“Only the dead know the end of war.” – Plato
Two ace pilots are on a crash-course in Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt – a continuing series placed within the Universal Century of the Gundam universe. Fighting for the principality of Zeon is Daryl Lorenz, a talented sniper helping his comrades battle for independence from Earth in a continuing battle within the Thunderbolt Sector. His rival is Federation Ace Io Fleming – armed with superb piloting skills and the latest technology there is to offer, he seeks to put down the rebellion once and for all.
From VIZ Media, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt currently has 4 volumes out, with the 5th coming out in the near future. Take a look as I check out the story so far!
Deep within the Thunderbolt sector, a Zeon sniper has been wreaking havoc on Federation soldiers. A fresh batch of recruits is tasked with driving out this sniper and taking him out. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t work out as well as they’d imagine, and 9 of the units are completely taken out, with the remaining 15 damaged.
This is our introduction to famed Zeon sniper Daryl Lorenz. Having lost his legs in an earlier conflict, he is remarkably good with a beam-rifle, and acts as Zeon’s Ace within the bitter battlefield of the Thunderbolt sector.
Federation Ace Io Fleming hears of this troublesome warrior, and armed with the a weapon of terrible power, the Gundam, he sets out to rid the sector of this sniper once and for all. Dispatching some of Daryl’s closest comrades, he still finds himself challenged by the sniper’s unorthodox methods as the volume concludes with a flash-grenade seemingly providing Daryl with a temporary escape, though at a steep cost.
The first volume does well to introduce our main characters – portraying both the Principality of Zeon and Federation in a fairly neutral light to start. A recurring theme of the Gundam series is that war isn’t clean-cut “good vs. evil”. Both sides typically have their fair share of atrocities and injustice, and it’s easy to understand the convictions that both Io and Daryl bring to the battlefield. They’ve both lost their share of friends, and made their own personal sacrifices within the larger conflict.
The story opens with a surprise attack from the Federation. Having lost their sniper positions after the battle with Io in volume 1, the Federation penetrates the sector and mounts a bold attack. While they are able to take down two large ships of the Zeon fleet, they are forced to retreat due to the Gundam still being under maintenance.
Following his initial battle with Federation pilot Io Fleming, Daryl suffers the loss of his left hand. Already missing his legs, Daryl is devastated by his latest wound. Things are complicated further when an experimental weapon is completed, and with Daryl being the most skilled pilot they have, would have to sacrifice his last remaining limb in order to pilot the machine at full capacity.
Ultimately, Daryl agrees to have his other hand removed, and is promoted to Ensign – responsible for his own squad of mobile suits, and provided an experimental new mobile suit of his own: the Psycho Zaku. Possessing capabilities in line with the Federation’s Gundam, they hope that this new weapon will allow them to turn the tides of battle.
Meanwhile, Io is placed in charge of a class of young teenage cadets. In a somber series of scenes, the kids largely goof off and are thrilled at the opportunity to get pictures with the legendary Gundam and its equally famous pilot. Io’s captain is overcome with grief as she is forced to order both him and the young cadets to their deaths in yet another combat mission.
Io issues a speech before the mission, emphasizing their expendable nature and cruel nature of war. Encouraging survival, but understanding their role as the Gundam’s “shield”, the teens are soon deployed for their mission – to finish off what the earlier surprise attack started in the hopes of wiping out the Zeon fleet once and for all.
In the fight that ensues, the manga captures the panic and fear of young soldiers in the throes of battle. The mission is a “success”, in that Io is able to do extensive damage to the enemy fleet while his comrades are destroyed one by one and keep the other Zeon fighters busy. While successful, the young soldiers are almost all killed in the battle.
Meanwhile, Daryl and the Zeon squadron have a similar plan with the Psycho Zaku, as they’re able to wreak similar havoc on the Federation fleet while their prized Gundam is away. The result is essentially a stalemate, and the volume ends with Io deciding to prioritizing the pursuit of the Psycho Zaku and its pilot over retreating with the surviving members of the Federation fleet.
Io and Daryl square off again in Volume 3 – this time with new toys! It’s the rumble of the Universal Century as the talented pilots clash with the fate of the war on the shoulders.
The battle showcases the Psycho Zaku and Daryl’s capabilities, as Io is surprised at “Peg Legs” ability to hold the Gundam back.
While the titans clash on the battlefield, the wounded and struggling on both sides seek out resources, including oxygen, in the harsh environment of space. Federation soldiers, having captured a Zeon carrier ship, make plans to secure the interior and attempt to salvage what they can. Eventually, the Zeon soldiers and Federation soldiers have a tense stand-off within, and a Federation soldier has second thoughts on their role in this long and horrific conflict.
