This is an overview of the first four OVAs and their boxed release; for a more detailed look at the first and third OVAs, be sure to look for Ian Wolf’s reviews in our very own archive!
Gundam The Origin was a manga written by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, and was a retelling of the original series with a few more modern designs and alterations. It also featured the complete backstory of Char Aznablein the middle of its run, as well as other pre-MSG stories, and it’s this part that appealed to Sunrise in the wake of the extremely successful Gundam Unicorn OVA series. Originally announced as a four-part series (with V and VI being added on later and treated as a separate story from this one, hence I-IV being a standalone boxset!) The Origin OVAs were created to show Char’s backstory, from when he was a child up to the beginning of his mobile suit piloting days.
Is it worth telling? That’s a stupid question really, any story can be worth telling so long as it’s, you know, good. In this case though, there are enough things about Char left in the air to make a good story out of, and thankfully this pulls it off well. Much like Obi-Wan referencing being in “the Clone Wars” back in the first Star Wars film, Char’s backstory, and by extension his sister’s backstory, were hinted at, referenced and occasionally straight-up talked about, but there were never any real flashbacks in Mobile Suit Gundam, you had to piece everything together yourself: his motivation, the significance of his true name, and his rivalry with the Zabi family despite being a high-ranking officer in their army.
Char was born Casval Rem Deikun, and he and his sister Artesia are the heirs to the famous Zeon Zum Deikun, a man who wishes to make the group of space colonies he lives and serves on into an independent state, free from the Earth Federation. He’s soon killed, seemingly by his close associates the Zabi family, who then assume control and use his name to stir up unrest in the people of the colonies, eventually renaming it the Principality of Zeon, in their “good friend’s” name, achieving Zeon Deikun’s dream, but seizing all the power for themselves. Alongside Char we get to see a lot more of the Zabi family, who for most of the original runtime were in different locations and rarely actually talked to each other. It works and actually adds a lot to them going into MSG…
Throughout Origin I, II and III we see the young Casval and younger Artesia get taken into hiding, first by the Ral family (and explaining Ramba Ral’s lines of familiarity towards the older Artesia in the original series!) and then by a wealthy Spanish family, where they’re adopted as Edouard and Sayla Mass, the latter being the name Artesia still uses in the original series. I think my only real gripe with this story line is that when they then move to Texas Colony, they meet the Aznable family, including, by pure coincidence, a boy called Char Aznable who is the same age and spitting image of Casval/Edouard, apart from the eye colour. As you’d imagine, in order to get into the Zeon army and get close enough to the Zabis to exact his revenge, Casval steals Char’s identity, both explaining his name and why he always wears sunglasses or visors, so no-one will notice that his eye colour doesn’t match… It’s a little contrived, to say the least. I would have been fine with what I always assumed: he changed his name and wore face gear so no one would recognise him as the son of Zeon Deikun. Sometimes the simpler answer is the best!
Anyway, most of Episode III and all of IV is when we reach UC 0079 and the start of the One Year War (bearing in mind that the original MSG series started eight months into the war), and we see Char climb the ranks and begin to make his name as the “Red Comet”. Don’t let all the political dealings and name changing fool you, there is plenty of action alongside the backstories. Unlike the original series, The Origin actually depicts both sides having Mobile Suits early in the war, although the Zeon suits were vastly superior, meaning Episode IV has the first mobile suit battle in Universal Century history, but also means this doesn’t quite fit seamlessly as a prequel to the original series. IV also features quite a few scenes of original Gundam protagonist Amuro Ray, though seemingly for the hell of it rather than it having any true meaning or purpose.
The animation, as you’d expect from these one-or-two-a-year productions, is top quality; rich, brightly coloured and the CG mobile suit battles are cell-shaded and blended well enough that it doesn’t stick out much in amongst the traditional animation. The soundtrack is a nice blend of modern remixes of original Gundam tunes and some new pieces, and both the Japanese and English voice cast are top quality. The extras are simply trailer collections for each movie, and the set comes with a nice set of four artcards featuring a clean version of the promotional poster of each film.
Gundam: The Origin I – IV is a top quality collection of four OVAs filling in all the backstory of arguably the Gundam franchise’s most interesting and morally complex character: Char Aznable. The production value is high, the acting good across the board, and most importantly, the story is an interesting and well-written look at all this character goes through before he appears outside of Side 7 in Mobile Suit Gundam Episode 1. A must for any Gundam fan, and recommended to anyone looking for a great mix of action, drama, politics and/or giant robots.