This review is of Anime Limited’s Blu-ray release; for a more in-depth look at the film itself feel free to click here for Professor Irony’s review of the film from last month.
The One Year War is the war fought between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon seen during the original Gundam series, and just like so much of Star Wars spin-off media being based around the original trilogy era, most of the Gundam side stories take place during or just after this conflict, and Thunderbolt is no different. December Sky is a 70-minute version of the first “series” of four web episodes adapting Yasuo Ohtagaki’s original manga, and is set during the latter days of the conflict, but away from the main battlefields and instead in a part of space known as the “Thunderbolt Sector”, a region of space that is actually the ruins of a space colony destroyed early in the war.
Just as the original series liked to do, there is a focus on neither side of the conflict being full of only good or only bad people. Our lead character is hard to pinpoint as Zeon, normally portrayed as the Nazis of the war, are represented in this film by the “Living Dead Division”, a group of soldiers who lost limbs during earlier battles but still wish to fight, focusing specifically on laid-back and kind-hearted (for a soldier…) Daryl Lorenz. The Earth Federation, normally seen as the good guys, has a drugged-up commander who is crumbling under pressure and focuses in on Io Fleming, a frankly arrogant and hard-to-like playboy who loves to listen to jazz music.
It only gets bleaker from there, thanks to some shady Zeon scientists and the Earth Federation sending in a new division of child soldiers. No black and white here, it’s all shades of grey. The rivalry that builds up between Daryl and Io is good though, and there is an emphasis on their different musical choices, with Daryl liking pop music (and a frankly hilarious attempt at a country-style music song by a female Japanese singer!) while Io, as previously mentioned, likes to listen to jazz music. The songs often play during the space battles and reflect their personalities perfectly, with Daryl being calmer and Io’s being more chaotic and “free-form”. They both also get new versions of their respective army’s trademark suits, a “Psycho Zaku” for Daryl and a new Gundam type for Io.
The action is great, well animated, and there is a retro charm to the series that makes me think of late 80s/early 90s anime series, especially the human characters. It all combines with the unique soundtrack and a great vocal cast – no matter which language you choose – to create a whole that outdoes itself, given that it started off life as a web animation. The series ends on a bit of an empty montage that leads into the second series (which is now a second film named Bandit Flower, set several months after the war…) so that’s kind of a downer, but it doesn’t take away from the 69 minutes before it.
On-disc extras are just trailers and promos for the film, and trailers for other releases. The physical release comes with an A5 poster, and five art cards, one of which (top right on the image below!) is from Bandit Flower… whoops! It also comes in a rigid box that matches the other Gundam releases from Anime Limited nicely, despite the change in size.
So Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt – December Sky is a great little film. It doesn’t hang about, it’s grim without being so for the sake of it (though I still wouldn’t watch it if you’re looking for an uplifting tale…) and the animation, music and voicework is all top notch. If you’re not that familiar with Gundam, or Universal Century Gundam specifically, then don’t worry, the film is pretty much self-explanatory and very bottled in its own little world. Recommended for any fans of Gundam, or mecha shows in general.