Federation troops and Zeon forces carry out a fierce battle in the Thunderbolt Sector in what was once Side 4 "Moore." The Thunderbolt Sector is a shoal zone composed of the debris of destroyed space colonies, named for the electrical discharges from the metal debris. MS pilot Io Flemming is among the Federation soldiers who are dispatched to the area, where Zeon sniper Daryl Lorenz awaits them on the battlefield.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky will be the first anime to ever be released on 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) Blu-ray. The 4K UHD Blu-ray will be released by Bandai Visual in Japan on December 22, 2016.
Man oh man, has it been ages since I watched a Gundam show... Sure, there was this Iron-Blooded orphans thing, but Gundam as entitled - that has been escaping my radar for years now. Why, you may ask? It's quite simple. For a hardcore fan Gundams ended around Turn A and the only reasonable approach to the topic were either the Unicorn or (loosely) 00.
Thundebolt then caught me completely off-guard. Having no time for animes these days I got the glimpse of the upcoming OVA through some promo I was never hoping to watch, It didn't say much though, only showing some really neat looking
battle scenes. I am a mecha fan, even putting aside the fact that I stopped watching anime some time ago, so it was only natural that I would be interested in a battle sequence that actually resemebles just that - a battle sequence. From there I was only secinds away from being completely blasted into oblivion by the first OVA episode. The animation, the music, the pacing, interesting characters and refreshing approach at the topic on OYW - all of that packed into merely a 20-minute-worth of screening.
Then, I couldn't watch the other 3 eps because of chores and kind of forgot about it until recently, when I found out that it acutally got a re-release in a form of a movie: December Sky. And what a movie it is!
A spectacle is more appropriate - because technically and visually it blows away even the Unicorn OVAs and TV series! From ground up the visuals and audio are all pitch perfect. Finally one can enjoy eye-candy partially drawn battle sequences when there's very little actual CGI involved. Sure, there is still some, but not very offputting and someone who's not accustomed to the sight won't even catch it. That's very good, espeically in the era of mecha animes being nearly 100% done over CGI. Good job SUNRISE.
Then there's the music, the score and voiceover - all top notch, as expected of a high budget SUNRISE theatrical release. Seiyuus in both Japanese and English versions do their jobs well, although I would still prefer to hear the original voiceover for the fact of a better lipsinc. Japanese seiyuu also tend to pour more emotion into their characters than their English counterparts.
Plotwise it is a traditional good vs evil story, however the twist is here that in war there's no black and white but rather shades of grey and lots of ambiguity. The world in Thunderbolt is also much grittier than in previous installments and I believe that was the idea behind the project - to show, that wars in Gundam UC universe are comprised off not only genius pilots and giant robots but also, and probably most often off personal tragedies of minor characters that apear behing the curtains. In that aspect the story hits jackpot. It so reminds of another project like that caught me by surprise - 0080 War in the pocket. Albeit having an entirely different cast and approach to the topic of wars it still is, in a way, a reminisent of that amazing installment. Not often a 80 minute film will engage you so much into it's world and keep you at the edge of your seat until you hurt yourself. Amazing.
Overall, I recommend it mostly to Gundam fans for apparent reasons, but also it should find some audience around your average Joe's looking for a visually stunning mecha battle spectacle. For Gundam series to have a good story as an add-on is rarity these days, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Given that this movie is a modified version of the OVA with new scenes added it, and the fact that I've already tackled the original OVA, I think it's only fitting that I modify said review and add to it, not out of disrespect for this movie, since I would never disrespect something so great, but because I feel like talking about Gundam Thunderbolt again since it's so damn good, and if I did, I would largely come up with the same review at best and something inferior at worst. So, enjoy.
*SPOILERS FOR MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THUNDERBOLT*
Thunderbolt is definitely an interesting installment within the Universal
Century timeline of Gundam. It preaches what we all know by now: war is hell. However, it doesn't do this in a manner that makes it come off as obnoxiously preachy like say, Gundam 00 Second Season, and it doesn't do that in away that involves shooting the quality of its writing in the foot like say, Gundam SEED and SEED Destiny (aka the entire Cosmic Era). At the same time, with hardly even a 1/20 of the length as the Cosmic Era in its entirety, and a mere 1/8 of the amount of runtime as 00 S2, it manages to do far more than both of those series in terms of actually showing just how fucked up war can be. Then again, a large number of series in the UC timeline is dedicated to this. So, even though it does more with the famous "war is hell" angle, does it stand on enough other merits to warrant being called a good addition to Universal Century? Let's find out, shall we?
