Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam Unicorn
Related: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn RE:0096 (full series version)
Similar: Gundam SEED
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action Drama
Length: 7 episodes (1 hr. each)
- Gundam has never looked better.
- Detailed world design.
- Poor dialogue, particularly for protagonist.
- Soulless characters, particularly the protagonist.
- Strangely similar plot to Gundam SEED.
Gundam is one of anime’s most frustrating franchises. I love the premise of the Gundam universe, its depth and breadth – the possibilities for stories across hundreds of years of lore – but so often, it feels as though Gundam directors don’t know how to handle all the elements that make this franchise what it is. Whether it’s the politics, the characters, or the structure, something usually falls by the wayside. Early reviews of Gundam Unicorn indicated promise, so I was excited – after a decade, finally a great new Gundam series! Sadly, no, Unicorn stumbles as many had done before it.
Like most Gundam works, Unicorn follows a teenager, Banagher Links, more distant and brooding than his predecessors. As always, he meets a mysterious girl, Mineva Lao, with a secret mission of political and global importance centred on Laplace’s Box, an object sought by all sides and said to contain the key in the war. Banagher aids Mineva and is caught up in the greater conflict, for he becomes pilot of the mighty Unicorn Gundam.
So far, it has all the hallmarks of a Gundam series, which is fine, even if almost the same as Gundam SEED’s setup. However, unlike SEED, Unicorn does not sell its ideas, most notably, the contrivance of having two middle schoolers as the centre of attention. In SEED, Kira’s ability stems from genetic modification. They highlight the genetic modification’s significance by having his ordinary classmates contribute much less to the war effort. In Unicorn, Banagher matters because the Unicorn’s creator ‘said so.’ As a person, he has nothing to offer. His atrocious dialogue, designed for naught but preaching, grates the senses and the brooding works as a great sleeping draught. Why were the writers so afraid to have an older protagonist? An advantage of being an established brand is the ability to break the bounds of genre conventions without fear of losing the audience. In fact, several older, more qualified characters could have been protagonist.
A bad protagonist is enough, but the girl, Mineva, makes matters even worse. She reminds of Gundam’s worst ever character – SEED’s Cagali. What is it with Gundam and having incompetent kids as ambassadors for empires? Any empire under the charge of Cagali or Mineva would be conquered in a day. Mineva even has a desert resistance group around her as Cagali had. Honestly, the first four-five episodes feel like a SEED re-tread.
Unicorn suffers from ‘allegiance bingo,’ made famous by Pirates of the Caribbean 3, where characters change alliances every episodes, only to break away just as suddenly – why did you ally in the first place?! This results in an unfocused narrative too busy trying to juggle the allegiances. Furthermore, because the writers had to make these characters flip-flop all over the deck, we rarely get to see them as people. They are soulless, tools for the story rather than characters of their own.
If you look past the characters, the story doesn’t have much to offer – again, those weak characters drag the whole series down. It is by no means a bad story. The overarching political implications are interesting, but when you get down to the micro level, it’s rather dull. I was simply bored to the point where I finished five other anime while drudging through Unicorn.
Art – High
Gundam has never looked this good, sporting a more mature visual style (if only the protagonists matched) than longer Gundam series. The colony design, details and construction, which reminded of Mass Effect, looks notably nice.
Sound – Medium
The VO is good, but the script keeps a barrage a cringe worthy lines that get in the way. Seriously, scenes fared better without Banagher. Good music.
Story – Low
Factions fight over a mysterious object that could change everything in the war. Though a significant piece of Gundam Universal Century history, the characters make this a difficult journey.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For hardcore Gundam fans. Even as a Gundam fan, I found this difficult to finish. However, the more hardcore will likely find more engagement from Gundam Unicorn than I had. Note: The extended series version doesn’t change much, so both versions work equally.
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