“Some moments are nice, some are nicer, some are even worth writing about.” ― Charles Bukowski, War All the Time
“Magic moments” in anime are loosely defined as an event or moment in an anime that succeed in convincing the audience to continue watching. Their delivery, style and even presence vary from anime to anime, with some shows presenting their moments within the first few minutes of the episode, while others may field theirs in the middle of or even the end of their run. In the case of Gundam Unicorn, their magic moment comes around six minutes into the first episode, when the Kshatriya engages a squadron of Federation Jegans. Two of the standard-type Jegans are annihilated by the Kshatriya’s funnels seconds into combat, but the Stark Jegan puts up a phenomenal fight. Cinematography depicts the pilot arming his shoulder-fired missiles, the Jegan’s displays tracking the Kshatriya’s funnels and the intricate keystrokes on his touch screen and joysticks required to purge his armour as he closes the distance between himself and the Kshatriya. Long range munitions are expended, and beam sabres are brought out as both mobile suits fight a close-quarters battle, making use of their thrusters to manoeuvre into position. Despite lasting around ninety seconds, this first fight in Gundam Unicorn set the stage for the remainder of the OVA: previously mobile suits in other universes (say, Gundam 00) were generally depicted as nimble craft that moved with the same fluidity as a human. However, Gundam Unicorn chose to depict mobile suits as powerful, but heavy and somewhat cumbersome in combat. Though they are able to mimic human movements by means of an AMBAC system, they nonetheless conform with what is reasonable within the bounds of physical laws. Things like acceleration and deceleration are carefully animated. This is especially noticeable when the Kshatriya makes use of its verniers to slow down and avoid the massive blast radius from one of the Stark Jegan’s missiles. Inertia is also visible when her body is thrown forward from the deceleration.
- The first weekend of September, I finally got around to building the HGUC 1.144 Stark Jegan that one of my friends had gifted me for my birthday. It was also a fine opportunity to try out the cutters I’d gotten, and they work very nicely. Although the straight-built will require some paint and panel-lining to resemble its anime counterpart, it’s a solid model.
- It’s been some five-and-a-half-years since I saw this opening scene, and it still manages to impress me in full. Coupled with my construction of the HGUC Stark Jegan, I wondered what it was about this particular moment that convinced me to view Gundam Unicorn as being unlike any other anime I’d seen up until that point. Eventually, it fit together: there were two aspects, and the first had been the incredible, but subtle display of physics as the Stark Jegan and Kshatriya clashed.
- The second element was watching the pilot manipulate different buttons and elements on his touch screen in the cockpit as he switched weapons and dumped his armour to take on Marida in a one-on-one battle. I absolutely loved watching the perfectly spherical explosions from the Stark Jegan’s missiles, which reflect the idea that without an atmosphere, explosions in space are indeed spherical.
- Quite recently, I’ve also had the chance to finish Mark Greany’s Full Force and Effect, and alongside that, took a look over the Gundam Unicorn light novel. In general, light novels are not particularly fun to read (OreGairu, OreImo and Haganai seem to be fine examples of light novels that start strong and weaken as time wears on), but the Gundam Unicorn light novel feels different. Though lacking the same finesse as a Tom Clancy novel, Gundam Unicorn‘s light novel does pay attention to some of the technical details, and similar to Tom Clancy, does take the time to explain some of the aspects that readers might not be familiar with.
- The engagement between the Stark Jegan and Kshatriya was written from Marida’s perspective in the light novels, although one must wonder what things were like from the Stark Jegan pilot’s perspective. The only clue from the official documentation state that he’s a veteran of the Second Neo Zeon War (the events of Char’s Counterattack). Quite personally, it would be fun to read a Gundam Unicorn novel penned by Mark Greany; having finished Full Force and Effect, it’s clear that Greany is able to continue the Jack Ryan Junior series in Tom Clancy’s stead.
Even though the brass emphasised that this was to be an important mission, Mike “Frost” Wilkins was at ease in the cockpit of his RGM-89S Stark Jegan. Standing at 19.2 meters in height, the Stark Jegan had been conceived as a mobile suit for special operations. When operating without additional equipment such as its armour plating or armaments, the Stark Jegan weighs only 28.2 metric tons. Its propulsion system affords the suit a total thrust of 76600 kilograms, allowing it to manoeuvre even when fully outfitted with anti-ship weaponry, and today, Frost carried an 380 mm hyper-bazooka, as well as six anti-ship missiles mounted in special launchers on the Stark Jegan’s shoulders. Today’s assignment would be straightforward, and Frost knew that he would have no trouble with this search-and-destroy mission in his upgraded Jegan.
