When is Gundam Never a Tragedy?

One of the posters for Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin II Artesia’s Sorrow.

One of the posters for Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin II Artesia’s Sorrow.

I should become an astronaut just so I can declare the International Space Station as Side 1 and claim to be the ruler of the Principality of Zeon.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Gundam franchise is how the production team of each series generally develops the characters, particularly the protagonist and antagonist, over the course of a series. True, there have been instances where this wasn’t the case, but from what I’ve seen of the franchise, those few instances were the exception and not the rule. But, then we have an interesting conundrum with the Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin OVA (original video anime) series. Because the series is predicated on Casval Rem Daikun’s transformation into the iconic villain Char Aznable, a character who was fully formed by the end of Mobile Suit Z Gundam, one would think examining his past would affect his character as a whole. That’s not to say we should write off the Origin series, though, because the first installment of the series set a wonderful tone for it. However, entering the second installment, Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin II Artesia’s Sorrow (機動戦士ガンダム THE ORIGIN II 哀しみのアルテイシア Kidōsenshi Gundam The Origin Kanashimi no Artesia), some of the flaws of the series began to come through, not in terms of the narrative, but in how quickly Casval began his mad descent into vengeance. While I’m sure this will be expanded upon in later installments of the Origin series, what we saw here wasn’t the cold and calculating character he is known for, but rather a high-functioning sociopath. There were also some issues with narrative jumps between characters, and though it was nice seeing and hearing many familiar names and faces from Mobil Suit Gundam, their appearance distracted attention from the central focus of the series, that is, Casval, the Zabi family, and to a degree Ramba Ral. However, the major issues I had with this installment weren’t the above observations, but in how quickly it came to a close. I felt there should have been one more act, or at the very least one more scene, near the end of Artesia’s Sorrow to smooth out some of the character interactions rather than coming to the abrupt end that it did.

While I don’t want to claim Char Aznable is the most popular character within the Universal Century franchise of the Gundam franchise, he certainly had a magnetic presence to him. He has some of the most memorable quotes from all the series and films he’s appeared in and his mission, or at least his original mission, was one fans could reasonably understand—the Zabi family wronged him and he wanted vengeance. Yet, when examining how he went about enacting his vendetta against the Zabi family, it wasn’t just a murderous spree. Instead, it was slow and calculated and appeared to take years of planning before being set into motion. For example, in the tenth episode of Mobile Suit Gundam Char didn’t just ensnare Garma Zabi in a trap, but utterly humiliated him in the process. Later in the same series, he played Kycillia Zabi for a fool by using her feud with her older brothers against her. From these instances we saw not only the cold-hearted nature of Char, but also how he took calculated risks to serve his vengeance.

Testing of the prototype Mobile Suits.

Testing of the prototype Mobile Suits.

When placed against the character we saw in Artesia’s Sorrow, Casval—mind you I will be referring to Char as Casval from this point on because he had yet to make the transition into Char—was less calculating and more violent than one might expect. While I understand from a character developmental point of view he had yet to develop the patience seen in Mobile Suit Gundam, the idea he was an angry young man seemed to counter what fans were used to. Consider for a moment, in many of the TV series and films in which Casval appeared he rarely lost his composure and never let his emotions rule his judgment. However, I’m actually not opposed to the change in his character for this series. This is because the Origin series is a prequel to Mobile Suit Gundam, at least in terms of Casval’s story, and as such we’re watching him become the man we’re familiar with. Thus, the anger simmering in him was an interesting aspect of his personality to explore.

However, it was how that anger was portrayed I had issues with. Granted, to a certain degree Casval was a high-functioning sociopath in Mobile Suit Gundam, in Artesia’s Sorrow it came to the forefront far more than expected and not through plotting, planning, and scheming, but in his violent attitude. The final act demonstrated this quite well with a section of dialog and a bar fight. Looking at the dialog first, it occurred between Teabolo Mass, Casval’s guardian, and the principal at Casval’s school. What’s fascinating about the conversation between the characters was how the principal admitted Casval was a prodigy, but had an icy countenance that made him intimidating. While this was a wonderful description of Casval, or at least what he would become, and hearing him described in such a way was truly enthralling, it lacked the sense of dread people around him felt. This was a disservice to the audience, as we needed to see how cold Casval was rather than have it described to us. In turn, the bar fight that occurred soon after this conversation demonstrated the brutality Casval was capable of. It was this scene in particular that separated the Casval from Mobil Suit Gundam and the Casval in the Origin franchise. What I mean by this is it seemed as though Casval took pleasure in beating the man he thought was shadowing him and his sister rather than treating it as a day’s work as he would have in Mobile Suit Gundam. As such, Casval was far less interesting in this installment than in the original TV series because he felt one-dimensional and lacked the spirit he had in the previous installment, Blue-eyed Casval.

