Originally started four years ago as a six-part anime movie adaptation of a novel series, Gundam Unicorn has finally reached its conclusion with the seventh and final chapter, Gundam Unicorn 7: Over the Rainbow.
[Note: While original planned for six parts, due the massive amount of remaining content, the creators announced a seventh episode to the series shortly before the release of episode 5 in 2012.]
As we have been doing with previous anime movie reviews, Kotaku writers Toshi and Richard are here to look at the Gundam Unicorn series as a whole, including
Toshi: All right, so, what exactly is Gundam Unicorn about?
Richard: Well, the same thing every Gundam is about: a young boy stumbling into a giant robot and saving the world.
Toshi: I think people are going to need a little more detail than that…
[Note: Minor spoilers about the basic set up of the plot follow.]
Toshi: Three years after the events of Char's Counterattack, the Neo Zeon remnants known as The Sleeves (stop laughing), led by the enigmatic "second coming of Char the Red Comet," Full Frontal (I'm serious, stop laughing), have been contacted by Cardeas Vist of the Vist Foundation saying that he wishes to hand over the key to the "Box of Laplace," — a mysterious "box" that is said to be able to bring about the destruction of the Earth Federation if it is opened.
Banagher Links is a student at the Anaheim Electronics Industrial College at the space colony, Industrial 7. Banagher meets Audrey Burne, a young girl intent on stopping the transaction between Cardeas and the Sleeves; and through a series of events, Banagher becomes the pilot of the key of the Box of Laplace, the Unicorn Gundam. Banagher must follow the path set out for him by the Unicorn Gundam to find the Box of Laplace and uncover the most deeply guarded secret of the Universal Century.
Richard: Yeah, like I said. A boy and his giant robot.
Toshi: … All right. A boy and his giant robot. So, I've covered the basic knowledge you're going to need entering the Gundam Unicorn series. But one more thing, how familiar are you with the Universal Century (UC) universe?
Richard: Well, I'm familiar with it, but I'd hesitate to claim much beyond that. I've seen the original Gundam, the 8th MS Team, 0080, 0083, Zeta, Char's Counterattack, F-91, and parts of Victory Gundam. That said, outside of F-91 and Victory Gundam, I haven't seen any of the UC Gundams in more than a decade. I'm far more familiar with the AU Gundams like SEED and X. At this point, all the UC Gundams tend to blur together.
Toshi: Not a bad list. In fact, I think aside from the fact that I've seen most of Double Zeta, and read the after-novel, Hathaway's Flash, our lists are practically identical. I suppose in my case, I'm more familiar with the UC timeline series because I've watched most of them multiple times and have spent countless hours reading literature on all the background data and history.
Richard: Yeah, there is not one of the UC timeline series I mentioned that I've seen more than once; so while I know the main story and key concepts, I'm lucky to remember any of the main characters' names outside of the big two.
Toshi: So then, as a "relative" newcomer, what did you think of Gundam Unicorn as a whole?
Richard: I liked it. But I'm not going to pretend I wasn't more than a little lost once the cameo characters and objects started popping up in every other scene.
Toshi: Yeah, there was a bit of navel gazing throughout the series — but it's a huge geekgasm if you're a rabid fan like me.
Richard: As a whole, there was a lot I enjoyed. I liked the mecha designs. I liked most of the characters. I liked how it played around with the typical Gundam formula. But really, I liked the mysterious searching-for-the-secret-weapon story — especially in how it all paid off.
Toshi: I thought it was the best thing to ever happen to the UC universe.
Richard: What was?
Toshi: Well, for me, the UC story had always been a story about the characters from the original series, Amuro and Char. The story started with the original Mobile Suit Gundam and ended with Char's Counterattack, and everything else was just frills. Gundam Unicorn made the UC story much bigger and more inclusive, encompassing everything from the original series forward and giving it a very organic story about humanity's advancement into space. It was an extremely well thought-out story by a fan for fans.
Richard: That doesn't mean it was without negatives, however.
Toshi: Oh? Do elaborate.
Richard: Other than getting constantly lost in the details if you're not a diehard fan, it does have some weaknesses in the character department. The main character, Banagher Links, is about as deep as a flat plain — and the main female lead, Audrey, is hardly any better. They might as well be called "anti-war male audience proxy" and "anti-war female audience proxy." They are both quite passive and just kind of go where the winds of the story blow them.