This is a side-story in the ongoing war between the Earth Federation and Zeon. As such, that war it referenced constantly and this is just an ongoing battle in one battlefield, as if it were WWI, where one battalion could be facing off against another in the same battlefield for months. Each side in this particular battlefield near Space Colony Side 4 had a key player: Io Fleming for the EF and Daryl Lorenz for Zeon. Each of them has some baggage that lead them to this war, and it's all done with no words; it's just the music and visuals which are left to speak the backstory to us. I can appreciate this kind of storytelling, where you don't need words to convey something important about the characters, and that's not something you can easily pull off.
In the actual battlefield, we get to see just how messed up it all can be, especially when kids are involved in the battle and are forced to panicky as they are slaughtered like their experienced soldier brethren. Some of the soldiers and captains risk their lives to save their crew, be given how much pride both sides have, they'd rather die than flee or get captured, and it doesn't turn out pretty for the captain of the this Earth Federation mothership, who ends up getting killed by her soldiers over this same issue. Even the Zeon are willing to fight to the death and die in an explosion than get arrested, which is what they try to do in episode 4 when they're infiltrated. Meanwhile, Io and Daryl, who plow through each other's soldiers and get their own special mobile suits (Full Armor Gundam for Io and Psycho Zaku for Daryl) end up locked in combat and settling the score that is alluded to have started even before the events of the series, and that same score which has built up over the first 3 episodes, ending in a crazy climax in which neither of them wins. In the end, the Federation forces are captured (I don't get how) and Io is tortured, albeit not without really spelling out the anime's message for Daryl.
This anime really knows how to paint a picture on just how horrible war is, and it plays it up to Joe me without becoming preachy, and it does this with just 4 18 minute episodes, amounting to the screen time of 3 TV episodes, and it did so much more than the aforementioned Gundam anime in the preamble, which have so much more time. On the downside, there are Deus and Diabolos ex Machinas in the form of a thunderbolt saving a pilots life in episodes 2 and 4, with the first one being addressed in frustration by Daryl after he almost got a clean shot on Io. Still, this story worked rather well, and with so little time to do so, that's impressive. Sure, the film has the added benefit of a little extra time and yes some things do feel a bit off in movie format as opposed to OVA format, but the core of Thunderbolt remains untouched.
A lot of people take issue with these characters being "one dimensional" and I'm gonna have to dispel that. Like with Cowboy Bebop, while the characters seem like 1D stereotypes of characters on the surface (since yes, there are people who believe Bebop's characters are flat and one-dimensional), thanks to implications andtheruch way in which they are fleshed out, they are much more real than one would initially give them credit for. Io comes off as a bloodthirsty jerk, but he is so much more. After losing his father, he constantly reminds himself of himvia his dad's favorite song. He fights not because he wants to, but because he has to, so he brings his mucus along that way he can get in the mood to fight without letting reality tranquility lose his morale, and he does still care about people, like his girlfriend who he doesn't has the best of relationships with thanks to this war. Speaking of, Captain Claudia Oeer is really unfit for her position, only being placed there on account of rank and the captain slot being forcibly open. The stress of the war makes her relationship with Io very hard, and she even turns to drugs to solve her problems, as then her fate is sealed when one of her more prideful subordinates shoots her for daring to suggest that she and her men should flee on account of being outmatched. She's the most tragic character here for that reason. Cornelius is just the friend of the trio who understands them and provides a bit of insight into the other two characters for us via implication, as well as help be part of the funny running gag of giving Io tissues.
