What They Say:
Universal Century 0096. Three years after the last conflict between Neo Zeon and the Earth Federation Forces, the tentative peace of the Earth Sphere is about to be shattered again. Cardeas Vist, the head of the powerful Vist Foundation, has decided to hand over “Laplace’s Box,” the secret of the Foundation’s prosperity, to the supposed enemy, Neo Zeon. Banagher Links, a student at the space colony Industrial 7, rescues a mysterious girl who calls herself Audrey Burne. Audrey is seeking to prevent a war, but it seems she has come too late. As Banagher’s home colony is devastated by the attacks of the enemy mobile suit Kshatriya, he finds his strange destiny and is forced to fight in the formidable weapon system known as the Unicorn Gundam.
Gundam Unicorn does it right out of the gate by providing a great bilingual presentation with both tracks in 5.1 in uncompressed form as well as stereo mixes for both. The show makes great use of its audio presentation immerse you into the feature with a lot of directionality going on in key sequences but also some exceptionally well done work with the forward soundstage. The placement and sense of depth is very solid here where it makes the whole thing even more alive than you’d expect. The series definitely has areas where it’s bigger than others, and the last episode in particular is a barrage of sound with all of the action, each installment conveys itself well. The dialogue is well placed as needed and some of the creative moments hit the right notes while the action has some solid bass to it to give it all the impact it needs. It’s definitely one of the stronger Gundam properties in this regard and both mixes are clean and clear throughout.
Originally released in 2010 through 2014, the transfer for this OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080 using the AVC codec. The seven episodes are spread across four discs with two episodes per disc while the seventh, clocking in at 90 minutes as opposed to the 60 minutes of the others, gets the fourth disc. The show is a marquee title to be sure, especially considering when it was first put into production before the UC timeline started getting more attention again, and it’s a fascinatingly beautiful show that is lush, detailed and amazingly vibrant. Some releases deserve the hyperbole when it comes to how they look and Gundam Unicorn is definitely one of them as it’s pure showcase material. The fluidity of the animation in general is great but goes to a whole other level during the active action sequences, the color design is fantastic and comes across with a rich palette that’s solid throughout, and the details in the background and parts of the character designs is just strong. It’s a beautiful release through and through and the cost of it is fully visible through this beautiful encoding
The packaging for this release comes in a slightly oversized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs across the hinges inside. The front cover uses a good visual that has Banagher front and center with the women around him while the mobile suits are along the top along with the ostensible villain of the series. The logo is kept along the bottom in its traditional Japanese design that looks nice and allows it to work as both UC and Unicorn. It’s a busy cover overall but it works well to highlight the key cast and the mobile suite side. The back cover goes for a streamlined approach with a good bit of empty space as we get a summary of the show’s premise that covers the basic and a breakdown of the extras. Episodes are listed by number and title and there are a couple of tiny shots included. What we do get along the bottom is a good larger shot of the titular mobile suit in full on mode with the red aspects standing out and that gives it a nice sense of power. The technical grid covers the audio and video side cleanly and accurately so you know what you’re getting into. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release are pretty Japanese as everything is laid out in the top menu with no real submenus to be had. The left side features some of the key visual work with each volume while listing which disc there is while the right brings us language selection (subtitles are not choosable) and episode selection before a large block where all the extras can be navigated. It keeps things simple to be sure even if it is busy with everything there but those that deal with Japanese releases will find this fairly familiar. Everything moves and loads quickly making it easily accessible and problem free.
What a difference from the original Japanese release that put most of its extras through the BD-Live feature that’s pretty much dormant these days. This release has a lot with each disc where the promos, character pieces, and other trailers and promotion for each episode fill things up. There are recaps along the way that are appropriately placed as well and there’s a good number of these kinds of extras in general, though they’re small and not exactly integral, but fun to check out to see how they were promoted.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn was originally planned as a six-episode OVA series based on the ten volume light novel series by Harutoshi Fukui before it expanded to a seventh one that was almost a double-length episode. The show as it came out beginning in 2010 was done as simultaneous worldwide releases with a multilingual approach.and obviously high prices to ensure Japanese pricing didn’t lose out on it. It was a fascinating thing that worked well for the most part but had fans having to deal with the reality of a lengthy project as it took five years for the seven episodes come out. Usually that’s not something you see since OVAs in general are a lost art/product these days. I had seen the first installment when it came out but it was too pricey for my tastes and knowing the length of time involved I wouldn’t get as much enjoyment out of it. So I waited patiently for this kind of set to be produced and sink my teeth into.
