Mobile Suit Gundam (Novel)
If there is any single anime series that is a cornerstone of anime fandom both in Japan and America, surely it is Mobile Suit Gundam. The series even lent the name "Newtype" to Japan's premiere anime magazine. Way back in the day, when the original Gundam anime series was beginning to wow Japanese audiences, in addition to the models, toys, and other paraphernalia, director Yoshiyuki Tomino wrote three novels, encapsulating the anime's sequence of events (sort of). If you have ever read the Star Wars novelizations (the ones written primarily from the scripts of the original trilogy), the Gundam novel is very similar; they both offer additional material and insights into the basic stories of each respective series. Insights into the characters and material that is inexpressible in an audio/visual medium reward the curious reader in the text.
For those unfamiliar with the Gundam series, both the anime and the novel deal with the war between the Earth Federation and space colonists. The latter refuse to be under the yoke of the former, and to that end have developed fighting armor, called mobile suits. The Earth Federation belatedly develops its own suit, the Gundam, and a rookie pilot named Amuro Ray is thrown into the fray inside the suit. Both sides, however, are working on another weapon, "Newtypes", a special breed of person that may win the war for one side or the other.
Some fans might find Yoshiyuki's new take on the series jarring. Compared to the original anime series, there are a number of changes to the basic narrative. Much of the filler battle scenes have been gutted and many details have changed. Instead of traveling in the Pegasus class White Base, Amuro and friends launch from the White Base, class Pegasus. Rather than being civilians co-opted into battle, Kai, Ryu, Hayato and Amuro are Federation ensigns as the novel begins.
Long time fans of Gundam will notice many of these minor changes, but anyone who has seen the series will notice the major changes. Not only is the ending very different from the anime, many characters of central importance leave much earlier or have far less impact than they did in the anime (Fraw, Ryu). There is no Haro, no gang of urchins; it is hard not to feel that some of the anime's characteristic whimsy is gone. Indeed, the book takes a far more serious tone. There is a lot more violence and some semi-graphic sexuality in the book. Some of these more mature topics were hinted at in the anime, but in the novel they are more fleshed out (pun not intended). However, this more mature vision of the Gundam universe does have its appeal; the narrative structure flows far more quickly than the anime's battle of the week episodes, and the maturity level enriches the text.
Despite being different from the anime, Yoshiyuki's vision of the Gundam universe is not only vibrant, but it is also complete. He is the director of the series and even if there are narrative discrepancies in the novel, in spirit they are from the same person. The two works compliment each other to such a degree that creators working on other games, anime series and manga set in the Universal Century timeline depend on Yoshiyuki's novel for background information and material on the Gundam narrative. In addition, the original release of the three novels was the first official foray of the Gundam property into American soil.
Though it is difficult to get an impression of Yoshiyuki's writing style through Schodt's translation, for the most part the first section Mobile Suit Gundam novel keeps clear of the hackneyed melodramatic style that characterizes the glut of poorly written Star Trek and Star Wars sequel novels. Unfortunately (and this may be a product of the narrative shift in the story itself), by the middle of the second book the sometimes questionable dialogue often feels like a second string science fiction title. Some of the dialogue is at best forced and some of it just comes off as laughable. The action moves so quickly, however, that it is easy to overlook some of the dialogue in favor of the drama (both between people and in the battles).
However, at least in the novel's descriptive passages, this is partially due to Schodt and Yoshiyuki's attempt in bringing the anime's visual power to the text. Sometimes the text is successful, and sometimes it is not. Nothing can beat seeing Amuro staring down the mono-eye of a Zaku for the first time. The text contains production line art that helps the reader to visualize the characters and mechs, which seems like a great help to those familiar with Gundam, but not with the original Mobile Suit series.
I would definitely pick up Mobile Suit Gundam after watching the original Gundam series. There is enough new stuff here to keep even a hardened fan engaged, especially with the novel's importance in the U.C. timeline. However, even for a casual read, the novel remains true to the spirit of the series, while remaining fresh enough to be exciting. Of course for the hardcore fan, Mobile Suit Gundam is a must-have text. Considering this book and the rest of Stone Bridge's canon, they are quickly becoming the publishing house for anyone interested in Japan, and fans of Gundam will appreciate having this book on their shelves.