After Vertical showed that there was a significant audience for “Gundam” manga with the consistently entertaining “The Origin” series, it was inevitable that we’d get more manga based off of this venerable mecha franchise released out here. Unfortunately, the first volume of “Thunderbolt” is a disappointingly generic entry that lacks any kind of distinctive storytelling or visual style to make it stand out. The story takes place shortly before the battle of A Baoa Qu during the One-Year War as a Federation fleet works to clear out the Thunderbolt sector. Not only is this sector key to Zeon’s supply lines, it’s filled with the debris from the Side 4 Moore Colony. Most of the members of this fleet, including hotshot pilot Io Fleming, were from Moore so this operation is personal for them. Standing in their way are the members of the Living Dead Division, a group of snipers made up of Zeon soldiers who have all lost a limb or two in combat and their ace Daryl Lorenz.
The duel of aces looks to be the driving force behind the narrative for “Thunderbolt,” and a relatively weak one at that. Io comes off as nothing more than your standard-issue cocky mech pilot with his love of jazz serving as the man’s only distinguishing feature. Also, the less said about the quasi-romance he has with his petulant crybaby captain the better. Daryl is a bit more interesting thanks to his disability, to the point where I wish more had been done with it and his squad in general. There are nods to depth on both sides of the conflict here, as the members of the Federation are shown to have scheming sides to them while the Zeon forces are given a measure of humanity and even a bit of self-awareness about the side they’re fighting for in this conflict. I’d expect nothing less from “Gundam” and mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki also obliges with some decent action scenes as Io shows what he’s capable of with and without a Gundam. Still, the mangaka’s style is serviceable to the point of genericness much like everything else here. Things may very well improve in subsequent volumes, but the only way I can recommend “Thunderbolt” now is that buying it may give Viz or Vertical the idea to release more (and better) “Gundam” manga in the future.