By Dustin Cabeal
Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt vol 5 and 6 are very different from each other. Its one of the many reasons this continues to be one of these best Gundam titles in the franchises long lineage. Here comes the “but,” in an attempt to catch up on my reviews I’m going to have to double up on this series, unfortunately, but I will be breaking them down separately.
In volume five we kick off the new arc of the storyline. We’re no longer in the Thunderbolt sector, but that conflict has paved the way for the next chapter of the story along with the next part of the war. The crazy cult that was introduced at the end of the fourth volume is starting to amass power. Even scarier, they have people on both sides of the war, while entering as a third party. The fifth volume sets up our new cast of characters and explains the new setting for the continued conflict. We see both pilots from the first arc in their new suits, and both are tested instantly. For whatever reason, no other pilot likes to be outclassed by someone on their own side.
With the fifth volume having a lot of story development, its almost expected that the next volume would do the same. Instead, it is by far one of the best volumes in the series, which is nuts considering how damn good the series has been. It raises the bar for sure.
The story for volume six is told backward or nearly backward. We see a wounded mobile suit pilot preparing her gun to take a shot and the lone surviving enemy. You can see on her face that she’s prepared for death but wants to take out this last bastard. She hesitates when he turns and looks in her direction which is enough time for the Zeon suits to pop out from under the ice. From there the story goes back 15 minutes and shows the battle that leads to the opening scene. Then it jumps back and again and again until it explains the mindset of both characters we saw in that opening scene. It doesn’t stop there as it continues to go backward and show how major and minor decisions from the top down put both pilots in that opening scene. It’s an amazing piece of work in that way. What seems like an homage to Memento is a clever way of showing the cause and effects of war, while showing the human cost at the same time.
Eventually, the story goes back to that opening scene as Fleming shows up to save the day. He also ends up a little screwed as he fights a crab inspired suit and nearly ends up at the bottom of the ocean. This sequence was thrilling because, at this point, no character is safe. It seems as if everyone is waiting for death.
Both volumes are quite good but in different ways. Volume five has the difficult task of setting up the new arc. Giving out all the new information while also introducing all the new characters. The conflict is larger as well. They’re not limited to one sector, but instead an entire planet. It does a nice job of introducing us to this new setting of the same world. Volume six, it's masterful in its storytelling for all the reasons above. It takes a gimmick and reinvents it to serve the story, which is incredible on its own.
The artwork continues to be phenomenal. At this point, I don’t see it dipping or getting sloppy. What continues to amaze me is the collaboration of story and art. A lot of times in manga the art is accompanying the story. The facial expressions are the only part visually that they can craft a part of the story because the rest is just following the narration and dialogue. With Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt, it’s the opposite. There are so many times when the artwork is telling the story with no dialogue or narration in sight. Even still there are other parts in which the dialogue and artwork are telling different parts of the story. It’s something I’ve seen less and less of in manga of late which is a shame since the visuals should always be leading the story/dialogue and not the other way around.
If you’re not a fan of war stories or Gundam, then I understand passing on this series. I’d say give it a shot because you never know what a damn good book can do to you when reading it and you might just come around on this long-running franchise. For longtime Gundam fans, this is a breath of fresh air and a return to form after some less than successful iterations of the franchise. In other words, this shit is good so check it out.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt vol. 5 – Score: 4/5
Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt vol. 6 – Score: 5/5
Story and Art by Yasuo Ohtagaki
Original Concept by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino
Publisher: Viz/Viz Signature