Toshi: While I didn't mind the flatness of the main characters that much, I definitely agree with you about the prerequisite fandom. I found Gundam Unicorn to be quite unforgiving with several details that are never answered within the series itself and require outside research to make sense of. It's great if you're "in the club," but for the unprepared, you're probably going to find yourself asking questions after everything is over.
Richard: Indeed. Maybe that 30-minute UC Gundam extra recap episode they played right before the final episode would have served the audience better if it had been played at the beginning of the show — you know, before those plot points came up again.
Toshi: So, before we go into bigger potential spoilers, simple yay or nay on Gundam Unicorn?
Richard: Yay. Absolutely. Even not having a full grasp of the backstory, it was a lot of fun to watch. There was some great drama, nice character interaction, and a good pace with lots of action. Best of all, the magical MacGuffin that everyone is chasing after throughout the whole series actually lives up to its hype and doesn't come off as stupid, forced, or over-the-top.
Toshi: Likewise, yay for me as well. As a longtime die-hard Gundam fan, the series was a great ride, and the homage it pays to what came before made me enjoy it even more. There is an entrance hurdle, and it starts off a little slow, but if you've got the minimum prerequisite knowledge and the story gets going, it pays off in droves.
[To avoid major plot spoilers, skip to the "Final Thoughts" section at the end of the review to read our final conclusions about the series.]
Toshi: So let's get into individual episodes and specific points. Personally, I think the series really found its footing in episode 3, The Ghost of Laplace.
Richard: Well, as I watched it straight through, I didn't really feel it started poorly. Perhaps it was a little cliché Gundam, but I was pretty much expecting that from the title. After all, we all know the normal boy is going to stumble across the Gundam every time. It's how it happens differently each time that makes it fun.
Toshi: Oh, the finding of the Gundam and piloting it for the first time is great. It's just that the buildup takes the entire first episode and we don't really get the goodies until the following battle; and then the real core story comes even later.
Richard: That's true. It really does spend the first two hours on set-up and character introductions. That said, episode 2 does have the first big surprise — namely when the masked bad guy de-masks almost immediately.
Toshi: You mean the, er, interestingly named, "Full Frontal"? (I'm not kidding, stop laughing.) Yeah, the series is full of unexpected subtle twists. And then of course there are the extreme clichés, like the characters who might as well carry a bullhorn yelling "I'm going to die."
Richard: And in episode 2 is where we get the first character who is introduced and developed for no other purpose than to make us feel bad when he inevitably dies in the following episode. Frankly, the series is full of these. I don't think there was a single person who didn't wave the death flag and survive it. It was like "oh, he has a family and a kid? Well, he's dead." Or "he feels the main character is like the son he never had? Deaders."
Toshi: Yeah, when it comes to character death, the series doesn't really stray too much from the standard formula. But it certainly managed to satisfyingly surprise me a lot in other areas. Like in episode 4, At the Bottom of the Gravity Well, where Banagher is placed in a situation where he has to pull the trigger when he doesn't want to, or in episode 5, Black Unicorn, in which you have one character trying to bring another character "back from the dark side" as it were, and it's a situation where you just know one of them is going to die.
Richard: Previously I mentioned how underdeveloped the two leads are; yet some of the supporting cast are excellently developed — namely Marida and Zinnerman. Their relationship is the most interesting and emotionally captivating aspect of the series — especially with all she goes through.
Toshi: Yeah. Those two were definitely my favourites throughout. I also previously mentioned that I didn't think much of Riddhe's going emo, but now in retrospect, it makes a lot more sense — but that's getting into the final episode.
Richard: Yeah, I have to admit, I still hate him. But that's basically because he is the guy who thinks he's entitled and can't understand why the girl he likes won't bone him even though he does nice things for her. It's even worse once he decides that her polite rejection is worth going evil over.
Toshi: Well, there is the weight of the secret his father shares with him in episode 4 that was finally revealed in the last episode.
Richard: Alright, then. We should probably go more into that so let's move right on to the final episode spoilers and discussion of the ending, shall we?
Toshi: Fair enough.
[Seriously, Spoiler Warning: From here on we will spoil everything about the conclusion to Gundam Unicorn. Skip to "Final Thoughts" to see our conclusions.]