Daryl’s romantic interest, and the scientific genius behind his prosthetics and Psycho Zaku, Karla Mitchum, shares this sentiment just shortly before her comrades are vaporized in a beam saber attack. Recovered by a Zeon mobile suit, she is among the survivors gathered and brought back to the remaining ships.
Not too far off, Daryl’s conflict with Io reaches a climax. Daryl is knocked out, and his Psycho Zaku is susceptible to attack while Io sheds some extra weight off of his Gundam to help extend its use. With only one thing on his mind, the Federation ace sets off to destroy the Psycho Zaku and its pilot once and for all.
With Daryl seemingly asleep and vulnerable, Io is all but victorious when Daryl suddenly awakens and fires off a last minute missile, incapacitating the Gundam and allowing the Zeon forces to capture Io Fleming.
Returning to the remaining Zeon stronghold, A Baoa Qu, Daryl checks in on Karla, who has now earned herself a new nickname and importance within the Zeon army.
With Io captured, the beatings soon begin upon their unfortunate captive. After torturing him for a bit, Daryl meets him face-to-face and the two agree that the only way their rivalry will end will be a battle to the death.
This volume features sparse dialogue, as it relies heavily on the art to depict a frenzied battle in space. This is something that Gundam has done exceedingly well for decades now, and what’s particularly impressive is that the manga preserves the same feeling you would get from watching a similar space battle from 8th MS Team, Gundam Wing, Gundam 00, or any number of the classic entries from the series in the past 15+ years.
The Federation launches a large-scale attack on Zeon’s final remaining stronghold – A Baoa Qu.
With the Psycho Zaku gone, and Dr. Mitchum out of commission, the remaining Zeon forces battle back as fiercely as they can, but they are ultimately defeated and forced to sign an armistice with the Federation.
Of course, things aren’t always that simple in war. Seven months after the “One-Year War”, conflicts are still being waged between holdouts of the Principality of Zeon and Federation forces as they attempt to put the conflict to rest for good. However, with the wide-spread devastation of the one-year war, food shortages and refugee crises back on Earth is rekindling talk of rebellion as nationalist groups threaten to join the remaining Zeon forces and ignite the conflict once again.
If that wasn’t enough, Dr. Mitchum’s top-secret technology that made the Psycho Zaku possible has been seized by a religious force known as the Nanyang Alliance. If left unchecked, the Alliance is poised to seize power from the Federation with an army of powerful mobile suits, and will undoubtedly crush the remaining Zeon soldiers as well. With this in mind, both factions place the Alliance in their crosshairs, as our central protagonists follow their own paths back to the battlefield.
Daryl has made his way to Earth, and along with the remaining members of the “Living Dead” squadron, they set out on a mission, armed with a fresh batch of Zaku mobile suits, to recover top secret Federation data.
Io Fleming, disgraced after losing his Gundam to the Zeon forces, makes some deft social maneuvers to regain monetary and political power in his attempt to get into the cockpit of the latest Gundam unit and put his rivalry with Daryl to rest.
The result is an unstoppable force on its path to an immovable object, as Io and Daryl are on the warpath once again. It’s uncertain as to who will be the victor, or what the final cost will be.
So far, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt has told a compelling story of war, loss, and the recurring conflict between the two champions of the One-Year War. For those familiar with the Gundam franchise, you will no doubt be satisfied by the art style, though the characters may not embed themselves into your memory the same way that Heero Yuy, Shiro Amada and Setsuna Seiei may have. Don’t get me wrong – their narratives are impactful, I just find myself wanting a bit more plot to chew on in regards to their motivations. I feel like volume 4 did a great job giving Io Fleming some flavor with his ruthless climb back to the top of Federation society, and hope to see something similar in volume 5 for Daryl.
If you aren’t familiar with the larger Gundam universe, you may also find yourself a bit confused as to what’s going on or why as the series kicks off. While other series do their best to place its plot within the now exceedingly large timeline, Thunderbolt doesn’t really offer too much in terms of orienting the reader to the important conflicts and incidents that led up to the One-Year War.
Even still, Thunderbolt is a fantastic series for any Gundam fan. I’m certainly looking forward to volume 5 to arrive in the next few weeks, and you can look forward to our review once it arrives!
Interested in picking up Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt? You can find it on VIZ’s website here.
Note: VIZ Media provided us copies of Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt volumes 1-4 in exchange for an honest review.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt Vols 1-4$14.99/volume
- Nobody does space battles like Gundam
- A compelling narrative of conflict and war
- Fantastic art
- You need to have some understanding of the larger Gundam history going into it - not a lot of explanation
- The characters are solid enough, but fail to stand out as much as previous Gundam protagonists/antagonists