The original Gundam series with its One Year War storyline taking place in UC 79 was a big event in the anime world that led to a lot of changes with mecha series. It was followed up with a number of other shows in the timeline, such as 0080, 0083, the Zeta Gundam series and the theatrical movies of Char’s Counterattack and Gundam F-91. Add in the CG show done a few years ago that played in the One Year War time period and there’s a lot of very good material done for this while still having an immense amount of potential still open for other writers and creators. While Sunrise has focused a lot on essentially rebooting the franchise every couple of years with a new series to key in to current trends, Gundam Unicorn is made more for fans of the original work as it plays not only to that timeline but also the character designs and even the mecha designs. Everything here feels like an organic progression of the previous works.
Taking place in UC 0096, Gundam Unicorn first flashes us back to the end of the A.D. time period as the Universal Century is about to begin under a united world. The future is past for those who have watched the previous incarnations and we can understand how the Earth Federation didn’t carry through on their promise as well as the issues surrounding the Spacenoids who wanted independence from Earth and its grip. The events of the previous series are given some lip service, important mentions here and there, but it’s largely relegated to the history books. The kids that dominate this show have little connection to the One Year War. As an instructor at Anaheim Electronics Industrial College points out, that war started and finished a year before they were born. It has an influence on their lives but it doesn’t dominate it. It’s simply something that happened. But for the adults, events from then are still very much in play and various factions and actors are working to see that their beliefs and plans are followed through on. Thankfully, we don’t really see anyone from the previous titles though there are one or two really neat little mentions of important characters.
While Gundam Unicorn takes place in 0096, an event from 0001 is key here as we see the destruction of a space station and the survival of a man involved with it who is now still alive that has dealings with something called the Laplace Box. This mysterious Box, which may not even be a box, is being transferred to a group called the Sleeves that has plans for it that could lead to war. The current guardians of the Laplace Box is the Vist family which operates the Vist Foundation that operates in secret on one of the colonies. The mansion is in fact quite fascinating as it’s hidden at the tail end of a colony where nobody would normally see it. It’s in here that the head of the Vist family orchestrates his plans with a new mobile suit called the Gundam Unicorn, a new kind of Gundam that seems incredibly powerful and agile. The head of the family, Cardeas Vist, has an interesting meeting not long into this episode that changes his plans for the future.
With the Sleeves coming to the colony to gain the Laplace Box, there are those among them that believe that such an item should not come into their possession. For Gundam Unicorn, this is a young woman known as Audrey Burne who has come to try and dissuade Vist from allowing the Box to fall into the Sleeves hands. Her attempt doesn’t go well as she tries to sneak through the colony and she ends up in a near zero-g death spiral where she’s rescued by high school student Banagher Links, a very talented young man who can use a mini mobile suit with great skill. It’s quickly apparent that Banagher is a NewType, though the term isn’t what it used to be as more people have believed that people called that are merely ace pilots, so it’s lost its mystique as being an evolutionary step. Banagher becomes fascinated with Audrey, much to the dismay of his friend Micott who has a crush on him, and he finds himself now willing to do anything (along with his Haro replica) to help Audrey. His resolve is even stronger after he sees the people that are after Audrey that give off a creepy feeling to him.
Unsurprisingly, with this being the first hour of what’s essentially a seven and a half hour story, Gundam Unicorn is all about the setup. There’s a lot of material here that’s working to explain the modern world and its foundations while laying out the ideas as to why people will be fighting to change it in order to either fix what went wrong or to protect what they believe is right. Some things are explained well enough while others aren’t given all that much detail since the assumption is that this is aimed more towards existing fans rather than acquiring new ones. Watching this with someone who had seen no Gundam at all before, it was interesting to see that a lot of it made sense but other things would have been nice to have been expanded on, such as the colonies and some of the political make-up. Much of what we get here though is a rough introduction of the sides that are going to be involved, but even there it’s kind of weak as we’re thrown into this as an ongoing story that we’ve stepped into.
As the series progresses, familiar plot points are hit, such as the discovery that Banagher is the pilot of the stolen unit, which doesn’t go over well either. While he may have a few tricks up his sleeve to try and assuage them considering he saved them and there’s some lineage there he’s trying to use, the reality is that he’s (another) kid that lucked into a mobile suit and that doesn’t typically go over well. And it doesn’t hurt that the unit is also registered solely to him, not that it’ll matter much to the really strict military types who don’t care to deal with him seriously since he’s a young boy and a thief. Banagher has gotten himself into a rather big situation on a few levels because of it all and having it go from one attack to another has not given him any time to really figure things out, nor has anyone offered up any useful information to try and smooth it all out.
