In UC 0079, a Zeon Zaku II and Big Gun emplacement hide amidst the ruins of the space colonies that made up Side 4, Moore. On the Earth Federation Forces transport ship Beehive, Ensign Io Fleming plays chopsticks to a jazz beat inside his GM‘s cockpit while waiting to launch. Mechanic Cornelius Caca tells him to use headphones to listen to his pirate radio, but Io wants to feel the sound himself. He imagines the sounds and movements of the GM as though they were part of the music. From the bridge, Acting Captain Claudia Peer tells the pilots that their mission is to destroy the Zeon snipers hiding in the debris because they’ve already lost 40 allied units in one month. She says that regaining control of the Thunderbolt Sector will help change the tide of the war, now in its final stage. As he prepares to launch, Io tells himself that his birthplace is tying him down again. Io expertly maneuvers through the dense debris field, but the lightning-like Minovsky particle reaction distracts one pilot and causes him to crash into debris. A beam cannon sniper shot destroys the top portion of Io’s GM, but he manages to eject in time. The squad commander is killed, followed by many other pilots. Zaku pilot Daryl Lorenz snipes a GM until his gun’s barrel reaches his limit, so Rick Dom pilot Hoover Aisla keeps firing instead. He gets a warning message that his communications are going down, and suddenly his cockpit manually opens. Io shoots Hoover in the face and tosses his body into space. With communications still open, Io tells the Zeon pilots that their taste in music sucks. He then makes fun of Daryl’s prosthetic legs and boasts that he’s going to cruise back to his ship via their blind spots. Daryl vows to not let him get away next time, and Io mentions that the sound of jazz means he’s coming. Io detaches from the Big Gun and uses his machine gun to destroy it.
A Gattle flies over and docks with Daryl’s Zaku to relieve him. Elsewhere, only a few damaged GMs manage to return to the Beehive, but the crew are surprised to see Io return with a stolen enemy mobile suit. After recovering Hoover’s body, the Gattle returns Daryl and teammates Fisher Ness and Shawn Mitadera to the supply ship Dried Fish. The team is instructed to take Hoover’s body to the lab so that the data in his prosthetic arm can be studied first. Professor Karla Mitchum comes over and cries when she sees Hoover’s body. On the Beehive, Vice Captain Graham informs Claudia that data is being extracted from the Rick Dom, which might include deployment patterns. He also informs her that some mechanics have returned with the test unit, which he figures will go to Io. Claudia summons Io and tells him that he’ll be piloting the prototype mobile suit because everyone ranked above him just died in the last operation. She tries to slap Io, but he stops her and instead kisses her. The bridge crew complain about Claudia and Io being privileged elite, especially since he’s the son of Moore’s former leader. Graham thinks that makes them effective as sacrifices for the Moore Brotherhood because they’re young heroes dying for their ideals. Claudia tells Io that she won’t love him anymore and wishes she could order him to die. Io wants an order to launch because he’s captivated by mobile suits. Karla visits Daryl and asks him to kill Io for her. He asks her for painkillers because he says his prosthetic legs hurt. Io prepares to launch in the Full Armor Gundam on a mission to confirm the Zeon sniper locations extracted from the Rick Dom. Io is amazed by the Gundam’s power and tests its maneuverability and speed in the debris field. He declares that this is the power he’s always wanted and blasts a large piece of debris with his twin beam rifle. Later, Daryl and the other Living Dead Division pilots watch a flight recorder video of a Zaku being destroyed by Io. Captain Burroughs points out that the Gundam destroyed three Zakus and dodged all Big Gun attacks. Shawn mentions to Daryl that jazz music was playing, so Daryl is sure the pilot must be Io.
Sunrise returns to the familiar ground of the Universal Century’s One Year War once more with Gundam Thunderbolt, adapted from the manga of the same name by Yasuo Ohtagaki. Both the manga and anime are targeted at mecha enthusiasts, as seen by the attention to detail like thruster-laden mobile suits or the well animated sequence of Zaku being destroyed in first person view. If Gundam 0083 and 08th M.S. Team were the products of their time for mecha enthusiasts who wanted a grittier view of the Universal Century, then Thunderbolt is taking up the mantle for the modern era. Io Fleming is the story’s protagonist, but he comes across as a smug jerk to both allies and enemies. However, at least he’s resourceful enough to survive losing his suit and stealing one from an enemy. We don’t get too much about his background other than his elite status, so it’s not clear why Claudia hates him. Given how Io acts, it’s not too hard to conceive of why she’d dislike him. The format of this project is a rather odd choice with an 18-minute episode released online. It only covers truncated bits of the first five chapters and feels like it would benefit from the extra five minutes to make it a standard size. Limited exposition establishes that the Moore Brotherhood is a group of soldiers fighting to reclaim the destroyed Side 4 from Zeon. What strategic purpose that serves is pretty unclear since the whole place is nothing but destroyed colonies. I don’t know how much of the manga will be adapted, but I hope the rest manages to tell a serviceable story that doesn’t first require reading the manga.