Return to the Universal Century Timeline:
While I would consider myself a Gundam fan, I know I’m not the most experienced when it comes to all the timelines that are out there. I’m still working my way through the Universal Century timeline (which is awesome, for the record) and there’s many, many more Gundam shows I want to watch when I get the opportunity. Thankfully, I’ve seen enough content to properly watch and appreciate Gundam Thunderbolt – set during the One Year War of the original Gundam series, Thunderbolt tells the story of two pilots on opposing sides of the conflict: the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, as they are destined to kill one another in epic space battle fashion.
So, what do you need to have seen to watch this? Ideally, I’d say the original Gundam anime, as that provides context for this conflict and means they don’t need to info dump anything, allowing you dive headfirst into battle. I would also recommend the other OVAs set during the One Year War – War in the Pocket and The 08th MS Team – both, like Thunderbolt, tell very human stories about one group of characters in one little location amidst this massive, planetary war. These are all character-driven tales, depicting the many sides to this war, and Thunderbolt is a welcomed addition to this canon. Can you watch it without any prior knowledge of the Universal Century timeline? Perhaps, but I’m not so sure. You could certainly try – it’s simple enough so far, but I fear it may come across so simple that you won’t understand the weight behind this war and the context for this battle.
Slick, Cool, Jazzy:
If I had to describe this first episode in three words, it’d be: slick, cool, and jazzy. Slick, because it felt like the animation never stopped; this was constantly moving, constantly glowing, exploding, in your face action. Not only was that action stellar, but the character artwork was nothing short of gorgeous – the detail in their expressions and the fluidity of their movements is like nothing I’ve seen in Gundam before. By this first episode alone, this is arguably the best animated Gundam show out there. Next, I’d say it’s cool, because it just… is. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I think it comes down to the focus on these epic space battles, with these confident, skilled pilots leading the charge. In the short time we’ve seen them, I already believe they’re among the best of the best at what they do. Their skill and confidence in battle shines through, and I couldn’t help but get pumped up whenever things got explosive.
And finally, jazzy, because of the jazz. From what we’ve heard of the OST, I love it. Jazz in anime is possibly my favourite thing ever; it’s rare enough that whenever it comes back around I can’t help but feel immersed by it and never want the music to end. It’s also rather smart, as there is actual music playing in the pilots’ cockpit, varying depending on their taste and style. And the most memorable and quotable line has to do with the music playing in the background: “When you hear jazz, it means I’m coming.”
Two Sides to a War:
If there’s one thing the OVAs set during the One Year War manage to do better than the original Gundam, it’s making us feel sympathy for both sides of this war. Initially, I thought of the Principality of Zeon as chaotic and political evil, clearly inspired by the nazis. That worked well in the original, but I’m glad that the other stories have allowed us to get to know the characters behind this war: the normal people fighting on both sides. Both the Federation’s Io Fleming (Nakamura Yuuichi) and Zeon’s Daryl Lorenz (Kimura Ryohei) are believable and likeable leads. We manage to feel sympathy and root for both of them here, which I think is an accomplishment in itself. I appreciate when the characters fighting one another aren’t depicted as the ‘good’ and ‘evil’, but are shown doing their job, fighting in this war, and coming across as real people.
What Thunderbolt does so good is give us early impressions of both Io and Daryl without spending much time with them. Io is clearly the cocky one who dives in headfirst, but always comes out victorious. He’s passionate with women, but can take orders when need be. He thrives on the battlefield, and if anything, he seems like the ‘villain‘ of the two. In comparison, Daryl is the ace sniper who stays away from direct conflict, he doesn’t outwardly express himself as much, and is more affected by the death of this allies than Io was of his. He’s also got robotic legs (and some of his friends have robot arms as well), which gives the impression that these guys have been through a lot, yet are still fighting for their cause (as horrible as it may be). If you didn’t know the difference between the Federation and Zeon, you’d probably assume that Daryl was the ‘good guy‘ here, not Io. And that’s what I loved about this – they managed to make us care about both of these pilots to the point where I don’t know which one I’d rather see win at this moment in time.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Slick, cool, and jazzy. Excluding the credits, this only comes in at 15 minutes, which is relatively short, but managed to pack plenty of punches in that time to keep me thoroughly entertained. It’s fantastic to have more Gundam set in the UC timeline, and Thunderbolt is making a strong first impression. Interestingly enough, this is the first Gundam anime – and do correct me if I’m wrong here – to be streamed exclusively online. It’s a bold new move for such a franchise, but may be the start of new ways of distributing anime in the future. With only 4 episodes and 15 minutes each, it’s not going to be the most lengthy adaptation, but I’m glad it exists at all. The next episode comes out in February, so we won’t have to wait too long before we head back into the revenge-fuelled space battles.