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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #40 (September 28, 2004), page 11
Godzillas in space!
Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation
By Yoshiyuki Tomino
Translated by Frederik L. Schodt
Stone Bridge Press, 2004
Paperback, 480 pages, $14.95
By Andrew J. Weber
In science fiction, you can make up your own rules. No one knows this better than Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose Gundam franchise has achieved astonishing worldwide success thanks to its unlikely marriage of two Japanese pop-culture obsessions: giant, destructive anthropomorphs and the doe-eyed waifs of animé.
For the uninitiated, a Gundam (or mobile suit) is a huge, man-shaped robot controlled by a human pilot. In Tomino’s imagined universe, the discovery of radar-jamming "Minovsky" particles has rendered combat at a distance next to impossible. That makes Gundams into apparently devastating weapons, despite the awkwardness of having arms and legs in space where there is nothing to hold and nowhere to stand.
It’s a big set-up to bring the drama of hand-to-hand combat to the story, but it works. And it has been incredibly popular with the public; after its debut as animated science fiction on Japanese television in 1979, the Gundam story has gone on to spawn nine more TV series, ten movies, and countless novels, comics, and video games.
This book is a compilation of three early Gundam novels: Awakening, Escalation, and Confrontation, which Tomino wrote in the belief that the extended prose form would allow him to explore his characters in greater depth than he could in any visual media. First translated into English in 1990, the novels have been published again in this new volume, together for the first time.
The story revolves around an epic battle between the Earth Federation and a group of rebel space colonies that call themselves the Principality of Zeon. The balance of the conflict turns on the effective application of mobile-suit weaponry by both sides and the emergence of "Newtypes," individuals who possess extraordinary powers of perception and signal the start of the next phase of human evolution.
At times, the story shows its quarter-century age. In an amusing moment, several children are distracted by a "Space Invaders" arcade console, the height of technology when Gundam was first released in 1979 but now a quaint gamers’ museum piece. The plot also borrows a great deal from the seminal work of all modern science fiction, George Lucas’s Star Wars, released two years earlier in 1977. That film similarly featured a war of rebellion, a secret weapon of mass destruction, and "The Force," a sensory power like that possessed by the Newtypes.
No one will mistake Gundam for great literature, and occasional line drawings throughout the text are a nod to the fact that this story is primarily a visual one. However, the characters are deeply layered, with complex motivations and beliefs. Jealousy, family rivalry, sex, lust for power, suspicion, fear, and a host of other all-too-human attributes influence the flow of the narrative, with the fog of war confusing the judgments of both sides.
Tomino is also not afraid to throw several startling twists into the story, some echoed from the original animé series but others new to the novelization. The war is more than just a simple struggle between good and evil, and the eventual outcome cannot easily be described as a victory for either side — if there is really any winner at all. Along the way, many of the main characters are shockingly killed in battle, which might be true to life but is rarely true in fiction.
Yet the deaths of these characters should not be that surprising; after all, the real heroes of the story are not the people but the literally larger-than-life Gundams. And despite occasional human dialog as clunky and mechanical as the giant robots themselves, this book is ultimately a page-turner. Through all the human drama, the action and the exclamation points are relentless, with one climax following after another. That makes for good comics — and a great read. For anyone unfamiliar with the Gundam cultural phenomenon, this could be the perfect introduction.