A Small Little Rebellion in Gundam

One of the posters for Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion.

One of the posters for Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion.

I’ve heard a few stories about military cadet schools. Thankfully, none of them ended in a coupe, just a lot of alcohol.

I’ve had my issues with the Gundam franchise in the past due to the low quality of some of the screenplays. However, as I watch more of the franchise it’s become clear the two best writers for it were Yoshiyuki Tomino and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, two of the original creators of Mobile Suit Gundam. I feel this has to do with their firm understanding of the franchise, but also because they realize how their stories should progress and how the characters would react to the situations they were placed in. Yoshiyuki Tomino in particular always had a way of conveying his stories in a way that brought out the drama and conflicts inherent in his narratives. That’s not to say Yoshikazu Yasuhiko hasn’t achieved this with the Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin series, but the first two installments lacked some of the intricacies seen in the franchise. In spite of this, the third installment of The Origin OVA (original video anime) series, Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion (機動戦士ガンダム ジ•オリジン III 暁の蜂起 Kido Senshi Gundam The Origin III Akatsuki no Hōki), exemplified the superb writing skills of Yasuhiko as this was the most chilling installment of the series thus far. The story was chilling not just because we saw the extremely calculating nature of the protagonist, but also because of the climatic action scene. However, what this installment did exceptionally well for the overall narrative was create bonds between a handful of characters. Yet, these bonds also played against the tension in the installment as plot points in the original series undercut what should have been gripping moments.

Part of what makes the Gundam franchise, particularly the Universal Century franchise, interesting is the quality of the screenplays. This is true for the individual episodes, but can also be seen within the series as a whole. Granted, there are weaker entries in the franchise, but those series are generally rushed into production without much forethought being given to the narrative. However, the Universal Century franchise has seen a fair share of well-written screenplays for their series. This is because the original creators understood what made interesting characters, conflicts, and scenarios. While some may argue this wasn’t the case for entries such as Mobile Suit V Gundam, many of the earlier works had moments in them that were not only jarring, but made for excellent fiction as well. Yet, there are limits to the stories one can tell in the Universal Century franchise. I say this because as more works within that franchise are released, it lessens the impact of the overall narrative. That’s not to say all the works are poor, but having an understanding of the limitations is important.

The same can be said with Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s The Origin series. While the first two installments were fascinating, the narrative tension was undercut by the fact we understood where the story was leading. This was especially true with the major characters of Mobile Suit Gundam because their stories in The Origin series were better left to the imagination of the audience. Yet, possibly the best decision on Yashuhiko’s part was focusing on Casval Rem Daikun, or more popularly known as Char Aznabul, as there was a lot to explore with his character. The first two installments of The Origin series certainly began exploring what shaped Char into the person he was in the original series, yet it was Dawn of Rebellion that crystalized what made his story as well as the narrative in The Origin series fascinating.

The scene were Char could act upon his grievances towards Garma.

The scene were Char could act upon his grievances towards Garma.

What exactly was it, then, that made this installment exciting? The primary factor actually came from the calculating nature of Char. True, hints of this character trait of his had been present in the first two installments—as I said he appeared to be a sociopath in the second installment—but Dawn of Rebellion had his sociopathic nature in the limelight from the opening moments. However, unlike the previous two installments, here Char displayed patience rather than lashing out at those around him. It was actually chilling to see how patient Char was because of the subtly generated tension created by how far he was willing to go to enact his revenge. For instance, in the middle of the installment he made a poignant observation regarding the United Earth Federation Space Military Defense Academy he was attending. This scene achieved the sowing of the seeds of dissent, but more importantly it propped up his relationship with Garma Zabi. At first glance this may not seem all that significant, but consider it in these terms: Char needed the trust of Garma in order to further his plans. Thus, this one scene helped encapsulate the conflict of The Origin series.

It was those character bonds that propelled the narrative in Dawn of Rebellion, though, because without them the story would have been flat. This is why I emphasized the quality of a screenplay above. The reason being, this script had to be written in a way to reflect how Garma saw Char as a roadblock before he could display any semblance of friendship towards him. While this may seem like it was an easy task for the scriptwriters to achieve, in actuality it wasn’t. The main reason for this was the scriptwriters had to contend with Char’s personality and his internal conflict as well as having to deal with Garma’s external conflict. I’ve already stated what Char’s conflict was in previous articles, but to reiterate, it was his seething hatred of the Zabi family. In turn, Garma had to face the external pressures of upholding the Zabi family name, which he interpreted as implying he had to be a strong man. As such, there had to be a moment where the characters could bond in a way to express both conflicts without compromising their relationship in Mobile Suit Gundam. I wouldn’t call the screenwriter’s solution ingenious, but it created the right amount of pressure on the narrative to pull the audience in even further. Had this one part of the installment been lacking, no amount of action or displays of Char’s vengeful nature would have saved it.

