Amuro, Atmosphere in Science Fiction, Bright Noa, Char, Comics, Detail in comics, Federation, FrameRate, Giant Robots, graphic novel, Gundam, Kunio-Awara, Manga, Michael Greenhale, Mirai, Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Physical Action in Comics, Sayla Mass, science fiction, The Comics Classroom, Western Literature, women in comics, Women in Manga, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Zeon
You’re back and ready for more conversations about giant robots fighting in space and my opinions about them. Or else you’re just killing time because you’ve got some friends on the way and there isn’t enough time to play video games, but there is plenty of time to skim through a blog post while you wait. Whatever your reasons, just know that I respect them, and you need to start helping your partner do the dishes more often.
This second post continues in much the same format as the previous, however this time around Michael will be asking me the questions and I’ll be providing my thoughts and insights about the first volume of the Manga Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s been a fascinating enterprize and already the pair of us are formulating a sequel to this work, perhaps something by Grant Morrison. For the time being it’s been a delight exploring a topic through a mutual exchange rather than the lens of my own psyche.
Mobile Suit Gundam is an incredible manga, but I’ll let the discourse speak for itself.
Hope you enjoy.
MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
1. I know there are tends within some circles to see Gundam as a ‘giant robot’ series, and that isn’t wrong, but as I re-read this series I am always struck by the other elements at play, issues like politics and history and rights. What would you say serves as the more interesting angle for you so far: the setting or the machines?
It’s been a while since I finished the first manga in the series, but honestly based upon my reflection so much of the work was action driven. Tomino often has lengthy passages of shit blowing up, tanks firing their weapons, and of course the Gundam suits fighting back and forth in-between firing massive firearms. Now having read the second book I understand that there is significant development but looking at the first volume alone it felt to me that there was a far greater emphasis placed upon the machines, specifically their capabilities. Now given that the work was coming out of the 1970s the giant robot aesthetic doesn’t hurt the book at all, and to give it the credit that it does I was impressed by how well the work was able to convey not just violence, but action period.
In my own writing and comics, I try to emphasize physical action more because it feels more important and so my reading is likely biased by that aesthetic.
Tomino creates a setting that feels both believable, and every time I was in the command center of a ship, or inside one of the Gundam suits, or even simply on one of the terra-forming space colonies I felt I was seeing a real world, however there was not enough detail to really make me feel like I was in this world. There was more emphasis played upon the physical action as well as the dramatic tension. Therefore, personally I tended to follow that more than the set-up of the mythos, politics, or setting.
- I have never made light of my dislike for Amuro Ray, but that is also because I am more invested in Char and his history. Gundam The Origin is a complex re-release of the original Gundam story, so I sort of know what to expect going in. As a new reader, what characters do you find yourself most interested in and why? Or, if notcharacters, what concepts or conflicts interest you the most?
What’s fascinating is having just started the series I completely agree as well, Amuro is not an interesting character to me. It’s not that he doesn’t have a conflict it’s just that he doesn’t compel me as a reader. There’s nothing really apart from the fact that he’s operating the Gundam that keeps me interested in his particular and individual struggle. Also, he’s kinda of a dick to the women which immediately turns me off.
Honestly, and this is the strange part, Char was a far more dynamic character because, as you so excellently pointed it out, he seems to be far more complex. His motivations are not clear, and he has a history that provides me, as a reader, with a feeling that this character has some depth. I’m compelled to keep reading to figure out more about his character.
Sayla Mass is also interesting to me, partly because I like any book that doesn’t shoe-horn female characters to one side or else turn them simply into ditzes and/or sidekicks. But looking at her she has a real presence, confidence, and dynamic that makes her enjoyable to read.
Honestly thought, I’ve saved him for last but the most interesting character to me personally is Bright Noa. From the start of the book he seemed to have so much stacked against him and as the first volume went through he evolved incredibly to me as a character that, while not always sympathetic, was someone that I could believe in and hope for. There is a fascinating dynamic in his character where he has to play the young military figure who must assume command, but rather than become a simple two-dimensional figure in a nice suit he’s complicated. The reader can see him constantly struggling to maintain his calm in the face of almost certain oblivion, and he struggles to be a real leader. It might be because I personally am NOT a leader by any means, I avoid power and influence in any sort of professional capacity, and so I think what’s fascinating as a reader of this series is observing this character struggling to be the leader everyone needs him to be. The toll that this takes on him, and his fight to survive and save his crew is almost admirable. I just loved Bright Noa, even when he was an asshole.
