The Universal Century began with mankind moving its burgeoning population into outer space. The year is UC0079. The cluster of colonies furthest from the Earth, Side 3, proclaim themselves the Principality of Zeon and launch a war of independence against the Earth Federation. Now, it is nearly one year since the war broke out. In the "Thunderbolt sector," a reef section of space where a large quantity of wreckage from battleships and destroyed space colonies from the war lies, a violent battle plays out as the Earth Federation Forces set their sights on recapturing the Zeon controlled sector.
Kidou Senshi Gundam Thunderbolt has been published in English as Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt by VIZ Media under the VIZ Signature imprint since November 15, 2016. Shogakukan Asia has been publishing the series in English in the Southeast Asia region since April 22, 2015.
**** NO SPOILERS, BUT I ONLY READ THE FIRST 9 CHAPTERS FOR THIS REVIEW.****
Mobile Suit Gundam has consistently impressed me with each entry to its massive franchise with only a few exceptions (primarily Gundam Age, SEED, and those Build Fighters shenanigans I didn't even bother with). It was essentially my gateway to anime as a whole back when I was in high school, and it has remained very near and dear to my heart since then. However, I don't have all the time in the world to spend watching anime, as amazing as that would be, so I never really got around to watching Mobile
Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, neither the ONAs or the films, despite hearing really high praise about their production values. When I was wandering my local library today, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find the first volume of this manga, and that it even EXISTED. I decided, "What the hey?" and checked it out, only to read it a few hours later and be blown away.
Before I start getting into the nitty-gritty, I want to make something perfectly clear: I have always been a fan of Gundam, and really just Mecha, ANIME. Not manga. Anime. This was the very first Gundam manga I had ever read, and the third Mecha manga I have ever read, the first two being Bokurano and Neon Genesis Evangelion. They're both better than their animated counterparts; I recommend them. I want the fact that I literally had not read any Gundam manga before today to be absolutely clear, because if you're at all apprehensive about reading a manga about a Mecha series, I want to dispel that fear right now. Okay, here we go!
It takes place during the One Year War, but that's really not the focus, here. Gundam stories have almost always resonated with me; whether it's the extremely political settings in Gundam Wing and it's better copy, 00, or about star-crossed lovers like in Zeta Gundam (oh, Four...) and The 08th MS Team (HOO YEAH, BABY!!!), the stories of Gundam have been gripping for as long as I have watched it. War, as you likely know, is always prevalent in these stories, but Thunderbolt takes an approach more akin to shows like The 08th MS Team and 0080: War in the Pocket. It's not about GRANDIOSE PLOTS with the FATE OF THE EARTH SPHERE ON THE LINE!!!!!!! or anything like that: it's about people only wanting to survive. To just make their way through the war and go back to their loved ones. It's stories like this that often have the greatest characterizations, as more emphasis is placed on the people involved in the story (rather than the story itself) and allows for more moments of introspection and reflection on the PERSONAL consequences of certain actions and the story's themes. Think less "insert typical Gundam title here" and more something like... Casshern Sins? Yeah, that's a good example, I'll stick with it. Fun fact, the Japanese voice actor (Toru Furuya) for Casshern in Casshern Sins voices Amuro Ray from the original Gundam series, as well as Zeta Gundam and Char's Counterattack. Connections, Whoo!!!
An easy 10. Yasuo Ohtagaki is amazingly skilled. It's just drop-dead gorgeous. Like... You know what, I can't even explain the impossible detail on display here. I thought for a while that Makoto Yukimura might just have the greatest artwork ever (you NEED to see his art in Planetes and Vinland Saga), but dang did this book ever rival his work. The characters look stylish as heck and like they jumped straight out of 0083: Stardust Memory, which is saying A LOT if you're familiar with the works of Toshihiro Kawamoto. The mobile suits look amazing as well. Search it up on Google Images. Pay attention to any backgrounds you see in those pictures, too, because they are just breathtaking.
I didn't get to know all of the characters in these 9 chapters (I mean, how could I?), but the main cast, and even a few of the supporting characters, are set up very well. You got your jazz-enthusiast main characters on opposing sides (of course), the people whom they are close to even amidst the war surrounding them, and the various kinds of emotional baggage that everyone carries. That's really all I can say at this point, and I am curious to see what themes can be explored with them.
Enjoyment: 10 / Overall: 8
Well, obviously I enjoyed it. I'm writing a review!! In all seriousness though, this is a series I can imagine anyone who enjoys Mecha, anyone who enjoys War Drama, and certainly anyone who enjoys Gundam, having an absolute blast with. I'm not saying you need to read this before you die or anything like that; it's fiction, and not many of its elements are very original, but it is extremely satisfying to read. I will definitely check out the rest of this series, and if you enjoyed this first volume half as much as I did, I have a feeling you will, too.