What’s more, the development of Char and Garma’s relationship was engrossing because it was built on deception. This was quite fascinating if only because it furthered the tension between what Char wanted and what he needed. This was exemplified in two different scenes in Dawn of Rebellion. The first was during a military rucksack march. What was intriguing about the scene was it was the first time in The Origin series where two of the characters had the opportunity to voice or act upon their grievances towards each other. Yet, what came from the scene was a kind gesture from Char, and Garma exposing his weaknesses. It’s the former that was more important as it seemed this was an opportune moment for Char to seek his vengeance. But again, he needed to deceive Garma in order to win his trust. This scene was put together fantastically, but it was outdone in the opening of the third act of the installment. To be brief, Char encouraged Garma to begin a cadet revolt against the United Earth Federation Space Military Defense Academy. While the former example was about building trust, here the words Char used were well chosen because they prodded at Garma’s weaknesses while at the same time encouraging his ego. These two scenes demonstrated the quality of the screenplay as well as why the audience should invest themselves even more into the narrative.

Char leading the assault during the climatic scene in Dawn of Rebellion.

Char leading the assault during the climatic scene in Dawn of Rebellion.

Yet, looking back over the scenarios Yasuhiko created between Char and Garma there actually wasn’t any tension at all. It’s a sad truth about The Origin franchise because many of the plot points saw their conclusion in the 1979 TV series, Mobile Suit Gundam. What I mean by this is the example with the rucksack march appeared tenuous in the moment, but those familiar with the Gundam franchise knew nothing could happen to Garma as his fate was sealed in the 1979 series. There were many moments like this throughout Dawn of Rebellion and it undercut the narrative tension quite a bit. The problem, though, was I doubt there was a good workaround for this. I say this because it was established in the TV series Garma saw Char as a confidant and friend. Therefore, we had to see why this was so in Dawn of Rebellion. On top of this, it placed into conflict what the audience expected of Char and what was needed of him for this story. While both these facts worked to a degree in this installment, it’s surprising more people didn’t notice this in the manga series of Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin. However, prequel stories consistently have to work around these constraints, yet how it was handled in Dawn of Rebellion was satisfying enough.

Where this installment succeeded the most, though, was in the climatic action scene. This was a twofold process as it relied heavily on the buildup as well as the actual action. Addressing the latter first, it was a culmination of all the pieces seen in the installment regarding Char’s deception, silver tongue, and calculating nature. However, going into great detail about it would, in fact, deprive people of the nail-biting nature of the scenario. In turn, the buildup was fascinating because it explored the nature of a colony trying to gain independence as well as an uprising of the people. I likened the protests in the first installment of The Origin series to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. But, the riots in Dawn of Rebellion were far closer to the pushes for independence in the Baltic nations after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. What this did was put into perspective the anger the background characters were feeling and visualized what caused the events in Mobile Suit Gundam. This is why the early Gundam TV series worked: they adapted real-world events for a space opera and placed interesting characters in them. That’s not to say the modern series are poor, but to see this practice in The Origin series brought a breath of fresh air to the Universal Century franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion was possibly the best OVA or film I’ve seen in quite some time. This isn’t an easy hurdle to overcome and had little to do with me being a fan of the Gundam franchise. The development of Char’s character and the relationships he made with those around him were captivating to the point it made one forget there wasn’t any tension inherent in many of the situations. But, that’s the beauty of a well-written screenplay; it can make you overlook even the most glaring flaws of a narrative. What truly made this installment enthralling, though, was the climatic action scene and the lead-up to it. Granted, the action scene was an extension of Char and Garma’s relationship, but the buildup reinforced the idea the space colonists in the Universal Century franchise had a great deal of resentment towards the United Earth Federation. This resentment mirrored similar struggles in the real world. Although the backdrop may have been the Vietnam War for the original series, here it felt as though Yasuhiko drew inspiration from the civil wars among the Baltic nations and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. For an OVA that’s only seventy minutes long, Dawn of Rebellion managed to achieve what many other feature-length films cannot. As such, I highly suggest people watch this installment, even if you haven’t seen the first two.

Work Info
Title:
Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin III: Dawn of Rebellion (機動戦士ガンダム ジ•オリジン III 暁の蜂起 Kido Senshi Gundam The Origin III Akatsuki no Hōki)
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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