Last October, Anime Limited partnered with Sunrise to theatrically screen the first two episodes of Gundam The Origin at their MCM Loves Anime festival. With May bringing the first MCM London convention of the year, this partnership returned but now with the screening held within the main convention itself and presented by two of its key staff– Osamu Taniguchi (producer) and Mika Akitaka (mechanical designer).
The second film in the series ended with the iconic moment where Casval bids farewell to his sister, intending to return to their homeland to truly begin his revenge against those who destroyed his family. As such the focus here is placed much more firmly on him, with Sayla receiving a brief scene to highlight she is walking her own path.
Last time, I bemoaned the idea that the Char Aznable identity came from a near exact doppelganger and commented it didn’t take much to guess said character’s fate. I’m not sure if this counts as much of a spoiler given its placement even within the extended previews Sunrise have released but the genuine Char is shoved under the bus by Casval by allowing him to take his place in a shuttle bombing to let the Zabis believe him dead. This is obviously a far more brutal take on the character from the 1979 animation where although willing to kill the Zabis he never cared to drag others excessively into the crossfire.
The problem is that this sequence was awkward enough in manga format but becomes even worse in animation. We’re expected to believe that a constant surveillance net on the siblings has failed to notice Char’s existence and that when the two swap clothes as part of Casval’s plot no one reacts to them displaying the other’s voice or mannerisms.
Thankfully this sequence is quickly over before we dive into the meat of the episode, in which the newly christened Char enters the military academy of Side 3 and starts to play a long game by working his way into the good graces of Garma Zabi, fellow cadet and youngest child of the usurping family. Garma was decently fleshed out for his brief appearance in the original show and its welcome here to see the roots of their friendship, with Char deliberately but subtly antagonising Garma over his insecurities of living up to the propaganda rhetoric spouted by his relatives. To the viewer it’s obvious that Char is manipulating him but we also get some charming acknowledgements that in Garma’s mind this is a genuine friendship in a way that long-time fans know will mildly reach Char’s inner humanity. It’s these nuanced links to the nearly 40 year old story that really make The Origin work as a prequel, compared to a heavy handed tactic like Obi-Wan referencing Anakin will kill him in Attack of the Clones. Yasuhiko created an organic extension of a story that has had far too many cash-ins bolted onto it.
However, the animation opts to combine two events in a way that I feel adds some awkward subtext. In the original manga the Federation’s complacency allows space debris to damage an agriculture colony of Side 3, leading to the flames of rebellion the Zabis have been stoking to ignite. Here, the incident is combined with a Federation ship demanding landing clearance during the clean-up, with it instead colliding with a departing Musai and crashing into the colony. The manga I feel was better at highlighting that there are often simple truths at the heart of places that allow dictatorships to emerge, with the Federation’s poor treatment of the spacenoids and their fragile homes giving the Zabi’s a foundation to place their frightening spiel on. By changing the incident to occurring directly due to focussed Federation arrogance the dangerous side of Zeon is downplayed. Especially as prior to this we see a sequence kept from the manga in which Char questions the validity of the defence force the Federation is allowing Side 3 to build, in a way that seems to intentionally reference Japanese criticism of their own forces and similar cases in history. We’ve sadly seen a lot of creators miss the point on Zeon in later works and attempt to have narratives vindicate them so it bothers me to see implications The Origin animation might be doing likewise. Especially after the first two episodes retained Yasuhiko’s broader, educated scope.
I might sound like I didn’t enjoy the episode but for me it was the strongest one yet and I don’t think I’d be an anime fan if I didn’t believe in acknowledging the views of cultures outside of my own. Indeed the final act of the film is a treat, with the cadets taking up arms in response to clashes that have erupted in the wake of the accident. It becomes obvious just how much control Char has over Garma and that the reckless boy we saw previously has become a more measured and dangerous sociopath. There is a brilliant scene right before the end that punctuates this and Shuichi Ikeda’s performance combined with the music and visuals sent a chill down my spine. I have my concerns about certain changes but overall the animated adaptation really enriches the experience.
One of the changes linked to this is swapping out a minor character for a more signifcant role. Char’s initial roommate (before Garma gets him swapped out, seeking to grow under Char’s influence) is given more of a prominent role here. Although he’s still the one to fashion the iconic mask, his motivations are changed as he is now a friend of the original Char who sees through Casval’s deception. I won’t spoil what happens but while not being an essential change it does add some good suspense and bookend the film’s narrative focus on what Casval has chosen to become.
One of the interesting things about The Origin is how minor a role mobile suits have had thus far, especially as Taniguchi has spoken about how omnipresent the need to sell model kits is over a production. Here in fact the only mobile suit sequence occurs within a simulation regarding the problem Dozle’s team is in having making them a combat applicable reality. Said design, the Waff, works well as a retroactive prototype for the Zaku, though I’ve been told those who fixate on the fictional backstory and tech far more than I have been upset with it. I think it serves its role well and of course leaves the focus on the human drama. Gundam isn’t likely to stop pushing merchandise anytime soon but I’m glad the keys to the castle are being given to teams like this that know how to strike a balance and put the focus on timeless story, not disposable plastic.
Animation wise we get to see some gorgeous visuals with sequences set in the rain, space and at night. The latter segues into a sequence which although cheesy gives a foreboding meaning to perhaps the most iconic element for Char outside of the mask. With the story focussing on military cadets we get to see some very nice human animation with sequences including basketball and infantry training. Sure, the handling of cel shaded CGI has been strong for mobile suits and ships but sometimes it takes animation of something we see everyday to really appreciate talent.
Although the first two episodes were shown dubbed in October, the choice was made this time to show the original Japanese with subtitles. I’m mildly disappointed, mainly because I was looking forward to hearing Chris Niosi’s turn as Garma, but as I’ve said previously I firmly believe both casts are winners. Again, the obvious benefit to watching in Japanese is getting to hear Ikeda as the role he defined. This is still the lush, charismatic tones the world has known since the 70s but he does well at giving a new edge to this slightly more murderous Char. Toshihiko Seki (already familiar to fans as Duo in Wing and Rau in SEED, respectively) plays the original Char and there’s something oddly right about casting one of the franchises many masked man clones in the role. Seki has shown ability in playing serious and comedic roles and it’s the latter that wins out here, with the real Char being something of a fool who has eaten up the youth aimed deception of Gihren’s speeches. Tetsuya Kakihara replaces Katsuji Mori as Garma and although this is one of the strongest performances I’ve heard from Kakihara I am curious what kept Mori from returning. There’s also another actor you might know of, but you’ll need to wait until after the credits to find out who.
The screening was capped off by a preview for the fourth episode and the announcement this will not be the end after all, with the project continuing on to document the Battle of Loum that starts the One Year War. News of this had spread quickly after premieres in Japan but as a fan seeing the preview first hand on a near cinema sized screen was great.
Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion shows that with each release this series is getting better and better. Everything flows in a natural way, with the worst I can say being my aforementioned criticisms and concerns. I thanked Anime Limited last time for fulfilling what had been a personal pipe dream for many years but even better this time is that the size of the audience suggests their strategy for Gundam in the UK is working. Here’s to hoping the partnership continues and we can also look forward to episode four screening in October.
Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion is available to purchase from Daisuki.