Kidou Senshi Gundam: Thunderbolt (ONA) – 02

Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -5 Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -22 Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -25

Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -1I still consider myself a neophyte when it comes to Gundam, but I have watched a great deal by now.  And I think the more Gundam one watches, the more one realizes that all of its many incarnations (apart perhaps from Build Fighters, which may be one reason why I appreciate it) are basically telling the same story.  Colonialism leads to bitterness, bitterness leads to war, war leads to death (and lots of it), and child soldiers are exploited.  The reality, of course, is that this story is kind of the primordial ectoplasm of modern anime – it doesn’t get any more fundamental when it comes to the building blocks of its life.

Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -2What sets most of these Gundam incarnations, then, is the mask (pun intended) they choose to wear.  And I think in Tekketsu no Orphans and Thunderbolt, we’re seeing the two extremes of this basic Gundam story.  Orphans is among the most mannered, convoluted and “modern” of all Gundam series.  Thunderbolt, by contrast, is still basically the primordial soup – the animation is slick, but apart from that it may as well be 1979.  It’s rough, a bit awkward and not at all refined, but Thunderbolt is certainly the better of the two Gundam stories currently being told in anime.  This is the mast that fits more comfortably on the face of the franchise.

Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -3Apart from lots of Engrish singing which I find oddly disconcerting, this was another rock-solid episode for Thunderbolt.  The first was told mainly from the Terran side – this time around it’s the Zeon, and specifically Daryl Lorenz.  Like all the young heroes victimized by the conflicts in Gundam, he has a story of his own, but he’s a cog in the war machine.  The first ep built up a fair bit of sympathy for the Zeon side but they don’t come off well here, especially when the anti-war doctor in charge of Daryl’s prosthetics is ordered to saw off the last of his limbs that hasn’t already been lost in combat in order to fit him into their experimental mobile suit.

Gundam Thunderbolt - 02 -4Really, Thunderbolt could hardly be more simple – it’s Gundam distilled down to its essence (indeed, the episodes are even 18 minutes long).  But it works quite well as a kind of slap-in-the-face reminder of the brutality of war which drives all Gundam series, and the way Matsuo Kou choreographs the battle scenes and sets them to the soundtrack is quite stylish and memorable.  It finds a kind of beauty in its unfiltered ugliness, something it has in common with many successful war stories.  I’m not sure it’s any kind of game-changer in the Gundam mythology, but it really doesn’t have to be – it’s a compelling reminder of Gundams roots, and what the franchise looks like unadorned and unfettered.



  1. Really, Thunderbolt could hardly be more simple – it’s Gundam distilled down to its essence (indeed, the episodes are even 18 minutes long). But it works quite well as a kind of slap-in-the-face reminder of the brutality of war which drives all Gundam series

    That is spot-on for the various Universal Century Gundam series.

  2. C

    I really wish this could have gotten the Unicorn treatment. Imagine having seven or eight one-hour episodes of this… Damn, son.

    But when I compare it to Unicorn, I want it to have its strengths, not its faults… Because Unicorn had a pretty bad plot, and this episode of Thunderbolt has one of the most nonsensical plot points I have seen in a loooong time. Why, in the name of everything that is holy, did they seriously have to chop off his other arm? A good, fully functioning arm, gone because of the flimsiest non-reasons I have ever seen. Because… we’re making a state of the art Zaku that works best when it’s pilot is a complete amputee? What? Just… what?

  3. I don’t see the concept is nearly as nonsensical. I think the point the series is trying to make is that Daryl will have to become an actual part of his machine to combat something as powerful as a Gundam.

    The episode tells this to us visually. We flashback throughout the episode to every limb he used to have and little privileges it granted him. Running, jumping, holding his father’s hand (which can show affection and represent security); he doesn’t get to do these anymore and his humanity is supposedly fully stripped of him by the end.

    Yeah, he probably wanted his last arm; but it does him no good as lab rat. When the episode is over, he swears his vengeance on Gundam because it’s all he has left. I think the events of this episode were very fitting, but I loved Unicorn too lol.

