Manga: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Astray aka: Gundam SEED Astray
A series of manga that mostly take place just behind, and a little to the left, of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED.Lowe Gear is a member of the Junk Guild, an organization of mechanics and salvage experts that usually retrieve and recycle space debris, and resell it for (hopefully) a profit. Or keep them for personal use if they're cool enough. Lowe and his friends show up at the space colony Heliopolis (Kira Yamato's Doomed Hometown) shortly after the Archangel's escape. Searching through the ruins for survivors or anything of value, they come across a pair of Gundams, one red, and the other blue, that were somehow missed in all the commotion before. But before they can capitalize on their find, they are attacked by the Serpent Tail, a group of mercenaries hired to keep the Astray Project a secret. Lowe faces off against Gai Murakumo, the leader of the Serpent Tail, until the mercs themselves are double-crossed by their employers, who count them among the witnesses they don't want. Gai takes the Blue Frame and uses it to take care of their erstwhile employers, before Lowe shows up with the Red Frame to make sure he doesn't try the same to his friends. The two groups depart with their new respective mobile suits.The story continues with the various adventures of Lowe and his friends, fleshing out the Gundam SEED universe, often preceding or following up on events in the series, and fixing a few plot holes along the way For example, it's Lowe who saves Kira after he's nearly killed by the self-destructing Aegis Gundam. They often meet or clash with the Serpent Tail from time to time, and seem to run into a lot of people with an unhealthy interest in the Astrays, such as Rondo Ghina Sahaku, who had them built in the first place, and still owns the third Astray, Gold Frame.Gundam SEED Astray R is the sister series to Astray by a different author, and more or less runs concurrently with the original. Both comics reference each other regularly. A photonovel, Astray B, was also written. Astray R focuses specifically on Lowe's adventures, while Astray B focuses on Gai; the letters refer to their respective Astray Gundams, Red Frame and Blue Frame.Another similar series, Gundam SEED X Astray, takes place roughly during a short Time Skip in episode 47 of Gundam SEED, and features Canard Pars, a "failed" experiment in the same "Ultimate Coordinator" program that spawned SEED protagonist Kira Yamato. He wishes to prove that he's not a failure by defeating Kira and the Strike Gundam, but first runs into our Junk Guild and Serpent Tail heroes, and promptly attacks them, seeing as they have Gundams in their possession. During this, both teams come across Prayer Revierie, a young boy with a Mobile Suit that contains both a nuclear reactor, and a device known as a Neutron Jammer Canceller, which would allow said reactor to work. When Canard finds out about Prayer's N-Jammer Canceller, he naturally wants it to give his Hyperion Gundam the power to face Kira head on (as by this point Kira has upgraded to the nuclear-powered Freedom Gundam).The next in the Astray series is Gundam SEED DESTINY Astray, which features the reporter Jess Rabble, who is assigned to check out reports of a ZAFT Superweapon. It turns out to be none other than Lowe and crew, who are using the spoils of a battle in R to head out to Mars. Unfortunately, Jess' Mobile Suit is wrecked before things are straightened out, so before he leaves, Lowe gives him the Astray Out Frame, a mech he found in the base and fixed up. As the Junk Guild crew heads out to space, the story follows Jess as he views the events in and around the Second Bloody Valentine War through very large camera lenses. It also introduces the mercenary Kaite Madigan, who sometimes acts as a bodyguard to Jess. After going through a succession of customized mobile suits, Kaite eventually acquires Out Frame's nuclear-powered sister unit, the Testament Gundam.DESTINY Astray also has its own side story, a one-shot chapter following Rondo Mina Sahaku (Rondo Ghina's not-so-evil twin sister), which mainly serves to show off Gold Frame's latest upgrade (which may or may not have the longest name in Gundam history).This is followed up by DELTA Astray, a story of Martian colonists chased by the protagonist of STARGAZER (before the events of STARGAZER). Then FRAME Astray, which focuses on Gai and the Serpent Tail during the events of the SEED TV series, between their appearances in earlier Astray series.After that came VS Astray, centering on a new antagonistic faction called Librarian that makes use of "Carbon Humans", pseudo-clones made by injecting people with genetic material from others, and having them pilot copies of past mobile suits. Because the series received a huge marketing blitz mostly centered around recolored and only barely changed versions of existing model kits, fans are decrying this one as Merchandise-Driven (even moreso than the norm for Gundam) drivel.Finally, Destiny Astray R and Destiny Astray B are coming along as the newest entries, covering short stories from the Destiny part of the series.Both Astray and X Astray made it into Super Robot Wars W alongside SEED. In fact, Astray's storyline makes up the greater content of SEED material in the story.Character page under construction here.This series contains examples of:
Ace Custom: The Red, Blue, and Gold Astray Frames are all extremely heavily modified by their pilots, repeatedly, over the course of the series. This is best shown when the fourth Frame, Green Frame, showed up in FRAME Astray against Serpent Tail and got demolished, since it was still just a vanilla Astray unit except for its green coloration.
Armed Legs: Blue Frame Second mounts knife blades in its toes and heels.