There was an advantage to focusing on Casval and by proxy his sister for this installment, though. As the Origin franchise is predicated on telling the story of Casval’s transformation into Char, as much as I may have taken issue with the poor quality of the transition in Artesia’s Sorrow, it was far more entertaining than the surrounding events. For example, a good portion of the second act shifted to the character Ramba Ral and the experimental mobile suits being developed by the Principality of Zeon. Not that this was unwelcome, but it had little bearing on the narrative progression of the series as a whole. Yes, it was nice seeing the initial stages of the development of the iconic MSN Zaku-II and Ramba finding his own coping mechanisms after the events in Blue-eyed Casval, but it took a great deal away from the story arc of developing the young Casval. Seeing as only four installments in the Origin OVA series will be made, any time spent away from Casval could be considered wasted. It’s very much his story and not of those around him. Thus, as interesting as it was seeing Ramba and even the final moments of Casval and Artesia’s mother, Astraia, these scenes could have been left out for the purpose of this story.

Casval Rem Daikun and Char Aznable.  Your guess is as good as mine as to who is who.

Casval Rem Daikun and Char Aznable. Your guess is as good as mine as to who is who.

The same was true with the inclusion of characters from Mobile Suit Gundam as well. Admittedly, it was nice seeing these characters, and to be clear they were Amuro Rey, Mirai Yashima, Gaia, Ortega, and Mash, but the short scenes they were in hardly added to the world building the Origin OVA was conducting from the first installment. For instance, at the beginning of the second act in Artesia’s Sorrow we were introduced to Shu Yashima and his daughter, Mirai. Although this was a pivotal scene between Shu and Teabolo, why Mirai was included made little sense. This was a meeting between two old friends and while I understand Shu brought Mirai because she had nowhere else to stay, she contributed little to the scene. The same could be said for the few seconds Amuro was in the OVA. He more or less appeared for comic relief and as a tragic series of sorts this felt out of place. I don’t mean to say a tragedy shouldn’t have some humor interwoven into the narrative, but this was a bit much.

The interesting thing about these issues in Artesia’s Sorrow, though, was as much as they seemed to detract from the overall presentation of the installment, they actually worked to benefit it because the content was engaging throughout. Consider this in terms of a film that isn’t the best piece of fiction, but is immensely entertaining to watch, such as the 2001 film The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Even though The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is just a parody of 1950s’ B science fiction films and all their tropes, the entire ninety minutes blows by in an instant because the film was captivating. The same was true for Artesia’s Sorrow. If the individual parts are analyzed, as I’ve done here, the flaws begin to show. Yet when taken as a singular piece, the plot points and narrative hooks only draw the audience in even further. Taking an example from above, we saw how this was true in the scenes with Ramba. Were they out of place within the narrative of this installment? Yes, they were. But when watching them, one can’t help but sympathize with Ramba’s plight. As such, when the OVA came to an abrupt close, it felt as though we had been cheated out of a longer piece, as well as one or two more scenes.

In actuality, Artesia’s Sorrow needed one more scene before coming to a close. I say this because as enthralling as the installment was, there was a general lack of bonding between a handful of the characters, particularly Casval and Char Aznable. This will become confusing rather quickly, but to break it down, the Mass family, of which Casval was a part, relocated to the space colony Texas after the events in the first act. There Casval and Artesia met the son of the Aznables, Char. While it’s shown Casval and Char instantly became friends, little was done to reinforce this point, especially when considering the charged dinner party between the Masses and Aznables. What made this scene electrifying was how Char stated he had applied to the Zeon Officers Academy. However, had there been one more scene with Casval and Char interacting, it would have given the audience the proper context to understand how Casval stayed level headed as well as further emphasized why Teabolo was nervous during the table conversation in this scene. While this wouldn’t have alleviated the abrupt ending of this installment, it would have prolonged it just enough to create a truly satisfying experience.

As much as I spoke against Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin II Artesia’s Sorrow, it’s still a wonderful viewing experience. We saw the many different faces of Casval and possibly the event that solidified his decision to travel down the path of vengeance. There were also a number of lovely scenes revolving around Casval’s sister, Artesia, but they were far less common than those featuring Casval. As an afterthought, the jump between Casval and Ramba’s story was odd to say the least, but when experiencing the story as a whole, it’s hardly noticeable. It was also an opportunity to see the evolution of Ramba as well as the beginnings of the schism that tore the Zabi family apart in Mobile Suit Gundam. While the appearance of a handful of Mobile Suit Gundam characters was a nice touch to this installment, they unfortunately didn’t add much in terms of world building. If those characters were more involved in the plot, though, this would have upset the character dynamics of the original TV series. Thus, in a certain sense the limited screen time for these characters was probably for the best. What Artesia’s Sorrow needed, though, was one more scene to flesh out the relationship between Casval and Char. This would have made for a far better dinner scene at the end of the OVA, as well as staved off the rather hasty end. My negative opinion of Artesia’s Sorrow doesn’t concern the work as a whole, but rather smaller sections of it. Thus, taken as a single work, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Any Gundam fan will certainly enjoy it as well. But, what I really want to see appears to be coming up in the third installment.

Work Info
Title:
Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin II Artesia’s Sorrow (機動戦士ガンダム THE ORIGIN II 哀しみのアルテイシア Kidōsenshi Gundam The Origin Kanashimi no Artesia)
By: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Under: Sunrise
Official Site: http://www.gundam-the-origin.net/
More Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_Suit_Gundam:_The_Origin

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