Anime Corner: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn RE:0096 Review

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The curse known as possibility.

What’s the Story?

The Universal Century is nearing its hundredth year and still there is tension between the Federation of Earth and the Spacenoids that where shipped off of the planet and into colonies all those years ago.  This tension is about to explode into a new conflict as the Federation and the forces of Neo Zeon compete to find the mysterious Laplace’s Box that is said to contain a secret that can bring down the Federation. Once more a teenager, this time Banagher Links, will be drawn into the conflict and called upon to pilot a mighty Gundam. The end of this century-long conflict is drawing near, but is that even possible?

The Review

Ok, I’ll hold my hands up, I may love Gundam but my experience with the main timeline (the Universal Century) is rather limited so I’m approaching this review from the point of someone new to this side of franchise. If I could I’d go back and start at the original series and experience the Universal Century as it was meant to be experienced, but for one reason or another it’s really hard to get a hold of over here in the UK, so when this series turned up on Crunchyroll my thinking was ‘Screw it, let’s just dive in’, even though, from what I understand, this is meant to be the end of the Universal Century.

As it turns out my whole ‘let’s dive in’ approach backfired on me pretty badly. This is not a series that is friendly to newbies, there’s a lot of continuity and talking about events and people that I’m clearly supposed to know about. Luckily I’ve read a couple of volumes of the Gundam Origin manga that retells the original series so I could get a grasp on who Char was, a rough idea of what happened in the One Year War and what New Types are (Wikipedia filled in the rest). Even outside of the masses of research you’ll need to do to watch this show, I still don’t think it’s that good a series, I can’t speak for how it stands against the rest of the franchise but it certainly doesn’t work as a standalone series.

We’ll start with this series’ biggest problem, pacing and editing. For one this show is just so slow, there are vast stretches of episodes where nothing really happens, just characters standing around talking and not accomplishing much, if you’re lucky you’ll get a minute or two of giant robots beating one another up, but that’s about it. It just drags on endlessly with wall-to-wall padding, which isn’t helped by the fact that most of the episodes come with a 5-minute recap of what happened the last episode, then there’s these weird cuts in the middle of episodes where the story backtracks a couple of minutes to repeat what happened just before the ad (which is something I haven’t since classic Doctor Who). It just leaves you with this feeling that this is a 13 episode series stretched out to 22. All of this starts to make sense once you realise that this series is a retelling of an ova series, now I haven’t seen that series so this is purely me talking out of my behind here, but does anyone else get the feeling this is just the OVA repackaged and stretched out to fill a gap in the schedule?

The lack of action doesn’t help this series either. Now I get what this series was going for, the previous series are meant to have all done the whole awesome battles between giant robots and looked at the horrors of war and such, so there’s no need to go over that again here. Also this series wants to take a more philosophical approach to itself, looking for a way to end this conflict that has stretched across the century and have a few discussions about human nature and the possibility of the future along the way. I appreciate that and maybe for someone who’s seen the other series this provides a bit of catharsis to this timeline, but more often then not in the show it just ends up as characters speechifying at us. Now don’t get me wrong some of the ideas that they talk about are really interesting, but a lot of the time my brain just switched off and the voices turned into that of Charlie Brown’s teacher. It didn’t help that my inner ten year old was jumping up and down screaming for giant robots to show up and start fighting.

The animation is amazing on this series, as you’d expect. Everything moves with a real fluidity and power to it, the characters designs are all distinctive and colourful; I love some of the designs for the mobile suits. The fights, all 12 minutes of them, are gorgeously rendered, but they’re just over too quickly. The series would finally be drawing me in with some quality action, when suddenly it was over and I slipped back into passive watching of all the events. I wanted this series to grab me, to wow me and make me care, but what with that dreadful pacing, the speeches and the blink and you’ll miss them fights I just couldn’t find the energy to care. The only characters I actually felt anything for were the Captain of the Sleeves ship and Marida (Oh and Mineva when she was in badass mode).

That brings me to Banagher. I really hated this kid throughout the first half of this series; I mean for crying out loud grow a spine boy! And that isn’t aimed at the fact that he’s another teenager put in a death machine who gets all weepy about killing people in a war he was never meant to be apart of, that’s very understandable and I’d be worried about this mental health if he didn’t react like that (he could be a bit less whiney about it, but that’s ok). No, what I mean by the spine comment is his insistence that he’ll do whatever Audrey (Mineva) wants to. A character, a good character, is made up of their own wants and desires (you know, like actual people), what does Banagher want? Nothing. Daddy issues? Forget that. Guilt over having to kill people? Who’s bothered? What does Mineva want him to do? Thankfully it doesn’t last and Banagher eventually grows out of it and starts dealing with other stuff, but when that whole “I’ll do what you tell me Audry” thing came up without diving deep into Banagher’s clear psychological issues for thinking that way, it just infuriated me. Thinking about it, there are a fair few characters in this series with clear issues that don’t get explored all that much, wish we could have spent a bit more time developing that than spilling philosophy all over the place.

The Verdict

In the end, Gundam Unicorn RE:0096 isn’t a series that I can recommend. Certainly don’t watch it if you’re not knee-deep in the Universal Century timeline and even if you are it’s probably best to track down the OVA series that came before this one. The animation is gorgeous and there are some interesting characters here, it’s just that the majority of them are underdeveloped. The slow pace and choppy editing robs what little tension the story can muster and there’s too much philosophy being hammered in and not enough giant robots beating the bolts out of one another. Sometimes possibility leads nowhere.

fish stamp avoid

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

 

 

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