A Manga by Hiroshi Yasuda
Despite it’s detractors, I have fond memories of watching the Gundam F91 animated film, and wished they would have filled the storyline in a bit. As some may know, it was originally planned as a 50 episode television series (standard for the Gundam franchise), but was scrapped late into development and recycled into a film. As a film, it doesn’t really stand on its own, and almost feels like a clip show or compilation film of a series that doesn’t exist. That said, I absolutely LOVE the mobile suit designs in it, especially those from the Crossbone Vanguard, and wish all of the grunt suits would get Master Grade model kit releases. Hoping that I could fill the story in a bit, I have decided to read some of the manga that exists from around this time period, all of the stuff taking place about thirty years after the events depicted in Mobile Suit Gundam – Char’s Counterattack.
“In early UC.0123, an Anaheim Electronics team doing testing in the Zebra Zone encounters Crossbone Vanguard’s elite Dark Tiger force. The ensuing battle also draws the EFF battleship Ajax and remnants of the Neo Zeon army into the conflict.”
As far as I can tell, Mobile Suit Gundam – Silhouette Formula 91 runs slightly before the events depicted in the film, and takes place in a different area to where that war eventually starts. This book tells the story of a group of test pilots working with Anaheim Electronics (one of the major Mobile Suit developers in the franchise) in order to perform Mobile Suit performance tests. During a regular exercise, they run into a squadron of Crossbone Vanguard suits, and as a result are pulled into a battle themselves. Most of the group are civilian contractors which causes its own set of issues – can they be forced into service if the governmental body paying for the testing says so? We shall find out.
The artwork is pretty typical for manga of the era, and improves over the course of the book. I was worried at first that the artwork would be very minimalistic, as the first few chapters have hardly any shading or screen tones. This was unfounded, as the art is pretty good – once it gets going, you can tell the writer/artist, Hiroshi Yasuda, is very talented. The mechanical line art is especially awesome – since suits like The XM-01 Den’an Zon don’t get much love in Gundam Fandom, I was happy to see it here even if they are canon fodder. If there’s anything I can say about mechanical designs from this era, they were different enough to give the reader a sense of threat simply because you were seeing something entirely different.
I thought it was pretty interesting that the characters have an overwhelming fear of Zeon remnants making themselves known yet again, this is despite being some 20 years after the Fall of Neo Zeon. This is a threat that is not unfounded considering there have been a TON of Zeon “rebirths” throughout the franchise. However, the villains here are a group called The Crossbone Vanguard, lead by a man that looks and acts like a wanna-be Darth Vader. At this time, it appears that the colony invasions by The Crossbone Vanguard (from the film) have yet to start, as they initially think they were attacked by a Zaku during a training test. They find out that the Mobile Suit they came across was likely also doing some sort of tests or training, which is bad because The Crossbone Vanguard isn’t too keen on being known by the public as of yet.
Going into this comic, I knew the stakes would likely be low considering its a direct prequel to the film. It’s not like a bunch of crazy plot is going to happen, considering the writer takes great pains to make it known they are far away from the main focus of the war, and that everyone is desperate to be discreet and hide their weapons since they are training. I was assuming it would be boring filler material, but thankfully this was not the case. this book is full of action and drama, and takes a look at what it’s like to be a civilian war contractor during a time of possible war. This was a side not seen too often in the franchise.
According to MAHQ, The Gundam of this series has quite shady origins:
“Having lost the race to develop an advanced new high performance, small-scale mobile suit, Anaheim Electronics launched a desperate plan in UC 0112 to play catch-up to the Earth Federation Forces’ Strategic Naval Research Institute. Called the Silhouette Formula Project, Anaheim’s plan was to steal the plans and technical data of the mobile suits developed for the SNRI’s Formula Project and adopt the newly developed technology for Anaheim’s use. One highlight of the Silhouette Formula Project fielded in UC 0122 was the RXF91 Gundam, which was Anaheim’s version of the SNRI’s Gundam F91. The so-called Silhouette Gundam, while visually a different mobile suit, was basically the same in terms of equipment and performance, integrating new technologies incorporated in the Gundam F91, such as the beam shield and Variable Speed Beam Rifle (VSBR).”
As far as the cast goes, Tokio Randall, the pilot of The RXF91 Silhouette Gundam, is not too dissimilar to other Gundam pilots of the past, and frankly doesn’t stand out too much. He has your typical cadre of flirting women that are obviously interested, but he’s a career military guy despite all of his friends joining the civilian side. Honestly, he was unfortunately one of the weaker parts of the story even though bland main characters is not unheard of in the franchise. Luckily, the side characters are pretty good, so that helps.
I enjoyed this book a lot despite going in thinking it would be somewhat bland. The plot is a bit silly in the way it wants to be a prequel but desperately tries to not have anything to do with the main plot. I enjoyed the artwork, Mobile Suits I love, and interesting backstory that did somewhat fill-in some gaps I had with the movie. There is only one collected volume of this story out there, so it’s not a huge time investment, and what is there is well worth your time.