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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Gundam Thunderbolt December Sky CoverWhat They Say:
Their war has not yet ended…
It is Universal Century 0079, at the end of the One Year War between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. The space colonies of Side 4, or Moore, were previously destroyed by a Zeon attack, and many colonists lost their lives. Side 4 became a shoal zone filled with the wreckage of destroyed colonies and warships, lit by constant flashes of lightning due to collisions between electrified debris. It soon came to be known as the “Thunderbolt Sector.”

The Moore Brotherhood, an Earth Federation Forces unit made up of surviving citizens from Moore, set out to exterminate the Zeon forces in the Thunderbolt Sector in order to reclaim their homeland. To halt the Federation advance, the Zeon forces deployed their own Living Dead Division, which was established to collect combat data on soldiers with prosthetic limbs.

Io Fleming, though part of the Moore Brotherhood, hates being tied down by his homeland and family history. Daryl Lorenz, having lost his legs in earlier battles, is now an ace sniper of the Living Dead Division. When they confront each other on the battlefield, they will reach a mutual realization. These two are destined to kill each other.

Special Features:
The Review:
Audio:
The audio comes through fine in Japanese and English LCPM 2.0 with no distortions during playback. The soundtracks were mixed well in both languages. This applied to the extras as well.

Video:
The picture is gorgeous with very vibrant colors taking advantage of the modern world of HD broadcasting. The series is an ONA which means a series distributed via the internet as opposed to broadcast TV or physical media. A lot of time was dedicated to the animation, artwork, and detail, which we’ll get more into in the content section.

Packaging:
There is a standard plastic Blu-ray case with a double sided insert. The font hast the principal characters along the bottom. Above them is a depiction of two mobile suits fighting in space it seems, but everything is so shadowed down making it had to see what’s going on. The title masthead is displayed horizontally up top. The back has the masthead again and text from the ‘what they said’ in the center of it, but it’s very small and hard to read. There are 4 pictures cut into components of a circle but they are also small and don’t really add to the page. Technical information takes up the lower quarter. The flip side of the insert is a full out poster of Io, Daryl, and their respective suits. Nice picture here.

Menu:
The dark battle scene from the inset’s front cover takes up the right 2/3 of the screen. The masthead is in the upper left of the screen while the menu options take up much of the left 1/3. Text selections are listed vertically for ‘play’, ‘scene select’, ‘setup’ and ‘extras’.

Extras:
We get different Japanese promos, commercials, and trailers for the show on here. All are decently edited.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’m a long time fan of the UC version of Mobile Suit Gundam whether a given show is good or bad, I’ve often found this ever-expanding universe exciting and intriguing to take in, as much as Star Trek and Star Wars have been for sci-fi fandom. For the most part, though, certain paradigms have been in place for this continuity, in that the Eath Military Federation has a Gundam suit fo a lead character to fly and the Zeons usually are depicted as the villains. (This paradigm is shifted somewhat in Zeta Gundam but that’s a different story.) For Gundam Thunderbolt, however, this premise is blurred a bit and gives an interesting (and rather brutal) viewpoint into the infamous One Yea Wa.

The setting is near the destroyed colony Side 4, where various bits of leftover debris cause incredibly powerful electric discharges throughout the area. Both the Federation and Zeon units in this sector have lost the majority of their units and are scavenging their resources to fight in new ways. The Feds’ Moore Brotherhood have armored their line produced GM units to try and take back the sector entirely but they have a serious problem with The Living Dead Division, a Zeon squad who has repurposed veterans who’ve lost their limbs in battle. These men pilot their Zakus and Rick Doms in key spots with powerful long-range beam rifles to snipe enemy mecha from a distance and essentially wipe out whole squadrons, such as the one Fed soldier Io Fleming is part of. However, he escapes the battle and makes it back to his battered fleet.

This is much to the dismay of Daryl Lorenz, one of the Zeons’ snipers. Daryl is very close with his group as they’ve all suffered life-altering injuries, and seem to enjoy similar music. The group becomes even more unsettled when a new mobile suit starts to appear with high-speed thrusters capable of evading beam weapons, extra shielding, and an overabundance of firepower. It doesn’t help that whoever this pilot is, he’s always broadcasting jazz music, which Daryl instantly recognizes….. and hates.

