As some of you may remember, I was in Japan almost exactly one year ago! And you know what? I bought a ton of books over there! I’ve been meaning to review them for a good long while, but I never actually found the time or drive to sit down and write some real reviews. However, that all changes today with a Mistakes of Youth Exclusive review of the realer than real Gundam artbook, MS Era 0099– Mobile Suit Gundam 0001-0080.
Ever since the original Gundam aired back in 1979, its realistic approach to the horrors and nature of war caught the eyes of viewers who were far more mature than the show’s intended target audience. While the original Gundam TV series, and to some extent the subsequent compilation films, are candy-coloured cartoons meant to sell toys to little kids, fans were fascinated by their realism despite these outward appearances. Before Gundam came out, there was nothing in the way of “real” robot shows, so the idea of a robot being used as a military weapon was a completely new one, even if the robot was hilariously toyetic.
Over the years, a bunch of UC-centric Gundam media has pushed the real world angle hard where the original TV show did not. One such bit of media, which drives this idea home 110%, is MS Era 0099.
Considering this book came out in the 1990s, I can only assume that it was an idea thought up by guys who were taken in by Gundam during their high school years. This isn’t an easy-to-compile collection of artwork by hands who worked the original show. This is a book filled with images drawn especially for it. It is a love letter to UC Gundam if ever there was one.
0099 is a mock photo album, covering the supposed events of the One Year War. It’s a hardbound number, and it’s meant to evoke complete and total seriousness. As if it was a real book you could pick up if you lived in the Universal Century. Contained within are roughly 100 “photos” taken during the One Year War, matched with English captions and a running timeline–also in English–of the events between the first year of the Universal Century and the end of the One Year War, 0080. There is also an introduction to the book, which contextualizes it within the Gundam universe, along with brief biographies of the “photographers” at the back.
These illustrations aren’t meant to be flashy DVD cover material. Their compositions are very subdued, and at times mundane, with the intention of feeling like a real photo album. Drawings oftentimes err on the side of complete realism, while colours are deep, dark, and at times quite de-saturated. The illustrations are done on cels, giving them some honest texture in addition to a noise filter that seems to grace most–if not all–of the images in this book. In fact, a lot of filtering is used to add a degree of realism to these drawings, and strangely enough it doesn’t look contrived at all. Motion blurs, lens flares, monitor scan lines, along with sepia and monochrome toning give these illustrations lots of character, lending themselves more to this idea of realism.
The subject matter ranges between very powerful depictions of war-time acts, and quieter subjects that flesh out the UC world. Images of foot-soldiers attacking Zakus, GMs sniping in the forest, and mobile suits launching are amongst the more exciting images in the book. Depictions of astronauts working on the first space colonies, tests of prototype mobile suits, Zakus as they come off the assembly line, and a portrait of Dr. Minovsky make up a portion of the book that attempts to bring some degree of believability to the science and technology in Gundam.
The book is also filled with portraits of random people, adding the human element needed in any realistic depiction of war. Friends and relatives mourning over the death of a soldier, people left homeless after an attack on their city, and kids playing on the wreckage of mobile suits paint a rich image of civilian life, which is barely touched upon in any anime adaptation of Gundam. On the military side, we’re treated to soldiers playing cards, taking sips of coffee in the snow, and lighting up smokes.
Certain other illustrations in this book look like they could have been taken from newspapers, like a black and while photo of Gihren Zabi in a Hitler-esque pose during his famous speech after Garma’s death, or another black and white shot of General Revil returning to the Federation after being held captive.
Yes, there are some cameos of actual Gundam characters throughout this book, but since its focus is more around what the series never showed you, their presence is tastefully restrained. There are about two pictures of Char in this book, and in each one his face is only partly visible. Another illustration depicts a harbor in Ireland, where one can only just make out the top of the White Base poking out from behind a wall.
Every single illustration in this book is well done. There is no instance of anything looking strange or off model. One can thank the talented group of illustrators behind these drawings, of which one is Cowboy Bebop character designer and professed Gundam otaku Kawamoto Toshihiro.
I can’t say the same for the written portion of the book, however. Honestly, reading this book is a chore. Yes, it is bilingual, with the English at the forefront (English is the language of the future, after all.) and the Japanese relegated to odd corners throughout the book. Considering this book is made for a Japanese audience, the English is purely cosmetic. However, as an English speaker, this translation is hard to get through. It’s done by a westerner, but clearly someone who obviously had no interest in Gundam, and was paid the absolute minimum to translate this. It doesn’t read like a machine translation, but it is very stilted and has a few newbie translation errors. If the translation was better, it’d be easier to get immersed into the book, but as it is, it just takes you out of the experience. I can’t say much about the Japanese, but a quick glance brings to light random mojibake on one page. In short, it’s a lot more fun to look at this book than to read it, and maybe glance at the captions every now and again. That said, it should probably be read through at least once.
MS Era 0099 is one of the quirkier things I’ve seen come out of the Gundam merchandise machine. Despite some stupid technical issues, it truly is a lavish love letter to the UC universe, and I recommend it to any serious Gundam fan. As far as buying it goes, Google brings up a couple of sites that sell it. Don’t go for Amazon–it’s way too overpriced. Getting it second-hand at BeNippon is probably you best bet. This book originally retailed for 3500 yen, and I probably got it for around 1800 at Mandarake. It was a little beat up, but if anything that just adds more character to a book that’s already brimming with it.