The Universal Century arrives on Netflix with a sorrowful bang. What lays locked within the Laplace Box?
Season Number: 1
Producer (s): Sunrise
Airdate: March 12, 2010 – June 6, 2014
Sub Version Available: Yes
Dub Version Available: Yes
Original Review Date: September 24, 2018
Gundam Unicorn is the 27th (depending on how you count it) entry into the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. If you exclude the MS Igloo OVA shorts, it’s the first return to the Universal Century timeline in 11 years since Gundam 8th MS Team back in 1999 as a standard OVA series. For those who don’t know, the Universal Century is the original timeline that started in Mobile Suit Gundam. Covering the One Year War between Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon, as well as all the subsequent wars and battles that occurred. It’s the most expansive of the Gundam timelines and includes; Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, 0080, 0083, 8th MS Team, Victory Gundam, G-Saviour, MS IGLOO, F91, and of course Gundam Unicorn. There is far too much to cover in a single recap but the broad strokes are that the Federation represents Earth, the Principality of Zeon represents the colonies, and both (along with numerous other factions) have been at war for years. Some factions being crushed as the wars and battles intensified. That is until a sort of peace was struck after Char’s Counterattack with the deaths of Amuro Ray & Char Aznable and deflection of the Axis Asteroid from its collision course with Earth.
For the sake of context, Gundam Unicorn happens three years after the events of Gundam Char’s Counterattack which ended the war between the Federation and Neo Zeon as well as being set 27 years before Gundam F91. With this in mind, the story focuses on a new set of characters. Namely Banagher Links, a student at the Anaheim Electronics Industrial College. The latest young Newtype (Newtypes, for lack of a better term, are space psychics) thrust into war as the pilot of the latest model Gundam. The RX-0 “Gundam Unicorn”. We are focusing on the 7 episode OVA that was recently added to Netflix. This is similar but different to the 22 episode anime which had changed some music and reanimated some scenes.
As with the rest of the Universal Century, war politics are very significant to the plot. Which is thought-provoking but confusing if you don’t know the history of the Universal Century. While they do provide you with recaps and thorough explanations of the points given, it still requires you to have some knowledge of the past series. While this can be interesting for the uninitiated, it is more likely going to be confusing, come off as a long exposition dump, or not have the same impact as if they had full context. The other returning staple of the Universal Century is showing how brutal and unfair war is. Something they do not even remotely shy away from with the numerous unrepentant deaths of named, unnamed, and civilian characters. But they’re never done in a way that desensitizes you for it. Rather, you either feel sad for the deaths or the situation that forced them to occur in the first place. They fully go in-depth with showing how different Banagher’s childlike naive and innocent mentality is in comparison to the adults jaded and realistic ones. Fully ensuring you know how neither side is 100% right or wrong and have valid points. But most importantly how both sides are and continue to do good and bad for their own respective causes they feel is right.
One of the greatest strengths for Gundam Unicorn is it’s callbacks to previous entries. Unfortunately, much of the plot hinges on this and it becomes a glaring weak point. Requiring you to have a basic knowledge of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Char’s Counterattack, and to a lesser extent ZZ Gundam to understand numerous points. As such, the politics that drive the story are also tied to these events. While they are hard to follow even for someone with that knowledge, they work hard to make sure you understand the past events. Thankfully, even without full context you can feel torn between which side you want to support. While you need the past to fully understand the scope of this story, the plot of Unicorn itself is original so you can use it as a jump on point.
Characters on both sides of the fence similarly are balanced between endearing and dislikable. Nobody is irredeemable and even the term “main antagonist” doesn’t properly apply to any one character. Everything is a shade of grey so good and evil is blurred to the point of being indistinguishable. You fully understand why they’re all doing what they’re doing or feel what they feel. Which makes it all the more clear and painful why one can’t do the “right thing” even if they wanted to.
The art is a stellar mix of hand drawn and CG art. Character design and art direction calling back to the classic Universal Century art style which has an 80s vibe to it. Unlike the sleek, smooth, and super anime Gundam 00 or Gundam Seed; hair is back to being big, poofy, and back to being normal human colors. The styles have been updated to show the progression of time since the previous Gundam entries. This is most easily seen in the clothes which still remains simplistic, but show hints of more elaborate details and diverse design types. Different accents, combinations of jackets and hoodies, and layering serving to make them are a far cry from the super simple designs of Amuro (Gundam), Kamille (Zeta Gundam), and Judau (ZZ Gundam). Older designs, like the Federation uniforms, have gotten aesthetic updates while keeping almost all of its original design. Giving us a mix of new with hints of the old. Proportions remain realistic as well to help fit the realistic and serious tone and no two characters are drawn the same.
Numerous old model Mobile Suits return, as well as new one upgraded versions or ones that call back to old ones such as Marida Cruz’s Kshatriya being a visual update and call back to Ple Two’s Quin Mantha (Both displayed above). Like previous Universal Century Gundams, the color palette is a bit toned down which gives it a much more dramatic atmosphere despite the colors being very solid and well done. Animations are also top notch and only uses the bare minimum of CG Art during the fight scenes. Allowing them to maintain their flow and pace without sudden jarring uncanny valley moments being a frequent occurrence. The music has an orchestral feel to make the battles feel that much more epic. Yet at the same time providing the somber tone required to make a scene have extra impact. But beyond the return of a new arrangement for one iconic theme I won’t spoil in the final episode, they aren’t particularly memorable. As an OVA, it doesn’t have an opening theme. Instead, each episode has its own unique.
As a longtime fan of Gundam (even one who’s horribly behind on watching its most recent entries) this is a welcome entry to the franchise. Its mix of new and old characters give something for both new and returning fans alike. Unfortunately, it has a considerable barrier to entry so be prepared for some confusion and complex concepts being thrown at you rapid fire. If you aren’t ready to use your mind and are just in it for the action you should probably go elsewhere. The action is great but it’s nowhere near the main focus of the story. Gundam Unicorn as a series brings to mind a line from Lalah Sune, one of the most important characters in the Universal Century. “If we met sooner maybe we could’ve been friends.” There are no winners in war, only survivors to the all-consuming tragedy. Cursed to repeat the cycle till nothing is left…