Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga, Gundam: The Origin is perhaps the most iconic version of the One Year War. Indeed, The Origin offers more than clever paneling and striking images: it offers an experience, a chance at ‘being there’. The iconic scenes that best define Gundam as a series are best defined in Yasuhiko’s version. This is because the manga chooses to linger on these moments, allowing us to emotionally digest the horrors and human suffering that occurs in war. It could be argued that every image, every panel, is saturated with the meaning. But something more exists between these panels, between the moments. It allows not only for the manga to be read, but experienced. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko wants us to experience Gundam. But how does it work?
The opening of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin depicts the slow ‘descent’ of six MS-06 Zaku II mobile suits. Perhaps the most iconic of all the mobile suits in the series, second only to the titular Gundam itself, they are the iconic Gundam villain.Yasukio knows this, and chooses to give them their moment in the limelight.They float in the vastness of space with a sort of majesty, like a dark storm on the horizon, and even though we may not consciously realize it, they carry an emotional weight of the story.These machines of war are about to effect the lives of those living on the orbiting space colony. It’s a small event, but one that carries a great significance: just like the beginning of most stories.
A moment can be a hard thing to create with sequential art. The standard cues of sounds, music, movement, the actual passage of time – all of these are unavailable. Existence is carved out by the color of the ink and the shape it assumes, but often times manga lacks even the former. It’s highly-restricted visual format begs quite a few questions: What is the meaning of the individual image? How should a speech balloon be read in order to grasp its isolated meaning and contextual tone? How long should your eye linger on any particular panel before moving on? -With the technological restrictions of the medium, it’s hard to know. But the pacing of a manga is not dictated by its restrictions, but much rather it’s exclusive elements: paneling, font style, iconography, etc. In Gundam: The Origin Yoshikazu Yasuhiko perfectly constructs a moment in sequential art. He understands the elements he has to work with, and instead of ‘making-do’ without them, he relishes in the ambiguity the ‘missing’ information provides. This aspect is especially essential in a medium of sequential art like manga.
There’s an unspoken agreement between the artist and reader that events are occurring from panel to panel, in-between them, that carry the action that we can visually perceive. So while movement is not actually seen, it is perceived as occurring in-between frames. In his book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud refers to this phenomenon as closure, or the understanding that there is existence beyond the immediate perception of the individual. For example, you trust the world continues to exist despite not seeing it. Through closure, we are able to perceive the entirety of an object by merely observing it’s parts, we interject personal experience, allowing our imagination to fill in the blanks. In this, Yasuhiko is a master of providing parts and aspects of a scene and giving us the sense that they belong to a greater whole.
It’s the visual equivalent of Hemmingway’s Iceberg Theory – we are only shown the most basic form of what is happening and we mentally extrapolate it’s deeper meaning and implication. But that deeper meaning never actually exists, at least, not outside of us. Once again we interject personal experience and imagination to create closure. This is how we are drawn into the work, it’s how we internalize and experience it. The larger part of the iceberg is only ever perceived. In this case the iceberg is existence between the frames.
This space where perceiving the non-existent as existing and acting is called the gutter. If thought of in terms of animation, the panels would be key frames, and the gutter would be the in-betweens. However, in this case, the in-betweens literally don’t exist, but we perceive them. Closure tricks us into interacting with the art, to mentally create these in-betweens ourselves. That said, transitions chosen by the artist directly influence the images we perceive in attempt to create closure. What we imagine directly correlates with what we are shown, elevating the unspoken agreement between artist and reader to a silent rapport. This is also evident in the transitions Yasuhiko uses.
The technical term ‘moment-to-moment transition’ refers to the way one panel follows the next. The transition is unmotivated by any action, but action can occur in-between. In fact, a lot can happen in-between a moment-to-moment transition, but the panel chooses not to focus on on these events, and instead opts for slow cinematic movement to establish mood. The transition refers to the actual panels as being sequential moments in time, thus the transition from one panel to another is a moment-to-moment transition. But Yoshikazu Yasuhiko defines a moment differently. To him, a moment is the space between the panels, not the panels themselves.
The overall goal that Yasuhiko is trying to accomplish is to provide an opening for you to personally insert yourself into the manga – he wants you to feel it. The strongest aspect of moment-to-moment transitions is the minimum amount of closure needed to link the images together. This not only allows for a greater suspension of disbelief, but lowers the barrier to entry, making the closure much easier to obtain. Because the manga is easy to understand in this manner, it also becomes easier to internalize. The constant acquiescence allows the work to wash over the reader, slowly coaxing the mind into the manga’s conscience. The silent rapport becomes a type of transference of emotional message. And that message is internalized.
