Revenge is cute – anime critique: Shirobako

Shirobako_Promotional_PosterTitle: Shirobako
Format: tv anime
Genre: slice of life, satire, comedy, drama
Series Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Studio: Warner Entertainment Japan P.A.Works
Series length: 24
Original Airing dates: October 9, 2014 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

The story follows a group of five best friends, Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Misa Todo, and Midori Imai, who all go into the anime industry after their experiences in the animation club of their high school. The series depicts the daily troubles and hardships the five experience in their respective jobs, as well as their efforts to overcome them, largely focusing on Aoi and her fellow staff at animation studio Musashino Animation as they work on two anime television series.


Critique:

Whoever wrote & created this series was doing three things:

1: show a fanciful yet realistic depiction of what goes into creating anime by showing the drama, tension & creative issues behind the scenes of an animation studio.

2: pack in as many references to their favourite series, creators, directors & artists as they could by altering their names & general depictions but still letting the audience know who & what they are talking about.

& 3: getting revenge on people by depicting various characters as incompetent idiots or selfish, lazy or generally scumbags. Truly, the people behind this series are taking the opportunity to put the boot into as many people as they feel fucked them over during the careers -from uncooperative authors to over-confident but useless P.A.s, artists who can’t meet deadlines & directors too wrapped up in themselves to be able to finish anything.

All three points are references heavily throughout the series & that just makes it an utter joy to watch -especially the depictions of people as feckless to get revenge on someone. Brilliant!

I truly adored this series, knowing nothing about it when I started watching it.

Like so many comedy-dramas, it’s about people finding their goals in life & working towards their dreams but unlike so many other series out there, Skirobako focusses not on teenagers overcoming the struggles of adolescence into maturity but rather on the daily struggles of young women -either at university or have graduated from it- as they try to realise what they want from life & deal with whatever obstacles may get in their way.
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Like so many protagonists in such series, Miyamori Aoi is indecisive about what she really wants to do with her life. Her love of anime lead her, along with most of her friends from her high school anime society, into a job in the animation industry but she’s unsure if she has the ability or passion to move beyond being a simple Production Assistant. This lack of confidence extends over to her 4 friends as well; with Ema questioning whether she has the talent for drawing animation; if Misa should stick with a secure job in 3D graphic design or take risk with an unsecure job; Midori wandering what it takes to be a writer; & Zuka fretting over if she should continue trying to be a voice actress after so many failed auditions.

The questions of confidence & ability extend into the extremely extensive supporting cast. With many characters questioning if they have the talent to be working in the animation industry whilst others, like the exceedingly & purposely annoying Takanashi, being over confident in their utter lack of ability or understand. Yet Takanashi, despite all his many many many annoying (many) traits, has a dream that he wants to achieve & sticks to his guns no matter how useless he is.

The recurring themes of confidence, talent & ability -whether natural or practised- is a constant within anime & manga. This is often depicted that those who have a natural talent for something as being inherently superior because they don’t have to work at anything, where in reality it is always the opposite. With those working hard to get better often being more talented than those for whom it comes naturally because they often get bored with the lack of challenge.

Upon the surface, Shirobako seems to fall into the former camp of praising the naturally talented but in fact the series goes on to show that those whom people proclaim to be “geniuses” or naturally talented in fact worked, struggled & fretted over their own abilities & talents to reach where they are. The use of the term -& characters whom embody- genius is used in the show to demonstrate how people can be dismissive of others &/or themselves for not fitting moulds that they don’t understand. More so if someone outside of the specific field judges everyone by the standards of whom they consider a genius yet are entirely ignorant of what goes into achieving any success in that field.
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Which is, in turn, another major conceit of the series. That is: exploring (almost) every facet of creating anime.

The series delves into the many roles & jobs that goes into making a TV anime series, even down to the most obscure & seemingly perfunctory ones. That is because, in the creator’s mind, every role in the series is important. Which the director Kinoshita keeps saying to every member of the production team; that they specifically are the most important part of the series they are creating. & to show the importance of pretty much every job in the animation industry, they feature an exceptionally large cast of characters; many of whom make a single appearance & then aren’t seen again until the final episode. Which is actually fine, because they exist to explain what their actual jobs are or to make references to past techniques, productions or figures involved in animation.

Complimenting this job are Aoi’s two imaginary figures -her goth loli doll Mimuji and her bear Roro (Lolo)- who act as Aoi’s subconscious. They’re function is to work through the dilemma or stress that Aoi has or explain to the audience the various tasks that Aoi is doing. The flashback to how they came about as figments of Aoi’s imagination is very cute, basically involving her older sister using them to talk to Aoi whenever she felt stressed or depressed.

In fact, the turns of imagination are some of the best parts, such as when Kinoshita envisions himself flying or enacting parts of one the two series he directs. Better yet is when the series forgets reality entirely & throws in one of the best Ryu from Street Fighter references that has ever been!
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The arc of the series encompasses Aoi’s life as she works at an animation studio, Musashino Animation, that is trying to regain it’s former glory after a string of failures. Likewise, the overweight & emotionally immature Kinoshita is trying to regain confidence after his last anime series Boing Boing Paradise (a reference to hypersexualised fan service mega-breasted anime like Eiken) but is constantly reminded of his failures & falls into slumps of laziness & depression. Similarly, most staff or external workers for the company all have their own issues that they are trying to overcome in order not to lose face. Or, like Takanashi, are completely lazy, over-confident or shirking their work to do other things.

It's not fan service if it's mocking fan service.
It’s not fan service if it’s mocking fan service.

The series begins with a perfect tribute to Initial D, as Aoi races to beat a rival animation studio PA from recruiting a freelance animator Segawa Misato. This is important because Musashino Animation are trying to regain their reputation with a new original anime, Exodus (a reference to Magical Girl idol anime stuff) & goes into details the struggles with writing, getting people onside & the daily grind of animation production; all whilst Aoi & her 4 friends try to figure out what they want to do.

The 2nd arc is Musashino Animation, having gotten kudos for their work on Exodus, managing to score the rights to adapt a highly sort after manga, The Third Girls Aerial Squad. This shows Aoi being promoted to the head of the Production Desk (basically, running all the day to day operations & managing the other Production Assistants as well as liaising with & recruiting other freelance workers). This arc goes into more depth of the politics involved when dealing with other creators, publishers & sponsors -all of whom want to control or add their own little bits or do what they want because it will make their companies look better. It really shows the struggle with trying to please everyone but stay true to your own artistic vision. Couple with individual characters personal struggles.
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The characters are truly what makes it work, even with such an extensive cast. They all have their distinct visual styles & personalities as well as little quirks.

This is very much a moé series with touches of hypersexualisation. Yet these are not for fan service but rather referencing how fan service is used. A few of the female characters are really sexy but they are not sexualised. They are not lingered upon or ogled by the camera. Their beauty is there as part of the moé experience. All of the characters are designed to be cute or interesting in some way; each with their own visual signature or clothing style but are dressed differently episode to episode -for the most part that is.

Over all, the quality of the animation is superb. With vibrant colours, clear lines & very well rendered action. It even throws back to more classic styles of animation when they flash back to a past series such as Anders Chucky (kinda like Kimba the White Lion or other similar cute animal series from the 70’s). It even through complete Gundam & Neon Genesis Evangelion reference in for good measure, even using their animation styles for the posters & back ground clips playing on things. A lot of love has gone into the designs & animation, making sure you know who is who & what is going on -even as they mix in the meta-series that they are working on (both with their own unique styles). The series even goes into detail about how CGI is used in modern anime series & how this can cause conflict with those who wish to be more traditional.
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In the end, this is a series with so very few faults. I utterly adored it. Finding it clever, touching & exceedingly funny. There are so many references & great moments buried within it that it bears watching again & again if you can. I do wish that I could talk about it more, but that would just spoil all the little things that you’ll pick up in it. Some characters are designed to really piss you off (Takanashi primarily but there are others too) but once you realise this was someone getting their revenge on people who had pissed them off, it makes the series all the more greater!

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It’s the Anti-Gundam Mech series – Anime Critique: Aldnoah.Zero

60263Title: Aldnoah.Zero (Aldnoah Zero, Arudonoa Zero)
Format: TV anime
Genre: mecha, sci-fi, action, war
Series Creator: Gen Urobuchi
Series Director: Ei Aoki
Studio:  A-1 Pictures, TROYCA
Series length: 12 episodes (first series half)
Original Airing dates: July 5 – September 20, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

In 1972, an ancient alien hypergate was discovered on the surface of the moon. Using this technology, humanity began migrating to Mars and settling there. After settlers discovered additional advanced technology, the Vers Empire was founded, which claimed Mars and its secrets for themselves. Later, the Vers Empire declared war on Earth, and in 1999, a battle on the Moon’s surface caused the hypergate to explode, shattering the Moon and scattering remnants into a debris belt around the planet. Cut off from Mars, the remnants of the Vers insurgents established several massive orbital space stations within the debris belt and a ceasefire was established. 15 years later, in 2014, an attack on the Vers princess during a peace mission causes the Empire to launch a new attack on Earth, this time determined to conquer it once and for all.


