On the Saturday of MCM London Comic Con this October, Anime Limited tried something new. Drawing on their successful involvement with the ongoing Scotland Loves Anime, they staged the MCM Loves Anime event roughly 10 minutes away from the main convention. The idea being this independent film festival would take advantage of the migration habits of the British otaku to present four anime films one after the other.
The first of these to be advertised though second to screen in the final schedule was a double bill of Gundam The Origin, with the first episode being followed by the world premiere outside of Japan of the second instalment.
It has been some years since we last saw siblings Casval and Artesia flee to Earth, where the pair have since been adopted by Teabolo Mass and renamed Edouard and Sayla, respectively. Aware of the children’s secret, the kindly Teabolo has accepted them as his own and is far from pleased with the vendetta that Jimba Ral (who joined them in exile) clearly nurses, hoping to eventually make Zeon’s children the figure heads of an armed movement to strike back at the Zabis. However even the love of their adoptive father cannot protect them when they receive a stark wake-up call that they never truly escaped the Zabi’s gaze. As their former home continues its advancement to begin a war, Casval and Artesia may soon find themselves walking separate paths.
The first episode of The Origin set a solid standard but arguably aimed for the existing fanbase who needed little of its characters and setting explained to them. Sunrise might have heard my criticisms as this second episode begins with a variant on the iconic opening narration of the 1979 series, explaining the setting and the events of the previous instalment.
The first act is given over to showcasing that despite the peaceful life Casval and Artesia have escaped to they are still very much in danger, proven when an assassination squad from Side 3 attacks their home in the dead of night. In a slightly surreal but ingeniously effective idea, the siblings are attacked by an enemy wearing one of the suits of armour decorating the Mass home, evocative of a certain white mobile suit that will go on to become Casval’s greatest rival. It’s a little goofy and something that I don’t think many would think of but adds a nice bit of depth to his hatred by making these events further relevant to the main story.
Sadly less of a winner is the debut of Char Aznable, revealed here to be a real person. Char being an existing identity that Casval stole isn’t a terrible idea itself, but we are specifically told that Char is physically identical to Casval in every way but eye colour. That’s really stretching things even by the plot convenience standards of Gundam and even though the subplot is left unresolved at this time, I doubt one will need to have read the manga to guess how this ends.
The different reactions of the siblings to the path life has taken them is intriguing. While Artesia has accepted the sanctuary she has been offered and keeps thoughts of their mother close to her heart, it becomes clear that Casval is not coping nearly as well and that lacking an outlet for his unresolved trauma is on the way to becoming a dangerous loose cannon. This extends to how Artesia happily uses their new aliases to refer to one another, while Casval continues to use their birth names.
Given the subtitle of ‘Artesia’s Sorrow’ you know bad things have to go down and the way this is done adds well to the story but also comes off as awkward. The majority of the sorrow occurs in the final 15 minutes, done to punctuate the theme of the challenges of growing up and how life itself will force both the siblings to change. The problem is that this is communicated by a chain of misery which eventually seems more like black comedy than serious drama. In the screening a particular part of this chain that should have been tragic instead reduced a majority of the audience to laughter over how overwrought it was. Overall though I feel it works well. There’s a great wordless scene in which Sayla chooses to become stronger and in that moment we can see the birth of the iconic character that even her own brother will be taken aback by the resolve of.
Much like the first episode the story can’t escape Gundam’s inherent DNA to push model kits and this time round the focus is a real treat. The Guntank variant returns but mostly as a benchmark to compare to Side 3’s secret project of the first true combat mobile suits. Essentially modified construction machines, the units are once again cel-shaded and it actually works really well. I think watching this on a cinema screen helped punctuate this but the prototypes are given a real sense of scale and weight. Talk of inhuman weapons has been with Gundam since the beginning but it’s rare that we get introduced to a unit in such a dramatic and chilling way that you inherently believe there’s something wrong about it existing. This subplot also sees the return of the charming Ramba Ral and Crowley Hamon, a case of The Origin taking two already likeable characters and enriching them further. While still working as allies of the siblings, they share their fate in visibly being shaped into the roles viewers first met them over thirty five years ago. It’s to The Origin’s credit that events like these actually feel natural and not a case of phoning it in as so often befalls prequel stories.
One thing I’m glad to see improved is the comedy timing. I found this to be mildly lacking last time round but for this occasion the comedy beats come off much stronger. I’ve already mentioned the unfortunate moment of unintentional comedy but there were many more intentional ones that had the audience erupting in laughter.
For the screening the choice was made to show the English dubbed versions of both episodes. This really doesn’t bother me as I think the English cast are easily the strongest we’ve had attached to a Gundam project. The existing players are joined by some new ones, with the stand out for me being Mike Pollock as Teabolo. Pollock is most famous for voicing the egotistical scientist Dr Eggman in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise but it’s easy to forget his acting chops are equal to Eggman’s mutton chops. The performance he delivers makes you accept this brand new character instantly, channelling a mix of sincere warmth and fatherly fury. Ben Diskin also does well in making the real Char his own character. Fryda Wolff performs double duty as cameos of Amuro and Mirai. These are cute inclusions but arguably work better in the original manga where this story arc occurred in flashback and all these characters were established in context.
Gundam The Origin II: Artesia’s Sorrow shows lessons learned from both the previous episode and the Gundam Unicorn project, deepening the story in a way that works be you watching just this series or coming in following the original 1979 classic. It’s a testament to why said same series can still capture imaginations even today and regardless of what you make of the wider Gundam franchise it’s a clear sign of why it’s still relevant. As a long-time fan myself, I’d also like to thank Anime Limited for granting UK fans this opportunity. Getting to see a Gundam theatrical screening here has long been a pipe dream, so thanks a lot for ticking that one off fan’s lists.
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