Mobile Suit Gundam: MS IGLOO

Type: OVA
Number of Episodes: 9
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2004-2008
Date of Review: February 12, 2018

The One Year War rages on, and Lieutentant Oliver May of the 603rd Technical Evaluation Unit is charged with testing various new Zeon weapons on the battlefields of air, land, and space. Meanwhile, down on the surface of Earth, three Federation officers with checkered pasts return to the fight once more…to face the angel of death!

The Gundam saga’s first fully computer-generated production, this tale is made up of three parts: MS IGLOO; The Hidden One Year War, MS IGLOO: Apocalypse 0079, and MS IGLOO 2: The Gravity Front. The first two are from the Zeon point of view, and the third is from that of the Federation. Rather than the hotshot mobile suit pilots to which we’re accustomed, these stories look at other soldiers fighting the One Year War, and do a fine job developing characters on both sides. Focusing on small groups like this within the larger context of the war immediately brings to mind the similar story of Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team. (This does not reach the insane heights of quality of the latter series, but then again, almost nothing does.)

We get to know Lt. May and his fellow shipmates aboard the Jotunheim fairly well, and while their story is solid, I do wish we could’ve gotten some more adventures with them. Things get weird during The Gravity Front, as the apparent angel of death plaguing our Federation protagonists is just plain creepy. It’s also a notable departure for Gundam, as the saga usually doesn’t focus so clearly on metaphysical or spiritual matters. Still, it makes sense given what each of the three Federation soldiers we meet have had to go through. These aren’t your usual aces, that’s for sure.

So how do the visuals stack up? As you might guess by its vintage, MS IGLOO looks very much like a PlayStation 3 cutscene. The CG characters haven’t aged all that well, but they still work fine within the confines of these stories, and the mobile suit battles look great. The character renderings are notably improved in the final three episodes, though their mouth movements look rather odd. More jarring is the overuse of bloom lighting and enough lens flares to make J. J. Abrams wet himself.

Moving on to our beloved mecha, the original RX-78-2 Gundam is only seen very briefly in the first installment. MS IGLOO instead focuses on great new machines like the mighty Hildolfr tank and the Mobile Diver Ze’Gok, just to name a few. You’ll also see a ton of the classic Zaku II, and they look really great here. MS IGLOO solidifies its position as the go-to grunt suit.

MS IGLOO definitely stands out as something different within the Gundam universe, and it’s almost worth watching for that reason alone. The real reason you should watch it, however, is the interesting characters. Lt. May and the 603rd alone could carry an entire series, and more stories about the grunts bearing the weight of the war are always welcome.


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.

Gundam Build Fighters: GM’s Counterattack

Type: OVA
Number of Episodes: 1
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2017
Date of Review: September 18, 2017

Sei Iori and friends are invited to test out the new Gunpla Battle system, but they’ve walked into a trap! The nefarious Gunpla Mafia wants revenge, and they’re pulling out all the stops to humiliate our heroes. With new Gundam models in tow, our battlers will have to take on some seriously over-the-top opponents!

Gundam Build Fighters: GM’s Counterattack bridges the gap between Gundam Build Fighters and Gundam Build Fighters Try, showing what Sei’s been up to following the events of the former series. Sunrise wisely does not try to bring in every single character from GBF, letting us focus on just a few fan favorites.

As you’d expect, plenty of new models are introduced in this special; Bandai’s gotta sell them toys, after all. It’s a good thing they’re pretty damned cool looking, even Sei’s new “test unit” the Star Burning Gundam. Of course, Nils Nielsen’s Ninpulse Gundam is probably the best of the bunch, but wait’ll you see the big boss’ mobile suit.

The animation is on par with the other recent Gundam shows, with amazing battle scenes that really let our star mobile suits shine. On the character side, GM’s Counterattack easily balances tense battle drama with comedy, including a hilarious sequence that references a minor plot point in Mobile Suit Victory Gundam; in fact, my review for that series unknowingly mentioned the very scene that is parodied.

The whole thing wraps up with a nice little final scene that sets up Try. However, that scene does not spoil Try, so it’s nice for those viewers who haven’t seen the sequel series yet. Like Island Wars before it, GM’s Counterattack is a fine treat for GBF fans.