Much like the first Thunderbolt film, Bandit Flower is based on Yasuo Ohtagaki’s original manga of the same name, following the twisted paths of Io Fleming and Daryl Lorenz, two pilots on opposite sides of the One Year War, though this film, minus the opening five minutes set during the Battle of A Baoa Qu (the final conflict of the war) is actually set eight months after the end of the conflict…
Setting the next chunk of the story after the war is potentially interesting, but this is where the series takes quite the different path, as it actually becomes far more bog-standard than its original self. Io soon joins a Federation cruiser called the Spartan, piloting a new Gundam code-named Atlas, and starts to fall for a girl named Bianca who shares his love of jazz. This all takes away from what the original movie did so well: playing both sides of the war as mixes of good and bad, with Io being hard to like despite being on what was normally the “good side”, and Daryl being very easy to like despite being on the “clear reference to the Nazis side”. Io here is still slightly cocky, but in a loveable rogue way, rather than an actual arrogant way, and the set up is classic Gundam: capital ship travelling around with one Gundam on board.
Daryl on the other hand is the same as he was in the previous movie, and is now considered to be a hero among the remnants of Zeon for giving up his limbs to pilot the Psycho Zaku, as seen in the previous movie. He is struggling, not just to pilot mobile suits with four prosthetic limbs, but emotionally as well, but he still happily reminisces and enjoys the scenery of Earth.
Both the Spartan/Io and the Zeon remnants/Daryl are on Earth for the same reason: a religious nation called the “South Seas Alliance” seemingly has Daryl’s old Psycho Gundam, or at least the technology behind it, so both sides want to either get their hands on it, or destroy it. This leads to battles between the Federation and the Zeon faction, and battles against the South Seas Alliance.
That’s one thing I will say lives up to the original: the animation. It’s high quality, both the art and animation, and looks nice and bright on Blu-ray. Sound-wise the film is good too, featuring some more Jazz and country music (though in the case of the latter, it’s all in Japanese, rather than the hilariously poor attempt at an English country song we got last time, which is a shame, in a way…) as well as a decent regular soundtrack for certain battles. The music isn’t in any kind of focus here though, like it was in the first film. Voice acting is strong in both languages also.
The on-disc extras are simple promos, adverts and trailers, but if you buy the limited edition you get a poster and five art cards along with the matching box for your UK Gundam collection.
The first Thunderbolt film really felt fresh and interesting, a focus on music and the horrors of war with a pilot rivalry at its core, all set in a unique location, whereas Bandit Flower feels far more by-the-numbers, especially Io becoming less of a prick and getting a far more friendly girlfriend than the drugged-up mess he had in the first film. This isn’t to say the film is bad, the 80-odd minutes flew by and it’s got some great action, very fluidly animated, it’s just it feels like a standard addition to Universal Century Gundam, rather than the unusual standout the original was…