Review:

Ever since the original Mobile Suit Gundam franchise launched in 1979, most mecha anime series have stuck to a simple formula. A powerful militaristic force attacks a pacifist nation/colony/organisation seeking hidden super technology, male teen who is passionate yet otherwise conflicted over the war is drawn into battle by having to rescue someone, male teen discovers hidden super powered prototype mecha which immediate responds to him, male teen fights to save home by killing enemy, male teen is taken by the military unit who originally ordered the mecha despite his reluctance to fight/kill outside of initial rage fuelled hissy fit, male teen becomes good at killing, male teen is driven by conflict & teen angst to become a better person & gets over trauma of killing people, teen male wins overall war.

The Heavens Fall
The Heavens Fall

It’s all pretty simple & so many other series (such as the afore-reviewed Buddy Complex) play on variations of this. Changing the circumstances of how the uber mecha was discovered or their individual reasons for fighting. Yet Aldnoah.Zero is one of the few series which almost completely scrapes this formulaic construction, replacing it with a slightly more original narrative.

It still deals with the tropes of invasion to a superior force that permeates the genre (a lingering remnant of Japan’s loss at the end of WW2) as well as some pretty standard character archetypes. But these are nigh inescapable factors within the mecha & sci-fi based war genres. They can be overcome with a good creator but they do stand for a lot of narrative shorthand for the audiences. Despite these tropes & cliches, Aldnoah.Zero does strive to be as far from the Gundam formula as much as they can.

Inaho is the one in the middle with the bondage choker.
Inaho is the one in the middle with the bondage choker.

In place of the passionate, driven conflicted hero in his uber mecha, we have Kaizuka Inaho -who is cold, calculating, detached & attached to his basic orange student Kataphracts (also spelt Cataphracts, the series name for humanoid mech units). Instead of using guts & fiery testosterone driven passion, Inaho uses cool intelligence & team work to destry his enemies. Weighing risk & reward, making solid plans based upon observation of the superior enemy Kataphracts; beating them with his basic unit & superior tactics.

In fact, only the enemies have super powered Kataphracts & the explanation as to why the Terran forces can’t steal is woven well into the overall narrative fairly well -even though the separation of the Terran & Mars/Vers humans is a touch confusing at times since not enough time had passed to allow for an entirely new cultural identity to be formed as well as new social structure to emerge in the Vers kingdom.

Unfortunately, in this half season so far, because Inaho is so cold when don’t actually get much access to him as a character. You just get the smarts on the surface, not the emotions below as well as his overall motivations. He comes off as apathetic, doing what is best in any given situation. Lacking any drive & passion. Usually in such a genre I’d find this a welcome change but unfortunately we don’t get to see anything deeper within him.

This is a general issue of the overall characters & their tropes.

You have the loyal servant/friend, looking to find the truth behind what confronts him. The idealistic princess who hides her pain & naivety behind her smile as she hides her true identity from those around her. The taciturn girl looking for revenge. The over-loyal assistant who ends up revealing too much because they believe too strongly in decorum & social rank. The bubbly female friend who secrets loves the hero & will fight by his side. The loud male friend who wants revenge but is too distracted by a pair of tits to be serious. The overprotective big sister who’s devotion borders on the incestuous. The outwardly cold commanding officer who is devoted to saving all under her command. The able but slightly thick 2nd in Command. The fallen hero, hiding his pain & humiliation in bravado & drink. The overly noble villain looking to right all injustice. The true villain who actually can justify his cause. Et cetera, et cetera.

These are merely the surface affectations of these various characters. There is more to most of them, since they are given some motivation & personal agency. The trouble is that they aren’t given enough time to develop or shine -apart from a few of the Vers nobles. Who are given a bit of context but since the background of Vers is kind of flubbed over, it’s hard to ground them in your mind & understanding.

I do truly hope that the 2nd season develops the characters & the universe they inhabit a lot more. Because it’s very interesting, with humans leaving Earth to take control of alien technology & finding that with all of their new found power, they are still helpless in the face of an uncaring universe.

Smashy! Smashy!
Smashy! Smashy!

The motivations for the Versian aggression actually speak close to the reality of how wars begin. Leaders scapegoating other people, blaming them for the lack of resources & all the hardships that the soon-to-be aggressors suffer under. All to placate, distract & stir up the populace so they won’t look at the real causes of their misery -such as the failings of their political system, environmental issues & overall inequality. It honestly reflects Japan in both its past & present -with echos of how the Japanese military stirred up the people to march out in invasion as well as showing how the current government under Prime Minster Abe are sabre-rattling with China to distract from many national economic & environmental issues.

The political stuff aside, the series tries to bring the macro down to the personal in terms of motivation. Using justifications for revenge as an impetus to whip people into a bloodied frenzy -even if they have to stage these justifications themselves. This all plays into the class system of the Vers people as well as the seething resentment of the Terrans after the Moon was destroyed by unknown means & the environmental chaos that followed.

Ideas of justice play strongly into the ploy of the series. With the motto under the title being taken from the old Latin phrase “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” –Let Justice Be Done Though the Heavens Fall. Basically, it means that justice must be sought out anywhere, regardless of the damage that hunt may do. All must be answerable before the greater Law.

Yet Justice does not equal Revenge & visa-versa.

Even if one does confuse & conflate the two, Justice must stand above the pettiness of Revenge. All must be answerable for their actions.

It is this ideal to which the characters become polarised. Inaho & his mirror/rival Slaine Troyard stand for justice & exposing the truth, whilst there are entire political machines build to perpetuate the ideology of revenge -be it personal pride or some sense of greater, invented injustice for a near crippled yet still superior people.

The other good thing about Aldnoah.Zero is that is doesn’t bog you down in endless political diatribes, but rather makes the ideas of Justice & Revenge more personal for the individual characters (those who are allowed to develop).

It all plays back into the notion of Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Because the idea of heaven falling isn’t a metaphor but a reality of when the fragments of the Moon rained down upon the Earth, killing Terran & Versian alike. All being equal under the Wrath of Heaven.

The animation is good, if a little dull in terms of colour palate. It fuses traditional cell animation for background & characters with CGI for the vehicles & Kataphracts. The designs of the Terran mecha are pretty bog-standard but the Versians have some interesting designs, especially how they use their weapons. Unfortunately you kind of get a villain of the week formula, so you don’t see many Versian mechs in the space of the 12 episodes but how they are dealt with are as well rendered as their designs.

The soundtrack is also well done. With Kalafina providing the opening track & another group providing the inspiring semi-pop song (alla KILL la KILL) during some of the battle scenes. It’s been doen before but it’s still highly affective.

Overall, Aldnoah.Zero is a great antidote from a lot of what plague the overburdened Mecha genre. It is unfortunately that is is more focussed on it’s beautiful battles then any character development but I honestly hope this will be remedied in the 2nd half of the season (which screens the start of 2015). There is so much to recommend this serious, over its aforementioned failings.

If you love light sci-fi war anime as well as the Mecha genre, this is your best bet for something truly original in a long long time. If you aren’t so invested in those genres, then why are you reading this critique when you could be out there doing other things?

Truly, like the Fist of an Angry God!
Truly, like the Fist of an Angry God!

Franchise Investment Rewarded – Anime Critique: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn [complete series]

gundam_unicornTitle: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
Format: OVA
Genre: mecha, sci-fi, space opera, politics, action, military
Series Creator: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Series Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Studio: Sunrise
Series length: 7 OVAs
Original Airing dates: February 20, 2010 – May 17, 2014
Reviewed format: blu-ray downloads with official subs


Synopsis:

The series begins in U.C. 0001, at the very beginning of human space colonization, when a space colony called Laplace is destroyed during a ceremony hosted by the Federation’s Prime Minister ushering in the Universal Century dating system. The main story takes place in UC 0096, sixteen years after the end of the One Year War and three years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack.

The story revolves around Banagher Links, a seemingly normal boy living and going to school in the space colonies. His life changes one day when he meets a girl named Audrey Burne, as the encounter brings him into contact with a new Gundam and its connections to an item called “Laplace’s Box”.


Review:

After 4 years and 7 cinematically released OVAs, Gundam’s Universal Century (UC) latest story in it’s 35 year long saga, Gundam Unicorn, is finally at an end.