- The US has no real tradition of giant robots, outside of material that (funny enough) is honoring shows and stories LIKE Gundam. Without feeling like you need to worry about understanding any kind of Japanese vs Western conventions, what things ‘work’ for you, as Western reader, to find this universe worth reading about?
To be honest, after finishing the first volume I couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure why I honestly continued reading to the second volume. Despite my previous praise of the characters in the story there wasn’t much to the book in terms of personal interest. Like I said the book was fascinating to observe because it has an interesting approach on presenting physical action without sacrificing the detail. Too often I’ve read Manga that just devolves into talking heads with occasional bursts of physical displays of power.
I think part of what kept me going was that I recognized that this book continues to exist through sheer force of influence and recognition. It’s a book that’s laid a foundation and it’s been around for ages and therefore it’s worth reading if only to understand why it has survived this long. I think there’s also some part of me who watched five minutes of the anime series when I was just a teenager who could stay up late and watched a few minutes of the show before saying “what the fuck was that?” and then promptly changing the channel.
I was tempted to say I’m not really a “western reader,” but a simple analysis reveals this as bullshit. I am STEEPED in the Western tradition, and the fact that I’m trying to read every play by William Shakespeare is enough to prove this. I suspect then what’s keeping me reading the balance of concern for character, the trope of the hero overcoming a great evil. I suspect there’s also some cowboy in my who simply enjoys watching shit blow up and watching giant robots fight to the death.
I don’t feel like I’ve answered this question efficiently because, really, thereputation of the book is more what’s going to keep me reading past the first volume. I hate saying it like that, and I’m not implying the book has no merit, but as an introduction the first book does not really seem, to me, to be much inspiration to continue reading.
- If you can, has this manga subverted, exceeded or met your expectations? Can you explain why?
Having read at least few Mangas in my time (Black Lagoon, Akira, and at least two volumes of Lone Wolfe and Cub being my favorites) Mobile Suit Gundam met my general expectations but after going through these questions I’ve begun to really re-assess my reading of the first book. I’m fortunate to not be too knowledgeable about the lasting impact of the series, and there wasn’t any real hype pre-reading. I simply saw the books come through the library over and over again while I was shelving them. And because the first volume has a great big robot on the cover I thought, “Fuck it. Let’s give it a try.”
The first volume more-or-less met my expectations because there really wasn’t much in the book that veered away from the more traditional narrative structures of Manga. And while there was much more emphasis on space and place, by the end of the book I wasn’t left with a feeling that I had read something greater than any previous Eastern comic I had ever read.
This is all just a way of saying, my reaction was by no means “meh,” but it was not “That was amazing.”
- What sorts of things do you hope will develop and occur in the future Gundam stories, if you should keep reading?
I would like to find some reason to give a damn about Amuro. I mean, really that’s it. Char, Sayla, and Bright are what’s keeping me reading, and to some extent the military drama that’s taking place. I would like a little more interaction with the planet Earth as a territory for narrative because I honestly am not too much of a fan of High Sci-Fi. I like the speculative fiction element that is grounded in the reality that mankind is distancing itself from Earth but is not entirely divorced from the home-planet.
I am also interested in seeing how the female characters will develop as the text continues because I’ve too often read stories where female characters in Manga have been reduced into giggly sex-dolls. Neither of the women in the book thus far have devolved into that particular stereotype and it leaves me hopeful that the book will balance a concern for their characters and not just be a patriarchal action-movie book.
And finally, I would like to see how the presentation of physical action and warfare develops if it develops at all. Sometimes the fights are just dramatic lines on the page and I would like to see if the art becomes a little more nuanced and detailed. I would understand if it doesn’t, but I still enjoy artists that try to create their world, and realism can heighten violence and action dramatically.
About the Authors:
Michael Hale is currently a PhD Candidate for the University of Texas at Arlington. He publishes for Comicosity through the Comics Classroom column series.
If you would like to read more work by Michael, and I most certainly recomend you do, you can find many of his essays by following the link below:
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
Really? Really? REALLY?! We’re really doing this bit again? I’m the goddamned head writer for this site and you people STILL don’t know who I am. I’m Jammer. Jammer. What? No I’m not the guy who writes FrameRate. That’s TJ Rankin. Here’s a link to his site.
Now if you’re interested in my opinion about Fun Home or the writing of Albert Camus I can, wait, where are go-.
[Door slams as reader pursues more worthwhile, or at least far less tedious content]