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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower (2017)

It is the year Universal Century 80 and the One Year War is over. After the battle at A Baoa Qu the Zeon forces were defeated by the Federation and an uneasy truce has been signed. On Earth the once united Federation is starting to fragment as one of its members the South Seas Alliance wishes to assert its right to self govern.

Eight months after The One Year War Daryl Lorenz, a Zeon mobile suit crack-sniper is on Earth with remnants of Zeon forces after escaping space. Io Flemming was rescued when the Federation forces swept through A Baoa Qu and hasn't been seen since. The instability caused by the South Seas Alliance actions has attracted the Zeon remnants and the Federation. Could the Alliance have a weapon that could tip the balance of power? The only thing that is certain is that once again fighting and potentially another war will scar Earth and its people.

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower is the next chapter in the Thunderbolt series following on from the events of December Sky. At the end of that chapter, Io and Daryl faced off against each other with Daryl gaining the upper hand leading to Io's capture. The final shot of Io is him beaten, bruised and looking as if he is not quite the man he was. Meanwhile, Daryl, no longer in his Psycho Zaku is getting used to his prosthetic limbs and piloting a mobile suit, again not presenting the picture of an ace pilot.

Following a quick recap we find out we are 8 months into the Federation-Zeon truce and things are not going so well. Zeon troops on Earth are making mischief and banding together - they hide from the Federation and with sympathisers' help, keep their machines serviced and retrieve old Zeon mobile suits when they can. Meanwhile, the Federation is just trying to keep the peace (or assert its dominance as it is not clear which one).

As the Federation moves in to quell a potential uprising in the South seas Alliance they run into a spot of bother and so the Atlas Gundam is revealed ... with its own peculiar yet familiar personal theme music courtesy of its pilot. Atlas comes with some heavy-duty weaponry and makes quite an impact. As you can imagine some, like Bianca (a mobile suit pilot for the Federation) are captivated by it, others resent the Gundam and its pilot. You can see, sense and hear the feelings of the other mobile suit pilots - here we go again, we'll do all the work and *he'll* get all the credit. It's a nice inclusion into the Gundam world.

Whilst the Federation are preoccupied by the South Seas Alliance and the suggestion they may have a powerful weapon, Daryl and the Zeon troops he is with are mounting a recovery mission for a spy. Again resentment for the Zeon ace is palpable. Daryl has also been co-opted to help get Karla (a Zeon scientist who was fundamental to the development of the interface between Daryl and the Psycho Zaku) to remember her research. She has become childlike after committing, in her mind, atrocities during the One Year War and witnessing the basest human behaviours first hand. Given what he has seen Daryl is not happy with this turn of events. It is also clear that both Daryl and Io will cross paths eventually, but it not obvious in what form or when.

Where December Sky was unrelenting in depicting conflict Bandit Flower is a different animal focused on the Aftermath. It is much more about the aftermath of conflict and its impact on people. That includes those on all sides within the armed forces and those "at home" watching it, like us. A camera pans across space showing us the wreckages of mobile suits and ships interspersed with caved in helmets and lifeless corpses floating. We are also treated to all the comms traffic which was ... intense at times. Whereas December Sky felt like we were in the cockpit with the pilots of the mobile suits here we always the observer witnessing what is being done in our name.

I appreciate that the above comes across a bit bleak and paints a bit of a downer on Thunderbolt in general. For me, this Gundam entry is very much an anti-war story. Yes, it glorifies some of the personalities but the chaos and the toll on humanity paints a very different picture. It does, however, paint this picture with vivid solid colour, strong character lines, and some giddy animation.

Visually for anyone who has watched the original Mobile Suit Gundam Bandit Flower feels familiar. I always enjoy seeing the mech designs from this instalment and the way that their inclusion is explained makes sense - a sense of make do and mend shall we say. With there being less of a focus on "Gundam" the other mechs (e.g. RGM-79 GM) and logistic ships take centre stage. Bringing these elements to the fore changes the dynamic and emphasis in the series.

As for the Atlas Gundam, it is now a machine with rounded corners and sweeping arc lines which is a real departure for the Universal Century. It almost looks like armour plating around a human than a boxy humanoid machine. I do wonder how often you can reinvigorate the design and keep it fresh. ZetaWing and 00 did great jobs and Thunderbolt has too, employing function into the design.

Uncharacteristically the final set piece is Gundam free but it still delivers thrills and is phenomenally dynamic. At times it was like watching a trapeze artist swing across a very big stage. It also hammers home that teamwork delivers, not just the individual. I quite enjoyed the tensions developing between the crew on board the Federation ship and that we got to see more than just the Gundam pilot. It gave a 90 minute feature the feeling of a more long-form show.

Given that Kou Matsuo directed December Sky there is a real sense of consistency across the two Blu-ray releases of Thunderbolt. I don't mean that in a disparaging way either. Both are full of movement of both the characters on screen and the camera that is observing them. This creates a dizzying sense of chaos during the heat of battle ... especially in environments where motion is unconstrained. Outside of the set pieces, the animation is smooth, fluid always on model.

In a slight deviation we have, what was the first for me, a musical set-piece in Gundam. I'm more familiar with this in Macross so it was a bit jarring to begin with. Once the jazz kicked in with Io on the drums and Bianca on piano you could sense it was a mix of a duel, a date and bonding over a shared love of jazz. It reminded me a bit of Kids On The Slope (from 2012) and thought that if they had done something similar - matching the animation to the video of musicians playing their instruments - it would have been amazing!

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower is a joy to watch from start to finish. It does feel a bit like "part 2" of something (which it is!) but just manages to tread that line between setting up the next instalment for those following it and a solid stand-alone piece of entertainment for those looking for just that. Where December Sky was very much focused on the horrors of war, Bandit Flower looks at the aftermath - the hidden survivor guilt, administering to the dead and reconnecting with people. Given the strength of this and the previous animated instalment of the Thunderbolt series, I'm really looking forward to the next one.

FORMAT: Blu-Ray  FROM: Anime Limited RATING:12 [UK] RUNNING TIME : 1hr 29m [movie]

IN A NUTSHELL: The next instalment in the Thunderbolt series stays with you like an afterimage in a lightning storm. A strong anti-war message is layered on great visuals and some kinetic animation.