Thus leaving the question: was the financial and emotional investment worth it?

In this not so humble critic’s view it, for the most part, was. Yet that is all tempered against how much actually investment you had in the series & the Gundam franchise as a whole.

I’ve been an active consumer of Gundam anime and gunpla (Gundam models) for almost 24 years now, so my investment is pretty high (which I think I proved in my Gundam Build Fighters review from several weeks back).

Gundam Unicorn is a series for the most invested consumer, because it references events & characters from all through the previous Universal Century series (Gundam 0079, Gundam Zeta, Gundam ZZ & all the various OVAs) yet it isn’t so impenetrable that a lay viewer won’t be able to understand & appreciate it.

It has all the usual hallmarks & meta-themes that one comes to expect from the Gundam meta-universe: fast paced space action, complex characters with complex choices, not a great deal of respect for female characters, dense confusing political agendas &, of course, giant fucking robots!

Due to the odd nature of the releases of Gundam Unicorn -7 staggered releases over 4 years- I’ll be reviewing them in a slightly different fashion. That is: reviewing each ‘episode’ individually, highlighting plot & themes, before giving my usual strange, disjointed summary at the end.

So, without further adieu, here we go.


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Episode 1: Day of the Unicorn

We begin at The Beginning.

Now, that isn’t some smug critic’s line, the 1st episode begins at the dawn of the Universal Century, where the Anno Domini Era becomes no more.

Humans have begun to leave a polluted Earth to set up orbital colonies at the same time all world governments have renounced sovereignty in favour of a unified government known as the Earth Federation. The colonies become like the colonies of the old Earth empires, with no self governance, controlled & exploited by the Federation.

The ceremony to mark the passing of the old calendar into the new space UC era is disrupted by a terrorist bombing, which destroys the presidential space station as well as killing off much of the government, as well as destroying their corner stone -the Universal Charter.

96 years later, one of the remnants of Neo-Zeon (AKA the Space Nazis) known as The Sleeves are on their way to the space colony Industrial 7 to acquire the series MacGuffin, Laplace’s Box, so they can battle the Federation anew. Unfortunately this leads into an ambush but we get to see a great battle between the Federation task force, Londo Bell, and The Sleeve’s uber Mobile Suit the Kshatriya.
Gundam Unicorn - Kshatriya FUCK YEAH 1
After one very pretty battle scene, we cut to our new Fated Hero & Pilot, Banagher Links. A 16 year old engineering student who feels bored with life, despite the constant attempts of his female classmate Micott Bartsch to get his attention.

After the shuttle that was meant to take Banagher & the rest of his class back to the main part of the colony breaks down, Banagher begins to reflect on why people wage war, all whilst staring at the remains of a Zaku Mobile Suit. Our hero then spots a mysterious Mobile Suit flying off in the distance, which triggers something within him -most likely Newtype related.

Anyway, the Sleeves arrive at Industrial 7 but a mysterious girl (mysterious only if you’ve never paid attention to any previous Gundam UC series or manga) slips from their ship & proceeds to sneak around the colony. Unfortunately for her this means she ends up falling down the gravity well along the central shaft but before she goes splat, she mentally calls out for help. Naturally, Banagher hears her calls & rushes off to rescue her -which pisses of Micott, who was trying to get his attention again.

Banagher steals a construction pod & rescues the mysterious falling girl before they run out of fuel & crash safely. She proceeds to tell Banagher that she is on a desperate mission & must leave him but he, like EVER SINGLE male anime protagonist, vows to help her no matter what despite not knowing anything about her.
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This is seriously something I question as a trope but is common across all media. The hero helping the female character do the strangest, most dangerous things despite having only met them. I truly long for the day where the female is revealed to be the true villain of the piece or, better yet, a man in drag who is actually the central villain.

Anyway, The Sleeves arrive to collect the MacGuffin but realise the mysterious girl was actually with them, so they set off to find her. Whilst this happens, we see more political stuff & background of the mysterious Mobile Suit that Banagher saw earlier. The mysterious girl also gives Banagher an obviously false name, Audrey Burne (a reference to Audrey Hepburn & one of her films about a runaway because there was a poster that they passed). Quick fight between members of The Sleeves who are trying to take Audrey back & Banagher, followed by his school friends talking about current events. Micott sees Audrey & Banagher together & realises that she’s been totally clit-blocked.

Sexually blocking of the clit or cock variety & rejection will become a common theme with this series, as it is a common meta-theme through the entire Gundam franchise but the perceived clit-blocking & rejection in Unicorn doesn’t become as bad as it does in say Gundam Zeta -where a female pilots betrays all of the heroes because no o e would bang her.

Audrey & Banagher arrive at the Vist manner, which is stuck in Banagher’s memory for unknown reasons, where they meet Cardeas Vist, the keeper of the MacGuffin. Here Audrey rejects Banagher in order to save him but, if you’re a regular anime viewer, you know how well that works out. Despondent, our hero leaves to rejoin his classmates, while The Sleeves arrive to collect the MacGuffin.

Whilst they are informed that the MacGuffin they are to receive is actually a ‘key’ & not the MacGuffin itself, Londo Bell arrives to ambush The Sleeves, which causes their paranoid Zaku pilot to lose his shit & attacks, getting slaughtered. This causes Sleeves’ ace pilot, Marida Cruz, to launch in the Kshatriya.

As with almost all Gundam series, this brings the battle inside of the colony, which is damaged by both Marida & the Federation forces. Marida also accidentally kills most of Banagher’s classmates, save for Micott & his best friend Takuya.

Strangely this doesn’t trigger the usual psychotic rage you see in other Gundam protagonists & is never really brought up again even though it could’ve been used for development both antagonism & understand between various characters & organisations.

Anyway, Banagher abandons his two friends to go save Audrey, whilst the colony explodes around them. Whilst that’s going on, The Sleeves captain leaves Vist thinking they have ben betrayed but it was actually Vist who was betrayed by members of his own Foundation, mainly his son Alberto -who fatally wounds him.

Meanwhile, Audrey has escaped on her own & runs into Micott & Takuya -automatically triggering Micott’s clit-blocked rage but before the girl can lash out, they are almost killed by the flaming wreckage of a Mobile Suit falling on them, only to be saved by the tritagonist Riddhe Marcenas, who -naturally- becomes instantly smitten by Audrey. Taking her & the other two back to their main ship.

Whilst this is transpiring, Banagher FINALLY stumbles across the Unicorn Gundam, which has Cardeas Vist inside. After being berated by Banagher for not using the Unicorn to protect the colony, the dying Cardeas hands over the Mobile Suit to the boy, revealing (after a fashion) to actually be Benagher’s father -whom had been mentioned as abandoning him earlier in the OVA.

Now we get to see the Unicorn in action, where is flies out of the colony ready to confront the enemy, only to have the episode end as soon as he’s in space & the Unicorn begins its transformation sequence from unicorn mode into destroyer mode (which all the pretty red glowy bits!).
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Now, this section was a bit long winded to get everything set up.

What the episode gets into is a brief history of everything that’s happened since the film Char’s Counterattack as well as emphasising the importance of the MacGuffin, Laplace’s Box, is the all sides involved in the military & political conflicts. It also sets up the characters & the recurring themes of them.

Like with all Gundam series, it delves heavily into the notion of children vs adult, absent parents, the horrors of war, why/how war is perpetuated as well as the difference between killing people out of revenge & our of self-defence & how in the end there isn’t much difference because it all adds to continuing hatred on all sides involved in conflict.

So, onto episode 2.


Episode 2: “The Second Coming of Char” AKA “The Red Comet

We start with a fairly epic battle between Banagher in the awakened Unicorn and Marida in the Kshatriya. Marida has the training but Banagher has a mega psycho Mobile Suit which only wants to destroy Cyber-Newtypes -of which Marida is one.

The battle does look incredible, combining CGI and traditional animation. Despite all the speed & action involved, it’s still all clear & centred in the mise-en-scene (something Michael fucking Bay needs to learn). Fight scenes like this one are what truly make Gundam Unicorn great & stand above the other more recent series like Gundam AGE.

Anyway, semi-conscious, Banagher & the Unicorn hammer Marida’s Kshatriya until she’s forced to retreat. The Unicorn then reverts to its passive mode & is collected by the Londo Bell ship, Nahel Argama (whom long time fans will know from both Zeta & ZZ).

From there we’re pretty much left with a talkie episode (means lots of verbal, little action) but that’s all the set up the characters better as well as the political situation. Also turns out that Audrey Burne is actually Mineva Zabi, the princess of the Principality of Zeon -which would’ve been a total fucking surprise to those viewers are pretty thick.

