Ultimate Mark

Column One:
Musai's Discrepancy
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Welcome, gentle reader, to the first in a series of occasional columns focusing on obscure aspects of the Mobile Suit Gundam saga. In addition to delving into technical trivia and dubious speculation, these columns should also provide a pretext for yours truly to turn out some loosely related doodles and artwork...

For our first installment, we'll consider the venerable Musai. This space cruiser, the second vessel ever to appear in the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, serves as the backbone of the nefarious Principality of Zeon's space fleet. Designed in year 0075 of the Universal Century - four years before the outbreak of the One Year War and the start of the TV series - and produced in parallel with the MS-05 Zaku I, the Musai was the first space warship ever designed to carry mobile suits.

An overview of the standard Musai-class space cruiser, with MS-06 Zaku II for scale. The ship itself is 234 meters long, with a large forward section that accounts for 60% of its length. Based on measurements from line art and model kits, the mobile suit hangar is roughly 40 meters long and 16 meters high, and varies in width between roughly 12 and 24 meters.

Although it was designed as a mobile suit carrier, the Musai's storage facilities are cramped and crude compared to those of later vessels. The TV series indicates that it can hold at least five mobile suits (1), including two in the Komusai shuttle in the ship's prow (2). The primary storage area is the hexagonal hangar beneath the bridge, which as far as I can tell isn't even high enough for a Zaku to stand upright - in fact, in the upcoming Musai replica designed to house Bandai's 1/400 scale Gundam Collection figures, this hangar has been visibly stretched to fit the standing figures. Clearly there's a space issue here.

How much room does a Zaku take up anyway? Sounds like a good pretext for another picture. My longtime readers will note a change in perspective here - I'm playing around with low-angle views which, I've decided, better capture the fact that these are six-story giant robots rather than human-scale characters. Here we see the MS-06S Zaku II, a commander's variant used by Lt. Commander Char Aznable and other ace pilots. (I guess I figured it would be a waste not to add the command antenna while I was at it.) At any rate, the Zaku II stands 17.5 meters tall - plus antenna - and, based on measurements from the model kits, is roughly 10 meters across the shoulders and 6 meters from front to back.

For the sake of argument, let's say I'm right about the hangar's low ceiling, and assume that a Zaku can at best crouch inside it prior to stepping out into space. In this case the best way to cram three Zakus inside this hangar is to lay them horizontally. This actually seems to be the standard practice with Zeon ships (3), and the known exceptions are either vessels designed for use in Earth's gravity (4) or antique ships like the Chivvay which store their mobile suits in a glorified cargo bay rather than having dedicated launching facilities. There are several possible arrangements - the mobile suits could be stacked atop each other, or housed in a rotating chamber which shoots them out like revolver bullets - but I think the most space-efficient option is a a triangular layout, with the mobile suits stored on alternating faces of the hexagonal hangar.

Artist's conception of Musai hangar deck, with launch catapult shamelessly borrowed from Gundam 0083's Musai variant.

In this design, the mobile suits are attached to storage pallets, which slide along catapult tracks as per Gundam 0083. I've placed these on the upper left and right sides of the hangar, with a third track on the floor, these being the widest of the hexagon's six faces. This arrangement also permits free access to the three entry ports on each side of the hangar, and matches the catapult placement indicated by the TV series animation (5).

Komusai shuttle, partially deployed so as to allow access to mobile suits via its upper hatch.

While the Musai's main hangar houses the three mobile suits in active service, the Komusai shuttle in the ship's prow can store up to two spare Zakus for use in emergencies. Although we usually see mobile suits entering and exiting via the hatches on the Komusai's underside, the shuttle is stored upside down inside the prow. Thus, I've added a top hatch which allows access to the Komusai's cargo once the shuttle has slid slightly forward on its launch track. (A similar top hatch can be seen in the Komusai which picks up the stolen Gundam GP02A in Gundam 0083.)

Three mobile suits in the trunk, two under the hood... this arrangement works out pretty well for the classic Zaku II. But what about the MS-R09 Rick Dom, its successor as Zeon's standard space mobile suit? This heavy mobile suit is far bulkier, as the picture here - in scale with the Zaku above - should indicate. Measurements from the model kits indicate that the Rick Dom is roughly 12 meters across the shoulders and 10 meters front to back, which means there's no way we can fit three of them into the Musai's itty bitty hangar deck.

At this juncture, I'd like to direct your attention to an apparent animation quirk in the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. When the White Base returns to space after its Earth adventures, it's intercepted by a squadron of Musai cruisers which sport two gun turrets each instead of the traditional three (6). Might these two-turret Musais be remodeled inside as well as out - say, with two heavy mobile suit pallets in their hangars, instead of three standard-sized ones? After all, this squadron consists of three cruisers and six Rick Doms, an average of two mobile suits per ship instead of the traditional three. At any rate, the two-turret Musai and its complement of Rick Doms become the standard for the remainder of the TV series (7).

Such an arrangement would make for an elegant transition to the upgraded "late model" Musai cruiser seen in Gundam 0083. The extra-wide hangar of the Gundam 0083 version, which contains four mobile suit pallets - two on the ceiling, two on the floor - would thus essentially be a pair of two-turret Musai hangars fused together. The Gundam 0083 Komusai, which holds a single heavy mobile suit (the Gundam GP02A) instead of two regular-sized ones, is also presumably based on that of the two-turret Musai. Or, in summary...

Musai version Hangar capacity Komusai capacity Total capacity
Three-turret 3 standard MS 2 standard MS 5 standard MS
Two-turret 2 heavy MS 1 heavy MS 3 heavy MS
Gundam 0083 4 heavy MS 1 heavy MS 5 heavy MS

And thus concludes our discourse on the Musai and its mysterious carrying capacity. Thanks for your attention, and we'll see you all next time!


(1) In Mobile Suit Gundam episode 2, Char Aznable comments that he's lost three Zakus during his current mission, and at that point he still has two left.

(2) In Mobile Suit Gundam episode 7, we see two mobile suit bays on the Komusai's underside. So Char actually did have a plan for rescuing his wingman during re-entry...

(3) Examples of Zeon ships which store their mobile suits horizontally include the Musai variant in Gundam 0083, the Tivvay-class Graf Zeppelin in Gundam 0080, and the Papua-class supply ship in Mobile Suit Gundam.

(4) One obvious example is the Zanzibar-class mobile cruiser seen in Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam 0083. The Gwazine-class battleship, by some accounts, was also designed to fly in Earth's atmosphere but proved incapable of surviving re-entry.

(5) In Mobile Suit Gundam episode 2, when Char's unmanned Zaku is launched by catapult from the hangar of his Musai, it appears to be lying face-down on the hangar floor. The same is true of the replacement Zakus deployed by a Papua-class supply ship the following episode. I've turned them face-up in my design so that the pilots can get in.

(6) This is the Camel Squadron commanded by Char's former aide Dren, which appears in Mobile Suit Gundam episode 32 - or episode 31 in the U.S. release - and at the start of the Gundam III movie.

(7) I can think of only one exception. The force which Kycilia Zabi leads through Federation lines in Mobile Suit Gundam episode 41 - or episode 40 in the U.S. release - appears to include a few three-turret Musai cruisers, though the animation is somewhat inconsistent on this point.