|Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt occurs in the Universal Century timeline, concurrently with the original 1979 series|
So what's changed? Well, it took an unrelated movie to get me to revisit the Gundam franchise again. In Steven Spielberg's science fiction film Ready Player One, there was a cool cameo appearance by the RX-78-2 Gundam - the first ever to grace anime or 'Grandpa Gundam' if you will. It got me thinking to give the franchise another chance. As I wanted to stay in the original 1979 series's story timeline namely the One Year War of Universal Century (U.C.) 0079, yet view an anime with updated animation, I soon settled upon Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (released in 2015).
Spanning two seasons so far, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt actually only comprises four episodes per season with each episode running between 18 to 20 minutes. A theatrical compilation of the first season was released in June 2016 as Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky while the second season saw its own movie released in November of last year as Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower. While the manga of this series is still running, there has been no news of a third season being planned - none that I'm aware of anyway.
|MS-06 Zaku II sniper ...|
|... slowly scans the Thunderbolt Sector for prey ...|
|... and spots an enemy RGM-79 GM in flight|
So what is Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt all about? Let's start at the very beginning. In the futuristic period of U.C.0079 there is war between the Earth Federation (the faction that utilizes Gundams) and the Principality of Zeon (a space colony seeking independence). The anime series in question takes place in a specific theater of war namely the Thunderbolt Sector, a zone of space littered with debris from destroyed space colonies and in which electrical discharges frequently occur. And in this sector, two military units - Earth Federation's Moore Brotherhood and the Principality of Zeon's Living Dead Division - are engaged in combat for strategic control of the area.
|Principality of Zeon sniper fires a shot off|
|And with the MS-06 Zaku II's aim being true ...|
|... yet another Earth Federation mobile suit bites the dust|
At it's core the plot of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt revolves around an intense rivalry between Federation Ensign Io Fleming and Zeon Ace Sniper Daryl Lorenz. Rather than a run-of-the-mill good vs evil story structure, the characters inhabiting this little corner of the Gundam universe face many grey areas of ethical behavior that are part and parcel of being at war. In a well executed show, don't tell technique, the director managed to portray the horrors of war without being preachy about it.
|Io Fleming of the Earth Federation vs Daryl Lorenz of the Principality of Zeon|
But what really attracted me to the series was how music forms a critical component of the story. One scene depicts Io Fleming furiously air drumming to the chaotic beats of an original jazz number while in another scene a pop oldie is playing soothingly from Daryl Lorenz's radio. Acoustically, it's a stark contrast between the two main characters. In addition, it serves as a clever story telling tool to distinguish between the personalities of Io Fleming and his arch-rival Daryl Lorenz.
|Io Fleming in the cockpit of his mobile suit|
|Music is an important part of Io Fleming's battle ritual|
|And jazz is music of choice playing on Io Fleming's radio receiver|
|Daryl Lorenz also has his own music related battle ritual|
|And that involves listening to pop oldies ...|
|... on a retro-style radio that he owns|
While animation throughout the series was of the highest quality, there was one minor issue which kind of spoilt things for me. Animated characters here had 'fairly regular-sized' eyes which dovetails nicely with stories of this nature (as opposed to big-eyed characters in Sailor Moon). All characters, that is, save one in particular i.e. Claudia Peer whose eyes were so disproportionately big to the point it became an unwelcome distraction to any immersive experience the show might have offered.
|First glimpse of the Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam, a prototype piloted by Io Fleming|
|EFSF symbol on the Gundam's head stands for Earth Federation Space Force|
|Superb animation sees the digital displays on the cockpit reflect off Io Fleming's helmet|
As is the case of any Gundam series, the mechas will eventually take center stage. In this respect Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt doesn't disappoint. This series has some of the most bad-ass mechas I've ever seen namely the Living Dead Division's High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" and the Moore Brotherhood's Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam. The former has this insanely huge rocket booster attached to its back while the latter is armored with not one but four shields.
|An experimental High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" prepares for launch|
|Closeup of the Psycho Zaku's head and its mono-eye camera system|
|Daryl Lorenz in a contemplative mood inside the Pyscho Zaku's cockpit|
Personally for me, the highlight of this series so far occurs towards the end of Season One (or the theatrical compilation December Sky) when both the High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" and the Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam clash in a final epic battle.
|Principality of Zeon's High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku"|
|Earth Federation Space Force's Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam|
In the second half (or season) of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, a new faction is introduced into the mix, i.e. The South Seas Alliance. A radical cult that emerges in the aftermath of the One Year War, this third faction capitalizes on people's post war need for guidance and religious faith. But as history shows, this is not necessarily a good thing. So cue more mayhem in the Gundam universe.
|What's Gundam if not the introduction of yet another new mobile suit variant i.e. the RX-78AL Atlas|
|Second season of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt sees the entry of a third faction i.e. South Seas Alliance|
|Pyscho Zaku makes a comeback in the Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower|
As an interesting side note, not only is Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt and arguably my all-time favourite anime Cowboy Beebop developed by Japanese animation studio Sunrise Inc. but they both contain main characters with more than a passing resemblance. Of course I'm referring to Cowboy Bebop's protagonist Spike Spiegel and Gundam Thunderbolt's deuteragonist Daryl Lorenz. Add that to the fact that music in both anime series are dominated by jazz, I couldn't help but wonder if someone in Sunrise had decided to do a Cowboy Beebop version of a Gundam story.
|Daryl Lorenz from Thunderbolt (above) and Spike Spiegel (below) from Cowboy Bebop|
My rating for Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt is inevitably going to be influenced by the fact it bears thematic similarities to my all-time favourite anime, Cowboy Bebop. But more than that, it's the combination of cool jazz music, great animation as well as an intelligent and mature storyline which makes for a must-see anime. As for ratings Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky gets a 9/10 while Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower gets an 8/10. So overall, the series in its entirety as it stands today, after eight episodes and two theatrical releases, gets an 8.5/10.
|Bandai MG 1/100 scale Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam [Gundam Thunderbolt] Ver.ka|
|Bandai MG 1/100 scale High Mobility Type Zaku II "Pyscho Zaku" [Gundam Thunderbolt] Ver.ka|
Inevitably for me though, it's always about the creative art projects a show can inspire, be it in the form of portrait drawing or miniature/scale model kit painting. In this regard, Mobile Suit Gundam Thuderbolt doesn't disappoint. Bandai has two 1/100 scale model kits from this series namely the Mobile Suit FA-78 Full Armor Gundam and the High Mobility Type Zaku II Pyscho Zaku. While I plan to kickoff my mecha projects with the RX-78-2, I must admit to being sorely tempted to start with the Pyscho Zaku instead, which is technically harder to built but relatively easier to paint. But regardless of which mecha takes center stage it's exciting times for me hobby-wise. On that note, here's wishing you a work table full of projects and the health to see them to completion!