But, anyway, our hero Benagher is treated suspiciously for being a teenager suddenly in control of a Gundam-type Mobile Suit. Which means people haven’t been reading their history because there’s only been like 2 non-teen Gundam pilots in the entire history of the Universal Century.

We are then introduced to Full Frontal (sans nudity), the charismatic commander of the Neo-Zeon armed forces & possible Char clone. To the point that everyone refers to him as the 2nd Coming of Char as well as the Red Comet (which long term fans knows is Char’s famous nickname).
Full_frontal
Frontal & The Sleeves set up an ambush in order to get the MacGuffin’s key, which is the Unicorn Gundam itself, but the members of the Federation Special Forces try to use Audrey/Mineva as a hostage to bargain with. Frontal has none of it & attacks the Nahel Argama after the captain blunders, accidentally revealing their location when he ordered the main cannons fired to get rid of potentially dangerous debris around the ship.

This actually leads into really awesome battle scene that has Full Frontal in his Sinanju Mobile Suit (naturally painted red) -which does have an awesome design (see the link for pics). Riddhe & his squad engage but thoroughly have their collective arses kicked by Frontal’s superior skills, so Banagher does the usually hero thing & tries to sortie in the Unicorn. Beofre that happens, Frontal’s 2nd in command Angelo, pretty much sits in his MS masturbating over how awesome he thinks Frontal is as a pilot & leader (look up the senpai/kohai trope).

Luckily, they’ve gotten a lot smarter since Gundam Zeta & don’t let random people go out whenever they want in whatever they want. So the slimy Alberto, full of self interest, bullies his way with the crew to let Banagher fight for them.
[D-SnF] Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn - 02 [DCE642AE].mkv_snapshot_32.34_[2011.02.14_05.27.17]
Again, a pretty epic fight scene in a debris field, where Banagher & Riddhe, in his damaged RGZ-95 ReZEL (which is a pretty awesome kit to build if you don’t try to transform it into vehicle mode). Banagher, firing wildly, accidentally kills Angelo’s wingman, which causes the little fruitcake to go into a rage -more so at himself for “spoiling his commander’s perfect battlefield”. Banagher & Riddhe start to get the upper hand until Marida ambushes Banagher, taking him & the Unicorn with them.

There’s an interesting exchange between Banagher & Full Frontal over notions of war, killing and idealism. Angelo naturally gets the shits over his squadmate’s death & yells at our hero before he lays the boot into him. Banagher then gets all emo over realising that he actually killed someone, so become -like most Gundam pilots- a moppy little bitch.

That’s always struck me as a bit of a hypocritical edge in the Gundam franchise. The protagonist always enters the various Gundam with the intent of killing, always in the pretext of protection or blood-fury revenge, but then they turn all emo whenever they realise that they actually killed people. I’ve spoken to people who have dealt with real soldiers & PTSD who reliably informed me that this type of disassociation between action, intent & result can actually happen with people who go to war & are confronted with the act of killing. How true Gundam is to this remains unknown to me so far.

Any-how, the next few bits with Marida & Banagher are interesting because they try to broaden the remnants of Neo-Zeon a little better. Once a mighty empire of Space Nazis, now the poorest of the poor, serving aristocratic masters like Full Frontal, all whilst cling to broken ideology & desires to avenge their broken pride. This is done by Banagher & Marida staying with The Sleeves pilot, Gilboa Sant, & discussions with Gilboa’s eldest son -who has been raised on nothing but pro-Zeon propaganda. For their parts, Gilboa treats Banagher with great kindness, where as the emotionally retarded Marida tries to justify her actions whilst not revealing that she was the one who accidentally killed all of his friends.

Whilst this is occurring, the Federation & their Vist overseers plans to get the Unicorn back so Neo-Zeon won’t be able to use the ‘key’ MacGuffin against them. Not to mention Riddhe is feeling all emo feeling betrayed over Audrey actually the figure head of his hated enemy at the same time he wants to bang her like a dunny door (to turn a phrase). Special Forces commander Daguza, who previously tried to use Audrey as a bargaining chip, suggests, to make the crew feel better about taking orders from the civilian Vist Foundation, that they should frame the liberation of the Unicorn as actually a rescue mission for Banagher. Also citing how they can do it with the limited resources that they have as well.

The episode ends with a spy dropping copies of the plans literally into Banagher’s hands (on some awesomely cool cyber-like paper, much better than the psychic brands out there) & our still emo hero lamenting that this colony he is in will turn into a battlefield just like his home did.


Episode 3: “The Ghost of Laplace

This is a more action based episode, with an epic space battle outside of the colony of Palau, as Londo Bell attempt to rescue Banagher & the Unicorn Gundam. It all seems to go easily but who is actually using who & for what end (kinda obvious if you’ve been paying attention so far)?

This episode starts with the Federation forces attacking the Palau colony but cleverly separating the civilian section from the military one, the colony being built into several big space rocks & all. Just kinda confused & bothered me how blowing up connecting lines & struts wouldn’t causes significant damage to the civilian side, not to mention all the precious oxygen escaping out all big new holes everywhere.

But that’s all ignored & a flashy battle is underway because some pretty coolly designed Zeon Mobile Suits & the Federation grunts.

Before this all kicks off, Riddhe frees Audrey, saying he’ll take her to Earth so she can speak with his father -who is president of the Federation’s Colony council. As they try to escape, they get found out by Micott, who’s still seething from the clit-blocking earlier but lets them go because 1: Audrey pleaded that this is something that ONLY SHE can do to save everyone & 2: Micott wants her sexual rival gone so she can ride the soon to be rescued Banagher like he’s a pony at a rodeo. But before they escape, Riddhe feels guilty about abandoning his comrades-in-arms, so he fights Zeon for a bit before stealing a mass driver unit so he & Audrey can make it to Earth quicker than the previously planned two days.

After much battle (such explosions, wow) & faffing about, Banagher eventually makes it to the Unicorn & freedom. Until he’s blind sided by Marida in the Kshatriya but this time, using his spokey Newtype powers, realises that it’s her & has one of those weird conversations with her without having the communication systems on.

That’s another thing that’s bothered me hugely about Gundam (& mecha series in general), I can never understand how all comms systems seem to link into each other so they can talk, despite being on different sides & in otherwise non-compatible technology or how people on the opposite side of the battlefield can finish each other’s sentences. I know the trope reasons for it but the lack of logic still pisses me off enough to break the suspension of disbelief.

Any-hoo, this time our intrepid hero wins against Marida & takes her & her MS back to the Nahel Argama. We are then treated to a series of flashback to Marida’s past, her origins as a cloned soldier for the Neo-Zeon forces in Gundam ZZ, the loss of her (evil) master/controller, how she was then sold into sexual slavery, forced to endure abortions until given a hysterectomy & then eventually saved by The Sleeves captain, Zinnerman. It’s genuinely touching stuff & grants you a lot of sympathy for her & her situation -basically being a weapon not a true human being. She & Banagher talk a bit, he tries to apologise for all that’s happened to her but she tells him never to give up being who he is.

Everyone on the Nahel Argama then proceed to the location given to them by the Unicorn’s ‘key’ system, which is the remains of President Laplace’s space station -the one that was blown up in the opening of the 1st episode. Banagher goes into it with Daguza also in the cockpit so Banagher won’t do anything stupid (which means he read up on the history or Gundam pilots whilst Banagher was captured). They trigger the next stage of the MacGuffin chase -which is the speech by Laplace shortly before he was spaced by the bomb- & are then attacked by Full Frontal, whilst The Sleeves, ignoring orders, try to rescue Marida from the Nahel Argama -who is being taken back to Earth by Alberto to be reprogrammed. She wakes up & tries to get free, but a hole is blown in the side of the ship & she foolishly saves Alberto’s life -which then renders her back in custody for some unexplained reason.
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After all that, things go the proverbial nipples northward when Banagher loses his shit & goes after Full Frontal, who is basically trying to trick the boy into activating the Destroyer system so the next location will be unlocked. This happens after Daguza foolishly sacrifices himself by hopping out of the Unicorn & attacking Full Frontal’s MS with a bazooka. So, another plot driven death to spur our emo hero into action (or madness).

So, Banagher goes monkey-poop trying to kill Frontal but gets caught in Earth’s gravitational pull. As he tries desperately tries to shoot Frontal down, the kindly Gilboa Sant gets in the way & gets blown up. Frontal uses the explosion to knock himself back into orbit & Banagher screams as he falls to Earth, only to be snagged by The Sleeve’s freighter before he burns up.

The episode ends with Audrey arriving at the mansion of Riddhe’s father.


