In terms of giant robot action, perhaps no franchise is more well-known than Gundam. That notoriety is certainly deserved, especially in the case of Yasuo Ohtagaki’s manga Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt features stunningly choreographed action sequences that highlight the brutality of war, as well as human-focused scenes that show the effects of said war. The series’s newly released eighth volume, published by Viz Media, collects chapters 62-70. Is it good?
Plot-wise, this volume is quite intriguing. It continues to focus on Ensign Daryl Lorenz and his allies as they make their way through Nanyang Alliance territory. Undercover, they infiltrate a floating city known as the Rig. They’ve heard rumors of disabled veterans disappearing there, and their objective is to uncover any foul play as well as to search for information on the locations of key Alliance military sites. Needless to say, the protagonists’ plans don’t go as smoothly as intended.
The portions of this volume that are set in the Rig are its most memorable, largely because they differ from much of what we’ve seen before in this series. The action is much more down-to-earth and discreet, rather than loud and overflowing with mechs, explosions, and gunfire. We get to see the protagonists collect information on foot, hiding in plain sight by blending in with large crowds. The threat of discovery in this setting creates a distinct type of tension which feels every bit as intense as that found in chapters marked by robotic warfare. There’s more to war than just weapons and technology, after all, and this change in set-up reflects that.
Speaking of different aspects of war, Ohtagaki does a good job tackling the human elements in this volume. We get insight into various characters’ motivations, and most of the protagonists have their own temperaments and outlooks. The plot line about disabled veterans getting exploited feels relevant in the worst way, as does the Nanyang Alliance’s tactic of sending operatives to citizens’ homes unannounced. This series may be known for its intense giant robot action, but the more down-to-earth moments also contribute heavily to its success.
Art-wise, Ohtagaki continues to stun. The action sequences are intricately detailed to the point of photorealism in spots, which helps enhance the warfare’s sense of gravity. The mechs themselves are sleek and imposing, and they move with surprising fluidity. The page compositions throughout are varied and dynamic, especially during battles. Ohtagaki uses a comparatively more cartoony style when rendering humans, and for the most part it’s effective. There’s still enough detail for the characters to be expressive, but the distance kept from realism helps prevent the violence from becoming gory and unpleasant to look at.
With all that said, my favorite portions of Ohtagaki’s art are his backgrounds. There’s plenty of nature imagery throughout that’s just plain gorgeous. Take, for instance, a two-page-spread in which a mech descends upon water. The liquid’s surface bobs up and down realistically, and light from above shines off of it beautifully. The inking here is truly lovely. There’s also an abundance of highly detailed architecture and monuments. Statues of the Buddha, for example, look like they’ve been pulled right out of photographs.
This volume doesn’t have very many cons. Occasionally characters will look goofy in a way that’s seemingly unintended, but this is a rare concern. Some of Daryl’s allies are also disappointingly bland in comparison to the rest of the cast. As is, they don’t seem to serve much narrative purpose. They’re not outright bad characters, but they don’t help to push the story or main characters as effectively as they could. It would be nice to see the dynamics between the core group members get more page-time in later volumes.
Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt Vol. 8 is yet another great installment in the series. The artwork is flat-out amazing with dynamic action scenes, effective page compositions, and beautiful background imagery. The writing is also solid, as different aspects of war are explored and the protagonists find themselves immersed in a different type of intrigue than usual. Some of the characters are disappointingly flat, but other than that I don’t have very many qualms with this volume. I would recommend it to anyone interested in giant robots or sci-fi war stories.
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