At the start of The Origin Yasuhiko chooses to use moment-to-moment transitions for this very reason. The first fives pages detail the Zaku’s ‘decent’ with only slight variation from panel to panel. The images are so similar that the perception of time becomes tangible. Where the focus for a lesser artist may be ‘getting there’, Yasuhiko chooses to focus on ‘being there’. The first page of the sequence is a wonderful setup in this regard, choosing to bring us from Earth…
…to the stars.
With each panel, the Earth becomes smaller and smaller; with each panel we are transported farther into space. The journey is remarkable, an feels infinitely more immersive than just being at the last panel on the page and looking out.
Yet this serenity is interrupted as a lone Zaku come into view, breaking the central circular focus that carries the emotion over from the previous page. The Zaku’s size dominates the panel, breaking the circular focus before replacing it with the iconic monoeye.
Taking the time of ‘being there’ allows the message to unfurl: Even though we come this far, war still plagues us. It’s a message that wouldn’t be possible to communicate if the goal was only ‘getting there’. And because each panel is roughly the same size, pacing and a sense of time is strongly implied, the eye spending an even amount of time moving from one to another. As mentioned, the sequence lasts for five pages, but the central theme of the work is communicated in only two.
There is a certain enlightenment that comes from ‘being there’. We are able to drink in the details that normally pass by too fast in everyday life. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko does not restrict his usage of moment-to-moment transitions to calm scenes of introverted inflection, in fact his most striking usage comes in scenes of high intensity and action. In a series like Gundam where the objective is to convey the horrors of war, a moment that allows the mind to process what is happening on the page is an effective tool in displaying human suffering as it happens. This becomes clear in his depiction of the attack on Side 7.
As if in slow motion, we are forced to recognize the destruction that is being waged. What would normally being only a few seconds is elongated into a larger space in time, and for a moment, we’re there. Panels change shape, giving way to the kinetic force of the explosion. But what is most interesting is the invasion of the gutter by the debris of the blast. To Yasuhiko the gutter is not a safe space for the audience, but a tool in dictating time, defining moments, and characterizing people. The space where we assume the world continues to exist, having faith that other actions are occurring to get us to the next panel, is enveloped in the moment. We cannot escape the horror, and we are drawn into another level of ‘being there’.
These techniques come to a head in the final climactic battle between Amuro and Char, both stripped of their mobile suits, locked in a sword duel. During the final lunge, Yazuhiko again employes the use of moment-to-moment transitions to suspend the severity of the situation. The frantic movement is captured in the angle assumed by the panels, their intensity accented by speed-lines. However, here Yasuhiko overlaps his panels and invades the gutter with interjected and cantered frames, preventing a clear image to be formed. His focus is being in the moment right before the strike lands.
The scene that follows accentuates Char as he stands over Amuro. The border of the panel encapsulates Sayla and a wounded Amuro, but not the heir of Zeon. He stands outside of it, and it is his presence is that transitions us from scene to scene. Our minds are capable of closing off Char’s physical presence – he can only physically be in one place at a time. But in this case Char is a symbol, an icon. Although he physically stands over Amuro in the panel, it is his history, his past, that stands over the story. The transition and panel composition is used to define his character.
This is why Yoshikazu Yasuhiko chooses moment-to-moment transitions. Because it is between the panels that we can insert ourselves and experience the art of in Yasuhiko’s moment. Pivotal plot points are given their proper space, elevating heroes and villains to semi-deistic status around us. They become iconic, immune to the corrosion of time, forever preserved in our memories because we were involved in creating them. This is why Gundam: The Origin is perhaps the most iconic version of the One Year War, because at the end of it all, it offers the greatest sense of closure – because you were there.
The stuff of legend. Though I don’t share the experience of having engaged with any Gundam as of yet, every time I read posts like this I feel my interest and enthusiasm for it grow larger and larger. THIS is the kind of post that gets me to go further beyond my already eclectic tastes and travel out to the space of Gundam and the mecha genre as a whole. I enjoy reading and listening to these sort of insights because they speak to the heart just as much as the head, and it’s always a blast to have something awesome (like Gundam Origin) to look forward to!
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This is a very good post. Manga is such an underrated medium and this captures so many things about the unique mood it can create perfectly.