Gundam Unicorn does tease really well early on with the apparent second coming of Char under the guise of Full Frontal. Gundam has a long history of bad English based names and this one doesn’t help ease that in the slightest. On the plus side, through Frontal and Banagher, we get one truly beautiful action scene as the two fight it out in space with their respective mobile suits. There is a really great sense of intensity and beauty to it where you feel the impact unlike in any other series before this. The visuals and the audio presentation really drives home the power of these machines and the people in them, especially as the music rises with each new aspect of the battle. Highlighting these men that are the next generation of warriors, the way they handle things instinctively and in tune with their mobile suits, has reached a new level with Gundam Unicorn.
While the action plays out well, a fair bit of politics and social issues are thrown in as well. The more public revelation, at least among the crew of the ship, that Audrey is Mineva is surprising to most and hard to swallow for someone like Banagher. Banagher does hold his own well though when he goes up against Full frontal in person, giving as good as he gets in the verbal sparring the two do and not being intimidated by the man in the mask in front of him. So much of what’s happened has been confusing to Banagher with so many gaps in his knowledge that he’s more aggressive over it, reaching out for what he can with what he knows in an effort to figure out more but also to cement his own position as he knows it. It’s an interesting situation to be in, being so assured of his position but not entirely sure that it’s what will achieve what he believes since he’s unwise in the ways of how life works for adults.
There’s some interesting layers that do start to get exposed here as it covers some of what has gone on within the system in the last few years. What’s really nice is that we see more of how people live this time around, something I don’t think we’ve really seen since the 0080 OVA series. It’s not so much a look at various families or someone in particular, but Banagher finds himself out there in the colony and experiences things we don’t get to see, with the way there are run down areas and a sense of oppression and decline. Much of what we’ve seen of the colonies in the past has been largely utopian to some degree, or at least that’s the presented image, so getting something dirtier and more lived in here works well to make it even more accessible and realistic.
Once past the main setup, the OVA series does largely follow a familiar Gundam pattern. We get a couple of story threads that are focused on different areas, with Riddhe and Mineva together on Earth and touching on the various political aspects while Banagher gets his experience in space a while longer in learning the ins and outs of the military side. I do like that Riddhe’s story has him paired with Bright Noa for a while as he is one of the best calming characters in the franchise that sticks to a moral code that makes some sense. There’s a lot of interesting little pieces to these subplots that play out but mostly they work to bring the main characters into a greater understanding of how things work throughout the system in terms of people and politics. Riddhe needs it simply because of his parentage that has given him some privilege while Banagher needs it in order to be able to know more of what exists out there and the range of people than he did before with a fairly provincial life.
With the series originally set at six installments, I’m definitely glad that at the halfway mark of the run that they realized they needed a seventh episode. That installment helps to keep the prior episodes from really having to rush in problematic ways with those storylines and seeding the bigger picture with all the politics and social issues that have existed. Clocking in at just under ninety minutes, it’s a glorious episode for fans of the action and mecha side of it because it does deliver some stunningly beautiful sequences, including what feels like the first third of it alone being an action sequence. The storyline naturally brings the various sides together with the end representation really being Riddhe and Banagher but with key players taking on larger roles with Mineva as the one who must decide how things progress and the Vist side of it as a nod to how it all got here. While we do get some time with the Full Frontal side here that I’m still struggling to figure out if I really like it or not with the cyber newtypes and the combination of past elements that really needed to just be let lie with Char and Lalah, the focus on what we get from Vist about the past, the truth of Laplace’s Box and even the nods prior to it with how Full Frontal wanted to build their Co-Prosperity Sphere to force Earth into a new position are all intriguing. There’s so much ink spilled in novels over the decades about what mankind’s entry into space will entail with the fate of Earth itself that it’s endlessly rich. This storyline provides some intriguing context into it all, though in the end, it doesn’t truly feel like it gives us something really definitive with how it can move forward.
Gundam Unicorn works exceptionally well as a whole and is definitely the way it should be watched, though it does feel pretty weighty in each episode with what it actually accomplishes across the seven installments. The UC0096 time period is one that definitely offers up some neat things, though I have a hard time connecting it to the next installments with F91 and the like. What this really left me wanting is a UC0001 series where we see the events at the start of this series and explore the foundation of everything as a strong political thriller/drama. This release isn’t that but it touches on a lot of it and it is wonderfully put together. With visuals and animation that are at the top of its game and encoding and presentation to match, this is my favorite Gundam with how it looks and sounds – and it’s pretty close to the top with the story as well. The franchise definitely needs more works like this.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese 5.1 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English 5.1 PCM Language, The “Story So Far”, Episode EX “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, Episode Recaps, Episode 5 Ending with Lyrics, Trailers, Promotional Videos, Commercials, MS & Character Highlights, Episode 3 Textless Ending.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sunrise/Nozomi
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Running Time: 450 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.