Giant robots, arctic storms, and…penguins?!
As a child, I wasn’t a big fan of giant robot stories. Something about the designs of the mechs just didn’t click with me. In recent years, though, I’ve become more interested in the genre. Series like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Voices of a Distant Star showed me that giant robot manga and anime could serve as vehicles for poignant exploration of human emotion. When the chance to review Viz Media’s Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, Vol. 6 arose, I eagerly took advantage of it. I figured that such a long-running series must be popular for a reason, and was excited to experience it for the first time. This volume is written and illustrated by Yasuo Ohtagaki and based on series concepts originated by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino. Is it good?
The first thing that struck me about this volume was its art. The majority of the volume takes place in the Antarctic, which Ohtagaki renders beautifully. The neverending snow is believable in its fury, and obscures the reader’s view like it does the characters’. The textures of the ice, sky, and water are all lovely as well. One small detail that impresses me a lot is the inclusion of penguins in the snowy landscape. Ohtagaki’s choice to include them makes the volume’s version of Earth feel all the more real, as there’s more to it than just bulky mechs and their pilots. The humans also have moments of being intricately detailed. There are some truly beautiful shots of the pilots where the harsh weather’s effect on their bodies is clearly evident. Everyone looks exhausted, as they should given the combat and inclement weather they have to endure.
This volume isn’t bad plot-wise, either. We don’t get to know any of the characters extremely well, but we do get some moments of humanity between the action. One standout scene includes a group tattoo session, in which several characters get matching ink to commemorate their time spent serving together. There is also a flashback of two characters performing together and developing sexual tension. The pair don’t have a lot of dialogue together, but their facial expressions speak volumes. It’s little moments like these that most endure me to the volume’s plot, since combat scenes tend to only be as interesting as their combatants.
With all that said, this volume still has some cons that keep me from loving it. As impressive as the art is when it’s depicting humans and the natural world, it’s less consistent throughout action scenes. The mechs themselves look cool, but their actions are frequently unclear. It’s hard to stay invested in a battle when one can’t keep track of where attacks are coming from or making impact. The volume also feels a bit repetitive story-wise. The character-focused moments are great, but the primary plot of the battle in the Antarctic doesn’t have a well-defined narrative arc. It just kind of keeps going without clear instances of rising or falling action; no moment feels especially pivotal in comparison to any of the others. The emotionally charged scenes are also few and far between enough that they don’t fully sustain interest in the characters.
Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, Vol. 6 is impressive. Its artwork is frequently beautiful and intricately detailed, with small touches that make its world feel real. The writing also has shining moments where the characters’ emotional lives are concerned. With that said, the action scenes can get a bit unclear and the main plot pales in comparison to the flashbacks interspersed throughout. Nonetheless, I like this volume and will likely read more of this series in the future.