Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Re:0096 – Mid Series Review
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Re:0096:
Original Air Dates: April 2nd, 2016 – ???
Synopsis: Three years after the end of Char’s Rebellion, Banagher Links, a young man living on the manufacturing colony of Industrial 7 happens upon a mysterious girl in need of saving. She calls herself Audrey Burne and claims she’s trying to stop a war. She says the Vist Foundation for whom Banagher’s father works for, is planning to hand over the Laplace’s Box to the Neo Zeon remnants, known as the Sleeves. This act would bring about another war, and seeking only peace, Banagher decides to help her. But in their efforts, the colony becomes a battlefield between the Sleeves and Earth Federation forces. Can Banagher prevent the war and escape Industrial 7 with his life?
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Without a doubt Gundam Unicorn’s greatest aspect is its art. Unicorn features spectacular animation that brings to life the incredible detail of each and every mobile suit featuring in this swan song for U.C. Era Gundam. Every suit is rendered and animated with such detail that the battles are a sight to behold for any die-hard mech/Gundam fans who enjoy pure visual fidelity. The characters themselves are designed with the original Gundam and other U.C. based series in mind, hearkening back to designs from the mid 80s and early 90s of anime. All together this makes Gundam Unicorn like a love letter to aging Mech fans who miss the glory days of the genre and a visual aesthetic that’s long been replaced by the anime styles of today.
Linny: Even as a complete novice to the world of Gundam, and as someone who has to fight the urge to yawn the second that genre is brought up, I have to concede that this show is visually breath taking. It’s sheer and unadulterated mech goodness shines from the designs into the animation.
Tom: The entirety of Gundam Unicorn is crafted to be one last love letter to the die hard U.C. era Gundam fans. This is apparent even within the series’ characters as Banagher Links, our hero and Gundam pilot, feels like a reimagining of the likes of Amuro or Kamiel, a young man still driven by hopeless heroism and ideals ill-suited to the landscape of the Universal Century. The series crafts an arc all too familiar, one bound to upset those who have grown tired of the starry-eyed young man forced to confront the realities of war. For fans who’ve long yearned for a return to form, Banagher offers one last glimpse into the U.C. Era themes and character arcs, perhaps even as a refinement off many of the topics Gundam, Zeta, and the others have discussed in the first place.
Linny: Whereas the familiarity of all these characters was endearing to Tom who is a dedicated Gundam fan, the show proves to be a personification of all the reasons I dislike the mech/Gundam genre. Banagher and his mission to save the world sounds like the plot of literally any and all Gundam series. I’m sitting here watching yet ANOTHER orphaned/semi-orphaned hero who is the only one who can pilot the titular Gundam and of course has to rush off to help yet another princess who seeks peace. It’s not impossible to enjoy this story because Iron Blooded Orphans, another recent Gundam series, has the same plot line and yet I loved that show a lot. But because Unicorn chooses to be a love letter to the classic era and sticks as close as it can to all the tropes of said era, it’s not going to win any points from someone like me who dislikes Gundam because of that exact classic and repetitive formula.
Tom: Having now hit the half way point of the series we’re beginning to see how relentlessly focused Unicorn is on Banagher’s story. The series has had a full twelve episodes and I feel like I only have a superficial understanding of its other characters, save for perhaps Minerva, but she’s since disappeared for the last handful of episodes. Rather instead, everyone around Banagher are more like chess pieces, used to push the story forward and act as reflections for Banagher to grow through and test his notions about humanity and heroism. There’s a greater focus on the plot, finding and activating Laplas’ box, unsurprising as U.C. Era Gundam has always been more plot and less character. It’s not so much a detraction, but rather an observation if you’re someone familiar and comfortable with the general workings of Universal Century type series.
Linny: Full Frontal, the central villainous character of the series is one of the more interesting villains in recent times. Thanks to the show hiding his identity and the ensuing mystery and drama surrounding it, the viewer becomes invested in finding out exactly who this man is and his similarities and ties to the previous and extremely famous, Char Aznable. It makes him all the more alluring. Everyone else though barely registers on my radar. They all seem so vapid, meant to merely push the story forward and perform the actions needed of them, rather than crafted as engaging personalities with depth that you can passionately root for.
