Gundam Thunderbolt Vol. 2 tackles war, death
Editor’s note: Contains descriptions of drug use, suicide, use of children as war combatants and abuse involving medical treatment.
I previously reviewed Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt, a Gundam story that takes place at the same time of the original series but has two new characters taking part in battles between Earth and Zeon forces for the “Thunderbolt sector” during the One Year War. Volume 2 shows war and its nearly irreparable effect where no one is untouched. The advisory warning given may not be enough, so I would like to apologize to readers that may become triggered.
At the end of the first volume, the first encounter between Io Fleming and Daryl Lorenz ended with Io gaining the win through use of a prototype Gundam known as “Full Armor.” The Moore Brotherhood fleet uses the momentum to launch an ambush on the Zeon fleet. The ambush resulted in major blows dealt to the Zeon fleet, losing crew and Zakus, but Captain Claudia Peer was disappointed that the attack failed to eliminate the Zeon fleet guarding the Thunderbolt sector. As both sides regrouped from the battle, Daryl is subjected to another medical procedure; this time his hands are amputated by Zeon medical staff to continue research on the experimental Zaku known as “Psycho Zaku.” During the procedure, Daryl reminisces about himself and his dad Christmas shopping, and he sees the radio that he now uses in battle to listen to music. After the operation, Daryl is promoted to ensign with orders to pilot the Psycho Zaku in the next battle against the Moore Brotherhood fleet.
Elsewhere, the fleet is readying for the next battle by receiving new supplies, new mobile suits and new pilots that range from ages 10 to 17 who are pulled from Federation refugee camps. As the preparations continue, Io has a flashback in which he and the staff of his family’s home finds his father, the mayor of the Moore space colony, dead from shooting himself in the head. As Io drifts further into the flashback, his friend Cornelius Kaka tells him that he is instructed to lead the next assault on the Thunderbolt sector with the new recruits. Not pleased with this mission, Io goes to confront Claudia in her quarters and finds her in a drug overdose in which he awakens her asking why she was using drugs, which affects her ability to lead the fleet. Claudia responds sharply that Io’s father is responsible for the deaths of Moore’s citizens and calls him a selfish coward with no feelings.
Meanwhile, Daryl speaks with Zeon scientist Kara Mitchum, who helps him with his space suit and confesses that she cut off his right hand and apologizes to him. Daryl forgives her and continues his readiness for the battle ahead. When both forces meet in the Thunderbolt sector, a fierce battle begins with most of the new recruits dying instantly, including one that attempted to warn the Moore fleet, but Daryl kills him and immediately trails the Brotherhood fleet. Once the fleet appears, Daryl using the Psycho Zaku, destroys the entire fleet. As Claudia gives evacuation orders, her second in command Graham shoots her, believing that she was too weak to fight Zeon. The remnants of the Moore fleet were able to capture the Zeon vessel, Dried Fish. With this second battle ending in a draw, Io and Daryl remain dedicated to destroying the other as thunder and death cheer from the sidelines.
Volume 2 accomplished its mission in separating from the campy side of Gundam that it’s known for. Ohtagaki-san’s writing and art indisputably does the Gundam legacy justice. Reading each chapter, I felt the waves of anguish from Io and Daryl but am glad that their need for survival did not override their ability to show compassion to others. As the manga continues, each character had a back story making me question who is providing mental health counseling during this war. While I won’t say that Zeon forces are angels, I was incensed that the Earth Federation sunk to a horrible low using children (CHILDREN!) as pilots to fight because they had early new type abilities. I was also taken aback that a character in a Gundam story resorted to use drugs to deal with pressure of being a high-ranking official in a military environment where she can rarely afford the luxury of emotion.
Seeing Graham’s disgusting betrayal toward a fellow comrade also incensed me, especially since Claudia was doing her responsibility of saving her crew. I also found a profile in cowardice in Zeon scientist JJ Sexton, who claims he was saving the Psycho Zaku data but pushed injured people out of an escape pod, saving his pitiful hide. Despite the sadness in Volume 2, Viz Media’s Joe Yamazaki and STAN! were brilliant with translation and English adaptation work, making this volume worth re-reading.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt Volume 2 continues its brutal, yet unflinching view of war between Earth and space. With a stage of destiny set, Io Fleming and Daryl Lorenz vow to remove each other from that stage. I’m excited for future installments of this great Gundam manga.
Brandon Beatty is editor-at-large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org