Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin and the Rise of Zeon

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Manga Illustration

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is the Prelude to the Gundam Story

Since the release of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime in 1979, Gundam has become one of Japan’s most significant cultural properties and is more or less an international calling card. 

The story of the struggle between the space colonists of Zeon and the Earth Federation, along with the iconic mobile suit fighters has been the subject of Japanese postage stamps, safety posters, and lifesize versions of more than one Gundam have been erected as statues in Odaiba, and are coming to other cities as well. 

After Mobile Suit Gundam’s initial run there have been many, many other anime and manga series exploring not only the conflict in the Universal Century but alternate timelines and spin-offs that examine the implications of waging war with giant robots.

Iterations of the Gundam series usually take place in the same timeline known as the Universal Century, which is the name of the calendar era after humans began establishing space colonies. There are occasionally spin-offs and alternate timelines such as the Anno Domini timeline, Cosmic Era, and After Colony timelines. Other spin-offs include the Future Century of Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and the various worlds of SD Gundam. These all represent timelines other than the conflict between Zeon and the Earth Federation that dominates stories set in the Universal Century.

Usually each series has similarities to each other outside of developing Gundams and Mobile Suits for warfare. Each Gundam iteration usually takes place in the far future where Earth has either grown too polluted to widely support human life or resources have become dangerously scarce, so colonies have been created just outside the Moon’s orbit. The original series, Mobile Suit Gundam, starts somewhat in media res, during a point of stalemate between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. 

In 2001, original Gundam character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko released Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, which explained the immediate events that gave rise to the conflict portrayed in Mobile Suit Gundam. The series ran for a decade until 2011. Once the manga ended, it was announced that an anime adaptation was in the works. 

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Book One

In March 2014, it was announced that the anime would be a four-part OVA series and even saw limited theatrical release in 2015. Each episode was about an hour long and covered the rise of Mobile Suit Gundam’s main antagonist Char Aznable. Not only would it cover the rise of Char, but the events that led up to the One Year War, which is the focus of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime. 

The anime starts at the beginning, not quite at UC 0001 such as with Gundam Unicorn, but with the death of Zeon Zum Deikun in UC 0068. Deikun at the time of his death was a revolutionary leader among the colonists, and pioneered the idea of human reformation and that the colonists, having grown up in space, are essentially an entirely different species from earthbound humans. Inhabitants of Zeon will often throw around the phrase ‘Spacenoids’ and ‘Earthnoids’ to demonstrate their differences.  

Zeon Zum Deikun would also spread the idea that the Earth itself is sacred, and that humans must protect it by leaving it. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin opens just as Zeon Zum Deikun is about to declare his faction of colonies independent from the Earth Federation, but suffers a mysterious, fatal heart attack.

It then follows the young Char Aznable, then known as Casval Deikun, and his sister Artesia (Later known as Sayla Mass) as they flee from their home colony of Munzo, which would later be called Zeon. Casval and Artesia are the children of Deikun and represent an important source of political power for the squabbling families left behind, the Zabi and the Ral. 

Eventually it explores the power struggle behind the event known as the Dawn Rebellion, which essentially kicked off the One Year War. In the UC Timeline, the Dawn Rebellion marks the event where cadets, including Char Aznable and Garma Zabi, the youngest son of Zabi patriarch Degwin Sodo Zabi, assaulted a federation garrison in the name of Zeon independence. This event is preceded by Casval’s adoption of the name Char Aznable. 

After their home in Spain was attacked by militants paid by the Zabis, Casval, Artesia, and their adopted father Teabolo Mass were forced to go and stay with the Aznables. Roger Aznable was the administrator for the colony of Texas, which was appropriately enough designed to resemble a rural pastoral locale. Char was their son who happened to look almost exactly like Casval. 

After Char was accepted into Zeon’s Space Defense Military Academy, Casval tricked him into switching places so that Casval could attend instead of Char. The real Char Aznable was assassinated by Zabi agents detonating an explosive on the shuttle to Zeon after they mistook him for Casval. After assuming Char’s identity, Casval began to excel at the academy, outperforming and eventually befriending Garma Zabi. 

The anime shows how Garma was largely manipulated by Casval as Char to take command of the attack, another instance of Char’s cruel drive to achieve his goals at all costs. This would be demonstrated after Char allowed his former roommate Lino Fernandez to be killed by friendly fire for figuring out who he really was, despite his support for Char’s plans.

