Another new installment of Yasuo Ohtagaki’s Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt is out this week. The series has consistently impressed visually, and while its human drama has been various degrees of successful there’s always at least something to think about. Is Vol. 12 good?
The characters’ interactions here are some of the best in the series thus far. The opening chapter revolves around Io Fleming getting the same tattoo that his new teammates all have, signifying their trust in one another. The sentimentality is far from cheesy, however. It’s more of a humorous affair– the team all got their tattoos done on their asses, resulting in shots of military fighters all proudly displaying their bare bums together. Io has the most great moments of anyone in the volume, as we get more enjoyable scenes of him both goofing off and preparing for combat with music blasting in his mech. All in all there’s a lot to like here character-wise.
The rest of the writing is also solid. Events are well-paced and tension is effectively built for the upcoming battle between Io and Daryl Lorenz, which the book cuts off right beforehand with a good cliffhanger. New sci-fi concepts and intrigue elements are also successfully incorporated, adding more layers to the action. The writing of characters strategizing and reacting to sudden changes in plan are especially well-done.
There’s also a lot to love about Ohtagaki’s art here. The mechs are imposing as always, with the attention to detail and the slick sheen of the metal really selling them as devastating war machines. The explosions throughout are downright beautiful as well. There’s also a lot of great nature and architectural imagery on the island where most of the action takes place. From underwater shots to Buddhist statues, there are a lot of different key visuals with a variety of effectively rendered textures. There are also a lot of goofy facial expressions and renderings of body language that help keep the moments between battles fun while conveying the characters’ personalities.
With that said, there are also some strange choices here and there. The most memorably bad panel is of a naked woman at a hot spring. She’s bent in a way that twists her spine, showing off both her breasts and ass at once. The execution of it is so extreme that it reads like a parody of over-the-top fan service, but it’s played completely straight. It could also be argued that this volume doesn’t contribute much of note thematically or in terms of presenting a message about war, but what we do get character-wise is strong enough to help make up for that.
Also notable is chapter 100, which is printed entirely in color as opposed to black and white like most of the series. The coloration isn’t exactly ugly, but the tones and shading frequently seem oddly chosen for the content. They do little to effectively heighten the mood and sometimes even counteract it a bit. For a chapter to be done with more color than others, it would be more satisfying if it was actually more pleasing to look at than the usual grayscale as opposed to feeling less polished.
All in all, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Vol. 12 is an enjoyable read. The focus on characters’ interactions with one another is great, and the art has a lot of strong points. Unfortunately there are some poorly made choices regarding coloration and fan service, and there’s not a lot of note thematically. Nonetheless, I would recommend this volume to readers who like their action mixed in with human intrigue.