Header Ads

Gundam Unicorn (2010-14)

The dawning of the Universal Century in UC0001 is marked by a set of political leaders signing a declaration that should, they hoped, mark a prolonged period of peace and prosperity for both Earth and space-based humans. Sadly this event was marred by a terrorist incident but nonetheless, humanity made it many years before descending into conflict once again.

It is now UC0096 and the people of Earth and the colonies are picking themselves up after the period of conflict they have had since the One Year War started in UC0079. There is relative peace with the Federation military addressing as best they can uprising and incidents from the remnants of the Zeon, Neo-Zeon and other sympathiser groups. On the colony Industrial 7, Banagher Links runs out of his studies in order to aid a girl he has never met before. This meeting with Audrey Burne takes him on a quest to find a seemingly powerful artefact called Laplace's Box where he will pilot a powerful mobile suit and cross swords with one of the most powerful figures of legend in the Universal Century.

Gundam Unicorn is the 27th (!!!!) instalment in in the Gundam franchise and the 12th in the Universal Century (UC) timeline. The story is told over seven feature-length episodes ranging from around 50 minutes per episode with a 90-minute finale. They were released between 2010 and 2014. Like all Gundam shows Unicorn was produced by Sunrise with the story written by Yasuyuki Muto from a manga and novel by Harutoshi Fukui. This was translated into a visual triumph by Kazuhiro Furuhashi who directed a team including Hajime Katoki on mechanical designs (who has previously worked on Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz and lots of Gundam model kits),  Yoshikazu Yasuhiko undertaking character designs and Hiroyuki Sawano producing delivering a wonderful soundtrack to accompany it all.

The events in Gundam Unicorn take place in the year UC0096, 16 years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam (the One Year War), 9 years after Zeta Gundam, 8 years after ZZ Gundam and finally 3 years after Char's Counterattack. I list them all as there are references and assumed knowledge from all of them peppered throughout Unicorn. Given the crises averted in previous instalments, you wouldn't be surprised to know that tensions still remain between the remnants of the Zeon forces and the Earth Federation forces.

Banahger Links is a typical 16-year-old. He spends time with his friends on Industrial 7 when he is not studying. A bit of a dreamer and perhaps more sensitive than his friends he notices things that his friends don't. For example, he sees *something* out there in space as if it was going on a test flight. Similarly, he sees that Audrey could do with some help to get her to where she needs to be. Audrey wants to get to the Vist Foundation to meet Cardius Vist. She wants to persuade him to not give over Laplace's Box to the Sleeves who may be affiliated in some way with Neo-Zeon. Her fear is that if this was delivered to the Sleeves then a new war will break out and that cycle will never end.

In the events that follow Banagher is thrust into the cockpit of the Unicorn, an experimental mobile suit and becomes its reluctant pilot. He was already familiar with piloting other, smaller, salvage suits but quickly, like all Gundam pilots, masters its controls. This Gundam is a bit different however in that he is in the only one who can pilot it and it will show the way to Laplace's Box to a true Newtype. Banagher's reluctance to take a life and his sensitivity to the people around him brings him into contact with all the players with an interest in retrieving, opening or destroying the box.

Throughout Gundam Unicorn are mentions, nods and winks to previous entries in the UC timeline. ZZ Gundams are now a part of standard-issue the Federation mobile suit force. Haro makes an appearance and the way in which they incorporated elements of the end of Zeta Gundam so wonderfully into the story are only a few of them. I really liked the museum at Anaheim Electronics early on. Perhaps the biggest nod, although as this is UC Gundam it is perhaps obligatory is the antagonist Full Frontal (yes, that is his name). The charismatic, skilled masked pilot of a red mobile suit he could be Char Aznable in every way. I was also really happy to see Captain Bright Noa making a return.

I really liked the visual elements of this show. I've mentioned before how much I like Yoshikazu Yasuhiko design work and find it to be instantly recognisable. It feels like there is an element of realism brought to his characters from their faces through to their bodies and there I get a sense of humanity from them. It's hard to explain but they look like they fit perfectly the role they play in the story but also feel like people you could pass in the street.

