MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THUNDERBOLT (Kido Senshi Gundamu Sandaboruto), written by Yasuo Ohtagaki & based on the series by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino . First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.
As the One Year War reaches it peak, two sides face off against one another in the wreckage of the Side 4 colony, now know as the Thunderbolt sector. One side is the Moore Brotherhood, a faction of the Earth Federation staffed by former residents of the colony and led by the daring pilot Io Fleming. The other side is the forces of Zeon, who are using amputee pilots to test experimental suits and defend their supply routes at the same time, led by their star sniper Daryl Lorenz. The two inevitably clash in the wreckage, but only one can survive.
I had heard nothing but rave reviews for the Thunderbolt OVAs, both from seasoned Gundam fans and newcomers. Thanks to that, I was eager to check out its source manga and see what it was like. While there's a lot in here that I do like and do think is interesting, I have a sneaking suspicion that it works better in animation than it does in manga form.
Thanks to various spinoffs in just about every medium you can think of, it's hard to find space for a new story within the larger context of the One Year War (aka the events of the original Mobile Suit Gundam). The particular spot that Thunderbolt has settled into is smaller and less ambitious than most, considering that it's not about great battles, notable names, or crazy Newtype powers but instead two smaller factions having the space equivalent of a border skirmish on the verge of the end of the war. In that sense, it's spiritually closer to something like 08th MS Team than anything else. Ohtagaki makes up for that lack of scale by digging deep into the stories of both sides. Io and Daryl get virtually equal screen time on the page, and through them we get a very good sense of things on both sides of the war.
It's just a shame that neither of them are all that interesting onto themselves. Both of them have major traumas in their past - Io lost his family and his home, while Daryl lost his legs in battle - but I couldn't tell you much about the two beyond that save for their mutual love of a pirate jazz radio station. There are a few other story lines going on around them, but half of them are there simply to serve as cannon fodder, minor tragedies there to enhance the dour mood. Since I couldn't get that invested in them, it was hard to care all that much about the outcome of their battles. Maybe they get some interesting development later on, but so far it feels like this interesting setting is being wasted on these guys.
It's hard to miss the fact that this comes from a seinen magazine. That's why the leads tend to be rugged, the supporting cast can be a bit goony looking, and the token women (one per side) all tend to have sizeable chests, pillowy lips, and sultry looks. Ohtagaki certainly puts a lot of care into the details of the suits and the drifting debris of the colony's structure and buildings. He also does the same for the battles, although it takes a few chapters for him to truly get the hang of it. By the end, though, during Io and Daryl's first proper one-on-one, the fights are far better laid out and easier to follow.
There are no extras, I just wanted to know that the guy who adapted this volume goes by Stan!
Yes, complete with exclamation point.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt has some interesting ideas and some good mobile suit battles, but two leading men aren't better than one if neither them is all that interesting enough to keep the audience's attention this early on. I guess I'll have to watch the OVA if I want to see what others see in this.
This series is published by Viz. This series is ongoing in Japan with six volumes available. Four have been published and are currently in print.