#1 A late addition to the original MSG
I am hardly an expert on Mobiel Suit Gundam. In fact, prior to last year my only experience with it was an afternoon of playing a Gundam video game and being forced into watching a random episode at some point. Things changed when I watched the compilation movies of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and absolutely loved the darn things.
The movie series concluded in 1982 and the original series aired throughout 1979, after which we, of course, saw the unrivaled expansion of the Gundam license with sequels, spin-offs, and merchandise. However, in 2015 Sunrise returned to the series that started it all and aired a 6-episode OVA that acts as an origin story for main character Amuro’s rival, Char Aznable, better known as The Red Comet. Now, in 2019, the OVA has been remade into a 13-episode TV series.
A complicated history, but it’s a worthy part of the Gundam universe and a prequel to Mobile Suit Gundam was a solid idea to begin with.
#2 Char is an absolute lunatic
Throughout the movies, I never quite got the best impression of Char. He made for a strong rival and had some great scenes, but he is an enigmatic fellow and never appeared as often as I would have liked. Advent of the Red Comet is entirely his story and finally gives us those juicy details about his past and personality. The conclusions I drew from this are worrying.
There is no beating around the bush: Char is fucking insane and a force to be reckoned with. Even as a little kid he possesses composure and determination that allows him to rival the adults that are trying to use his life as political leverage. Even before turning into a proper teenager, he already commits his first murders in a bid to escape a warzone and keep his freedom.
As you watch him grow up, you see how adulthood begins to turn him into a merciless manipulator with a severe lack of empathy. His shining moment for me comes in a scene where he suspects somebody in a bar is spying on him and just begins hammering on the dude, completely overwhelming him in a fistfight, before this supposed enemy even got a word in about it himself. Some of the shit Char pulls left me in awe and came totally unexpected.
It turned a character that was already a fine villain into one that would definitely make the cut if I ever compiled a list of my favorite anime bad guys.
Sayla is another one of those characters I didn’t have much of an impression of in the Gundam movies. She was definitely important and I didn’t have anything against her, but she got a bit overshadowed by the other staff of White Base.
What interested me about Sayla is seeing how, even this long before Mobile Suit Gundam, she and Char were close siblings with very different attitudes. While Char is confident and seems to thrive when in danger, Sayla is more tender and childlike. Seeing the events that begin to turn Char into a legendary soldier are made extra interesting because you see how those very same events shape Sayla in an entirely different way. That which inspires Char to greatness, only serves to traumatize his little sister and eventually creates a rift between the two as Sayla can no longer stand the violence that Char embraces.
Sayla’s scenes are the real tear-jerkers of Advent of the Red Comet. From the moment she walks into that room and has to process that her beloved father was murdered, her life turns into a downward spiral of tragedy and loss. She is a little kid forced to flee her home, she is separated from her mother and becomes a token in a game of politics she never had a desire to be part of. To see her endure all that and still find the compassion and energy to volunteer as a medic for a refugee camp, it really sells her character.
#4 A Gundam-worthy war story
What kept me from the Gundam franchise for so very long was my wrongful assumption that the series was a simplistic shounen action romp about giant robot fights. Mobile Suit Gundam proved me wrong on that. Yes, giant robot fights are core to the Gundam experience, but at its heart lies a story about war, politics, and how those affect the lives of people that aren’t much different from you and me.
Advent of the Red Comet is off to a strong start as it chronicles the rise of the Zeon faction under the guidance of the Zabi family. It’s filled with political backstabbing and intricate plots, which Sayla and Char become a part of when their father is assassinated. You get to see uprising and riots ensue as Zeon politicians begin to spread populist propaganda and pander to nationalistic pride.
Once the war is kicked off proper, it’s not long before you get to enjoy big battles and shocking war crimes. My time watching the show was filled with more than a few “holy shit!” moments, especially during the scene preceding the picture above.
#5 Sympathy for villains
I know this review is particularly focussed on the characters, but that is because Advent of the Red Comet is just so close-up and personal. It gives you a deep insight into the context that would lead to the One Year War, and it can’t do that without zooming in on the lives of ambitious soldiers like Char and, in this case, the Zabi family.
Like Char and Sayla, the movies do a good enough job at characterizing the various members of the Zabi household. You’ll respect the noble warrior Dozle, sympathize with the youthful ambition of Garma, and there is plenty of context to make you dislike the scheming of Kycillia and Gihren. This Origin story doubles down on all of that! Especially the likes of Garma and Dozle get a lot of development that made me especially fond of their characters and made their actions in Mobile Suit Gundam feel more special.
I kid you not when I say that a scene for Dozle had me tearing me up. Freaking Dozle. This man is angry ham on legs, the kind of guy that looks like he has the emotional depth of the average pebble, and who completely shatters that expectation. He is so passionate about what he does and that scene with his daughter that brought me to tears made me instantly want to see Mobile Suit Gundam again, just to see more of the guy.