It’s been over a year since the last The Origin review. Some of that is production drama (the original director was let go over misconduct, delaying the next episode) and some of it is down to odd release choices. With the closure of the mostly Sunrise owned Daisuki streaming service late last year, the choice was somehow made to no longer offer episodes of this series for digital rental, not even via the Playstation Network/Xbox Live as they had been previously. This means currently that for fans across the world, the only way to see this episode is to have purchased the collector’s Blu-ray set as I did. Not exactly the best way to handle it; these pricey sets are sold within a limited pre-order window, and much of the cost goes towards digital & physical extras that aren’t translated. Offering the episodes themselves in digital format was just pure common sense (indeed, fanboy I am, I supported both official methods) and ending digital distribution only keeps Gundam from reaching a wider audience outside of Asia.
The first four episodes covered the path to war, so now things really get into swing. A lot of what The Origin had presented thus far was blank slate alternate continuity in which Yasuhiko presented his own interpretation/revisions of the world leading up to the One Year War. We’re now firmly into the territory of events which have more of a foundation within narration and exposition of the original series as Zeon finally completely drops the mask and goes to war with the Federation.
One of the best parts of this is seeing the reaction the Zabi family have. Gihren is in his element, having stepped out of his father’s shadow and pushing quickly for a brutal war. Some of the others aren’t exactly pleased with this but are cowed by him pointing out the trigger has been pulled and if they don’t win now they’ll be tried as war criminals. A stand out scene involves Dozle returning home to his wife and recently born daughter, realising as he fixates over the infant that already at this stage his actions in the war have killed so many like her. So much is at play in this scene highlighting how Dozle can be simultaneously sympathetic yet terrifying and how messed up the Zabis are. Similar sentiments exist for Garma, who is clearly trying to go along with the family rhetoric but instead displays how his rank clearly indicates nepotism rather than his ability. In some ways, I feel this sells the character short, since making him a panicky rich daddy’s boy is too radical a change for a character who, while originally not a prodigy, was certainly a capable commander.
Ramba Ral sees the end of his own importance at least at this stage in the plot. We’ve seen him become one of Zeon’s very first mobile suit aces, but his disgust at the inhumane tactics employed by his own side sees what little renewed status he’d built up for himself removed. Indeed, the concept of disgust is very much a theme of this episode and one that I’m sad to yet again say seems timely for the world we’re currently living in. We see shots of the streets of Side 3, now intentionally decked in Nazi-like Zeon regalia as angry mobs chant “Sieg Zeon!” while clashes in other colonies between pro-Zeon and pro-Federation protestors bring to mind the likes of the Charlottesville riots. Indeed Gihren’s speech about traitors and true allies sounds depressingly like something you’d hear from a Brexiter in the British government or a Donald Trump tweet. It all comes to a head in a tense scene where Sayla must lead the charge against some rioting looters and laments that the whole world she once knew seems to have gone insane.
Of course Char is smack in the middle of everything. Casval is now very much the masked emerging ace of the Zeon forces. I’ve commented on it across the run, but it’s amazing how much this version on his character comes off as an insane powder keg in a way that reminds me of the semi-canon take that dressing up as giant bat every night might make Bruce Wayne the most insane of all. There’s a palpable tension every time he’s on screen, furthered by the violent acts we see him commit. Going back to my observation that in the very first episode he was presented as akin to Amuro, you really see how the trauma of his young life has broken young Casval to the point he believes this is the correct response, using and abusing everyone to get his revenge. Indeed here even his own sister seems casually disregarded.
There’s also a scene with Amuro, Kai, and Hayato, but this exists simply to underline the divides that exist between Amuro and the other youths of Side 7. A nice scene but relatively pointless unless the increasing speculation of an adaptation of the core 0079 story happens.
With the war now here, it means episodes no longer have to try shoehorning in new Zaku prototypes. Probably my favourite mecha scene is a simple but powerful one in which Char’s trademark speed is shown to us. At this point there are any number of super Gundam’s in the franchise to outclass it but this scene manages to be impactful in its own right as we get a first person view of Char rocketing through enemy lines. Certainly more impressive than the increasing Sunrise standard for mecha speed which is to depict it flying away from camera and then as a sharp and swift zig-zag line.
By this point the voice cast are clearly comfortable portraying these characters, though unfortunately there is still the odd moment where a comedy beat feels disconnected between visuals and vocal (in particular, an early scene where Dozle smashes a console in anger and receives a mild electric shock). Shuichi Ikeda returns as Char and it’s particularly welcome as we now have signs this may be becoming a rarity. Franchise meta-parody Gundam Build Fighters recently had an episode in which Toshihiko Seki (the original Char in this series) stood in as Char with Ikeda’s blessing. This is surprising given how readily Ikeda has returned to the role since 1979, so I’m glad to see him still on board for The Origin and especially as he continues to deliver a fresh yet familiar take on his character.
Gundam The Origin continues to sit in a strange place for me. When I started reviewing this animated adaptation, it was alien to think that the recurring historical dangers it warned about were bubbling just under the surface of my day-to-day life. Now here we are in 2018, with what it warns about being on the news and on the streets, with me being far more politically active, and I must admit less eager to dive into Gundam. It’s hard to dive into a political/military thriller when you feel you’ve lived one for the past 18 months. When Gundam debuted in 1979 it was intended to be a disposable cartoon to sell toys to Japanese children. The care put into it instead captured audience’s hearts and went on to have an impact around the world. A big reason why is that Gundam’s themes resonate not just with Japan but with all humanity. Love, loyalty, honour, progress: things we all think about and which are shaped by the dangerous nature of our species. Indeed Gundam’s one constant theme is melancholy, that as violent and selfish as we can be we have caring hearts that allow us to endure hardship to hope for better. The fifth episode of The Origin places focus on how there will indeed be mad times in our lives. But we have to survive them to restore the sanity we once knew and can live in again.