Premiering on Christmas Day, the newest offering from the Universal Century timeline, and what a debut episode it is.
In the Thunderbolt quarter of Side 4, a Federation task force sorties. Equipped with GMs made for the debris—laden battlefield, their objective is to take out Zeon forces that had been destroying suits in the area. One of the pilots is Ensign Io Flemming, a Jazz enthusiast. The captain of the modified Columbus-class ship, Claudia Palh, explains that with the war nearing the final stages, all they need to do is free the sector from Zeon control.
The Federation deploy the GMs, but are picked off by the Zeon snipers. Ensign Flemming got lucky and was hit in the upper chest/head, allowing the GM to split to its core block system. All others are wiped out, revealing that the sniper fire is coming from Side 4, their former home.
The Zeon units are all manned by pilots who would otherwise have been medically discharged. The Ace, Chief Petty Officer Daryl Lorenz (a pop/country enthusiast) has artificial legs, while others in his troop sport some sort of artificial limb. His weapon reaching its operational limit, Daryl takes over as the spotter for the unit, revealing how they were able to accurately pick off the GMs. By making the Federation fly down predictable paths, he could adjust their weapons fire to accurately pick out each mobile suit one by one even in the Thunderbolt shoal zone, overly saturated with Minovsky particles.
Noting that one of his more loudmouthed subordinates seems to have some communication problems, the pilot of the MS-009R Rick Dom checks out the problem before his cockpit hatch is opened, and is shot in full view of his comrades in the middle of his forehead. Io jettisons the dead Zeon pilot out into space, and comments that while they may be ace pilots, the Zeon taste in music is mediocre. Now that he knows their firing angles, he can safely cruise home by traveling on their blind spots.
Exchanging names, Io explains to Daryl (who had vowed to kill him) that if he hears Jazz, it would be him coming. Io takes the commandeered Rick Dom and destroys the mega particle cannon position before escaping.
Later, the Zeon pilots are rotated out by fresh hands, as the pop/country pilot exchanges musical tastes with another. Back at the Federation task force, of the 24 that sortied, only few return, many pilots only managing to return before dying at their cockpits. Io though is seen as a hero for capturing the Rick Dom.
Daryl and his team though had managed to recover the body of their slain comrade, though he notes that he never did like the playboy. Back aboard, one of their superiors says to bring him back to the lab for further study, no doubt wanting the data on his prosthetics. The lead professor though breaks down upon seeing her lover’s body.
Back on the Federation bridge, the ship’s second in command reports to the captain, explaining their losses as well as the sniper locations obtained from the Rick Dom. A resupply ship had come along with a new suit, and when wondering who would pilot it, the second tells her ‘who else but Io’. Declining his offer to inform him, she and Io have some words in her ready room. It seems that the Moor Brotherhood, supposedly the elites of the Side 4 colony, had paid the Federation for the suit to retake their home. Acting Captain Claudia Palh had said that all others who would’ve piloted it died in the last operation. He hits back noting that she got her position only because her direct superior had died. Furious at this, she tries to slap him only to be brought into a kiss when she orders him to let go her hand.
Back at the bridge, the second and the bridge crew note that she’s only captain and he’s getting the suit because they’re connected, with Io being the son of the Moor Brotherhood, whom the bridge crew blame for being incompetent and the reason Zeon invaded and destroyed Side 4. The second note though that due to their age they can become the perfect sacrifices for the Moor Brotherhood’s propaganda.
Back at the ready room, Claudia rejects Io, saying she won’t love him anymore, so she could order him to go out and die. He doesn’t care, for he’s captivated by the mobile suits and battle.
Back at the Zeon task force, Daryl is met by the professor. She had heard the combat recordings as well as the comment on hearing Jazz, they would know it was Io. She asks a request of the Zeon ace, for him to kill Io, noting it should be easy for an ace like him. He only asks for more painkillers due to the pain from the artificial legs he has.
Later, back at the Federation task force, Io launches in the Thunderbolt Gundam, noting it’s power and speed being greater than the GMs he’s piloted before. Drunk with the power, he deploys on the mission to confirm the rotation of sniper nests.
Back at the Zeon Task Force, the pilots watch a gun cam recording from a Zaku II from the sniper nests, where Io’s Gundam Thunderbolt makes short work of the machine, effortlessly dodging the projected path of the mega particle cannon, then the Zaku’s machine gun, before coming in close and shoving the business end of the beam saber into the Zaku’s cockpit area.
One of the pilots in Daryl’s rotation notes the jazz music, before the commander giving the briefing shows a zoomed image of the Federation suit, leading to gasps from those assembled, recognizing the Federation’s Gundam. Daryl though, realizes who was piloting it, and it was him (Io).
That was too short. We’re thrown into this Universal Century work with the barest of explanations. Set in the last quarter of the First Zeon-Federation War, after the Federation regained a proper footing in space, Thunderbolt focuses on the Federation operation to clear the Side 4 Shoal Zone.
The matching of both freeform Jazz and what seems to be older, 1950s style Country Music to provide a musical cue between the two sides was good, and added a bit of character to the centers of the show. From the chaotic brawly combat exhibited by the battle mad Ensign Io, to the more relaxed style CPO Lorenz.
Visual cues allowed for me to be a bit more immersed in the short episode. Small things to make it mesh better with more modern audiences. The developments in technology allow for crisper views of the cockpits, and even the smart phone the doomed Zeon pilot had to browse his porn on was a nice touch. Another thing I found amusing that the modified carrier the Feddies were using had a ventilation and air scrubbing system strong enough to allow people to smoke. And also why shipboard romances kinda suck in a war zone.
The only niggle I really had with the episode was the characters art styling, not too fond on the heavy lines, especially evident on Captain Palh in the ready room scene. And of course the Zeke doctor/professor kissing the dead body of her lover. Kinda unnerving, but not unnatural. As one of the Zekes said, it was a miracle they managed to recover the body.
Other than that, I can’t wait for more.
I promise to actually release the write-up in the same week next time.