  4. Sorry for the typos. I’m typing this on mobile and didn’t proof read.

  5. C

    And having already 3/4 limbs attached to the Zaku is not enough to become part of his machine? I mean, think about it for one moment… A mech that requires its pilot to cut off his arms and legs to pilot it. Do you seriously not see how hilariously absurd this is? Like… what if its pilot dies? Are they going to put someone else with normal, functioning limbs on the chopping block to replace him? This plot point is beyond terrible.

    I can honestly find no explanation for this other than some preadolescence desire for the story to have more DARK EDGINESS.

    I mean don’t get me wrong I’m liking Thunderbolt but this was worse than the bad Engrish singing.

  6. Absurd? Possibly. I mean I know it’s one of those things that I most often don’t like either, where a series will push its themes to the forefront regardless of how it gets there. But Thunderbolt’s case here didn’t bother me. I don’t think this is a case of me being desensitized to too many inferior productions either; I’m enjoying Thunderbolt too much to feel like that’s the answer. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gundam noob wherein Thunderbolt is only my fourth series so far in the franchise (not watching Iron Blooded Orphans btw). I still feel like it worked and sorry you don’t feel the same.

  7. J

    What do you not understand? They made every single one of his limbs integrate with the system of the Gundam. It’s like his body becomes one with the Gundam. Is there no difference between controlling your own body vs controlling it with an xbox controller? Clearly there is a difference, and even though it’s obviously a more extreme case, but still the same concept here: he’s not using a arbitrary control scheme from inside the cockpit, the body of the Gundam becomes his own.

  8. C

    My point was that he already had three available stumps to integrate with the Zaku. Yet the plot demanded that they chop off his good arm because the Zaku can only accommodate full amputees soldiers with pilot experience, who are enlisted in the army… Because it totally makes sense that such a machine got approved, right?

  9. J

    Right, because controlling 3 Gundam limbs as if they were your own but having the last one be controlled by a controller makes sense…it’s not that he “can’t” do it with one good limb, it’s just that you infer from the story that integrated limbs are superior to using a controller in the cockpit. It “got approved” because it works, IN THE STORY. Nobody is trying to convince you that this stuff will work in real life. I think you’re trying too hard to justify the decision in our own reality.

  10. C

    Except that they are fighting in space, so the idea that each of his stumps correlates to one of the Zaku’s limbs is even more ridiculous, as when fighting in space, any mech’s legs are practically useless. Remember the Zeong?

    You do not understand my grievance. You see, a perfectly logical critique of the Gundam UC universe would be: why do they fight in bipedal mecha? Why don’t they just shoot missiles and bomb each other from afar like what most armies would do? Well, there is a perfectly valid in-universe explanation for that which, to this day, is one of the few good attempts at justifying toy-like bipedal robot warfare. Even fictional worlds need some semblance of logic and reason for its stories to be believable and have any sort of meaning, no? There is some logic behind a Zaku that works better if its pilot has lost one or two limbs. It is very believable that the One Year War has resulted in many disabled soldiers, so a mech catered exclusively for them, whereby their unfortunate disability is turned into an advantage, makes sense. It makes no sense at all, and is downright preposterous, that this mech requires ALL FOUR of the pilots limbs to be mutilated, instead of programming it according to the disabled soldier’s needs.

  11. J

    lol…why use bipedal weapons? The answer is in the name of the series…they’re more ‘mobile’ than giant gunships. It’s the same reason we still have foot soldiers in war today. We don’t just deploy tanks everywhere.

    Just imagine having to control one arm directly from your brain and trying to use the other hand with a controller. It’d be weird as hell. The logic that is being used in the story is that it’s easier to control the Gundam when your limbs are directly connected to it…it makes SOME sense, even though in reality it would take decades of neuro research to perfect it. The concept isn’t as far fetched as you make it perceive it.

  12. G

    Have you seen 3 and 4? Just curious….really bombastic stuff.

    Though if you didn’t like the idea of kids dying in IBO…. :-/

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