It’s been tough for a Gundam fan lately. Unless you are particularly fond of the alternate universe offerings that have more or less defined Gundam for the past ten years, there’s been nothing much us devotees to the original series can really sink our teeth into and appreciate beyond some manga in GundamAce that I can’t read, and some neat model kits I don’t have time to build. Oh, maybe we can sink our teeth into Ring of Gundam. Or at least try.
But you know, we have nothing to worry about now. Gundam Unicorn is here. And it’s tasty.
I don’t even understand what’s going on beyond the basics so far! Big Japanese words go straight over my head. But that doesn’t matter. The punch that this first episode packs obliterates any language barrier one may have. This shit is a spectacle. I am not afraid to say that it is in fact what Gundam fans have for ages been longing for.
Let’s be honest UC fans–ever since First we’ve had to live with compromise. First Gundam is dated, but we can appreciate its raw spirit despite its sometimes poor production. Zeta Gundam is great, but it takes some time to get on its feet. Even when it comes to big-budget affairs like Char’s Counterattack or 0083, we kind of let the story side of those works slide a bit since they look so damn pretty. No one can agree on 08th MS Team. I guess 0080 is good, but I haven’t seen it in so long that I don’t even get the hamburger joke people always make. What I’m getting at is that this first episode of Unicorn can be enjoyed completely without compromise. The animation is slick, the plot is engaging, and the characters so far seem great.
Gundam Unicorn is clearly a reply to years of fan prayer. The First Gundam movies are amazing–there’s no question about that–but in the end it is a cartoon made to (initially) sell simplistic toys to children, and this simplicity is reflected in the look of the animation. However, because of First’s very realistic approach to war, it established this mindset in UC fans everywhere that the UC universe concerned itself with real, gritty war, even if it doesn’t really look like it. It’s serious stuff. It has gravity to it. Even if Char does pilot a bright pink Zaku. Excuse me, red.
As I mentioned before, previous big-budget Gundam series which have tried desperately to answer the cries of fans gave it the good ol’ college try–came out pretty great–but no one can agree on which one is good. I’m really jumping the gun here, but I have a feeling Unicorn will be universally embraced.
This first episode is a perfect mix of classic and modern. There are some traditional Gundam tropes sprinkled throughout, as well as some typically ridiculous scenes that can only really happen in a Gundam series. But they’re pulled off with high levels of class. Alongside these scenes is a developing plot that I already find engaging, despite not fully understanding it. This too is of course handled with the same amount of class. The whole episode in general has a very serious streak, and evokes an epic tone skilfully.
As I alluded to before, the animation is more or less phenomenal. There is some dodgy 3D work at times, but for the most part this is film-caliber stuff. Characters make pronounced and full movements, the camera isn’t afraid to move around, and the world is convincingly alive and breathing. Mobile suit battles aren’t simple exchanges of beam spam. This is a show in which 30 seconds are spent on a Zaku making a suicide run at an enemy suit while the various pieces of its frame slowly come apart due to being nearly destroyed moments earlier. This is a show in which fights have actual choreography. Suits move around, dodge, and fire with intention. Nothing looks stiff. Background music that fits like a glove doesn’t really hurt things, either.
The character designs are a breath of fresh air. Yasuhiko Yoshikazu is one of my most favourite artists of all time, and seeing his designs come to life by way of anime designer Takahashi Kumiko fills me wholly with joy. Specifically the girls. Maybe I just like poofy hair or something, but these girls are hot. Well, Gundam girls always have been, but in a time when anime has more or less perfected the art of making girls look really cute, the girls in Unicorn shine bright. There’s this scene where one of the main girls, Audrey, eats a hotdog. She blushes at the end. It’s pretty moe.
Well, that ended on a perverted note! Anyway, all I’m saying is that Gundam Unicorn is what a lot of us have been waiting for. If further episodes can somehow find a way to top this one, we’ll be looking at the greatest Gundam show ever made.