What a difference six months can make. When I reviewed the third episode of The Origin, I noted how the story highlighted the simple ways that the ambitious can cultivate destructive nationalism to drive the general population. A month after that, just over half the UK population gave a live demonstration of this by voting to leave the European Union due to lies peddled in the ridiculously named Brexit campaign, and more recently America voted to grant the similarly controversial Donald Trump the US presidency.
As such, the continued escalation and exploration of these themes in The Origin’s fourth episode couldn’t be more timely. The episode opens with a rundown of the story thus far, and I have to say at this point it’s getting a bit ridiculous to see the key points of every episode thus far summarised when at best I’d say you only need to refresh viewers on the previous one.
The cadet’s rebellion last time was a rousing success for Zeon national pride, though it sits ill with the Federation. Since punishing Garma would damage his family’s attempt to be seen as supreme leaders, Char becomes the logical political scapegoat and is removed from the academy. The problem here is this feels like a very awkward event only added to explain how Char has his fated first encounter with Lalah, as he leaves with a pinky swear promise that he can return whenever he chooses and acts on it later in this very episode.
The actual meeting with Lalah is decently handled, with Char saving her from a life of effective slavery she’s become trapped in as her Newtype powers of prediction serve as her sole asset to make money. This is slightly more wholesome than their apparent meeting in the original timeline, though it does dip into some mildly offensive Indian stereotypes, such as an Oddjob-style assassin who kills targets with a chakram ring. This includes some surprisingly graphic violence in all its horrific glory.
This opening four episode arc has been referred to as the story of Char and Sayla, but as the story transitions into the wider classic Gundam 0079 narrative, it’s difficult to not feel like the title is an artefact at this point. Sayla doesn’t appear in this episode and although Char has a role to play the narrative shifts to focus on those who will become key players on the Federation side. Indeed Char’s role in the second half of the episode is essentially to sell models of a variant of his iconic Zaku, while Ramba reappears similarly piloting a new unit named Bugu which (like the Waff last time) is the producers attempting to placate Bandai by somehow wiggling in another brand new Zaku ancestor.
The Federation’s role is mainly told through the struggles of Tem Ray, father of original protagonist Amuro. His role in the 1979 series didn’t allow for much beyond being a father far too wrapped up in military research, but he gets a bit more depth here as we see him struggle with his allies’ failure to comprehend how dangerous Zeon’s new weapons are. Simultaneously, his pride makes him want to push through his own creation (the Gundam) to outshine his defecting mentor Minovsky. This continues The Origin’s strong habit of giving pre-existing characters new depth which works with their established identity rather than feeling like an awkward retcon, which is even more impressive considering some characters have existed for over four decades.
Tem’s son isn’t far behind and this gives the story a decent fresh perspective to criticise the stance of nationalism. By the end of this episode it’s clear Zeon will wipe out anyone who stands in the way of the war they want and ultimately get, and seeing this through foreign eyes highlights the fear and danger. Both Amuro and his friend Fraw are simple teenagers who can do little more than react to the media coverage of the war in terror, while their relatives and peers do likewise or arrogantly ignore it. Thus far we’ve been shown how the Zabi siren song turns people into their supporters or offends/amuses foreign governments, but the ‘man on the street’ perspective which has long been Gundam’s bread and butter really makes it hit home. Again, we’ve seen many of these sentiments in the western world this year and they’re sadly growing. The Origin might be aimed primarily at older fans but the toxic ideas it warns against are terrifying to any age.
In terms of action, the highlight is the heavily billed first ever battle between opposing mobile suits, in which Zakus and Guncannons clash on the Moon over Minovsky’s attempts to defect to the Federation. What makes this stand out is the idea the Guncannons are built on inferior scientific knowledge, thus necessitating the eventual Gundam. Given the pains Zeon have undertaken to bring the mobile suit to fruition, it’s welcome to see this reflected by their opponents failing to get it right themselves. This, in turn, reflects the story’s ongoing themes of how arrogance and complacency enable the darker eras of human history.
The Japanese casting continues to seemingly transition to a new cast. Ikeda is still present to voice Char and is now joined by Tohru Furuya as Amuro, though the two never interact here. However the production continues to bring in new actors for established icons, with Kakihara briefly returning as Garma while Saori Hayami and Misato Fukuen debut as Lalah and Fraw respectively. In this respect I admit to being uncertain. Neither of the two give bad performances (indeed I’m a long time fan of Hayami in particular, who is fast becoming a recurring Gundam actress) but I’m so connected to their original voices that it was hard to fully buy into the performances. This is going to become more of an issue as the original cast retire or more regrettably pass away, so I do want to show some leeway as Sunrise slowly determines the new generation of actors for these beloved characters.
In terms of narrative structure Gundam The Origin IV: Eve of Destiny is mildly sloppy but what shines through this time is just how much relevance it holds as a cautionary tale. There’s certainly attention given to the giant mecha that capture fan’s imaginations but the story remains firmly focussed on the human machinations which would be dangerous in any era. Indeed it’s not difficult even to compare Degwin’s toxic Zabi family to the Trump brood or Kycillia’s closed door deals to the short-sighted Theresa May. Such comparisons might date this review but Gundam at its best has always attempted to motivate audiences to question the world they live in. The Origin certainly succeeds in that, drawing firmly from real history to remind us it is the job of each of us to ensure the future ahead is not a negative one.
Gundam The Origin IV: Eve of Destiny is available to purchase on Daisuki, Playstation and Xbox.