For the past 30 years, the narrative and thematic conclusion of the One Year War arc of the Universal Century was Char’s Counterattack. The film is wonderfully animated, with intense action sequences, but in my view it felt less like a thematic conclusion of the themes of the first 3 Gundam series, and more of a return to the narrative of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime series. As I mentioned in my review of Gundam ZZ – that worked for me when what I knew of the Universal Century was just the original series, but it became less and less resonant as I made my way through the story. Gundam Unicorn, on the other hand, feels much more resonant, and fits as a conclusion to this part of the Universal Century.
The show is set 3 years after the events of Char’s Counterattack, and follows Banagher Links, a young man who is going to school at Anaheim Electronics Industrial College, when he runs into a girl literally falling from a repair passage in the colony, who he saves. She tells him her name is Audrey Burne, but she later turns out to be Minerva Zabi, the heir to the throne of the Duchy of Zeon.
She, and a separate group from Zeon, have come to this colony seeking something called “Laplace’s Box” – material from the Laplace Orbiting Habitat, which had been originally been intended to be the seat of government for the Earth Federation, before it was destroyed in a terrorist attack at the dawn of the Universal Century. Supposedly, the contents of this box are something that could completely upturn the current political order.
The key to this box lies within the Unicorn Gundam, a special mobile suit created by the Vist family, who are the majority shareholders of Anaheim Electronics. When the colony where Links and his classmates are studying ends up caught in the middle of a battle between the forces of Neo Zeon who have come to claim the Gundam, and the Federation ship Nahel Argama (sadly not commanded by Beecha, which would have been a nice touch), which is pursuing the Zeon vessel, much like Amuro, Kamille, and Judeau before him, Banagher ends up falling into the cockpit of a Gundam and must fight to protect his friends.
Gundam Unicorn is very much clearly meant to be a thematic conclusion to the original One Year War saga. The story features a few survivors of the One Year War – with Bright Noa in particular featuring a prominent role, but the main leads of the series are very much children of the One Year War – with Minerva being the daughter of Dozle Zabi, and Banagher having grown up during the war. While they are caught up in the events of this perpetuating conflict, it’s the adults of Zeon who seek the most to continue the war, and who are holding on to the grudges and hatreds of the past, while our protagonists, most of whom are Newtypes want to take the steps to move on into a new world.
Minerva in particular is actively looking to find a way to end this incredibly destructive conflict (seriously, Earth has been hit with at least 4 colony drops by this point, and barely missed an Extinction Level event with the dropping of Axis) – in a way that allows Spacenoids a strong say in their own destiny. This also comes up with how the antagonists work.
While Neo-Zeon, lead by a literal Char-clone in the form of Full Frontal, continues to serve an antagonistic role – they share antagonist duties with the Vist Foundation. Full Frontal refuses to just let the war end, now trying to start a “Spacenoid Co-Prosperity Sphere” (yes, they use those exact words), to economically shut Earth out from space until they accept Zeon hegemony. The Neo-Zeon veterans of the One Year war just want to punish Earth and perpetuate their old grudges (while saying how superior they are to those whose “souls are weighed down by gravity”). Additionally, the Vist Foundation has been profiteering from this conflict through Anaheim Electronics and their political connections, so if the wrong people get ahold of Laplace’s Box, their power and prestige would be destroyed.
The characterization of the series is very good. Banagher Links is something of a happy medium between Amuro Rey and Judeau Ashita. He has Amuro’s sense of empathy, and Judeau’s desire to avoid bloodshed. Further, he has great chemistry with Minerva. Minerva on her own is probably the best written female character in the Universal Century, just surpassing the Gundam: the Origin version of Sayla Mass. She has a tremendous amount of agency, and basically her actions and choices dramatically drive the plot of the series, with Banagher’s actions helping her achieve her goals more than his own personal agenda. Indeed, in the first episode of the series Banagher straight up says that all he wants to do is help Minerva, and if she feels that she needs him, then he’ll be happy. The way the sentiment is localized in the subtitles is that he wants her to want him, but the sentiment could just as easily be interpreted as simply that he wants to her to feel that he’s a help to her. It’s still not a healthy view – as he’s dependant on someone else for his sense of well-being, but it’s less objectifying, and neither perspective takes away from what Minerva accomplishes in this show.
In a lot of ways, Gundam Unicorn takes all the thematic elements of the stories set within the saga of the One Year War and its aftermath, from the original Mobile Suit Gundam through Char’s Counterattack, and wraps them up and lays a path forward – capturing the idea that Gundam ZZ laid out that the generation that will move the solar system past this destruction would not be the one that started the One Year War, but the one which came after, and that it’s important for the older generations, as represented by Bright, Otto Midas, and Suberoa Zinnerman, to help them achieve their goals instead of serving as an obstacle.
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