Daryl is pretty tragic too, losing one of his limbs early on, he still dreams of what could've been. Even his lover, Karla, can't stand what the loss of limbs is doing to him and his allies. Even still, he loses another one, and this all drives him to ask her to amputate all of his remaining limbs so that he can pilot the new Psycho Zaku in order to combat Io, who has killed most of his cohorts. As Io commented in the final episode, even though he hates what this war has done to him, he has driven himself a bit mad by it, making such a hasty and life-changing decision; he's right about what this has done to Daryl. Karla isn't very happy about being forced to be here herself, as she hates what she has to do to Daryl and the other Zeon troops, as well as the fact that she's part of this war. I really like the romance flashback in episode 4, as it really sells how much she and Daryl love each other, without needing words to do so.
None of the other guys are really worth mentioning, but the named cast is pretty good and much richer than people give credit for. To those who say "What about the SEED, Destiny, and 00 Second Season cast? Many of them suffered through war but you criticized them." The thing is, those characters didn't necessarily suffer through war, they suffered through the stupidity of the war's combatants as well as themselves; they were idiots and assholes (in some cases, both, like Shinn from SEED Destiny) who let the war make them worse. Those are not good characters. That's the difference between them and the Thunderbolt characters; these guys suffer like soldiers who actually feel like real, at least somewhat intelligent people, those other ones just don't.
This is easily the best looking Gundam anime to date, without question (unless I end up seeing Unicorn, and even then, that's debatable), with only the second season of Thunderbolt giving it a run for its money as of now. The sheer detail put into every single frame is astounding, and the digital effects of the lasers and explosions are simply breathtaking. The action looks freakin' amazing due to this, and the Gundams receive the perfect amount of detail, and this series rivals anime put in cinemas. The directing is wonderful in terms of the animation. The character designs also seem pretty realistic, stylistic lines not withstanding. My only gripe, fnyoh can call it that, is that the Doms and other Federation mobile suits have a more child-like shading that somewhat clashes with the gritty and detailed setting and other mobile suits, as that there is some minor CGI with some of the space debris (though they're "blink and you'll miss it"). Other than that, Thunderbolt looks beautiful, and it's easily one of the best-looking anime of the decade.
The OST, done by Naruyoshi Kikuchi, is great,and makes a wonderful fit for this space battlefield in which the anime takes place in. Thunderbolt for Main Theme is a great score for whenever Io steps out into battle with the Full Armor Gundam, with its wonderful free jazz, even if it's absent here, though despite this, the soundtrack is still amazing. The other themes are great at accomplishing the feelings their scenes intend, as if to sell them even more than the writing can. Not a huge amount of these pieces are overtly memorable, but they sell their scenes extremely well, which is still a good thing in its own right.
The dub is pretty solid as well, even if I only recognize one cast member. Some moments for some of the characters do feel week, especially in comparison to the Japanese voices, but there are an equal amount of really strong moments. The most notable performance is Johnny Yong Bosch as Daryl Lorenz, and he does do a good job and probably has the least amount of moments that feel even slightly off. Then again, he is in did he most prolific dub actors in anime, and he does do some rather emotional characters, so that's to be expected of him. While I do prefer the Japanese voice acting on this one, the English dub cast did a pretty good job with this one.
I had a lot of fun with this anime. The slick soundtrack, the awesome battles, the striking feeling of hellishness in war, and the breathtaking visuals were all a real treat to witness, and the characters and writing were no slouch either. Sure, some moments were a bit iffy and weird, but it was truly an adrenaline rush of a series. I simply wish I would get more, and with a second season on the way, that same high seems likely to reach me again. Plus, seeing a Perfect Zeong in action is something that makes my inner fanboy come out, it's that cool.
OVERALL: 9/10 RAW SCORE: 88/100
Interestingly, I would say that Gundam Thunderbolt is the perfect Gundam anime for newcomers, no matter which version you go for. It hits on all of the major themes of Gundam with a proper tone and decent characterization and writing, it has kickass action, and it doesn't really require much background knowledge. Even disregarding that, both this and the original OVA are truly solid Gundam anime that deserve all of their fanfare and I'm sure that the manga is just as good. Can I say that either version of Gundam Thunderbolt is the best of the bunch? No; there are some UC Gundam anime that surpass this, such as Gundam Origin. This is just a side-story after all, and it would be weird if a side/story was superior to everything else in the franchise. Even still, this is definitely worth watching, even if you are new to Gundam. With all that said, I bid you adieu.