This would also be the event where Char begins wearing his signature visor, given to him by Lino shortly before the attack on the garrison. The key difference between Char and Casval were their eye colors, ‘Blue-Eyed’ Casval’s eyes being blue, and Char’s being more red. As Char, Casval wore sunglasses and said that he had suffered from cosmic ray poisoning, and needed to wear glasses or a visor at all times. Lino gave Char a modified piece of headgear for the sport of Lunar Ball, which would eventually become his signature goggles.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin also deals with the introduction and deployment of the early mobile suits, as well as the engineering of the Gundam by Tem Ray, the father of Amuro Ray, the protagonist of the Mobile Suit Gundam series. It examines the events that drew Tem Ray closer to the Federation by designing and building the iconic RX-78 Gundam, and how it related to the work of Dr. Torenov Minovsky, who built the mobile suit units that would eventually become the also-iconic Zaku units, Zeon’s main mobile suit units. 

The anime makes sure to introduce Dr. Minovsky, explain the existence of Minovsky Particles, and describe how Dr. Minovsky’s mini fusion reactor makes mobile suit technology possible. The relationship between Tem and Amuro is also examined as Amuro’s concern with his father’s work begins to cause conflicts between them.

By the end of the first four episodes Zeon is officially at war with the Earth Federation, and the stage is set for the events of Mobile Suit Gundam and the One Year War, including the occupation and defeat of several cities and strategic units. The next two episodes cover the early events of the war, such as Operation British, where Zeon forces wiped out one of the colonies of Side 2 with poison gas, then attempted to drop it on Federation headquarters in Jaburo. This leads to the Battle of Loum, where Zeon forces attempt a second colony drop and end up using nuclear weapons, which devastates both sides of the conflict, including and especially the civilians living in Loum. This particular battle would be the first time that Zeon’s mobile suits were used to their full potential.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

The Gundam Origins OVA Is Almost a Series of Films

When Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin was initially released, it premiered in theaters as a four-part OVA, so it in essence was a series of theatrical films.

The theatrical OVA starts with Blue-Eyed Casval, which covers the death of Zeon Deikun and the flight of Casval, Artesia, and Jimba Ral to Earth. After the initial four installments of the OVA, two more were released that specifically deal with one of the franchise’s earlier decisive battles. It’s now considered a normal part of the OVA, and Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin: Loum Arc is now considered episodes 5 and 6. 

In 2019 the OVA was re-compiled into a 13-episode series entitled Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin: Advent of the Red Comet. ‘The Red Comet’ is Char Aznable’s nickname in the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime and manga, alluding to his distinctive red mobile suit unit. The 13-episode series ran on Adult Swim in America.

The music for these episodes was produced by Japanese artist Sugizo, and most of the openings were performed by his band Luna Sea. For one of the ending themes, he worked with a female singer to produce a cover of one of the theme songs from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, which was written in 1985 by singer Hiroko Moriguchi. Moriguchi, also known as Hiromi Hanamura, would later release an album composed of covers of songs from past Gundam series. The album would be appropriately titled ‘Gundam Song Covers’. This album, released in 2019, would also spawn a sequel album, but due to the COVID-19 crisis the release date for it was pushed back.

Because each episode is an hour or more long, there’s a very handy recap period at the beginning of each of them, highlighting clips and moments from previous episodes that inform the events of what’s going to happen in the current episode. 

Most Gundam series are labyrinthine mazes of tenuous, fractured allegiances, palace intrigue, and reflections on war and casualties. It can be tough to keep track of why characters are doing what they’re doing and what led them to do it, but Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin manages to keep a decent amount of clarity in terms of who is attacking who and why that can get muddled in other Gundam series. 

There are certain moments where it helps to have an appreciation of where the series has been and where characters end up in order to catch moments of foreshadowing, but it doesn’t often detract from the series itself. The series has plenty of moments and appearances that longtime fans of the show will get plenty of appreciation out of.

With a franchise wrought with as much palace intrigue, betrayal, and death as shows like Game of Thrones, fans of Gundam will always be interested in knowing what led to what. 

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origins does an excellent job of setting up the power dynamics of the Universal Century timeline. It’s especially interesting for those who are interested in Gundam but unfamiliar with its twists and turns, and those who have been following the exploits of Gundam fighters since its early days. 

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