Episode 4: “At the Bottom of the Gravity Well

This episode is a good balance between talking & action, with lots of political stuff, reflections upon revenge & why people continually are unable to communicate & make themselves & others sad through negative actions. Which are all pretty par for the course in your typical mecha sci-fi series.

The episode begins with an attack on the Federation capital, Dakar, but then goes into all talkie mode for the majority of the episode.

It’s one of those eps that is common in the Gundam franchise, were two members of an opposing side try to justify their positions & philosophies to one another. In this case it’s Banagher & The Sleeves captain Zinnerman.

You see, The Sleeves rescued Banagher & now he’s gone all super emo mode again, so, in between beatings from the crew for killing Gibloa & being a whinging little bastard, Zinnerman decides to take Banagher through the desert with him.

Part of it is justified to stop the boy being a mopey little shit & the other reason is to turn him over to The Sleeves side -which is turns out has increasingly little to do with the goals of the Neo-Zeon forces & more to do with being unable to let go of old anger & feelings of injustice -when Federation soldiers killed everything in The Sleeve’s village, including Zinnerman’s wife & daughter.

The basic discourse between Banagher & Zinnerman is about human empathy & the perpetuation of hatred. Which are two of the most common meta-themes in Gundam. Except they always play as a bit simplistic & hypocritical to me. Because no matter how much they try to paint them as a virtue it always feels brought down by the fact they seem like under-considered & childishly naive. It also smacks a bit of the victim mentality that is prevalent within Japanese society & well as the constant dichotomy of trying to escape their recent history at the same time being unable to come to terms with having been defeated in WW2 (especially in the fashion that they were).

You see, the Principality of Zeon -the Space Nazi- have generally stood for the older, hardline Japanese militaristic, totalitarian mentality where as the Gundam & the crew who supports it have always been the ones pushing into the future, at the same time battling the corruption & incompetence of the Federation (in the Universal Century timeline at least), who are trying to hold back the Gundam. The Feds generally represent corporate interests & the political elite but that too seems disingenuous because of Gundam’s reliance on corporate interests in order to keep going.

The other theme that they touch on which I FUCKING DESPISE is “the role of men“. Basically saying that men should take responsibility, shoulder all of the burden & shut the fuck up about it because if you turn emo, you’re not a real man. Which is actually bullshit because if you repress how & what you feel about something you get exceptionally sick & mentally distraught. Yet it is a trope that action based anime continually wants to push as reality & it is really poisonous to society -especialyl young boys who think that’s the way to act (couple with misogyny as well).

Anyway, whilst Banagher is getting over being emo, Riddhe is being emo.

He’s all pissy that Audrey is being held captive by his father because it’s more important to him, his corporation & the Federation that she doesn’t find out about the MacGuffin. So Riddhe’s father tells him the secret of the MacGuffin, which doesn’t work out well because Riddhe then goes to convince Audrey to denounce the Zabi name & marry him. When she doesn’t respond, he runs off crying like a little bitch whilst Audrey makes an escape attempt of her own.

She winds up at a dinner in the desert (where no desert was previously seen) & talks to the owner -who’s son was a Federation soldier- about how his generation made mistakes & how it’s the young who have to pay for it.

This brings out the other constant theme in the Gundam franchise -which is literally teens vs adults.

All the central protagonists are teens -usually 14 to 16- & emo as fuck! Mostly due to parental neglect (though in the case of Kamille from Zeta Gundam it’s a serious case of A Boy Named Sue syndrome) but mainly because the franchise focuses on what happens when children are burdened with the sins of the past. In this case: the legacy of war & the victim mentality that traps Japan in a negative mindset. Although that later evolved into other forms such as concern of the environment & empathy with people unlike yourselves.

Anyway, whilst all that is going down, Marida is taken to a Federation lab by Alberto -who seems to be infatuated with her- & his aunt, Martha Vist Carbine. Martha’s physical depiction is amusing because she’s give a lot of cleavage, which I think is a way to prove she’s a woman because they’ve given her a pretty mannish looking face (square jaw & all). Aunt & nephew then attempt reprogram Marida so she’ll be loyal to Alberto alone & be a pilot for a mysterious project (which wasn’t very mysterious at the time if you collected gunpla because they were hyping the kit for months before this episode was released).

Now we get into the cool action, as the remnant Zeon forces on Earth decide to go for an all out attack so The Sleeves can drop the Unicorn into the next area that activates the MacGuffin detection program.

It’s pretty cool to see all the Zeon Mobile suits flying out for battle but I found it bothersome that many had been there for well over a decade & no one had found them. More so when they were just hidden in the wreckage of Zeon structures from their previous occupation of Earth. Plus the Zeon troops were still walking around in their uniforms. I do know that this is kinda references Japanese troops who kept fighting well after the war was over but I don’t think the Federation forces are so thick to leave major Zeon machines & structures intact, especially when there are lots of people still around them in suspicious clothing.

But at any rate, they all go to attack a major Federation base after being manipulated into it by that clone bastard Full Frontal & it’s a pretty cool looking battle with lots of references to previous series. Especially with the Federation bring out a MS that hasn’t been seen since Zeta when Titans used it -which is kinda surprising it hasn’t been used since it pretty much slaughters the Zeon forces on its own.

Whilst that skirmish is going down, Neo-Zeon’s huge Mobile Armour, (Ro) Shamblo moves in to attack. Again: where & how were they hiding this unless they dropped it from space to be used. Even then, someone may have noticed. Anyway, the pilot of the massive machine is Loni, who is all pissy that her evil father was killed by the Federation, so she must kill them all. Unfortunately, the Shamblo makes her go insane due to a dodgy psycomm unite (hinted to have been made so by Full Frontal so it will go on a rampage), which makes Loni slaughter every civilian around her.
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Banagher witnesses this as The Sleeves fly over in order to drop him at the activation location by the goes all anger emo & kicks 9 colours of shit out of Zinnerman because he isn’t doing anything to stop it -even though it’s just like when the Feds killed his family. It’s pretty righteous to see the two of them fight, with Banagher kicking Zinnerman sqaure in the nuts before punching him as the rest of the crew willfully do nothing to stop it.

Unfortunately Banagher’s turn at kicking arse is short lived as he returns to emo mode to try to talk Loni out of killing everyone. Riddhe, having been assigned to an Earth based squad at the behest of his father, joins the fray & keeps trying to convince Banagher to kill Loni. After some psychic Newtype type spiritual conversation, Banagher realises that Loni is too far trapped by hate (more so after Riddhe shot at her just as she was ready to get out of her machine) but he can’t bring himself to kill her. So Riddhe steals his gun & does the deed. As he points the gun at the Unicorn’s head, ordering Banagher to surrender, a mysterious (see 5 paragraphs up) black Unicorn drops form sky, ending the episode.


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Episode 5: “The Black Unicorn

This episode opens with the Black Unicorn (AKA The Banshee) being dropped from near orbit onto the battle scene that we saw in the previous episode. It then transforms into Destroyer Mode & fights off Riddhe’s damaged Delta before knocking Banagher out by smashing the Unicorn into the ground. Banagher then wakes up with the Feds trying to open his cockpit (a common happening for him by this stage) & sees that Marida is the pilot of the Banshee (dun-dun-daaaaaah!).

More talking this episode, as man-like Martha tries to force Audrey into making Banagher give them the next location (because the boy locked up the system so no one else could access it) -which our princess naturally refuses. Bright Noa, who has 3 series worth of experience dealing with emo Gundam pilots (read: slapping them like little bitches) talks to Banagher in order to convince the boy that he should do what he feels is right before he goes to make a deal that The Sleeves can rescue Audrey & take the Unicorn away from the Vist & the Feds. To do this they use original series character, Kai Shiden, and Zeta alumni Beltorchika Irma -thus bringing in more past UC timeline connections.

Before the transfer, Banagher tries to convince Marida of her real identity (well, the preferred one as Marida, since she’s a psychic clone & all). This continues into the transfer as well, with Riddhe & the Tri-Star (not the same as was killed in the original Gundam series) along with Marida in the Banshee. The Sleeves’ freighter create a diversion for Zinnerman to sneak aboard but that means Banagher has to fight Marida so she won’t kill him. This battle causes a psychic backlash that begins to breakdown Marida’s reprogramming but also makes her go nuts.
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During this fight, Riddhe goes all crazy emo & tries to steal Audrey. Saying she can’t fix the world but he can still protect her. She basically kicks him to the curb as Zinnerman comes in to rescue her but an accidental shot from the Banshee makes another MS crash into Vist’s carrier hanger, scattering everyone. Riddhe stupidly tries to plead with Audrey again but she shows him she’d rather die than be with him, but dropping out of the back of the plane. She psychically calls out to Banagher, who rescues her & drops her onto The Sleeves freighter before going back for Marida.