Artistic License - Physics: The Delta Astray uses rocket engines for standard maneuvering and the Voiture Lumiere solar sail system for rapid acceleration and extreme maneuverability. Solar sails can push a spacecraft to higher velocities than rockets...eventually. In terms of Super Mode style acceleration, however, they're the last thing you want to go to.
Also, the Powered Red represents a particularly suspension of disbelief-obliterating example. It's supposed to be able to swing a 150 meter katana, far larger and denser than itself. It is said to be designed to have enough strength to do this, when the real problem is not strength but thrust. Trying to swing such a massive weapon in space would only result in the Powered Red swinging itself because it has nothing to push off of and its thrust capacity wasn't upgraded. Never mind the mockery it makes of the square-cube law. Even scaling a katana up to mobile suit size was supposed to be difficult. Making one 20 times longer should be impossible if the tech had any internal consistency.
Awesome yet Practical: Red Frame Kai's Tactical Arms IIL can change into "Work Mode", a giant claw which Lowe uses for salvage work. The weapon mounts a beam torch gun which Red Frame hand-wields during Work Mode.
BFS: In ascending order: Gerbera Straight, and its partner Tiger Pierce, Sword Calamity Gundam, the many Tactical Arms' Sword Modes, and the Gerbera Straight II. That last one is 150 meter long(!) and is on one occasion used to skewer a battleship..
Blind Without 'Em: Riika Sheder in DESTINY Astray is literally blind without her cybernetic "glasses". With them she's an ace pilot.
Broken Pedestal: To a point. As it turns out, George Glenn is shown to be the rather silly, light-hearted person he was in life rather than the larger-than-life figure his Coordinator successors make him out to be. He even lampshades this trope.
The ReHOME actually makes a cameo appearance in episode 47 of SEED.
Cloning Blues: Prayer is said to be a clone of a pilot from the Moebius Zero corps; Vs Astray's enemy faction Library is full of "Carbon Humans", people injected with DNA from others making them pseudo-clones. An aged-up Prayer appears (even though he's supposed to already be dead by that point), looking like a poofier-haired Mu La Flaga, ending the mystery of his genetic source material.
VS Astray centers around the concept of Carbon Humans, people who are almost-but-not-quite clones ("carbon" as in "carbon copy"). However, there are two more direct examples: Lily Thevalley, pilot of the Nero Blitz, is actually several clones piloting identical Gundams, using their cloaking systems to make enemies think it's one machine that can teleport. ND-HE (No Data High Error), pilot of the Gale Strike, was implied to be a clone of Kira Yamato, only for a late chapter to reveal he's in fact a clone of Astray's own Gai Murakumo.
Commonplace Rare: The Strike Gundam from the original SEED was originally a Super Prototype; Astray introduces its successor model, the Strike Enhanced (Strike E), which is used as an uncommon elite unit by the EA. The Strike Noir from Gundam SEED CE 73 Stargazer is also of this type (Strike E + Noir Striker Pack).
Rondo Ghina Sahaku, so much that the Tokyopop translation of the manga has erroneously referred to him as a lady.
Expy: As soon as Lily Thevalley was revealed in VS Astray, fans started declaring her an Expy of Elpe Puru. Turns out they were spot-on, since there are a double handful of Lily clones running around, and one ends up being taken in by the Junk Guild, just as Puru was by Judau and the Shangrila kids.
Fragile Speedster: Astray Gundams use a foam metal composite for armor material which is nowhere as durable as SEED PS armor but much lighter.
Humans Are Bastards: Kaite Madigan was abandoned by his parents because his genetic modifications didn't come out as they intended. What's his "defect", you ask? His hair is two-toned (blond and black). There's an entire mercenary organization, Circus, dedicated to taking in such abandoned Coordinators.
Ill Girl: Prayer, a rare male example. Speculated to be another Al Da Flaga clone or even a, however unlikely, Mu La Flaga clone
Insistent Terminology: In Destiny Astray R, Lowe invents the Caletvwlch, which he insists is a multi-purpose cutting and welding tool and not a weapon...despite the fact that it takes the form of a sword and is named after a legendary sword. When asked, he explains that there are limiters in place to keep it from being used as a weapon; if someone disables those limiters, they're taking responsibility for its use after that point.
It Was a Gift: Elijah Kiel hangs onto his custom GINN long past the point of obsolescence because it uses parts from his dead friend Goud Veir's custom GINN, given to Elijah just before he had to be put down. This also serves to explain its unusual half-blue-and-red paint job. Eventually Kaite Maddigan destroys the GINN in a Let's You and Him Fight situation and gives Elijah a custom ZAKU as an apology.
Jerk Ass: Agnes Brahe from DELTA Astray: very Hot-Blooded, looks down on Earthlings and has little tolerance for those who don't share his points of view.
Katanas Are Just Better: Arguably justified; the Gerbera Straight has no power requirements, which is especially important since a vast majority of Cosmic Era MS use batteries rather than fusion reactors.
It's a double-edged sword (no pun intended). The katana is the power saver, while the beam saber is better for penetrating armor.
