When Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn first launched, it felt game-changing. A high-production continuation of the massively popular Universal Century timeline that actually continued the story rather than simply tell a side story during the original series or Zeta. The OAV series was massively popular, even spawning a television recut that even aired on Toonami. Now, Sunrise has created a sequel movie to Unicorn, titled Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (or Gundam NT for short). Was it worth the wait? Eh...
Gundam NT takes place in UC 0097, a year after the conclusion of Gundam Unicorn. There has been massive controversy after the revelations made by the opening of Laplace’s Box, and as a result, both the Unicorn and Banshee Gundams have been dismantled. However, there is a third Unicorn brother Gundam out there, a golden Mobile Suit known as the Phenex. The Mobile Suit becomes tied to the lives of three people known as the Miracle Children, who have amazing Newtype powers. One of them, Michele Luio, has become the adopted daughter of the Luio company and has become a major player in the business world due to her amazingly accurate predictions saving many people from the various tragedies in the past decade (which is really saying something considering how many people die in Gundam) and has created a new Gundam, the Narrative, in order to capture the rogue Phenex Gundam. Piloting the Narrative Gundam is fellow Miracle Child Jona Basta, a troubled man who feels deep regret and shame at allowing the other Miracle Child, Rita Bernal, be taken away for Newtype experimentation. He constantly struggles to effectively battle the Phenex, as it contains Rita’s soul, which usually ends up with lots of unnamed regular people dying. The remnants of Zeon are also after Phenex and have sent their own unit, led by talented but naive Erica Hugo and ax-crazy Zoltan Akkanen, and come into conflict with Jona.
The story is somehow both simple and convoluted at the same time. The basis of the main plot, to capture the Phenex and harness its awesome power, is relatively simple, but the way it’s told makes things a lot more pretentious than it should be. The political intrigue primarily deals with the Zeon forces trying to hunt Phenex without letting the Federation know, but as soon as they’re discovered, the film goes into a high-action climax that doesn’t really make a lot of sense (it involves a lot of helium tanks exploding that will destroy a lot of colonies and cause more destruction on Earth than the infamous colony drop in Sydney) and seems like it wants to argue what it means to be alive and dead and if immortality is a good thing or not. Oh, and more “Are Newtypes really real?” stuff that is kinda ludicrous at this point, especially in the meta sense.
By far the biggest reason this plot feels as clumsy as it is, is due to how its structured. During the first half of the film, the action constantly jump cuts from the present day to various points in the past in order to explore Jona, Michele, and Rita’s backstory, but then it immediately jump cuts back to the present day before cutting to a different point in the timeline. It’s especially bad during the battle at Side 6, which makes up most of Act II of the plot. A faction of Zeon and the main protagonists meet in their hunt for the Phenex, and from there it just gets confusing because the battle is constantly interrupted by flashbacks. For example, Jona is battling Zoltan for control of the captured Phenex, but in the middle of the battle we get a flashback to Jona, Michele, and Rita as kids in school. After a minute or so there, we flash back to the battle for another minute before going back in time to the group in the Newtype experimental program they’re a part of before coming back to the present day a few minutes later. There’s no transitions between these scenes, they just happen with no happenstance.
This creates a jarring narrative, so to speak, where the viewer cannot get a grasp of what’s going on because the flashbacks keep jumping around and interrupting the main story. Part of this is because Sunrise decided to make this a movie rather than a 3-part OAV, so it suffers from heavily condensing a story that needed time to flesh out into a runtime of under 90 minutes. It actually reminds me of another Gundam movie, F-91, which was supposed to be a TV series but was hastily rewritten to be a movie when plans fell through. The movie does tone down the constant flashbacks after the first two-thirds of the movie, but by then everyone is ramping up towards the final battle so the breakneck pace never gets a chance to breathe.
As a result of the slipshod story structure of the movie, the characters suffer the most. Jona’s personality is “anguish” and we know nothing about him other than he resents Michele and feels tortured over not saving Rita. The closest he gets to an actual friendship is with Iago, the Mobile Suit commander of the ship Michele recruits to capture the Phenex. However, they only share one or two brief scenes with one another and nothing really develops between them, so Iago’s growing respect for Jona feels manufactured. Rita is basically your standard Incorruptible Pure Princess stereotype, who quite literally exists solely as a plot device, particularly since it’s established early on that she was killed before the main plot kicks off. The only one of the three main characters to feel like an actual character is Michele, which is ironic since she was created exclusively for the movie and wasn’t in the novel this was based on. As a kid, she was happy-go-lucky, but sacrificed herself to ensure Jona & Rita’s safety, then grew up to be a hardass who continues to push Jona as far as she can in order to capture the Phenex. She isn’t as well developed as other Gundam characters, but compared to the other two Miracle Children, she’s the only one worth watching.
