“You’ve come this far, but are you confident your conviction will not waver? The weight of the burden she has to bear is immense. You’ll need the resolve to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders if you go with her. Do you have it?” —Cardeas Vist
It’s been four years since I watched the first episode to Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, and since then, much has happened. For one, I’m no longer an undergraduate student, and I’ve learnt much over the past few years through all of my experiences. However, through all of this, Gundam Unicorn has subtly been there, airing at unique points during this time. Each episode has a specific memory attached to it, and after the finale releases, I will do a special talk on what Gundam Unicorn is for me. Of course, each episode also has its unique points for me, and that acts as the motivation for this mini-series of posts. In the countdown leading up to the finale’s release, I am writing about each of the episodes, drawing out what I saw as each episode’s main theme, and linking them to the overall picture in Gundam Unicorn, before setting out to draft out a talk about the finale, followed by a talk on the epilogue and a “whole series impression”. All of this will culminate in a final personal reflection about how Gundam Unicorn held additional significance for me; amongst other things, I will draft out what this blog’s future will be like, given that my own circumstances have now changed and the path to my future is now clear. While this is excellent for me, it also means that I’ll wind up with less time to blog.
A Neo-Zeon remnant group called the “Sleeves” travels to Side 4’s Industrial 7 colony, so that its captain, Zinnerman, can receive a “key” to something known as “Laplace’s Box” from Vist Foundation leader Cardeas Vist. The item is said to be capable of either restoring the future or destroying the world. Audrey Burns seeks to meet Vist first and convince him not to turn over Laplace’s Box, believing the Sleeves will use it to start another war. Along the way, she is rescued by 16-year-old student Banagher Links, who agrees to take her to Vist. Meanwhile, a battle breaks out between the Federation’s Londo Bell taskforce and the Sleeves. As the collateral damage rises, the colony is evacuated. Amidst the chaos, Banagher discovers the fatally-wounded Cardeas Vist in the cockpit of the Unicorn Gundam. Before his death, Vist entrusts the Gundam to Banagher, who realizes that Vist is his father. Banagher then launches in the Unicorn and confronts the Sleeves’ elite pilot, Marida Cruz, who is piloting the Kshatriya.
- The destruction of the Laplace station is the triggering force behind all of the events in the Universal Century. Laplace’s Box becomes the MacGuffin; holding the original UC Charter, it has the power to create the world that humanity had dreamed of, but also has the potential to destroy it. Its acquisition and opening serve as the basis for the entire story, much as how the Sugar Bowl drives The Series of Unfortunate Events.
- A Jeagan is shredded by the Kshatriya, marking the first combat scene in Gundam Unicorn; this was particularly impressive, given that the Stark Jeagan stands in contrast the grunt suits of other universes and actually stand somewhat of a chance against plot-central characters, such as Marida Cruz. This special series of posts was intended to lead up to the finale’s release on May 17, coinciding with Otafest 2014. Each episode talk will be broken up into three sections: a summary, a special topics discussion and a talk about elements in the episode.
- Most of the content will have been ported from my old website: contrasting the Five Centimeters per Second posts, I am reasonably satisfied with my tone and content from many years ago, so most of the figure captions will be retained from their original form. Thus, the thoughts I have here are anywhere from one to four years old; I don’t have an inclination to change them too much, although I will supply addenda under new images, given that the original post had fifteen images, and these posts have twenty.
- The art style is a revitalised version of the character designs from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, giving characters a more realistic feel. Stepping away from the fanservice in older Gundam series, the focused, no-nonsense tone in Gundam Unicorn is much welcomed, allowing the series to focus entirely on the issue at hand (in this case, a century-old conspiracy) without distractions in the form of beach episodes.
- Instead of being a supersoldier or having previous military experience, Banagher is an ordinary high school student who is kind-hearted and constantly considers the consequences of his actions on those around him. He works part time using a workloader to clear debris from around Industrial Seven, and is implied to have had been tested as a Newtype at a younger age.
- Banagher Links is Gundam Unicorn‘s central protagonist: having a composed and mature manner, he handles things calmly, demonstrated by his actions when saving saves Audrey, a person of great importance to Zeon. Once the workloader they are in runs out of fuel, he merely responds that he would think of something to rectify the situation.
