Otaku Obsession: The Handbook to the Revolution

(Editor's Note: Here's a blog a wrote reviewing the novelization of "Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation", written by Yoshiyuki Tomino and adapted into english by Frederik L. Schodt. Originally posted on my MySpace Blog on April 2nd, 2006. Enjoy and hunt this book down!)

Anyone that has the misfortune of knowing me knows that I'm a fool for almost anything relating to Gundam. Being a long time fan of science fiction, the long-established universe of "Mobile Suit Gundam" sucked me in 2001 when I watched the original 1979 Anime on Cartoon Network's Toonami. I have to admit though that it wasn't my first Gundam series; that honor went to "New Mobile Report Gundam Wing".

In retrospect, I'm sorry it was, but was grateful that the original MSG came soon after. Not that Wing is a terrible show, but man is the story all over the place and borrows way too much from the older series on which the saga was founded. And those overblown speeches about "pacifism" coming out of characters that were barely pubescent - that shit was way too precocious for my taste. Even more so than Huey & Riley Freeman on the Boondocks, although that's a show I dig tremendously. At least the series had two good points: the Mobile Suits & Treize Kushrenada - the greatest pimp to ever grace anime period. Don't believe me? Well, too bad. ^_^

When "Mobile Suit Gundam" finally aired on July 23, 2001, I had been treated to a rush I haven't received from a TV series since watching Robotech for the first time at the tender age of 8 (in 1985). There's something about an older anime series that does something to me and usually it's the nostalgia factor. However, since the debut series of Gundam was all new to me, it was like watching an entirely new show, wrapped in old threads. It was already unbelievable that Toonami was airing a series this dated, but took a chance with it until tragedy struck.

September 11, 2001.

What a messed up period that was, and for good reason. Working for a newspaper, it was hard to escape the shadow of those events, and the talk about it was pretty constant. You could see on TV, that immediate changes were happening too, and one of them was the cancellation of "Mobile Suit Gundam". With it's poor ratings (Toonami pushed the advertising for this show as hard as they could too), and with the pre-war mood America was in, they thought it best to take it off until they could find another outlet for it. Hell, they even took Cowboy Bebop off Adult Swim for a while but we know that didn't last long - and right before episode 8 - where Spike, Jet & Faye stop those starship hijackers from taking the plane hostage on their way to Venus. I could see why...

That was the same time Capcom Vs. SNK 2 was coming out in Japan, and with all packages having to be delivered sans aircraft, there was slim chance we we're going to see that for weeks. That's another story for another time, but I do thank God for Internet piracy that week. ^_-

The show was put on the shelf after episode 36, but within a few months I had the rest of the series on DVD and finally could watch it in its entirety. Since then I've watched the other 12 Gundam series Sunrise (the anime studio that makes the show) has produced, and each one coming off as a different experience when watched. The one I became particularly fond off was the sequel to MSG, "Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam" (1985). I guess the Japanese were on some good shit in the mid-Eighties to create some the best shows ever - like Macross & Voltron (Go-Lion), and animating TransFormers, GI Joe, Thundercats, and too many others to name.

The man responsible for Gundam in the first place is none other than Yoshiyuki Tomino, who actually writes the book that's the subject of this blog entry in the first place. He's been directing anime for God-knows how long (actually circa 1964), working under the legend, Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astro Boy and the man who single-handedly made anime & manga what it is today). Not only did he develop "Mobile Suit Gundam" for Sunrise (with the help of the company staff - all under the pen name "Hajime Yadate"), but sequel projects like Zeta, "Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ" (1986), "Char's Counterattack" (1988), "Formula 91" (1991), "Mobile Suit Victory Gundam" (1993), and "Turn-A Gundam" (1999). He's done a slew of other series besides Gundam, and if you've been watching anime for a long time, you've probably seen something he's done.

Recently, I was on the hunt for any books on Gundam, and on Amazon.com found a novelization of the original "Mobile Suit Gundam" that was written by Tomino-san and re-published in 2004. I had the desire to buy the book, but my brother, Aaron, had beaten me to it. He had read "The Da Vinci Code" almost a year prior and said that it had nothing on Tomino's novelization of "Mobile Suit Gundam" - and for a book as hot as "Code" is, that was quite the statement. After loaning it to me to read, my friend Paul found his own copy at the local Barnes & Noble in Altamonte Springs and blew through it in 4 days. Needless to say, Paul comments that this should have been on the New York Bestseller list since it's release date.