Thanks to condensed run time, the side characters aren’t that much more developed. Iago is the typical non-powered sane human who’s job is to react to all the crazy crap happening around him. This endears him to the audience, but compared to Lt. Burning from Gundam 0083 or Mu La Flaga from Gundam SEED, he comes off as enjoyable but nothing we haven’t seen before. Michele’s butler/assistant, Brick Teclato, exists to be stoic and to be ship bait with Michele, nothing more. There are scenes late in the movie where he shows off his undying loyalty to Michele, but it feels hollow since we barely know what makes him tick. Erica leads the Zeon team featured in the movie, and is often said to be extremely talented and special, but while she is a pretty cool character, she ends up being shoved aside in order to hype up Zoltan. As for the man himself, he provides the typical axe-crazy blood knight persona that gives the story a bad guy for the heroes to ultimately beat and nothing more. He’s supposedly a failed clone of Char Aznable and a rejected candidate for the title of Full Frontal, but this does nothing to enhance his character. The movie also brings back a few characters from Unicorn itself, but aside from Mineva, their faces aren’t shown on screen until near the end, despite them having distinctive designs and voices. Banagher is the most facepalming of the bunch, as the movie tries to make his reappearance a surprise but the audience is able to guess who he is the first literal second he shows up on screen. Even more oddly, Rita herself has her eyes hidden for the first half of the movie, only to eventually reveal that she has...perfectly normal anime eyes.
Not even the Mobile Suit designs can be called a saving grace. It makes sense to have most of the designs be re-used or modified from Unicorn’s suits since this does take place on a year afterwards, but with all the other problems in the movie, it just feels like Bandai wanted a cheap way to sell off excess Unicorn Gunplas (not helped by Bandai giving out posters before the movie showing off Gunpla and action figures). The Neo Zeong is hyped up as the most powerful Mobile Suit/Armor ever, but aside from its super hacking ability, it’s essentially the combination of the Neue Ziel and the Gundam GP-03 from Gundam 0083 and doesn’t feel all that special. The Phenex is basically a mashup of the Unicorn and Banshee and then painted gold. While the Narrative Gundam at least borrows some design elements from non-Unicorn Gundam suits (its first loadout is essentially the UC’s version of the METEOR units from Gundam SEED, while its second loadout reminds me a lot of Dreadnought H Gundam from Gundam SEED Astray), the final design feels like a combination of Unicorn Gundam and the GP-01b, which is saying something since both of them cribbed heavily from the RX-78. There are no Mobile Suit designs here that pop out and wow the viewer, especially if they’ve seen Unicorn.
Visually, the movie is also a mixed bag. For the most part, the animation is fine. The colors don’t pop as much as they do in Unicorn, but the crew applied a lot of effects to make some of the motions similar to the animation in Char’s Counterattack. There are some nice looking battle scenes here, but the condensed running time and constant jumping around makes the battles hard to follow and adds to the “blah” feeling in the movie overall. To make matters worse, there are several scenes that straight up recycles animation from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam (TV series and movies), Gundam ZZ, and Char’s Counterattack, and they look as tacky as you can imagine. What makes things worse is that the Battle of Dakar DID get a reanimated sequence and it looks gorgeous, as does the re-animated Sydney colony drop. It makes the reused footage stand out all the more. There was also a brief moment where one of the nameless grunts exposits before dying, and he very much looks like he was animated by the guys behind Sealab 2021. He even has the bobbing head.
The one area of the movie I have no complaints about is the music. I believe Gundam NT uses the same composer from Unicorn, and certain tracks are recycled, but the score is still beautiful. The movie also uses several vocal tracks, all of which do their job of enhancing the movie, but my favorite is the main theme song played during the climax, which is “narrative,” a collaboration between LiSA (who sang the opening to Unicorn Re:0096) and Sawano. The theatrical showing I went to was English dubbed, and it was mostly relative newcomers. Jona is voiced by Griffin Puatu (Charles in Zoolaplex), Michele is voiced Erika Ishii (Annabelle in Vampire: The Masquerade: L.A. by Night, and who sounds a bit like Michelle Ruff), and Rita Bernal is voiced by Brianna Knickerbocker (Filo in Rising of a Shield Hero and Sakura in the Fire Emblem franchise). All the returning characters kept their original voice actors. The dub was done by NYAV Post, who also did the dubs for Unicorn, Gundam: The Origin, and Iron-Blooded Orphans, and is of similar quality, so if you enjoyed those dubs, you’ll like this one. I do have to give extra props to the voices of the kid versions of Jona, Michele, and Rita. I don’t know who voiced them, but it sounds like they got actual kids to do the voice work, which is always appreciated, though I imagine a lot of people are so used to women playing children that hearing actual kid voices might sound off-putting.
Overall, this movie feels like a slapdash project made just to have something more out of the Unicorn line and never rises above that. It isn’t as bad as SEED Destiny, AGE, or Twilight Axis, but instead is just forgettable in every way. In an interview run before the movie, Director Shinichi Yoshizawa said that Unicorn closed one chapter of the Universal Century and that Narrative would start a brand new one. Unfortunately, that first step has fallen flat on its face.