A Manga by Yoshihiro Sono (Art), Craps (Story)
Originally serialized in a hobby magazine called Gundam Ace, Mobile Suit Gundam Katana Vol. 1 answers the question that I’m not very many people had: “What would it look like if a Gundam comic was written as a Yakuza/delinquent story?” As you can imagine, I was initially confused by all of the gangster tropes including tough guys standing around grimacing in each panel, Yakuza hierarchy within an Earth Federation unit, crazy gangster hairstyles, leadership being generational and commemorated by brandishing a sword etc. I double checked, and it’s not like these two authors do this sort of comic often, so it was definitely a surprise.
It’s a wild ride for sure in terms of what one normally sees in the Gundam franchise, and in some ways it helps it avoid being just another mundane “fill-in” storyline. Once I got over the initial shock of the way the book was presented, I found that this book is actually pretty cool despite it’s silliness. It chronicles a period of time that is overlooked within the Universal Century timeline, taking place within the period just before Zeta Gundam when the Federation was starting up the Titans (a special group created to destroy Zeon remnants) and downsizing the regular military. We see the stability this causes, as former conscripted military men have turned to crime just to pay the bills, unaware that yet another war is just on the horizon.
“An Earth Federation Army special forces unit called Barghest (or BGST for short) in UC 0084 is created with Lieutenant Colonel Ittou Tsurugi serving as its commanding officer, who is the only officer in the EF military known to carry a katana with him wherever he’s on duty.”
Gundam Katana has an interesting main protagonist in Ittou Tsurugi, far different than some of the bland main characters I’ve seen in other Gundam comics. He’s the son of the previous commanding officer, and seemingly is every bit as much of a military strategist and has the same sort of intuition as Sherlock Holmes. He is very strong willed, and has a sense of humor about the predicament he’s in – however it’s hard for him to gain respect initially due to his young appearance. One could chalk him up to being a bit of a Mary Sue since he seemingly has few weaknesses and is generally the smartest character in the story, but that hasn’t happened too much is volume one. As long as they eventually build on his character, I will be happy.
On one hand, having a teenager being a squad commander has the same silly vibe as the old TV series Doogie Houser M.D., but the fact that most Gundam pilots are super young is par for the course.
I absolutely love the Mobile Suit mechanical designs in this book. Ittou pilots an absolutely gorgeous RGM-79FC Striker Custom – powder blue and white. Even though I need more model kits like I need a large festering hole in my head, I really want to make one of these! The writers have taken care to chose some atypical designs with custom parts or special gear in order to set them apart from other shows and books. Overall they did a great job! The “Gundam Head” Striker GM custom is piloted in an odd manner, seemingly utilizing martial arts to swiftly didge attacks and relies on hand-to-hand combat. That isn’t even mentioning the suit’s dual beam sabers – they are awesome as well.
The artwork and overall character designs are…..interesting. As I stated before, the human characters look to be from a Yakuza comic, with the more evil characters being grotesque monsters of men. We see appearances by a group of Titans that have it out for the BGST, including a man that looks like a Batman villain version of Casey Kasem. His twisted smile and horrendous behavior goes to show how bad The Titans are, and the fact that only the worst members of the Earth Federation seemed to join it. It takes a bit to get used to the art, but once you are a few chapters in, it is less distracting and the writing makes up for any silliness.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but this is only the beginning of the run. I can see when completed this has around 7 collections, so I will be busy for a bit getting through this series. As with many of these Gundam books I’ve been reading as of late, there is no legitimate English version out there, so I am at the mercy of fan-translations, which as we all know range from passable to utterly terrible, Thankfully this is passable. If you are a Gundam fan, and want something different, check out Mobile Suit Gundam Katana Vol. 1 – it’s well worthy of a look!