incredible animation more than it should. I really cannot understate this.

Bandit Flower is a fine followup to December Sky, and as the manga is still continuing, we can only hope to get more animated adaptations of this fantastic story. Few Gundam tales have this level of detail, making Bandit Flower another must-watch.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

Type: Manga
Number of Volumes: 23 (tankōbon), 12 (aizōban)
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2001-2011
Date of Review: October 16, 2017

The cosmos shudders as the Principality of Zeon declares war on the Earth Federation. With new weapons known as mobile suits, heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict will make desperate choices in order to save those they care about. When Amuro Ray climbs into the experimental Gundam mobile suit, he’ll unknowingly turn the tide of the war.

If that blurb above sounds familiar, your eyes do not deceive you: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is indeed a manga retelling of the classic Mobile Suit Gundam tale. Master artist Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who helped design parts of the original series in the first place, has created an absolute masterpiece here that will be long remembered as a true science fiction classic.

Lovingly crafted over a ten-year span, this manga doesn’t simply adapt the original series step by step. A few plot points are changed here and there (most notably the use of prototype mobile suits by the Earth Federation before the Gundam), small details from the show are further fleshed out, and roughly a third of the series is an all-new flashback story detailing the tragic histories of Char Aznable and Sayla Mass. There’s even all-new mobile suit battles, and those are treated with the same attention to detail as our human characters. Every mechanized conflict is tense and compelling.

Rarely can an artist so successfully infuse that much personality and emotion into their work, and Yasuhiko makes it looks simple. While most chapters begin with a few painted color pages, we can’t underestimate the strength’s of Yasuhiko’s pen and ink work. Even the finest details still pop right off the page, drawing you into the Gundam world like few other works. His art style is unique and exceptionally effective. Mobile suits and space warships are one thing, but he brings characters to life in a way you wouldn’t think possible. (Perfect example: I never cared about Lalah Sune until I read Origin.) Aside from rightfully focusing on drama, the light humor that Gundam is known for still makes appearances, helping to alleviate tension or sometimes just to prove that humans aren’t one-sided beings, even under duress.

Origin has been adapted into five anime films as of press time, with one more to go. (The first four covered the Char and Sayla flashback arc, the next two cover the Battle of Loum.) As you might expect, these have also been phenomenal, setting new standards for the Gundam franchise as a whole. They work quite well as a starting point for newcomers.

Origin is absolutely the gold standard for manga adaptations. It far exceeds every single expectation, creating an unbelievably rich tapestry that enhances the Gundam saga to a near-mythical degree. It’s a long series, but it goes by in a flash because it’s so gripping and well-paced. If you’re a Gundam fan, Origin is a must-read. If you’re a not a Gundam fan, this is still a must-read.