After a brief bout of Gundam on Gundam action, Marida loses it when Riddhe, now in super-hyper-mega emo mode, tries to shot her with his Delta Plus MS. She thinks it’s a Gundam & smashes it apart. Riddhe survives & points out that she’s actually the one in the Gundam, which causes her the break down. Two bits of illogic in this scene. 1: how’d she hear him during the battle? & 2: how’d she not know she was in a Gundam -her programmed enemy- when it says it on the screen in front of her? No matter, as her breakdown coupled with Zinnerman’s appearance makes the Banshee stop & her to fall into Zinnerman’s arms. After they leave, Riddhe, still in super-mega-hyper angry emo mode lumbers towards the prone Banshee, glaring at it as he mutters “Guuuuundaaaaamuuuu!

The Unicorn links up with The Sleeves & they try to make it into orbit to join with the Nahel Argama but they can’t get into the position needed. In an act of possibly dodgy physics, the Unicorn & 2 Zaku push the freighter from behind as the Nahel Argama fires a rocket controlled docking cable down. The Unicorn catches it & uses it’s now happy green Newtype power to generate what’s pretty much a “love field” to allow the freighter to escape Earth’s atmosphere.

Unfortunate for them, they’re ambushed by the Federation’s latest flagship, which wants to destroy everyone who knows about the MacGuffin -the Nahel Argama & crew included. The Unicorn is tired after using it’s “love field” (happens to all us blokes when under pressure) but Full Frontal & Angelo come to save the day/further their agenda in what is actually a fairly kick arse space battle that ends this episode.


Episode 6: “Two Worlds, Two Tomorrows” AKA “The Sky and the Stars

This originally was meant to be the final episode for the Unicorn OVAs but they discovered halfway through production that they needed another episode to get everything out there. Plus they had more than a few more gunpla kits that they needed to sell, so they crammed them all into the 7th episode.

Anyway, we pick up with a brief recap of the Unicorn’s & The Sleeves’ escape from Earth, the ambush & the intervention of Full Frontal (nudity) and Angelo -now in a shiny new Mobile Suit (which has high heels for some reasons. They also call it ‘rose’ coloured, despite being purple, must be a Japanese thing). The battle from the end of ep 5 is extended somewhat here, allowing Frontal & Angelo to show off more, plus good to fill screening time with flashy explosions & physics defining mecha antics. Good to have this up front because after this point the episode gets to be full of a whole lotta talking.

So! Much! Talking!

Confusing talking!

With stuff that comes out of nowhere!

But before that, we get to see the tensions between the Londo Bell crew & the Neo-Zeon troops now on the Nahel Argama. Basically, the Zeon want to hijack the ship once they have the last set of MacGuffin coordinates but the Nahel Argama already suspect this, so are preparing for a fight. Add to this Micott is still seething over being clit-blocked 4 episodes back so she’s ready to kick Audrey’s arse!

Due to all this tension, Audrey finally demands that Full Frontal explain his plans & what do we get: fucking Star Wars!

No! Not the good ones!

Not a fucking epic Mobile Suit Deathstar (they’ve done that several times already) but the bullshit from the 1st prsequel that made no sense!

Yes! That’s right! The economic blockage stuff!

The clone of the greatest leader & MS pilot Zeon has & he wants to cut the Earth out of trade agreements!

That’s some serious let down bullshit right there!

It genuinely confused me the 1st time I watched it & pissed me off the 2nd.

It just seems like meaningless talk to pad out the episode.

Trying to spare Banagher, Audrey stupidly gives Full Frontal Economic Sanctions the final location of the MacGuffin, which in now way means that the Federation crew are in anyway expendable now. Not at all.

So, naturally, after Full Frontal goes back to his own vessel to gloat over his new uber-mecha, the Neo-Zeon troops try to take over the ship but the Special Forces commandos were waiting for them to do that & kick the shite out of them. Pretty boy kohai Angelo naturally escapes & tries to destroy the ship from within with his Mobile Suit. Banagher tries to stop him but Frontal made a sneak visit back, pinning down as he tries to convince him to join him. Yeah, masky, that’s really going to work.

Luckily Marida & Audrey come to the rescue in the slightly rebuilt Kshatriya (am guessing they needed to sell more but slightly different kits for the OCD collectors). Unfortunately Zinnerman is still undecided about his loyalties but Marida calling him ‘father’ allows him to grant her the permission to kick their superior officers arses. Will have to remember that trick next time I’m not allowed to get into a fight.

Now the race is on to the magically MacGuffin! With Martha from Vist wanting to blow everyone up!

What can stop our intrepid heroes?
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Why, a mega-butthurt Mobile Suit pilot in the form of Riddhe, who’s still pissed at the emotional curbstomp that audrey gave him in the previous episode. He’s racing towards the Nahel Argama in an upgraded Banshee (again: because they wanted to see more gunpla) but he faces an upgrades Unicorn (see the last set of brackets) as we head into a cliff hanger!


Episode 7: “Over the Rainbow

Finally at the ending ep!

Cripes! It’s taken longer to write out this bloody thing then it did to watch all 7 OVAs.

But we’re straight into the action as Riddhe in the Banshee Norn battles Banagher in the Unicorn Full Armour (because Full Armour Gundams are a recurring theme & means you can sell the same kit with add-ons for an insanely jacked up price) as the Federation mooks take on the Neo-Zeon mooks. But The Sleeves, in a move that will surprise no one watching, have switched sides & added patches of orange paint to their Zakus -which is a little useless since they are tiny areas painted & would be hard for a Fed pilot to tell the difference in a panic.
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But that doesn’t matter as Banagher & Riddhe have another comms off debate, with Riddhe letting his emo butthurt get the better of him, as Full Frontal & the rest of Neo-Zeon get closer to Industrial 7 (the place we basically started at & home of the 1 true MacGuffin!) while Martha forces the Earth Federation, mainly Riddhe’s father, to use their super weapon -which is a left over from Zeta Gundam that no one thought to get rid off after all that previously went pear-shaped.

We go from some amazing fight scene to more emotion talking between Riddhe & Banagher. The former saying that he hates all Gundams & Newtypes because they stole Audrey from him (yep, mega-emo butthurt right here, ladies & gentlemen!). Banagher then drops the bombshell on Riddhe that he is –gasp– a Newtype in a Gundam! Shock horror! Seriously, that was really stupid yet a trope that such series always do. “But you are the thing that you hate! How will you cope with the dichotomy?”.

Marida heads out in her MS to keep Riddhe busy as Banagher heads to the MacGuffin. Naturally, he then gets trapped by Angelo as Marida struggles to keep Riddhe in check as his Newtype powers fully bloom & he starts to hear the thoughts & prayers of his friends & former crewmates, which naturally makes him go nuts. So much so he blows a whole right through Marida & her Mobile Suit.

I can’t honestly tell you how much this pissed me off.

Not because a favoured character died but because Gundam has this annoying history of killing off female characters so they can transcend with their spirit & offer some sort of protection to our hero. Every bloody series in the Universal Century timeline has done it at some point (usually in the last two episodes) & it’s always strong female characters (who they always force to make the tea for some reason). It’s a trope that I find both maddening & pointless! Mecha anime producers & writers need to evolve beyond it & find a better way to let the protagonist feel a surge brought on by a failing to protect & a need to never let it happen again!

Anyway, Marida dies & transcends reality in her pure energy Newtype form, warning everyone about the giant space laser that the Federation has pointed at them before saying goodbye to Zinnerman. This also gives Banagher’s Newtype powers a massive surge, so he breaks out of Angelo’s laser cage & smashes him good! Before heading to get Audrey so they can go to Industrial 7 together.

Now we have a whole heap of talking as the MacGuffin is revealed & it is -to my mind- utterly bloody pointless. It is literally a few words & something that was revealed in the first few minutes of episode 1. Because I’d figured out what it was, I was monstrously let down by the reveal & why everyone was fighting over it, why the Federation feared it & how it somehow connected up to the whole One Year War from the original Gundam series.

Anyway, the boring MacGuffin talk is broken by the arrival of Complete Starkers & his new shiny uber-mecha, which goes & tentacle rapes all the MS that attack it. Taking them over & making them kill each other. It’s pretty full on. Riddhe watches on, now having switched back to Banagher’s side because he killed Marida (a fact no one really mentions again).

After a bit of verbal between the keeper of the MacGuffin, Frontal & Audrey/Banagher, we get a pretty cool fight scene as all the newly awaken mecha show their stuff.