Like I said, I’m a long time fan of this particular iteration of the Gundam franchise. I’m quite aware of political and warfare aspects of the universe. However, this show really harps on the harsh physical and mental effects of war on everyone involved, and the extent the military will go to win out, either by reinforcing the front lines with kids fresh out of training or engaging in experiments designed to speed up suits’ reaction times. These aspects aren’t entirely new but the animation style and techniques used to bring a more stark realism to the story at hand, particularly the latter which seems like a subplot in itself.

Director Kou Matsuo is very adept at dealing with violence in action anime as demonstrated in his Berserk: Golden Ac movies and Rozen Maiden TV shows. He’s also no novice in making mecha works, having helped on Gundams 00 and Unicorn. What he brings to us in Thunderbolt is a rather unique experience so far as Gundams shows go though. We’ve seen other anime with good movements of the mechs in fight sequences, and those are present here. In addition, we get some rather brutal deaths along the way. One of the more memorable scenes is a first person perspective of a Zaku futilely trying to fight off the Gundam right up to its very end.

There’s also the dichotomy of the overall artwork that’s visually appealing. The dark overtones emphasize the grit and despair felt on both sides in their respective base ships. Meanwhile, there are bright rainbow-like multi-colors of the weapons, explosions and lightning discharges punching through the dark grayness of the surrounding area. Adding to the uniqueness is the soundtrack overseen by Naruyoshi Kikuchi (Trigun, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine). He presents interesting samplings of country, j-pop, and 60s styled R&B, but it’s his prevailing use of jazz (especially the saxophone for which he’s most known) that really sets the motif in battle as Io becomes something of a Red Baron to the Zeons who must be put down. The overall atmosphere becomes reminiscent to Cowboy Bebop at times with many American musical influences present.

Gundam Thunderbolt is adapted from a manga by Yasuo Ohtagaki (Moonlight Mile) and seems to take interesting cues from other aspects of the UC timeline. The Gundam here, for example, referred to as the Full Armored Gundam is similar to the FAZZ from Gundam ZZ. We also get an early look at a Psycho Zaku, which was featured in Gundam ZZ. Between these aspects and some from Gundam Unicorn, it looks like there might be a bit of renewed interest in ZZ, though with little mention of the Newtype / ESP phenomena. The one aspect that’s a bit bothersome is that the weaponry displayed here is a bit overpowered compared to the early depictions of the One Year War in Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s a bit strange to reconcile that, like MS 8th Team and Gundam 0080, there’s another prototype variant of the RX-78 that never made it to Amuro Rey.

The characters here are intriguing, though at times shown all too briefly in this 70-minute piece. Lead character Io (voiced by Max Mittleman) is a bit of a jerk, dating his commanding officer Claudia Peer (Cherami Leigh), who herself may not be ready to be a captain. Daryl (Johnny Yong Bosch) on the other hand is a bit of a pragmatist dealing with what the war has done to him physically through constant flashbacks. The experiments which are eventually done to him help him cope with things a bit as he may get to fight the Gundam finally on equal terms. Through this, he begins a rapport of sorts with Karla Mitchum (Tara Sands), one of the doctors who is ordered to experiment on him. Karla starts to feel a bit of remorse for the experiments though as Daryl’s humanity seem to be taken away more and more at times, somewhat similar to a couple of doctors turning Alex Murphy into Robocop during that film.

We do get to feel a bit for these and others characters thanks in part to the vocal performances produced and directed by Stephanie Sheh and Mike Sinterniklaas of NYAV Post. They’ve been working to create dubs in recent years for Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Origin and appear to have a rhythm of sorts in working on the nuances of the Gundam series as a whole. When we hear the Zeons bemoan the fact this war has cost them their home of Side 4 for instance, it resonates genuine sorrow here.

In Summary:
This is a single film compilation of a 4-part series that tells an effective story conveying a lot of information (both stated and implied) in a relatively short period of time. Between the action, drama, story execution and music choices, I have to say Gundam Thunderbolt is the baddest mech show I’ve enjoyed in years and as a veteran UC fan, I’m looking forward to more. December Sky ends on an interesting note, but there are 5th and 6th episodes on-line now as of press time so it’ll be interesting to see where the story goes from here.

Features:
Trailers, Promos, and TV Commercials

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A +
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Sunrise / Right Stuf Anime
Release Date: July 11th, 2017
MSRP: $34.99
Running Time: 70 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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