I've never been a quick reader, and sometimes while reading a novel I'll re-read certain passages if my mind doesn't visualize them clearly or vividly enough. Sounds retarded, but coming from me you shouldn't be surprised. ^_^ Hell, there were more than a few moments where I re-read shit because I could not believe what I just read. Despite already knowing that the novel version of MSG was different then how the TV series (or Movies) played out, I wasn't prepared for exactly how different.

* In the animated version, you can see there are aspects of Tomino's original vision that he had to compromise on. Most of main characters are slightly younger in the show and most are civilians when they're thrown into the midst of an intergalactic war. In the novel, Amuro Ray (the protagonist) and the other ragtag pilots are in the early stages of adulthood (18 or 19) and are already enlisted in the Earth Space Federation Forces (E.F.S.F.) instead of being drafted in a state of crisis. The weapons of warfare described in the book, mobile suits in particular, seem to be much more practical than the merchandise-friendly ones in the show also.

* The book is far more adult and violently graphic than the anime series could ever hope to be. Honestly, I shouldn't be shocked about the violence since it is written by a man whose nickname is "Kill 'em All", due to his penchant for killing off huge amounts of cast members in the anime he directs. Sometimes all of them - but I won't say what shows those are. ^_^ However that level of detail adds to the gritty experience that is war, something that I'm glad the book doesn't shortchange us on. Romance is touched upon more in this novel, giving Amuro romantic liaisons in the form of three women. One is one a physical level, another is more innuendo, and the last is in the realm of the metaphysical that I am totally envious of after reading about it.

* The level of detail about the world of the original series. I have watched every traditionally animated Gundam series, and still learned more about the mechanics and inner workings of society in the "Universal Century" (the future timeline Gundam takes place in - like the "Anno Domini" / "A.D" one we currently live in) just by reading this than watching those shows. From how the space colonies worked, to why the New World order the people of Earth voted for was now kicking 80f the population off the planet into said colonies. When you read the part about the energy crisis and the extensive damage careless use of resources have done to the environment, you'll think that it's talking about the here-and-now - and this thing was written 27 years ago!

* Most importantly, it helps to flesh out the mystery of what a "Newtype" is. And after reading the book, the mystique is still there although I have a better understanding of the concept. Basically, a "Newtype" is the moniker for the new phase of human evolution once mankind has moved from the womb of Earth and into Space. According to the theory brought up in the story, man will be gain a better understanding of the universe and gain more use of his mind, bringing about effects such as increased intuition, ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) and telepathy, among other gifts. With the ongoing war as a catalyst, characters in the story come into these foretold gifts ahead of schedule, becoming a factor in the very future on mankind's survival. The anime series touched upon this in the latter episodes, but the novel hits the ground running with the concept of Newtypes and it isn't long before what was speculated becomes reality in the story.

There are vast differences between this book compared to the anime series, compilation movies, and even the manga "Gundam: the Origin" (which is excellent in it's own right), but to mention them would take from the surprises that the novel holds. Even if you just like science fiction and are not too big on anime or Gundam in general, you'll still love this book. The well defined, yet economically displayed characters. The futuristic locales that end up being more down to earth than you would believe. The tapestry of events past and how it weaves into the conflict we find our players in. The horrors of war and the optimism about the future of mankind. The richness of detail but without too much technobbable. Actually, Tomino (the author) and Schodt (the translator) break down any technological terms to an easy-to-understand level without sounding too basic - if that makes any sense. Trust me, when you read this book you'll have no problems comprehending what's going on. I could go on-and-on about this treasure for days, but I'll leave it to whoever is daring enough to find out for themselves. BTW, the last chapter is a nothing less of a white-knuckle ride, so strap in. ^_^

I've got to thank Frederik L. Schodt for adapting this novelization of "Mobile Suit Gundam" so beautifully and the original bald-head himself, Yoshiyuki Tomino, for penning it in the first place. On top of that, he's created so many shows that I've enjoyed throughout the years, that if I ever did get the chance to meet him, I'd probably shake his hand and cry like a little bitch instead of slapping him like it says on my MySpace "Who I'd like to meet" section. Still can't forgive him for the ending of Victory Gundam though. It was Holden Caulfield (from "The Catcher in the Rye") that said it best:

"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."

Sure doesn't.

Soul Brother Ryusynoke
0604.03