Then it goes really 2001: A Space Odyssey as the Psycomm systems of Frontal’s MS & the Unicorn interlock & send them hurtling through time & space! Well, hurtling through many previous events in the Universal Century timeline, most of them focussed on the original series. It’s really weird & trippy; fully out there. So much so that Full Frontal takes them both to the End of Time (not to be confused for the End of Time in Doctor Who), where Frontal goes all nihilist, talking about how no matter what humans do, it will al end in nothing. This makes Banagher break through the emo barrier to awaken the power of his heart (all he needed was Earth, Wind, Fire & Water so he could’ve summoned Gundam Captain Planet), sending them back to the present & summoning the Newtype spirits of the real Char & his long dead lover, Lalah, to whisk Full Frontal’s soul away. Making his two Mobile Suits crumble away as Banagher is awakened by Riddhe, saying that they need to save everyone from the giant space laser. Nice touch after this point, with the spirits of Char, Lalah & Amuro (whose fate was unknown) are seen heading into the depths of space, with Char saying that the future is for the young (repeating the common theme of the Gundam franchise).

Back on Earth, Captain Bright Nao is trying to convince the Federation leaders & Martha not to fire the giant space laser, with Alberto, broken by feeling the death of Marida (whom he seemed to love but is never explained) saying they should give up. But Audrey starts a broadcast to the entire Earth, revealing the secret of the MacGuffin & why it is important that it should be shared with the world. This causes Riddhe’s father to fire the laser but Alberto, at the last minute, tells him that Riddhe is the Banshee’s pilot & is going to die.

Now, time for the usual Gundam super powered space magic, as Banagher & Riddhe use the Newtype powers of their two Unicorns to stop the beam. With Riddhe activating his happy green particle power & Banagher turning his Unicorn into a giant glowing mecha Christmas tree. Very strange design choice. Unfortunately this makes everyone think that he died but the power of his Unicorn allows Audrey’s message to be broadcast to everyone across the world. Meaning that the Vist foundation has lost its power & Martha is arrested for all the shit she stirred throughout the series.

That still doesn’t stop the Federation from wanting to kill people, sending squads of MS’ to fight. To which the Unicorn responds by flying towards them & throwing out psychic energy that stops them & turns them into receivers for Audrey’s message for some weird reason. Weirder still is Riddhe trying to get Banagher to awaken as human & come back to everyone. Claiming that if he doesn’t he won’t have anyone to steal Audrey away from. Talk about a fucking creep!

Anyway, it all ends in a shower of Newtype energy as the projections of Audrey & Banagher embrace in the depths of space & the future is left open. Unless you watched the Gundam F91 film set 27 years after Unicorn & didn’t hear the announcement of the entire new Gundam series set in the era after Universal Century.


Anyway, that’s the end of my all too epic review of this all too epic series.

Gundam Unicorn is my favourite of the Universal Century timeline series because it lacks the stupid, whiny characters of the other 3 main series & has incredible battle scenes & pretty boss mecha design.

Watching it does me that you have to know what’s come before but you can just watch the movies (edited from the individual series) to see all the key moments & not deal with so much bullshit that the 3 original series was famous for.

At any rate, Gundam Unicorn is very much a series worth watching for it’s visual style & decent (by Gundam standards) story. Also good to watch now because you don’t have to wait months for the next episode, like I did before this weekend past.

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They Refer To It As “Gay Gundam” – Anime Review: Buddy Complex

Buddy_Complex_Promotional_ImageTitle: Buddy Complex
Format: TV anime
Genre: mecha, sci-fi, action, time travel
Series Director: Yasuhiro Tanabe
Studio: Sunrise
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 5, 2014 – March 30, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download with fan subs

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

Buddy Complex revolves around the main character, Aoba Watase, an ordinary high school boy. One day, the girl he has a crush on, Hina Yumihara, saves him from being killed by a guy in a mecha, and then sends him into the future, revealing that she herself was also from the future. When he wakes up, he finds himself over seventy years into the future, where the Free Pact Alliance and the Zogilia Republic are at war with each other, each battling with their own valiancers; and Aoba is on the former’s team, teams up with Dio using coupling valiancers Luxon and Bradyon. He also learns that Hina is on the opposing team, and what’s even stranger, she doesn’t remember him at all.


Review:

Buddy Complex is yet another in a long line of the Mecha Genre anime & also brought to you by those stalwarts of the genre, Sunrise. As noted in the title, some fans have taken to calling this “Gay Gundam” due to the main conceit/gimmick of the series, where male pilots have to ‘couple up’ in order to gain power. As always, I find this insulting: both to homosexuals & to the much superior Gundam franchise.

If I were to call Buddy Complex it would be bland.

No, that’s too sharp a word.

It would just be ‘vanilla’.

Vanilla is safe. Vanilla is acceptable. Vanilla is universal & basically liked by all no matter what your tastes.

& Buddy Complex is so very, very vanilla.

From the characters tropes down to the mecha designs, all so V.A.N.I.L.L.A.

This is exceptionally unfortunately because it started off with so much promise & some fairly interesting ideas.

It basically starts with little above-average modern day Japanese high school student Watase Aoba suddenly being attacked by a mysterious mecha that has fallen through a wormhole from the future. He is rescued by the girl whom he is attracted to & seems to be watching him, Yumihara Hina, in her own mecha unit. Destroying the rival unit, they then go back through the wormhole & Aoba finds himself in the controls of the experimental mecha Luxon in the middle of a fierce battle. Naturally, being the hero, Aoba is able to activate it & the special Coupling System, joining powers with the other Coupler, Dio. Forming a neural bond which enhances their combat & piloting ability beyond superhuman, they fight off the enemies & Aoba is forced to join the crew of the Cygnus. He then has to decide if he wants to fight with the abilities that he acquired from Dio via the Coupling System, protecting his new friends, or give up & try to find Hina, who mysteriously disappeared when they entered the wormhole.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s pretty much the plot from EVERY Mecha anime for the past 30 years (especially the aforementioned Gundam franchise). The military & scientists should just cut to the chase & throw random teenagers into the machines to see what happens.

Alas, I digress. . .

As I said before, this serious is playing it exceptionally safe & that’s its major drawback.
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Aoba is the hot head, driven to both protect his new friends & find Hina (who happens to be fighting for the enemy for some reason that’s all Timey-Whimy [SPOILERS!]). Whilst Dio is an angry, taciturn pretty boy with daddy issues & a sister complex. Of course, that is a touch of hyperbole but they are pretty much standard tropes for the genre. As well as the innocent young (teenage) girl with a crush on Aoba, the mature squad leader, the lax but clever captain, the harsh but caring female vice-captain, boy-crazy comm-officer, annoying male flight crew, wise old mechanic, hot science lady plus an appearance from perverted sensei before his plot driven death.

Whilst on the enemy side we have the clever commander who is playing his own game, the psycho who wants to own Hina, the psycho who likes blowing things up, the female leader who risks everything for promotion & attention, the little blond shota who is a a surprisingly good pilot (may or may not have man-crush on his senpai) & cowardly power hungry two episode villains in over powered mecha that get smashed by our heroes.

The mecha designs also suffer a tragic visit from the bland fairy.

The mook mecha (the standard grunt models) are literally rejects from Gundam Wing (they honestly didn’t even bother to change the designs other than make them thinner) & the main mecha units, the Luxon & Braydon are your standard man-shaped hero unit. With the Luxon being white & blue, whilst the Braydon is red & black. Their appearances are very uninspired, with nothing to give them the visual punch of the Valvraves, even when they go into their superpowered Buddy Modes. Just some more glowing parts & a little transformation.

I think once reason why the series is so vanilla because the series is so short -only 13 episdes- & has to cover a lot of information, including why there is two main factions on the World (evil Zogillia & the useless Alliance, to which our heroes belong) & how the technology works.

On those two sides is also where things fall down.

There basically isn’t enough information to allow you to suspend your disbelief for very long. They keep changing how the Coupling System works to fit with plot develops, explaining it as going beyond expectations & it not being tested in the field (plus Aoba’s strange ability to Couple with anyone -the little He-Hussy!).

The lack of time to develop plot & characters, the hand waving of what’s happening & the rushed pseudo-science really do drag the series down but is there anything that brings it up so it at least is an average?

Well, the battle scenes are very well down -especially when they go into super-speed territory. You never once feel confused as to who is fighting who, even with the bland mook-mecha about. There are some nice little jokes, not a great deal of Fan Service, some good moments between characters & the lack of idiotic children running around the ship (take that original Gundam series!).

Still, the lack of internal logic is a let down & makes a lot of things unforgivable.

