According to history, Principality of Zeon ace pilot Johnny Ridden died in combat at the Battle of A Baoa Qu that ended the One Year War. Johnny’s Gelgoog High Mobility Type faces off against a Full Armor Gundam and takes a direct hit. Although Johnny’s combat record as the “Crimson Lightning” is well known, personal details about his life are more spare. History records that he volunteered for the Zeon forces at age 22 in UC 0077, but in reality his father signed him up against his will. The elder Ridden believes that as first wave immigrants they have a duty to their nation, but Johnny hates the idea. In the military, Johnny openly expresses his hatred for Zeon’s ruling Zabi family and his belief that they’re dictators. Despite his hatred of war, Johnny performs well in mobile suit simulators. When the time comes to pilot the new Zaku II at the start of the One Year War, multiple pilots request custom color schemes to differentiate allies. Johnny wants his suit painted all red so that it sticks out, in the hopes that he gets shot down and injured and can sit out the war. However, the mechanics run out of red paint, leaving only some parts of the Zaku painted. Johnny charges ahead of the other pilots so that he can get shot down faster, but he’s shocked to find that his Earth Federation Forces opponents are weak Toriares fighter planes. As a result, Johnny racks up multiple kills and develops a reputation for fearlessness among other pilots. At the Battle of Loum he gains more popularity by destroying three EFF ships, but afterward his Zaku is finally painted all red. News of Johnny’s exploits spreads on the Zeon home front, which increases his despair. One night, Johnny attends an officers’ party in the lunar city Granada and meets fellow ace pilot Char Aznable. Johnny, who is visibly drunk, says loudly on camera that he can’t stand risking his life for the Zabis. Afterward, Johnny is digitally removed from the video and as punishment is reassigned to disrupt EFF supply lines between Earth and Luna II. Later, Johnny upgrades to the high mobility Zaku II R-2, painted in his distinctive red scheme. With its improved acceleration and mobility, Johnny sinks two EFF ships. As the war progresses, the EFF deploys its first mass production mobile suit, the GM. Johnny is asked to pick out a personal mark, and although he dismisses it as propaganda, he chooses a unicorn. Johnny returns to his home colony and runs into his childhood friend Tiki Tournia. Johnny tells Tiki that the space fortress Solomon fell to the EFF, and he thinks the final battle is coming soon, so he returned home to regain the courage to keep running. Tiki asks Johnny why he always talks of running away when he used to believe so strongly in independence for the space colonies. He answers that the colonies will gain nothing from this war because it’s the Zabis’ personal war. He tells her that war is hell and is sucking him in, which is why he came home. He wants to protect his home and vows to Tiki that he won’t die. At A Baoa Qu, Johnny’s Gelgoog is destroyed by the Full Armor Gundam, but he manages to survive and is rescued by a Rick Dom, which takes him to the carrier Dolos. A mechanic greets Johnny and tells him that he’s been listed as MIA due to his Gelgoog’s destruction. An explosion rocks the ship, and Johnny is shocked to see Tiki as part of the crew. She tells him she wanted to help their nation, and he punches her in the stomach to knock her out. He then hands her over to another crewmember and tells him to escape with her. Johnny asks a mechanic if there are any suits for him, and he’s told everything is gone, except an upgraded version of his Zaku II R-2. The mechanic explains that Zeon developed the Gelgoog and its beam weaponry to counter the EFF’s Luna Titanium armor, but if it wasn’t ready in time, they authorized a Plan B option that fits a Zaku with extra non-beam weapons. Johnny decides that if the EFF has a Full Armor Gundam, his unit will be codenamed the Full Bullet Zaku. Johnny launches in the Full Bullet and vows to protect Tiki. He encounters the Full Armor Gundam and engages it in battle while Tiki leaves the area in a Launch. Johnny exhausts all his ammo and rushes toward the Full Armor Gundam, which fires its twin beam rifle and damages the Zaku. The Full Armor Gundam fires a shot at point blank range that destroys the Zaku. After the battle, Johnny is presumed dead and posthumously promoted, but Tiki is sure that he didn’t die. In space, Johnny floats around with the wreckage of his suit and cries out for help.
