Yoshiyuko TOmino is one of Japan’s most popular science fiction anime directors, best known recently for the immensely popular Gundam TV series. He is also an excellent writer, and this compilation of three volumes of novelization based on the animation.
I admit that I have only seen a few episodes of the original series of Gundam, although my husband has seen many of them. The series features giant robot suits operated from the inside by humans, and in the series they and the battles are, of course, the main focus.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Mobile Suit Gundam: Awakening, Escalation, Confrontation. The translation by Frederick L. Schodt seems flawless, and the narrative is surprisingly mature. The characters are realistic and well-defined. This is not just giant mecha battling; it is a dark saga of war and battle.
The story varies quite a lot from the anime. Amuro Ray, a central character, is older and now a cadet, fully involved in war. Characters who live in the animated series die in the compilation. It should not be read as a literal retelling of the anime story, but as an expansion upon it.
The premise of the story concerns humans who have populated numerous space stations and colonies. One of these colonies, Zeon, has declared independence from earth and started a revolutionary war. Zeon, though small, has a huge advantage because they have developed a weapon called mobile suits, giant robots that are operated by humans enclosed inside them. As Awakening begins, the Federation has developed mobile suits of its own. When a Zeon crew member disobeys orders and opens fire on the Side 7 research colony, all-out war breaks out again in full horror.
In addition to the mobile suits, there are also mysterious Newtypes, humans with a little something extra. They play a more important part in the novel than they did in the series.
This is not the first time the novels have been published in English since they were originally written in 1979. They were published by Del Ray books in 1990. There were issues with the translation at that time, and Shodt revised it in 2004, when the three books were first combined in one volume. This new version is an even better and more modern translation. The story holds up remarkably well even decades later.
Anime fans and fans of science fiction in general will find this compilation fascinating. No matter how well some fans may think they know Gundam, if they have not read this book, they will get a whole new perspective on the entire saga.