Near-perfect visual storytelling astounds.
Ever since I first watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, I’ve been vaguely interested in giant robot stories. With that said, I haven’t read many manga of that genre–just the immaculate Voices of a Distant Star and the impressive but flawed Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, Vol. 6. When the opportunity to review Vol. 7 of Thunderbolt arose, I eagerly accepted it. The series, based on concepts originated by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino, is written and drawn by Yasuo Ohtagaki. Vol. 7 collects chapters 53-61 and features both intriguing character drama and the dramatic robot-on-robot battles that one would expect. Does this installment live up to the high expectations set by Vol. 6? Is it good?
Visually, this volume is a thing of beauty. Virtually every aspect of the art is exceptionally well-done. The volume begins with shots of characters walking through bright flower fields that radiate joy. The imagery then shifts to bees and honey, continuing the nature theme. Ohtagaki’s attention to details of the natural world helps ground the manga so that it doesn’t read as just a bunch of robots fighting with no impact on actual humans or planets. Even scenes of mecha battling high above the ground are beautiful, as Ohtagaki renders the atmosphere in a realistic and awe-inspiring manner. The mecha themselves stun thanks to the sheer intricacy of the line-work. When it comes to the volume’s humans, Ohtagaki uses a more cartoony style that still works well and helps provide a sense of levity to the events. As a result things never become too grimdark, even though this is a war manga.
Speaking of the human characters, its their interpersonal dramas that make this volume stand out from other action-heavy manga. The fact that this volume starts off with scenes of people talking as they walk through nature establishes something vital: the humans inside the mechs function as more than just pilots. This is the case not just in moments of tenderness between violence, but also in terms of how military encounters play out. Pages with rival captains arguing over intercoms and analyzing each other’s strategies are even more striking than the volume’s explosions and collisions of artillery. Religious devotion and intrigue also play into the later chapters, deepening Ohtagaki’s depiction of the human experience.
In terms of this volume’s cons, I only have a few complaints to make. Occasionally the human characters get rendered with a bit less depth and seem less nuanced as a result. Long action scenes can also get somewhat boring, because even though the mechs and ships are beautifully detailed they tend to interact with each other in the same ways over and over again. There are exceptions to this, but I quicken the pace of my reading through the volume’s middle chapters because the battles are less riveting than what comes before and after them.
With that said, I can’t overstate how perfect the flow of movement throughout most of this volume is. I frequently find myself thinking about how incredibly polished the visual storytelling is; there are several sequences of panels and pages that I don’t think could possibly be improved upon. Ohtagaki has a knack for choosing exactly the right images and focal points and showing them to the reader in exactly the right order. The page compositions are then crafted in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of both individual panels and the relationships between them.
Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, Vol. 7 is beautiful. Not only is the line-art throughout superb in detail, but the flow of movement and composition choices are top-notch as well. My main complaint is just that some of the action scenes get a bit repetitive, but even those look lovingly rendered. From a beginning that hones in on the natural world to an ending full of twists, this volume impresses at every turn.