The majority of Gundam manga out there are spinoffs, be they spinoffs of shows, other Gundam manga, or (in this case) video games. The vast majority of these go unlicensed, but today's review is one of the rare exceptions. So what, if anything, makes this one so special?
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE LOST WAR CHRONICLES (Kido Senshi Gundam Senki), with art by Masato Natsumo, based on the game by Tomohiro Chiba and Bandai Games, the franchise by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino, and character designs by Koji Aisaka and Toshihiro Kawamoto. First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2006.
During the height of the One Year War, Zeon forces control much of Western Europe from their base in Odessa, Lithuania. It is here at this fateful spot that an elite, experimental squad of Federation pilot plan on striking back, led by the dashing Lt. Matt Healy and Corporal Noel Anderson. Even as failures and infighting amongst the Zeon troops force them to change their strategy, Matt's forces are confident that they can win.
I was pleased with how well Lost War Chronicles worked as a manga. That's no small feat for an adaptation of a PS2 third-person shooting game that was never localized here. If it has any major failings, it's that it lacks character and context for anyone who hasn't memorized UC-era Gundam canon.
I suspect that this particular manga was brought over not only because it was relatively recent, but because it shares some surface similarities with the beloved 08th MS Team OVA. Both are stories set mid-war about a group of everyday soldiers fighting back against an overwhelming force of Zeon soldiers, and this manga even features some of the suits seen in that series. That's where the similarities end, though. Thanks to its video game roots, there's a sizable cast of original characters, but all of them archetypal as they come. There's the brash young squadron leader who doesn't play by the rules but gets results, the idealistic and talented rookie, the morally conflicted enemy leader to serve as the lead's counterpart, a raving, egotistical superior officer, and so many more
Not shockingly then, this manga works far better as an action set-piece than as a character study. There are very few lulls between battles in this book. One will end, only for the gang to start implementing its plans for the next one. It's all fairly well-paced, even if none of the battles particularly stand out from one another. The problem is that there's virtually no context given for anyone who doesn't already know about the One Year War. Why is Odessa so important? What's the deal with these Zeon guys? What are even all these different mobile suits? This manga presumes you already know, so it doesn't stop to explain to the potential Gundam virgins in the audience. That's something you can get away with in the pages of Gundam Ace, but on its own Lost War Chronicles feels kind of driftless.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the artist behind this one also did the Record of Lodoss War manga I looked at a while back. What's less pleasant to see is that his style was still stuck in the 90s even a decade later. He makes the characters a lot more angular than their game counterparts, and those cheekbone hatchmarks are taken straight out of the late 90s anime design textbook.
Aside from that, everyone has fairly realistic proportions and reactions. He also does a good job at drawing the mobile suits. There's at least dozen different ones here, and the differences are not always obvious so he deserves some praise for that. He also handles the action pieces quite well, framing the fights in an almost cinematic manner.
Natsumo manages to make the most of what could have been just another piece of promotional fluff with Lost War Chronicles, but those who aren't already Gundam fans will likely find themselves at a loss with this manga.
This series was published by Tokyopop. This series was complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both were published and are currently out of print.