Tom: By this point, we’ve concluded Gundam Unicorn’s first arc as it follows the standard U.C. pattern of events unfolding in space, down on Earth and then jumping back into Outer Space for its finale. The series takes an interesting approach however, as it shuffles Banagher between the two warring sides. Initially Banagher finds himself battling alongside the Federation, before switching allegiances and aiding the Zeon until it becomes clear neither side is willing to listen to his more naive and altruistic views on war. It feels like a culmination and refinement of Amuro and Kamiel’s arcs as they both generally believed in the futility of war, but caved to the necessity to fight for one side over the other. Instead here, Banagher remains much truer to his ideals and although he’s failed to have a positive outcome from his actions it feels as if Banagher and Gundam Unicorn won’t simply allow him to give in unlike Amuro and Kamiel who acquiesced to the unyielding turmoil and pervasive atmosphere of war. If anything, Gundam Unicorn’s story is complex, with tons of nods to past Universal Century Gundams that go completely unappreciated by novices to the franchise. In fact quite a few members of the cast are in and of themselves previous bit players from the past that have now been thrust into the light of the U.C.’s big Federation vs Zeon finale.
Linny: Coming back to the action, Gundam Unicorn does not only depict numerous battles but also a lot of brutality. Deaths in Gundam series are nothing new but Unicorn doesn’t hesitate to make them all the more brutal and graphic. When I say graphic, I do not mean blood everywhere but rather it doesn’t hesitate to show a character’s final moments. Compared to a lot of other Gundams (not that I have watched more than 10) where deaths are usually shown as someone’s Gundam getting destroyed, here we get to see the actual person inside the Gundam in their final moments which made me sit up and take notice and helped to further sell the brutality of war that Gundam has always preached.
Tom: Despite all the nuance and fan service a new viewer might miss, Unicorn is easy to follow on a surface level, assuming you’re not the kind of person to get too bogged down in details or callbacks that fly over your head. In part, Unicorn’s ease comes from a rather relentless use of recaps, but we’ll get into that more in a bit. Sadly, even if Unicorn isn’t too difficult to follow and understand, much of the enjoyment comes from all the fan service it provides in relation to the other major Gundams of the U.C. series and without that knowledge, Unicorn can feel a whole lot less special.
Linny: For those who don’t have much prior knowledge or familiarity with the Gundam universe, this series could be entertaining as the adherence to classic Gundam tropes won’t be as noticeable and the story does have a handful of interesting twists and reveals that can be enjoyed even by a complete newcomer. These twists and turns however may not be enough to hide the fact that this show has an extremely weird pacing. From repeated pre-show recaps that retell the story all the way from the very first episode, resulting in more than 2 minute long recaps, to very abrupt and random episode endings, it definitely feels like a show that could have done with some more polishing before release.
Tom: If Gundam Unicorn’s biggest bonus is its relentless fan service and visual fideality, it’s ultimately marred by its biggest issue– the presentation. Gundam Unicorn, for one, isn’t exactly new. As many fans know, it was originally released as a seven episode OVA series with each running between sixty and ninety minutes. For this TV series release, either loads of new footage would need to be added to get it to hit a 22-26 episode run, or there’d have to be padding. Which do you think they went with? To pad it out, Gundam Unicorn often has the 2-3 minute recaps that Linny touched on above. On the one hand, it helps keep newer viewers in the game, but the other side of it, we get a recap of who Banagher Links is near every episode as the recaps often extend all the way back to episode one. This happens often enough it feels like Gundam Unicorn thinks we’re all blithering idiots who need the most basic of concepts hammered into our heads again and again. A further issue is Unicorn’s failure to create climatic endings. The OVA’s ran for sixty minutes at minimum, meaning each of those OVA episodes is chopped up into around three TV episodes. But the OVA wasn’t designed to produce cliffhangers every twenty minutes. This creates abrupt endings, often lacking in dramatic tension, leaving most Gundam Unicorn episodes to cut to credits so suddenly that you’re jerked from your seat just as it seemed things were getting interesting. It’s frustrating and acts as an indicator for how little effort went into adapting the OVA’s into a proper TV series. Par for the course with most Gundam adaptations/compilations however.
Linny: It’s hard for me to recommend this series to anyone, novice or not. Since it is the only way to experience Gundam Unicorn legally without buying the DVDs, it might be worth a watch for devoted Gundam fans who can’t afford the DVDs yet but wish to enjoy the series. For complete novices, there are lots of other better series within the Gundam universe itself that are much more enjoyable and accessible. All the mech p0rn in it can’t hide the fact that it should have remained in its original OVA format and not stretched out into this ill paced experience.
Tom: Gundam Unicorn is a love letter to fans of the U.C. Era Gundam, such as myself. Despite this piss-poor reediting I find myself almost forced to Recommended Gundam Unicorn Re:0096 as it’s the only budget friendly way to experience this high level of fan service. However, if you’re not restricted by cash flow, or are more easily parted with your money, Gundam Unicorn is readily available on DVD and will run you about ninety dollars for the entire set. If that doesn’t sound too pricey to you for around seven hours of content that might actually be the far better way to experience this wonderful, fan pleasing series.