- Audrey’s background as royalty is reflected in her lack of familiarity with foods such as sandwiches: she mentions that she dines sitting down, using cutlery, but nonetheless, demonstrates open-mindedness by eating the hot dog. Subtle elements in characterisation may not always be immediately noteworthy, but they do give hints as to how the characters interact under more serious conditions.
- Cardeas Vist is the head of the Vist foundation, the organisation that has been guarding Laplace’s Box for the past century. At the start, he takes responsibility for the box and follows his grandfather’s request to give the box to the Sleeves, the remnants of the Neo-Zeon movement.
- Despite maintaining a regal air about her most of the time, Audrey does express emotions, such as surprise and happiness, from time to time. Given that four years has elapsed since I first watched this episode, I cannot fully recall the moment that led to this scene, though.
- My original talk ignored the combat between the Geara Zulu and some Federation ReZELs. I thoroughly love how Gundam Unicorn‘s mobile suits have beautiful, high-tech cockpits in even older suits, illustrating the level of technological innovation that went into building mobile suits. While some fans may disagree, the cockpits in Gundam Wing and Gundam SEED appear drab and low-tech in comparison, depending much more on flashing lights and CRT screens, rather than panoramic displays and touch UIs.
In addition to the overarching themes of possibility and the innate human desire for guidance and stability, each of the Gundam Unicorn episodes have a distinct aspect that drives events. In the first episode, emphasis is directed towards the significance of timing for certain events, specifically, how being in the wrong place at the right time, or being in the right place at the wrong time can have severe implications on the future. This is how the events in Gundam Unicorn (and by extension, all of the Universal Century) starts, when a terrorist attack on the Laplace Space Station kills the Prime Minister of the Earth Federation. Moments earlier, a younger Siam Vist was performing an EVA before the blast severed his tether, sending him into the depths of space. Following the blast, Vist comes across the Universal Century Charter, and uses it to build a new world, with the Vist Foundation at its centre. For over a hundred years, the Vist Foundation and Earth Sphere Federation (ESF) hold its secrets to maintain power, leading to the One Year War and subsequent conflicts. The way these early scenes are composed suggests that Siam was an ordinary space technician before the Laplace incident, and that he came into power by sheer luck. His fortunes are tied to those of the Universal Century, and a hundred years later, Cardeas Vist, his son, decides that the time has come for the truth to be revealed. Cardeas also appreciates the significance of timing; in his meeting with Captain Zinnerman and the crew of the Garencieres, noting that the ESF feared the power of Newtypes, but time was on the ESF’s side, allowing them to become victorious over Zeon. Thanks to being able to keep the status quo, the ESF had lasted to this point, and with the hundred-year mark approaching, Cardeas believes the time is appropriate for the truth to be known. Timing also affects Gundam Unicorn‘s protagonist, Banagher Links. Through chance, Banagher encounters Mineva Zabi (introduced as Audrey Burne) and manages to save her. Likewise, his encounter with the Unicorn Gundam and last meeting with Cardeas Vist happens by chance, setting Gundam Unicorn‘s events in motion. The upshot of this is that everything that is to happen over the series began because things happened to have turned out a certain way: now that because things have turned out in this manner, the characters must now address things in the manner most appropriate given their circumstance.
- A ReZEL takes on the Kshyatria but, despite the pilots efforts, is shut down. The NZ-666 Kshatriya is derived off the NZ-000 Quin-Mantha. Despite being a massive mobile suit, its four binders possess thrusters that increase its mobility greatly. Its primary weapons include its funnels, although it also wields beam sabres and has twelve mega-particle cannons.
- When I was younger, I never understood much about Gundam, but always thought that the beam sabres resemble light sabres from Star Wars. Laser swords have been around for a long time; much as how Star Wars popularised them in the Western world, Gundam appears to have done the same in East Asia.
- The Nahel Argama makes its first appearance here: after it fires the main cannons, a complement of ReZELs launch. This scene was accompanied by a militaristic piece, dubbed “E.F.S.F.” on the original soundtrack. I recall that elsewhere, someone was talking about how music in Saki was “demonising Teru Miyanaga”; having listened to the track myself, it appears that the author was missing the point. Conversely, in Gundam Unicorn, the music suits all of the moments well.
