The creators of Amadeus Cho are back with a story of giant robots, human kindness, kaiju monsters, and more. It’s Neon Genesis Evangelion but without all the depression and Judeo-Christian symbolism.
Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Colored by Triona Farrell
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Once a year, giant robots from outer space come to Earth and bond with young cadets from the elite Sky Corps Academy to defend the world from the terrifying aliens known as the Sharg. It’s a great honor to be chosen, but this year…well, the wrong kid was picked. Greg Pak (Totally Awesome Hulk) and Takeshi Miyazawa (Ms. Marvel) team up for an action-packed adventure perfect for fans of Amadeus Cho and Pacific Rim!
With its various imprints Boom! Studios has emphasized the market for young female and LGBTQ stories. With “Mech Cadet Yu,” from Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa, comes something that feels spiritually akin to the stuff you see in “Brave Chef Brianna” or “Lumberjanes:” underdog tales and adventure with a dash of self-discovery but with a shonen manga influence to it. It isn’t the first time Pak and Miyazawa worked together on a giant robot title. “Mech Cadet Yu” is inspired/expanding upon a 10-page comic, ‘Los Robos,’ from the “Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology.”
At first “Mech Cadet Yu” #1 left me wanting. Upon further reflection, however, this desire isn’t born of a fundamental lack or some fatal error in structure, but from how well writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa achieved the kind of world-building that makes episodic storytelling worthwhile. An episodic structure can allow for little moments to gain greater importance and sell the audience on the content of someone’s character before they are asked to deal with some large world-shattering plot. This first issue has sold me the core characters, now I want to see them go on an adventure.
Good world-building isn’t hidden off to the sides, in codices, or the fictional histories of a world. That is the kind of minutia and trivia that helps make for a good RPG campaign. All this does is build up space. Stories aren’t really about spaces, they are about the characters in spaces and how those change over time. The opening pages of “Mech Cadet Yu” does give us a brief history and the conceit of the series, but it also shows us the people who inhabit it. By the end of the third page (with a comedic dagger of a page turn) we’ve met our protagonist, Yu. We see the world he, and his Mom, inhabit, and the world he dreams to be part. This is how world-building should work.
Miyazawa’s paneling dose an excellent job building a trance-like focus around the main history lesson in this issue. As General Park tells the audience of cadets about how every four years giant alien robots come from the skies to bond with a human pilot and together they fight other kaiju-like aliens known as the Sharg, Miyazawa intercuts between the slides and audience, as if they’re bonding together. Nowhere is that process stronger than with Stanford Yu, as Miyazawa slowly works towards singling him out. Until you turn the page, and it cuts to wide shot that shows just how far he is from the world of his dreams. Yu isn’t a Cadet at Sky Corps in Los Robos, Arizona. He’s a janitor along with his mother. But when he happens to help a damaged space robot, things take a turn.
Much of this first issue is built around tiny character moments, little moments of cruelty or kindness between people. These moments help to develop a surprising amount of class consciousness, as Yu’s dreams exceed his lot in life. That consciousness informs the operational motif of the series, kindness and compassion in contrast to Ivan Drago style cold development, and how that compassion can supersede one’s class. While issues of class aren’t unheard of in mecha stories, the emphasis here is surprising and kind of Pixar like in how it is treated.
While ostensibly big metal objects, I’m curious to see how expressive Takeshi Miyazawa will be able to make these robots. Yu’s robotic (or I guess mecha) partner has these two black circles and connecting lines and no mouth, which should provide some Spider-Man eye-like emotive potential. If he is able to get half as much range out of them as he does Yu’s eternally working-concerned- parent of a Mom, they will be a lively bunch.Continued below
Miyazawa’s robot designs themselves give a sense of history for the series and echo the larger history of giant robot anime/manga that has inspired this series. There is an evolving simplicity to the various robots we see this issue, they aren’t overwrought Gundams infused with a standard issue Liefeld pack and more packs aesthetic. Yu and his classes robots look like walking Apple products with their rounded and soft edges, their white with mono color scheme is particularly evocative of the old eMac line. In contrast, the much older robotic partner of Skip Tanaka looks like a battle worn G1 Transformer. These simple, inherently functional, designs give these robots a certain degree of naturalism to something so often epitomized as unnatural.
Pak’s script and Miyazawa’s art in “Mech Cadet Yu” #1 show us the “why” of these characters before the larger plot really kicks in. And while this is listed as a 4-issue miniseries, having such a clear idea of what these characters are about, along with a broad enough sense of the world, make me more willing to come back next issue when things inevitably kick into a higher gear.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – “Mech Cadet Yu” #1 did its job and sold character above lore.