Mobile Suit Gundam SEED X Astray Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Writer/Artist:Artist: Kouichi Tokita / Story: Tomohiro Chiba (Studio Orphee) / Created by: Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino
Translated by:Jeremiah Bourque
What They Say
A mysterious mobile suit approaches research colony Mendel. As Lowe Gear intercepts in the Red Frame, the pilot opens fire! Remarkably, the Red Frame survives the blast, but the mystery behind the attack reveals an even greater threat to our junk tech hero... and thus begins another exciting adventure set in the popular Gundam Seed universe! Mobile Suit Gundam SEED X Astray continues where Gundam Seed Astray R left off!
Against all odds, the world of Gundam SEED manga has brought forth an enjoyable side story that outmatches its predecessors at every turn.
This area is the low man on the totem pole, featuring some of the worst paper quality I've seen in a while. It's so pulpy that not even the plain white spaces look solid. As for the shaded areas, those show the printed equivalent of macroblocking on a poorly-authored DVD. The blacks make out best, because they screen the pulp to some extent, but in this case not even best is very good. I doubt any kind of ink job would look good on these pages, however there are a number of imperfect lines and such that don't help out any. A puzzling exception - the black-and-white reproductions of the colour pages look better than usual. Nothing to write home about, obviously, but still above average.
The covers fare pretty well, though. The front is nice and eye-catching, red and black contrasting well - though having the villain here for the first volume is an unusual choice. The back is a simple black piece with the usuals: logo, write-up, a couple of supporting characters, and the rating/genre/upc grid. Tne one thing that I don't like about it is that the cover has the kind of gloss that attracts fingerprints like crazy, and if you try to rub them off they just smear all over the place. (With the front cover it isn't an issue, since the colouring hides them just fine.) I didn't dock it any points for this, by the way: it's just a pet peeve of mine.
The extras are pretty standard inclusions, but they're very, very well done. First off there's a handy introductory page for those of us who didn't get around to reading Astray R. At the end of the volume we get a nice back-story episode that fleshes out the past of the villain a good deal and explains his obsession with finding Kira Yamato. Then to lighten the mood we get some four-panel strips, all funny; and then finish up with a few pages of character and mech data.
My, what a change in artists can do for the look of a series! After the impossible-to-differentiate character designs of Gundam SEED Destiny (to say nothing of the impossible-to-follow battles) this is a positve delight to look at. Every character has a distinct and suitable look. Even helmeted pilots are easy to tell apart. Layout is very good. I can't remember losing the flow of the action even once, not even during a couple of pretty complicated battle scenes. A really fine job all around.
Text styles are used very well. Fonts and letter sizes vary according to the dialogue spoken; and apart from one off-centered exception, text is well-placed in the balloons. Deserving special note is the table of contents page, where the text is done up in the style of a computer readout. Sound effects are of course untouched and untranslated as per TokyoPop policy. The translation tends toward the literal, even to the extent of using "Ee!" and "hai" on a regular basis, and occasionally omitting subject words, e.g. "Needs refueling" for "It needs refueling" or "No guarantee they won't attack" instead of "There's no guarantee...." It wasn't really a problem for me, but I can imagine some people disliking it. In general it's pretty smooth and makes sense, though. I get a little lost in the terminology sometimes, but don't I always? There are bursts of profanity during the fights, which is rather odd considering the rest of the dialogue is pretty clean.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As somebody who read all four volumes of Gundam SEED Destiny, I can safely say that if there was ever I manga I was sure I wouldn't like, this would be it. And when I saw the name "Lowe Gear" on the back cover, and then came across a character named "Prayer Reverie" right off the bat, my hopes sank even lower. "Here we go again" doesn't begin to describe it.
But it was good. I'm starting to think it's some sort of law for Gundam side stories to be better than their originals. Despite being a follow-up to a series I hadn't heard of - something else that had my heart sinking when I discovered it - everything made sense right away. Well, okay, I'm still a little hazy on the different factions, but those aren't terribly important to this story, so that's all right. Besides, there are only three mentioned here, as opposed to the, what, six or seven in Destiny. The characterization is easy to pick up on; none of the "who are these people and what are they doing" feel of that other series.
And, most importantly, the story is pretty good, too. Since it's a first volume, there aren't any curve balls or big revelations, and there shouldn't be so that's all to the good. Things get set up quickly and efficiently, laid out clearly, and are presented with enough pizazz and intelligence to make for a good read.
Something the Universal Century side stories have done really well is to shift the focus from the story of a huge complicated war to the stories of small groups of people and the effect the war has on them. X Astray is in the same tradition, though of course not in the same timeline. In a way it's the best of both worlds: you get the style of the Universal Century without the oppressive anti-war mood. The plot so far is simple enough. A group of junkers cruises space, trying to scrape out an honest living through salvage, using their wits and good old-fashioned elbow grease in turn. In the course of a salvage operation, they discover a new mobile suit prototype. Anyone with the slightest Gundam familiarity will know that this doesn't bode well for anybody, not even the side that developed it. Interestingly, the junkers seem to know that too, and they do everything in their power to keep it out of the wrong hands - which, in a Gundam story, means just about everybody. Following their adventures is pretty good fun. And that's something Gundam titles can always do with a bit more of.
It was a great relief to have my expectations for this book turned on their head by it doing what it set out to do with style and effectiveness. (As a matter of fact, it even got me rationalizing that the name "Prayer" was a translation error and should really be rendered something like "Preia".) Gundam SEED X Astray is much better than it has any right to be. Best of all, it shows every sign of getting still better in the following volumes. It showed me what mecha manga can do when it puts its mind to it, and as such is definitely worth checking out.
Bonus info: The latin text that occurs halfway through is from the Requiem (funeral) mass. The first portion is from the introit; the second is the two beginning verses of the Dies irae>: translations are very easy to find with a simple internet search. To get the proper effect, imagine the words being chanted or sung as a kind of background music.
Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: C+
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED X Astray