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Worlds Without End Blog

SF Manga 101: Mobile Suit Gundam Posted at 12:34 PM by Glenn Hough


Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on SF Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of science fiction within it.

mobile-suit-gundam-the-origin-01Do you know anyone who couldn’t give you a basic outline of either Star Trek or Star Wars? And I mean just a basic sentence. Star Trek: The crew of a starship out having adventures as they explore space. Star Wars: Good and Evil in a galaxy spanning milieu. Who, I wonder, can not do that in the U.S., if not most of the world where U.S. culture has touched?

Let’s take it a step further and ask if there are any Brits who can’t do the same thing for Doctor Who? The tagline: An immortal time traveler out having adventures as he explores the universe. There’s the high probability that something resembling a 60ies era British phone booth is involved.

What I’m getting at here are franchise works, cross media, which have embedded themselves into the bedrock strata of a national culture. Just like a particular food or cooking methodology is embedded in a country and culture, these SF franchises are just part of what that country is all about. When one talks about SF manga or anime, Mobile Suit Gundam, or just Gundam, is that type of work. It’s part of the bedrock cultural attributes of Japan.


Back in my piece on Neon Genesis Evangelion, I mentioned that NGE broke and reforged all the molds when it came to the big giant mecha anime/manga. The molds which got mashed up came mostly from Gundam.

mobile-suit-gundam-the-origin-13This is what the publishers say about the manga Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin.

It is the year Universal Century 0079. Overpopulation drives the inhabitants of Earth to live in colonies in outerspace, until the Principality of Zeon, a militant colonial group, declares independence from Earth. In the ensuing civil war, half of humanity is wiped out and Zeon’s army of Zaku mobile suits is the deciding weapon.

In this first volume, Zeon ace pilot, Commander Char Aznable, thought he could foil the Federation’s plan to build a mobile suit by attacking their research base on colony Side 7. He was wrong – the besieged Federation forces strike back using their new weapon, the Mobile Suit Gundam. Caught in the crossfire is a young teen named Amuro Ray. Not willing to see innocent people die like this, Amuro crawls into the cockpit of the closest machine to him. Whether it be a tank, jeep or jet, he was going to use it to help stop this slaughter. And what he happened to slide into was another Gundam. Having never operated a machine like this, what are the chances he can do anything to repel an experienced squad of mech-piloting invaders?

Amuro’s chances, as it turns out, were very good.

mobile-suit-gundam-the-origin-14A tagline for Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, might read like this: In Universal Century year 0079, a bloody civil war between the Earth Federation and the Militant Colonial Principality of Zeon has ground into a stalemate, but the Federation’s plans for it’s new weapon, the Mobile Suit Gundam, promises to break the deadlock.

This is pure Shounen Manga, which, if we remember from the intro piece, typically involves fighting and/or violence and is primarily written for males in the 10 to 18 year age group. (And believe me, if you get hooked at that age, you’re hooked for life. When I visited Japan, I saw middle aged salary men standing in the checkout line next to college age otaku with the newest Gundam takubon in hand.) There is nothing here the Shounen demographic doesn’t love and continues to love as they get older.

Action, adventure, war, hand-to-hand mecha fighting, personal rivalries and conflicts, destructive internal politics. In short, a full blown space opera with characters who leap off the page while you’re turning them as rapidly as possible. This is manga that one devours.


The shear number of volumes available in the Gundam universe is huge. Over at they list out 32 different titles for the search term: Gundam. And that’s just what has been translated and officially published. Of course there is overlap since the same material comes up with different publishers and editions, but still… There’s a lot of it out there.

mobile-suit-gundam-the-origin-03I think the question becomes: is this the War and Peace of the Manga world? Or is it just trashy pulp SF, a cheap thrill, as consumable and disposable as anything in our modern world? I’m almost certain both elements are at play here, but the fact we’re still talking about Gundam 30 years after it first appeared, it’s appeal has transcended generations, and holds people with tenacious staying power long after they’ve left the target demographic, argues that there’s more at work here than trashy disposable pulp SF. I’m almost positive War and Peace is a stretch, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

What I do know for sure is that we need to pay attention to Gundam when talking about SF manga. It’s core, it’s bedrock, and it’s timeless.

Where to get Gundam is easy. Any brick-n-mortar can get what’s in print. Determining what’s in print is the hard part. And the online marketplace can get everything else. The real problem is what to get. Gundam Seed? Seed Astray? Wing? Battlefield of Pacifists? Blind Target? Endless Waltz? Just going for Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is complicated since there are three editions from our friends at Viz. They’re listed under Mobile Suit Gundam 0079. Viz also has Gundam: The Origin, which is a retelling of the basic storyline, but that was published in 2004. Our friends over at Vertical now have the rights and they’re currently doing a hardcover edition of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. That’s the newest and would probably be the easiest to get.


And before I forget, you can also check out and for free online versions of many, many, many different Gundam series, which includes series that have never been officially translated and released here. The Origin is archived there as well.

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