Gundam Unicorn Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, March 12, 2010
Release Date: Friday, March 12, 2010

Gundam returns to the Universal Century to adapt the light novels of the same name with breathtaking animation.

What They Say
The year is U.C. 0096. Three years have passed since the end of the Second Neo Zeon War.

It is said that the Vist Foundation manipulates the Earth Federation and Anaheim Electronics from behind the scenes. Hoping to create a new world, the Foundation attempts to hand over a certain secret to the Neo Zeon remnants known as the Sleeves. This will mean the opening of Laplaces Box, which holds a great secret tied to the origins of the Universal Century.

The exchange between the Vist Foundation and the Sleeves is to take place at the manufacturing colony Industrial 7. This is the home of the student Banagher Links, who rescues a girl he sees falling through the colony's zero gravity area. The girl gives her name as Audrey Burne and says she wants to prevent a war, spurring Banagher to step into the conflict surrounding Laplaces Box, almost as if he is drawn in by his own bloodline.

Based on a story by author Harutoshi Fukui, the newest Gundam work dynamically unfolds against the backdrop of the Universal Century. It all begins with this first shocking episode.

The Review!

Audio:
Gundam Unicorn does it right out of the gate by providing a great bilingual presentation with both tracks in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The feature 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. We played with both language tracks and other than the usual differences in dialogue recording levels that are sometimes apparent, both mixes are fantastic and capture the feel of the show wonderfully. Though it isn't to the same level as some theatrical presentations, the work here is just right for this show. In addition to the two TrueHD tracks, both languages also get done in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 640kbps and providing that showcases very clearly the differences between lossy and lossless.
 
Video:
Originally release in 2010, the transfer for this OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080 using the AVC codec. Bandai Visual has done some stellar work here that's reminiscent of what we used to see when Honneamise released here with a high bitrate consistently in the mid 30's that gives us a beautiful presentation. The show is a marquee niche title for Bandai as the UC timeline doesn't have quite the allure it used to be they have not skimped in the slightest here which results in 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.
 
Packaging
Gundam Unicorn comes in a standard Blu-ray case which works well with the artwork here that helps tie it together with the color scheme. The cover artwork itself is a familiar thing with a split screen that has character artwork on one side, this time with Banagher and Audrey, while the other side has the Unicorn mobile suit and the head of the Vist family. There's a good contrast with one side being light and the other dark that plays well to the approach of both of them. The back cover is reminiscent of other Japanese releases I've had where it has a whole lot of text, the summary itself which is a bit lengthy as well sa the various production credits and technical information sections, along with a number of decent shots from the show itself. The background image of the golden mobile suit doesn't work too well and the cover looks far too busy, but they provide so much useful information, especially in the technical section, that I can't help but be happy. There isn't any reversible artwork here nor any show related inserts though we do get the standard Bandai Visual sheet on what BD-Live is and how it works.
 
Menu:
Being a worldwide release, the first screen we get is a shot of the space station against the Earth with a selection of which language you want. Depending on your choice, you get a different set of screens before coming to the main menu. If you choose Japanese, you get a skippable Honneamise logo and that's it. If you choose English, you get locked out FBI warnings and content warnings before the Honneamise logo and then the main menu.
 
Like most releases, the top level menu and pop up menu shares a lot of the same design elements. The menu has a great looking cockpit feeling as we see the screen as if we're looking at the stars with access points in front of us. Strangely, the top menu button won't take you here, you have to use the pop up menu and then select the main menu. Selections are standard and clean with the play, scene access and setup menus that are easy to navigate (especially if you selected English at the start!). In addition to that we gt the BD-Live menu and the credits menu along with a restart the movie selection. The menu has a good two minute loop with instrumental music that builds up the cockpit view and then closes it down at the end. When in the pop-up mode, you only get the scene access and setup submenus along withan option to go to the main menu or close the pop-up menu. These are nicely in theme and they feel like they fit well and flow with the content itself. Having the pop up menu up during playback is even pretty nice.
 
Extras:
The only thing you could classify as an extra on here is a breakdown of the staff and production credits that's found accessed from the main menu. All the things you might consider extras are part of the BD-Live side of the release.

Online Content:
The BD-Live section of the release is laid out in a fairly expected Gundam-esque design and considering it's tapping servers in Japan through the client, it doesn't do too badly but it is slower than one would like. The release has several things available on it that you can download and play through the menus though I don't think any of it is of any size that would impact the release if they were included on the actual disc, which I do favor.
 
The special contents section has several pieces that are pretty nice though some definitely seem familiar. The amusing one that kicks it off is a notice for episode two, which tells us is coming in autumn of 2010, and you can download this single static screen that runs for 12 seconds. Also available for download are about twelve minutes worth of promotional clips of the show that vary in length and do a pretty decent job of highlighting some of the good moments of the first episode. Also incldued is a pair of TV commercials that announced the release of this. All of these extras are in high definition 1080p.
 
Of note, and I do like this, is that there's a good selection of Bandai titles in their trailers menu that kicks off with the Gundam 00 movie that's due out in 2010. Along with other trailers, such as My-Hime and My-Otome, I do hope in the future that they provide these in subtitle form as well if they're going to promote international worldwide releases like Gundam Unicorn. You've got us watching, at least make sure we can understand it. The other trailers included are for Tales of Vesperia: First Strike and the VOTOMS OVA series release. The cute part? You can only see these if you start off the show by selecting Japanese at the three language start up screen as they're really meant just for Japanese audiences.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn is a planned six episode OVA series based on the ten volume light novel series by Harutoshi Fukui. This release, which has the first episode, is a rarity in the anime world as it's a worldwide simultaneous release of a new property with distribution done by Amazon in the US as well as having an English language dub made for it upon release. We've seen a couple of near-release dubs done in the past but this one hits a number of different things happening at the same time. More importantly though, at least in my book, is that this series takes us back to the Universal Century timeline of the Gundam universe.
 
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 six 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.
 
In terms of animation and design, Gundam Unicorn has completely blown me away. It's rich, it's detailed, it has a very distinct look that takes the original concepts and makes them highly realistic (outside of the mobile suits which have always been iffy in a lot of ways) and it treats it all with a theatrical level of animation. The character designs have an old school feeling to them with the softer and rounder faces for the kids while making sure the adults are sharper and duller in color. The mecha designs are great with a good level of detail and a fluidity to their movements that makes the battles extremely engaging. They've adapted a lot of things from the other shows in terms of how the mobile suits operate internally and with some of their weapons, but it's a progression that fits and adds to the overall Universal Century timeline. After watching this episode the first, second and third time, I have to say just from the animation quality alone in high definition, this release is worth every single penny.

In Summary:
Having watched all of the Gundam that's been released in the US and not being particularly enamored with the alternate universes created over the years, Gundam Unicorn is a return to the Real Gundam for me. The story here is still dealing with all the rough edges and the kind of less than clear storytelling that we do get from a Gundam show as it introduces lots of characters and toys with what it might be about. It plays brutally with death happening often, showing that nobody is really safe. We don't have any colonies being dropped or outright destroyed this time around so that's a plus but we're definitely in a world where it's not safe and war has arrived once again. Gundam Unicorn features some stunningly beautiful designs, from the characters and mecha to the world itself as we see the interiors of the colony and how its built. With the next installment due out in the autumn of 2010, it can't come fast enough. If only Bandai could get us the light novels here as well.
 
Features
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Language, Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chinese Subtitles

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 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.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 49.99
Running time: 50
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
Series: Gundam Unicorn