A warning tone notified Frost that a smaller thermal signature had split off from their target; Frost knew that this would have to be a mobile suit. The Neo Zeon remnants, better known as the “Sleeves”, were not known for following the terms of a Treaty, and consequently, would have been unlikely to conform with a boarding request. So, instead of trying to board the Sleeves’ freighter, the brass agreed that intercepting it would be the only option. Easing the Stark Jeagan’s throttle upwards, Frost discarded his Geta and activated the master arm to his weapons. A voice cracked in his ear from the ACO.
“Magic Four-One, Bigeye. Single bogey at oh-nine-four, seven-zero klicks. Continue with mission, how copy?”
“Magic Four-One, copy”, Frost responded. Magic Four-Two and Four-Three had broken off to engage the unknown mobile suit. The HUD flashed ominously in red, and his warning system alerted him to a new threat. The unknown had fired what appeared to be missiles, and a glance at the Stark Jegan’s HUD indicated that their time-to-target was six seconds. The missiles streaked past him, and he heard clipped “Going defensive!” from Magic Four-Three. Seconds later, Four-Three’s Jegan had disappeared behind a nuclear fireball. Flashes of laser light told Frost that these “missiles” were, in fact, funnels, weapons that were controlled by a psycommu. In effect, these are remotely-controlled rifles that could take instructions from the operator’s thoughts and convert them into machine instructions. While powerful, and immune to the Minovsky effect, not all pilots could wield them. Magic Four-Two was faring a little better: his beam rifle had been destroyed, and he was engaging the funnels using his Jegan’s 60 mm Vulcan. The chaos of this close-quarters battle meant that each of the pilot’s rounds missed the funnels, and laser fire tore into the remaining Jegan before it too was enveloped by a violet fireball. So much for their original mission.
“Bigeye, Magic Four-One. Magic Four-Two and Four-Three are down. Requesting permission to engage.”
By this point in the game, it no longer mattered if someone hundreds of kilometers away gave him the authorisation to fire: this was now a matter of life and death, and Frost did not fancy being blown out of the sky by a Neo Zeon. He pulled the Stark Jegan into a roll and acquired a lock with his hyper-bazooka as the stars wheeled around him, barely hearing the ACO’s “cleared to engage”. The enemy suit’s funnels were still making their way to his position, and for a few more seconds, would remain open. As the 380mm round left the hyper-bazooka, the green mobile suit suddenly decelerated, narrowly avoiding the spray of particle beams. Frost then switched over to his shoulder-mounted missile tubes. Each missile could melt through the armour of an Endra-class cruiser, and Frost hoped that their combined blast radii would be enough to knock out the green mobile suit. However, the other pilot clearly had tricks of their own, and dodged the oncoming fire. The warning indicators showed that funnels were tracking him, and with his armaments expended, the additional mass of the launchers would impede his ability to manoeuvre.
Setting his sensors to ignore the remaining funnels, Frost keyed in the commands to purge his extra armour, and moments later, his Stark Jegan was twenty tons lighter. Unable to compensate for the change in their target’s acceleration, the funnels discharged harmlessly behind Frost. It was time to get into melee range, he thought. He drew the Stark Jegan’s beam sabre, and charged towards the green mobile suit, which had pulled its own sword. However, both suits had accumulated a great deal of forward momentum in their rush to impale the other, and both dealt the other a glancing blow that was parried, so both pilots had no choice but to continue flying, then loop around for another strike. This was a mainstay of engagements between mobile suits: once the long range munitions were expended, mobile suits typically closed the gap and engaged one another in single combat with beam sabres. The lack of air resistance and gravity in space means that thruster exhaust is ordinarily required to change a mobile suit’s inertia. To enhance each mobile suit’s manoeuvrability, mobile suits are also equipped with the Active Mass Balance Control (AMBAC) system to, in effect, make use of Newton’s Third Law to finely control a mobile suit’s limbs and ultimately, direction.