Same goes with the overall rushed, vanilla nature of the series. They’ve promised a 2nd one, with a To Be Continued in the post-credits coda & I’ll probably watch it but I am a bit of a mecha-diehard. To be honest: the series isn’t in any way or shape bad. It’s just tame & stuff we’ve pretty much all seen before. If you have a right hard-on for light sci-fi & huge robots, there are far worse series to see (coughEureka 7cough).

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This Advertisement Is Getting Pretty Meta – Anime Review: Gundam Build Fighters

GundamBFDVDTitle: Gundam Build Fighters (Gandamu Birudo Faitazu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: mecha, sci-fi, comedy, shonen, tournament/competition
Series Director: Nagasaki Kenji
Studio: Sunrise
Series length: 25 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 7, 2013 – March 31, 2014
Reviewed format: TV download with fan subs

Synopsis:

Back in the 1980s, the success of the series Mobile Suit Gundam, resulted in an economic boom due to sales of the Gundam model kits, or “Gunpla”, dubbed the Gunpla Boom. Years later in the future, with the success of the second Gunpla Boom, special tournaments called Gunpla Battles are established throughout the world to see which customized Gunpla and its builder are the best. These incredibly popular Gunpla Battles culminate in an annual global tournament.

The story revolves around Sei Iori, a young Gunpla Builder and student who has a dream of becoming the best Gunpla Fighter in the tournament and someday become as good as his father. As the only child, his family owns a small Gunpla shop and his talent is well-honed, however his weak piloting abilities have led him to a series of first-round losses. But one day, he meets a strange boy named Reiji, who helps him out. Reiji gives him a jewel, promising that he will come to Sei’s aid if wished enough. Together, both of them will tackle the world of Gunpla Battle and compete in the tournament using Sei’s customized Gunpla, the GAT-X105B Build Strike Gundam.

Review:

I’m a huge fan of gunpla building, having a fair few kits of varying grades under my belt, but I am often weary of Gundam anime because it can be so hit & miss -more so when they exist solely for the promotion of new kits & getting people involved in building (see that abomination Mobile Suit Gundam AGE). So, when I heard that Sunrise was making a new Gundam series based upon children battling with gunpla, I -like many other fans- were preparing for the worse. But –low-&-behold!– I was completely blown away by the series, with its clever use of references & meta-in-jokes. Re-inventing new characters with new roles, such as Ramba Ral from Mobile Suit Gundam & allowing a lot of freedom in how they integrate existing Mobile Suits with the ‘kit-bashing’ nature of the gunpla building community.
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Like 2010’s OVA Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G, Gundam Build Fighters is extensively an add for High Grade (or HG) gunpla kits but unlike that other series, GBF actually has a proper plot, lots of humour & just use of references. All set around the classic cliched trope of battling toys (which is common for merchandising series such as Beyblades). And unlike the aforemention mentioned Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, it isn’t a series dumb down for the kiddies, it ensures that there is something for everybody -especially the long term hardcore fans (mainly of the Universal Century storylines though).

The plot revolves around Iori Sei, son of a former Gunpla Battle World Championships fighter & gunpla store owner, who is a passionate Gundam otaku & a master-class builder but terrible at the combat side of things. This stems from his fear of damaging or destroying the kits that he’s spent so much time & energy building. His fortunes change when he encounters the mysterious -& possibly alien- boy, Reiji, after he accidentally steals some food (ah, those wacky aliens & their lack of social graces). Reiji has no interest in Gunpla Battle but has an incredible talent for the system, using it for the 1st time like it was 2nd nature to him. After defeating Sei’s Sazaki on Sei’s behalf, Reiji finds that Gunpla Battle is a fun distraction from being a wacky royal alien & Sei manages to convince him to help him achieve his dream of entering the World Gunpla Battle Championship tournament.

Here is where the typical shonen tournament tropes kick in, with Sei & Reiji meeting stronger opponents who drive them to become stronger, fated rivals & enemies who become friends. But unlike many other series that rely on this cliche, GBF actually makes the most of it & adds some interesting little twists, mainly in th form of comedic asides & references to the meta-Gundam anime & toy universe. The side characters also play important roles outside of the shonen standards, each getting their own screen time & little arcs that set them up for their battles, both inside & outside of the tournament.
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Also, don’t be fooled: this isn’t a childrens cartoon. There are some pretty adult jokes in it & has the most Fan-Service designs of any Gundam series (even more so then the jiggling of Murrue Ramius in Gundam Seed). This is especially pointed out in Sei’s mother, Rinko, who is depicted as, how one put it?: a MEGA-MILF! She seriously has the biggest boobs of any Gundam character ever! I think she exists as a way to hook older male viewers in (especially the bikini she wears in one episode) but she actually has function to the plot outside of immense boob size as well as some clever lines.
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In fact, many of the characters have funny, random lines that enhance the series over all. Especially Ral’s -acting in the role of wise old mentor (despite only being 35)- suddenly appearing out of no where to explain what’s going on in a battle to China (Sei’s love interest & inspiration). Yuuki Tatsuya -Reiji’s rival & Sei’s inspiration- also has some very silly lines, especially when he takes on the role of “The Gunpla Master” Meijin Kawaguchi the 3rd, where he functions like a softer version of Char Aznable from the original Mobile Suit Gundam but moves beyond the role of primary rival to be a more rounded character with his own dreams & aspirations.

In fact, China too moves outside of being a basic love interest character to becoming an amateur Gunpla Fighter with her uber cute kit Beargguy-San (Beargguy III, since it’s the 3rd Beargguy kit to have been released). Through battling, China learns what Sei puts himself whenever he supports Reiji in their matches & this actually progresses her as a character. Unfortunately she doesn’t move much beyond small battles & being Sei’s emotional support.

The other primary, Aila Jyrkiainen from Finland, also has good & bad progression within the story. She’s portrayed as an unstoppable battling machine, who’s kit basically goes untouched during the majority of the tournament, but she actively despises fighting -only doing it so she won’t go back to a life of poverty. She has Newtype-like powers, including the ability to see the particles that control the gunpla during battles. This gives her a nihilistic attitude because she believes that there is no joy or challenge in Gunpla Battles (& using the system to enhance her abilities causes her lots of pain) but upon meeting Reiji (not knowing that he is actually her fated rival) after arguing over food she begins to see the world of gunpla differently. Unfortunately, for all the talk of her being the Ultimate Gunpla Battle Badarse, you barely get to see her do anything in the matches & her role once defeated pretty much falls into love interest for Reiji. But she has her moments to shine & develop, so she’s not entirely wasted.

It’s good that they give all the minor characters within the story their own chances to shine & show their backgrounds. Such as Mao -with his funny Kansai accent- wanting to be seen as the best builder in the world (making him automatically Sei’s fated rival), Fellini’s constant need to prove himself or Nils wanting to discover the secrets of Plasky Particles that allow the gunpla to move. But, in the end, most of the interactions of these characters does fall to the annoyance of over-masculisation in terms of mascho bravado in the matches. It’s the Shonen genre trope of constantly trying to prove oneself through battle & becoming stronger, saying that’s the only worth of a man: if you can’t fight &/or protect others you’re not really a man.

The other main message of the series also bothers me somewhat.

Because they battle with plastic toys which are usually broken or destroyed, one of the main themes of the series is “unless you’re willing to sacrifice something & put everything on the line, you’ll never truly be able to win”. Unfortunately, because the series, in the end, is one GIANT piece of advertising for the Bandai High Grade gunpla series, the ultimate message ends up being “hey! Don’t worry if you break it! You can always buy more! Hell! Buy more anyway! Look how fun this shit is! FUCKING BUY OUR STUFF, PLEBS!!!” (might be a touch of hyperbole there).

This is a series that I enjoyed immense, mainly because I am a gunpla builder myself but also because I know so many of the references within the series. Even if I wasn’t so invested -both personally & financially- in the Gundam franchise, I still would’ve enjoyed it because of its willingness to poke fun at series & the kits. GBF is the perfect entry point if you want to get someone into the sprawling Gundam franchise but don’t know where to start. It’s great for teenagers & adults the like (see MEGA-MILF above) as well as non-fans who just like a good Shonen Tournament story. It’s honestly really refreshing to see a well established franchise take such a Post-Modern risk with itself in order to get more people involved. Which is something that more series & franchises should really do (looking at you Pokemon!).

Gundam Build Fighters is just one gigantic piece of advertisement for Bandai, Sunrise & the entire Gundam franchise but it is a silly, funny & ultimately enjoyable one. Doesn’t mean that you can’t see past the ultimate agenda of trying to sell you stuff but it does mean that you won’t care as much.

Now, to save up enough money to buy some of those gunpla kits!

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