Richard: OK, the magic McGuffin — the big secret of the Box of Laplace — is the original Federation charter. It's basically the new constitution for the Universal Century. And most importantly, it has an extra mandate that was left off of the subsequent copies. It's a lot like finding out that the constitution actually says that once American territory extended west of the Mississippi River, the Native Americans should have been given representation in the government.
Toshi: Yeah, the extra mandate states that "should the emergence of a new space-adapted human race be confirmed, the Earth Federation shall give priority to involving them in the administration of the government." Essentially, the mandate gives political power to Newtypes if they are ever to emerge. It is something that would both take power away from the Earth Federation and give the oppressed spacenoids reason to uprise again. Seriously, I think this is the best example I've ever seen of a "mystery box" where the story revolves around the contents of the mystery box and the revealed mystery actually lives up to the hype that's built up around it.
Richard: Right. It basically could start a revolt not only in space but also on Earth as it sets the current Federation government up as a power-hungry regime that ignores its own rules where those in space are concerned — if delivered in a certain way, that is.
Toshi: It's a phenomenally well thought-out plot device that carries more weight the more you think about it. It seems kind of harmless at first, but as you contemplate the potential ramifications of it, you become more and more aware of the real power that it has.
Richard: While it could have easily been something supernatural or technological, it turns out to simply be a big secret. And how Banagher's family has used said secret as blackmail to stay in power for a hundred years makes perfect sense.
Toshi: I hate to overuse the word "organic," but it totally was. Almost everything made sense throughout, and it tied in to the history of the whole Universal Century in a way that makes you look at the events from the original series on in a new light.
Richard: Indeed. Just think what would have happened if this information would have come to light during the One Year War.
Toshi: And then there's Full Frontal's plans for what he intended to do when he got the Box. Was it some plot to destroy the world, mua ha ha ha? No, it was control through economic dominance.
Richard: Yeah. I loved how "Char" has moved from trying for the military victory to trying for the economic one. The Civ player in me was thrilled.
Toshi: Of course, we can't bring up the topic of Full Frontal without talking about that final battle.
Richard: And just when I'd thought we had dodged the metaphysical stuff with the perfectly plausible reveal of the mystery box…
Toshi: Well, it is a series about evolved psychics and their place in the world.
Richard: Yeah, well ghosts are nothing new but that final battle had them flying through time/into other universes while they had a pseudo-intellectual debate — one which the hero lost, I might add. But still, this is a series where the words "...but even so" are more powerful than any weapon and can fix any situation.
Toshi: Yeah, the old emotion-trumps-logic cliché. If I were to have a gripe with the conclusion, that would be it. But honestly, I couldn't help but think about the Universe Death Clock when Full Frontal took Banagher on that little metaphysical trip to the end of time itself in his giant red buddhist deity-ish representation.
Richard: It was a satisfying ending. It had some Amuro, some Char, and some Lalah — and best of all, it actually gave our main leads a happy ending where neither of them ended up dead. And after the death flag he was waving (i.e., "I'll be back for sure. I promise."), I was sure he was a goner.
Toshi: The best twist, ever.
Toshi: For me, Gundam Unicorn is a fun, energetic, exciting, and most importantly, satisfying series. For a project that spanned 4 years, they managed to bring it to a close without dropping the ball.
Richard: I'd even go one step further and say it's a pretty darn good ending to a series 35 years in the making.
Toshi: OK, you got me there. I'm in total agreement. Hard to believe the story was pretty much the idea of one guy.
Richard: Yeah, I mean other than the always hilariously ironic point of how Gundam is so anti-war but then spends so much of its time glorifying it with awesome-looking space battles —
Toshi: And land battles (Episode 4).
Richard: But honestly, Toshi, you know what watching this made me want to do?
Toshi: Go back and watch the entire UC series again?
Richard: Dear god no! The older UC stuff has not aged well at all. I was thinking I'd rather go back and watch the Gundam series that took all the best moments of UC Gundam and built a series around them: Gundam SEED.
Toshi: All the best moments of UC Gundam sans Gundam Unicorn, you mean.
Gundam Unicorn 1-6 are currently available on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray and DVD of episode 7 Over the Rainbow is scheduled for release in Japan on June 6, 2014.
[Note: All episodes include English subtitles and English language tracks. (Thank you, Sunrise.)]