In addition to the Gerbera Straight, there's the Tiger Pierce (its wakizashi partner, used by Un'no's GINN until Lowe reclaims it), the Gerbera Straight Vol.2 (the 150-meter version), the Vertical Edges (the katana wielded by Mars Jacket), and the Ame-no-Habakiri (a copy of the GS wielded by Mirage Frame).
A downright ridiculous example happens in Astray R, wherein swordmaster Un No pulls a super-fine Clean Cut through the barrel of a mobile suit's beam rifle with his hand held katana. A normal, human-wielded katana cutting through a Humongous Mecha-wielded rifle, with no justification other than the implication that yes, katanas really are just that sharp...and he does it twice.
Knife Nut: Gai's preferred melee weapon is the Armor Schneider combat knife first introduced on the Strike Gundam; he eventually installs such blades in Blue Frame's legs and feet. Canard's Hyperion uses beam knives as its melee weapon, and has a grand total of five so it can throw them if need be.
Lighter and Softer: At least the stories revolving on Lowe's team, and comparing it to the main series. There are still the sad fatalities of war, but the major lowering of the kill-rate (particularly thanks to Lowe and Co.'s aversion to killing) along with Lowe and his group's hijinks and eccentricities keep their stories from brooding so much. Some of the mangas even have comic strips at the end of each issue focusing and exaggerating on these lighter aspects of the stories. Gai and his group practically carry the major bulk of the seriousness of the conflicts.
Brought back in force in Destiny Astray R, where Lowe's main antagonist is a DandyUnknown Rival; quite a change after having him deal with people like the psychopathic Ash Grey.
Astray Out Frame is probably the universal champion of Mecha Expansion Packs. Originally designed with mounting points for the Alliance's Striker Packs (employed by the Strike Gundam and its descendants), Lowe later builds a "Multi-Striker" that allows it to equip the ZAFT's Silhouettes (for the Impulse Gundam) and Wizards (for the ZAKU and DOM). That's about two dozen options if you include the anime, sidestories, and MSVs.
Meta Mecha: In order to handle the 150-meter Gerbera Straight II, Lowe builds a Power Loader reminiscent of Aliens, which Red Frame itself docks with. Regenerate Gundam one-shots the Power Loader, which leads Lowe to create the Powered Red.
Palette Swap: Frame Astrays and VS Astray got flak for discontinuing the Astray tradition of awesome new mobile suits in favor of taking stuff from the SEED anime and slapping on a new color scheme (and, in the case of VS, giving it Striker Pack capability).
The original Astrays started out as palette swaps of each other (Red, Blue and Gold Frames were externally distinguishable only by color), but soon got customized in radically different directions.
Psychic Powers: People said in-series to have heightened spacial awareness actually have these. While the SEED anime keeps this it somewhat ambiguous, by the end of X Astray it's obvious that Prayer Reverie and those like him are Newtypes by another name.
Rule of Cool: Destiny Astray R outright says that Junkers prefer the machines they make to be functional and cool. At one point Lowe elects to use his new Draig Head to illuminate a dark area because it's cooler, and his intelligent computer 8 concedes the point.
Split Personality: Goud Vair from Astray, R, and B, a gentle man who goes psychotic when he hears loud noises (and thus tends to listen to relaxing music all the time to prevent this). VS Astray introduces Lily Thevalley, a Carbon Human made with genetic material from several Ace Pilots; this is best illustrated by a title page showing all her clones, each with a different emotion showing on its face.
Swiss-Army Weapon: The Tactical Arms backpacks, seen with Blue Frame Second L and later Red Frame Kai. Blue's changes between Flight, Sword, and Gatling Forms (with the later Tactical Arms II gaining the ability to pull the Gatling and the sword blades off the backpack and use them independently). Red Frame Kai's Tatical Arms II L has Flight, Delta, V, Sword, Arrow, and Work Forms.
Technical Pacifist: Lowe; to quote the man himself, "Don't worry, I'm a Junk Tech; I don't kill."
Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Hyperion's Beam Knife/Bayonets. It's actually given five of them specifically so this can be a viable tactic. Lowe does it with the 150-meter Gerbera Straight.
Token Evil Teammate: Rondo Mina Sehaku in later stories, most notably Destiny Astray. She obviously hates Lowe and wants revenge for the death of her brother, but frequently works with him if only because of similar objectives. She seems to get less evil over the course of the series, and never was as crazy as her brother, though. After X Astray, Canard Pars plays a similar, if toned-down, role.
The Unfavorite: Canard Pars is a product of the same Ultimate Coordinator project as Kira Yamato, but is considered a "failed specimen". His primary motivation in X Astray is getting an MS powerful enough to challenge the Freedom, then defeating Kira to prove that he's the superior one. Eventually Canard gets over it and mellows out.
Warts and All: A less negative example than usual: Kisato is a huge George Glenn fangirl; thanks to the Brain Uploading, she gets to meet the man himself, and is greatly upset that he's light-hearted and goofy rather than the larger-than-life figure she came to admire. George asks her to give him another chance, saying that other people were the ones who built him up as an idol when he's only human. She agrees, but is still put off by his silliness.