After watching a couple of episodes I *really* wanted some new model kits. The designs are superb. Hajime Katoki has done a masterful job of retaining the feel of the designs before and building on them for this show. The Federation suits, including the RX-0 Unicorn retain the strong linear features of the design before it. The Unicorn has its two modes and whilst I like its more classic-Gundam look with the V-shaped detail on the head and its face on display, it is quite distinctive with its single "horn" and a blank face. For the mechs of Neo-Zeon the wonderful flowing lines of the Zeon suits are still there with the Sinaju almost a blend of both design styles. They do however retain that red monocle on the helmet which still looks sinister.

With only seven episodes each instalment feels like an event and the production values are high. The character animation is really smooth and some of the rough-and-tumble through the city as Banagher assists Audrey feels lively and realistic. There is also a real stand-out moment at the end when the face of a stern character softens for a couple of seconds and then returns to normal. The change is only small but I imagine it was quite tricky to get the animation right. That said the mech-based animation quality in the early episodes was at times poorer than I'd hoped for. Some of the scenes lacked weight and therefore felt unconnected to the world. After a couple of episodes, this was sorted and the mech-based scenes shifted up a gear.

When the Unicorn went up against the Banshee/Lion in close combat you got the real sense that something otherworldly was going on from the colouring and the way they moved. When Full Frontal was in play in his Sinaju you could see he was a master of his craft. When all suits were engaged in a more ranged-combat, either with each other or the other factions it was a marvel of movement. Missiles, artillery, beam-weapons were employed as combatants dodged, weaved and charged. At times is was a bit confusing to figure out what was happening and only once the chaos passed did we see the aftermath, the destruction wrought.

With Newtypes featuring heavily in the story the way in which they incorporated that spiritual element onscreen was going to be interesting. Building on imagery used in earlier entries (notably Zeta and Counterattack) Kazuhiro Furuhashi uses a mixture of colour, shape, texture and the reaction of people to great effect.

Without a compelling story having pretty images and quality animation on display wouldn't really be enough. Unicorn felt like a much tighter, neater story than some of the other entries. At its core is the quest for Laplace's Box which propels the side stories of love, parenthood, taking a stand, making your own decisions, acceptance of yourself and fear of change or the unknown. It retained its view on war that unites all the franchises and weaves a tale full of hope and promise for the future. During the show, there are several exchanges between Captain Bright and other characters which at the time seem small but at the end really mattered for the story. He is one of the few reasonable adults in the show (he too has matured with time) and he stands up for the next generation, those the adults should be encouraging and passing the torch onto. I found the last episode quite moving.

Although incredibly visually appealing Gundam Unicorn is not the best place to jump into the franchise. With all the information out there with a bit of work the assumed knowledge could be filled from a story perspective but perhaps some of the visual references would be missed. I found a lot of pleasure in looking at the different design of machine and making links back to other series instalments, seeing how characters I had met before had changed or finding out who these new characters were and how they were related to ones I'd met before. For fans of the Universal Century, it brings much of what we are familiar with and the assumed prior knowledge means we have minimal explanation unless we need it and a single sentence can convey great meaning.

From the moment that Gundam Unicorn started I felt in safe hands. I trusted that the story would be solid, gripping and give me characters to get behind. Visually it fit perfectly within the aesthetic established in the Universal Century which gave me a comforting familiarity. It wasn't so much the mecha design work but more in the way the characters were drawn and how they moved. It was like I was visiting an old friend. The mecha design work is peppered with visual references back to previous instalments in the UC. The RX-0 Unicorn is a lovely piece of design work and is a wonderful contrasted against the Banshee/Lion and the Sinaju (and later Neo-Zong) of Full Frontal. The story is neatly contained in its running time, is tightly plotted, gives each thread time to be explored and woven into the main plot and it left me feeling upbeat as the credits rolled. Quite simply, it's brilliant.


IN A NUTSHELL:  For fans of the UC timeline, this is a must-see if not for the barnstorming animation and story, but for its uplifting message of hope for the future.