- Otto Midas is the captain of the Nahael Argama, a EFSF vessel designed for undercover operations. Just as the Sleeves are presented as having antagonising traits, the EFSF also use questionable tactics, such as using the Argama’s main cannons to demolish Industrial Seven’s airlock to gain access. It is things like these that indicate the nature of warfare, and how it is difficult to take sides.
- Cardeas is captured by ECOAS, a special forces team. Gundam Unicorn takes the art style of the original Universal Century and brings it into the present: the end result is that animation and art-wise, Gundam Unicorn is incredibly detailed and enjoyable to watch.
- Riddhe Marcenas is a Federation pilot who enlisted to escape his upbringing. He is a loyal and well-spoken soldier who believes in luck; by chance, he saves Micott, Audrey and Takuya from burning wreckage, setting in motion his role in the later episodes. The light novels were written a ways before the OVAs aired, and the latter deviate from the former, being adapted into a more visual genre.
- The battle between the Sleeves and Londo Bell inflict a massive toll on Industrial Seven, forcing an evacuation. As with other Universal Century depictions of the brutal nature of war, civilians are seen being crushed by wreckage, vaporised by stray rounds and even the detonation of a Minovsky reactor inside the colony. Initially, I thought that the combat was enough to completely destroy Industrial Seven, although later episodes will show that this is, in fact, not true.
- Cardeas Vist is revealed to be Banagher’s father, and ultimately passes his legacy forward with the hopes that Banagher can bring about a better future for the world. Cardeas also expresses regret at being unable to spend more time with Banagher because his mother did not wish for Banagher to get involved with Laplace’s Box.
- Following Cardeas’ death, Banagher resolves to do what he can to protect those around him, and activates the Unicorn. As with all universes, the Unicorn’s eyes light up to indicate that it has activated, although this process lacks the same audio impact as the suits from Gundam 00.
- After pushing the Kshatriya out of the colony, the Unicorn’s NT-D is activated, transforming the suit into its Destroy mode; the suit’s face reveals a Gundam design, and the horn splits into the signature V-fin that defines a Gundam, sharply contrasting its unconventional Unicorn mode design. In the final moments of the episode, Banagher ignites a beam sabre and charges towards the Kshatriya. Gundam Unicorn was my first exposure to the Universal Century timeline, making a return to the styles that characterized the Universal Century. The political and war aspects come off a lot more serious and the series as a whole doesn’t feel swept up by current anime trends, giving rise to a significantly more mature plot and characters. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because there is a great deal of history with UC already, I was thinking that I might get lost with things like the Earth Federation, Anti-Earth Union Group (AEUG), Zeon, and various empires including the Crossbone Vanguard and their stories. No Gundam series has ever been able to wield the same amount of history effectively; indeed, there are a lot of references to past events, such as the One Year War. However, having done a little reading, I was able to follow the story fairly easily, indicating that Unicorn can be enjoyed as a standalone anime.
The first episode in Gundam Unicorn was released all the way back in February 2010, when I was still completing my first undergraduate year. The first thing that came to my mind, upon finishing the episode, was the overall atmosphere in the episode. Marking a departure from more recent Gundam series, Gundam returns to its Univesal Century roots and focuses on improving the realism factor. Aged men lead soldiers into battle rather than youthful female commanders. Insightful conversations breathe life into an immensely detailed world with history as complex as our own. When mobile suits do battle with one another, they move slowly, purposefully, and give off a sense of power, comparing the more agile, quick-footed mobile suits from other universes. These nuances bestow a very mature feeling in Gundam Unicorn: old time fans will immediately rejoice in hearing references to older Gundam, although new fans, such as myself, will find Gundam Unicorn to represent a refreshing change of pace in Gundam. Involving a long-lost political MacGauffin, Gundam Unicorn‘s first episode sets the stage for what will come; through a solid balance between exposition and combat sequences, this episode definitely captures the viewer’s interest for will would happen next while simultaneously providing viewers with enough background such that it is easy enough to figure out what is going on.