In UC 0082, former Zeon pilots take on jobs using mobile suits to help rebuild Australia, which was severely damaged during the war by Operation British. Johnny is hired by a small village, and when a young woman named Jill asks for his name, he sees a wrecked Dopp nearby and calls himself Johnny Depp. Johnny is put to work using a customized Land Zaku equipped with drills, a shovel and irrigation equipment for cultivating land. Over time, Johnny befriends Jill and several local kids. The kids ask Johnny how he got to Earth, and he explains that he was picked up in space by an EFF ship and escaped to avoid being put on trial in a military court. One of the kids asks Johnny if he wants to go back to space, and he answers that he doesn’t know. Jill asks if he knows a man named Johnny Ridden, but their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Zeon ace pilot Shin Matsunaga on a horse. The two men have a drink in a bar, and Johnny insists that Johnny Ridden is dead and offers his shaking hands as proof that he can’t fight. Shin tells Johnny that he wants his help to track down a ghost of Zeon that will bring ruin to the space colonies. The town then comes under attack by Zeon remnants in three Doms, and Johnny is told by the mayor to stand by in the Land Zaku. Johnny launches in the Land Zaku and grabs a bazooka. One of the Dom pilots tells the townspeople that he’s from the New Zeon Congress and that their leader, Dr. Q, is going to revive the Principality of Zeon. He says that Zeon remnants on Earth will return to space, so he demands that the townspeople give him all their supplies. The mayor responds that they can only spare a certain amount, and one of the Zeon pilots pulls out a machine gun and shoots him in the arm. Johnny attempts to target one of the Doms, but it fires its bazooka first and destroys his bazooka. The leader states that they’ll return tomorrow morning for the supplies. The townspeople wonder what they should do, and Shin leaves on his horse. Later, Jill finds Johnny sitting near the massive crater ocean, and he tells her he was part of Operation British. He knew at the time it was a terrible thing to do, but he didn’t try to stop it. After the war, he felt obligated to see the crater, but he was shocked by how big it was. Jill asks if he came to their town to help fill the crater, and he answers that that might be the case. Jill then pulls out a gun and tells Johnny that he killed her older brother. Johnny tells her that that man is dead, and Jill sees that there’s no point in killing him now. She explains that they lost their parents in Operation British, so her brother joined the EFF and became a Toriares pilot. He wrote her letters about fighting a Zeon ace in a red suit, whose name he later learned was Johnny Ridden. Her brother became intrigued with the idea of meeting Johnny and asked Jill to pass along a message if she ever met Johnny. After that, he was shot down by Johnny and killed. Johnny asks what the message is, but Jill refuses to tell him since he’s not the same man anymore. She also says that they never asked anyone to fill the crater and don’t want help out of pity or guilt. The three Doms return, and Johnny tells Jill to run while he takes a step forward so he can hear the message. Johnny takes off in the Land Zaku and covers it with barrels of red paint. Johnny waits outside the town and comes under fire, but he dodges the Doms’ bazookas. The Doms then attempt the Jet Stream Attack, but Johnny dodges and uses one of his drills to help perform a spin kick. He then uses his drills and shovel to take down the three Doms, and he tells the pilots to apologize to the Black Tri-Stars for performing such a sorry Jet Stream Attack. Shin returns after the battle, and Johnny agrees to go with him. Johnny tells Jill this is her last chance for revenge, so she jokingly tells him that her brother’s message was “I’ll kill you.” She then tells Johnny to take care and reveals that the real message was her brother’s hope that he could help create a new world where people could share their dreams.