Frost and the green mobile suit continued to exchange blows, parrying each of the enemy’s strikes with his own. He was able to briefly overpower it and created an opening, driving his sabre forwards at the green mobile suit’s chest. It would be an easy kill, but at the last second, the massive wings on the green suit faced him and fired its thrusters, pushing Frost backwards. A green light filled his cockpit.
As the Kshatriya’s beam sabre melted through the Stark Jegan’s torso like a hot knife through butter, its pilot died instantly. Pieces of molten titanium-ceramic armour littered the battlefield, and sparks shot from the halves of the now-destroyed mobile suit. The beam sabre had not cut through the reactor, and so, there was no ensuing nuclear explosion. Its mission complete, the Kshatriya’s pilot recalled its funnels and began a trajectory back to the Sleeves’ freighter, leaving behind the wreckage of the Stark Jegan to float in the blackness of space.
- The sheer attention to detail in things like the HUDs and screens subsequently set the tone for the remainder of Gundam Unicorn, which is packed to the brim with technical details. Later episodes bring out elements such as watching device drivers load for the Unicorn after it commandeers a beam Gatling gun during its escape from Palau, and in Gundam The Origin, the same high-resolution displays make an appearance.
- The namesake of this post does actually come down to this one single moment, during which the Stark Jegan’s pilot performs a complicated bit of input to purge his armour. The proficiency through which this is carried out reflects on the pilot’s skill and training, so one of my friends remarked that this was the equivalent of über-micro in Gundam Unicorn, and would make a fine visual representation of what über-micro might look like outside of something outside of Pure Pwnage.
- Whereas in other universes, where technically capable mass production suits stand still and are blasted to shreds (like in Gundam SEED and even Gundam 00), Gundam Unicorn‘s unnamed mass production pilots do put up a reasonable fight against one another for the most part. Watching such pilots hold out against named characters suggest a universe where the conventional armed forces are competent to a degree.
- Beam sabre clashes in other universes feel much more nimble and agile, with mobile suits flying as fluidly as two dancers on a stage. In Gundam Unicorn, though, the mobile suits feel far heavier, depending on their verniers to manoeuver into position and aim for their targets. This first confrontation visibly demonstrates some of the attention to physics interactions, and as icing on the cake, when sabres clash, they emit a humming sound that is not unlike that of the lighsabres from Star Wars.
- Despite putting on an excellent fight, the nature of Gundam Unicorn (specifically in reference to how the plot progresses) means that in a confrontation between Marida Cruz and the unnamed Federation pilot, Marida will come out on top. It attests to the anime’s strengths that they are able to keep the audiences guessing right up until the fight is over. With yet another somewhat unexpected post now over, I will aim to push out a short talk on Glasslip‘s opening soon, and return before the month is out to publish a final impressions post for Non Non Biyori Repeat.
Coupled with the constant closeups of the Stark Jegan pilot’s actions during the sequence, Gundam Unicorn succeeds in illustrating the intricacies of mobile suit combat; more than a mere sword fight with mechanised weapons, the operation of a mobile suit is an elegant dance between pilot and hardware, as well as between the mobile suits themselves. Very few universes pay such close detail to the weapons and their operators, let alone present mobile suits in a more plausible light. Consequently, when all of these elements come together, the first battle of Gundam Unicorn does more than just depict a fantastic fight between Marida and an unnamed Federation pilot: it sets the tone for a large majority of the remainder of Gundam Unicorn, and this sort of attention to detail subtly reminds viewers of the complexity involved with piloting a mobile suit. Watching the Stark Jegan pilot’s engagement with the Kshatriya, one concludes that he must have über-micro (in this context, a high standard of training) to be able to satisfactorily react to what Marida initially throws at him. Though not a cyber-Newtype and therefore lacking superior reflexes, the Stark Jegan’s pilot does illustrate that having über-micro allows one to put up a reasonable fight even against cyber-Newtypes, which is a remarkable feat considering how standard pilots are typically shot down in seconds, rather than minutes, in other Gundam universes. Granted, this is often done to illustrate the vast skill disparity between named pilots and standard forces, but it is rather more realistic, and quite refreshing to observe armed forces whose standard pilots and soldiers demonstrate competence consistent with what one might expect in reality.