Later, Johnny tells Shin that he wants Shin to kill him when the operation is over. Johnny explains that he’ll be dragged back into battle as long as the “Crimson Lightning” exists, and Shin agrees to kill him. As they travel through space in a Musai cruiser, Shin is angered by Johnny constantly trash talking the Zabi family. The target Plant Ship 102 is detected on radar, so Johnny and Shin launch in their Zakus, along with a Gelgoog team. They blast their way into the ship to search for Plan C, which Shin earlier explained was a next generation mobile suit development plan from just before the end of the war. In contrast to Plan A and Plan B, Plan C was meant to be a high capability suit that could change the tide of the war. Plan C was rejected by Zeon brass, but its creator, Dr. Q, continued development after the war. They enter an open area filled with mobile suit parts, and Shin explains that rather than being for mass production, multiple parts are being manufactured so that the best can go into a single mobile suit. Following an explosion, Dr. Q appears in a mobile suit covered in fog and states that he’s going to demonstrate its power. Dr. Q vows that he’s going to destroy the Republic of Zeon, so Johnny and Shin’s team opens fire on him. However, the Gelgoog beam rifles have no effect, and Dr. Q destroys one of the Gelgoogs. Johnny wonders how to fight since the suit is protected from beams and solid rounds. Dr. Q proclaims that his suit could’ve won the war if it hadn’t been rejected. He vows that after destroying the Republic, he’ll build a true Principality of Zeon. Johnny stops Shin from rushing in, and in response Dr. Q deploys multiple wired psycommu units. Johnny and Shin dodge the psycommu units, and Dr. Q blasts his way out of the ship and speeds off. Shin is upset that Johnny stopped him and thinks that he lacks what it takes to be a soldier. Dr. Q approaches Zeon airspace and laughs at the idea of it being protected by the Heavy Gundam and multiple GMs. He can’t stand the sight of EFF suits and fires a large beam blast at them. The Musai gives chase, and Johnny is informed that they have a prototype beam rifle and generator that a Zaku can use, but Shin points out that beams don’t work on this suit. Johnny explains that Dr. Q is surrounding himself with beam dispersion smoke, similar to the EFF’s Public ships during the war. Shin believes that the suit’s armor was built with Luna Titanium, which means only a high-powered beam can penetrate. Shin thinks they can use a bazooka explosion to temporarily disperse the cloud. Shin doesn’t want to give up the beam rifle and offers to draw straws, but Johnny punches him in the stomach and tells him he’s become too reckless. Dr. Q laughs as he destroys the Heavy Gundam, and he decides to name his suit the Perfect Zaku, which will create a perfect Zeon. Dr. Q prepares to target the colonies, but Johnny appears in his Zaku and challenges him. Dr. Q asks why another person of Zeon would obstruct him, and Johnny thinks about protecting Tiki. Shin joins the battle and fires both his bazookas at the Perfect Zaku, which creates the intended effect of dispersing the anti-beam cloud. Johnny charges in from the front as Dr. Q fires multiple beam weapons, but Johnny lands his shot and destroys the Perfect Zaku. Shin comments that Johnny isn’t so bad after all, and Johnny reminds Shin of his promise. Shin then aims his bazooka and fires. After returning to the ship, Shin is asked about Johnny and comments that he killed him. Later, Johnny returns to his home colony and is reunited with Tiki.
At this point, I’ve reviewed enough of Yuichi Hasegawa’s work that I don’t need to go into a long explanation about how I’m not at all a fan of his character or mobile suit designs. However, the writing is definitely lacking as well in this release. This story focuses on Johnny “Crimson Lightning” Ridden, one of many ace pilots created in the MSV design series in 1983. Most of these characters have never appeared in animation, but they have definitely popped up a lot in manga and video games over the years. This manga, not to be confused with the long-running MSV-R: The Return of Johnny Ridden, seeks to explain his backstory. The first segment, set during the One Year War, is amusing as a comedy tale about a skilled pilot who keeps trying to get shot down but instead keeps performing impressive feats. The second and third parts, set in UC 0082, are less interesting. Johnny working in Australia to atone for his participation in Operation British could be interesting, but it’s overshadowed by having to fight some Zeon remnants. Fellow MSV ace Shin Matsunaga recruits Johnny for a mission to protect the Zeon homeland, but this also proves less interesting than it should. Dr. Q is a pretty poor antagonist – just another one-dimensional madman who rants about creating his ideal Principality of Zeon. His overpowered Perfect Zaku just looks completely out of place in the post-One Year War era, and it seems like something you’d expect to see in Crossbone Gundam. Overall, if you’re interested in learning more about Johnny, I’d recommend instead the superior The Return of Johnny Ridden series.