When you approach a franchise like Gundam, it’s a little daunting to consider it’s a show that’s spanned 40 years, older than your typical anime fan. The many series of the years paints a reflection of the time period it was released. The early 00s saw a abundance of alternate universes, but in the recent years, Bandai and Sunrise has really come back to the original fan-favorite Universal Century timeline in the form of OVA like Origins, and Thunderbolt. With Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (Shorten to Narrative for this review), the movie hopes to give new fans a taste of mecha battling crossed with a dash of human drama and political theater.
Historically, Gundam has reserved the OVA format as a vehicle of delivering it’s theatrical stories. These 45~60 minutes chucks of a 5-7 part series offers fully developed stories. They’re later expanded into TV series or cut into compilation films, but to make a standalone complete movie is a move that the series hasn’t taken since Gundam F91.
Narrative takes place one year after Unicorn, and frames the events of the series through the lens of three characters, Jona, Michele, and Rita. As children, they predicted the fall of the Side 2 colony that destroyed Australia during the One Year War. They came to be known as the “Miracle Children”. After the events of Unicorn, Gundam Unicorn and Banshee were decommissioned due to the fearsome power of their Psycho Frame. . However the re-emergence of the third Unicorn unit, RX-0GundamPhenex, poses another threat with as the remaining Psycho Frame unit. Jona and Michele assign to a secret mission to capture the Phenex in part to their to the Phenex’s pilot, their childhood friend Rita.
Gundam often has a knack for retreading similar story elements and Narrative is no different. Narrative tries its hardest to ease newcomers into its complex universe. Several moments in the film will directly show old footage from past shows but these often feel more like throwbacks for the fans rather than fill-in-the-blank moments. As a fan, it felt like watching old war footage to be quite honestly was a bit of a nostalgia trip. Much like Thunderbolt, or 08th MS Team, Narrative uses the setting it’s placed into to craft out its own side story in the UC universe. It should be no surprise that it requires at least some prior knowledge of Gundam to really make sense of what’s happening on screen. As a result, there’s a lot of heavy lifting that Narrative leaves to the viewers. This time around the movie helps a lot to expand the idea of what a NewType is and what they can do (aside from being used as a extremely powerful tools to pilot Mobile Suits).
A large weakness of Narrative as a result of being a movie is there isn’t enough time to really know all new characters that appear. Gundam often paints war as a complicated affair for both sides. Jona, Michele and Rita’s trials and tribulations surviving the war are front and center for the audience to sympathize with, but largely on the Federation side. Initially, the villian does have some good moments, but ultimately fails to live up to expectations of past Gundam antagonists and become largely forgettable. There are a little nuggets that paint them a victims of the war as well but it’s never expanded beyond that.
One thing that Narrative does resoundingly well is its stellar mecha animation. In a day and age where a lot of mecha shows have largely been using CG models for robots, Narrative mostly sticks to hand drawn animation for the mobile suits. It is really a treat to see Sunrise stick to its mostly 2D chops for its flagship series for so many years. There are a few scenes where CG is used to for Phenex Gundam and these are integrated well enough that it’s hard to discern. There’s a variety of battles that take place in both space and on land (there’s even a classic colony battle scene) and it’s great to see the small details of how the action feel distinctly different in each location.
On the audio end, Hiroyuki Sawano returns to score the film and adds his grandiose touch of brass and string to the mix. Continuing his trend of uplifting synths, at times it almost touches a little too close to Unicorn’s score and parts of me wished the music direction were a little more ambitious in experimenting than tried and true. Overall, it largely help carry some of the biggest moments in the film.
Despite obvious shortcomings in the script, Narrative largely stumbles its way into a satisfying conclusion to Miracle Children’s story. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Narrative and past UC titles that many fans will find nostalgic. It’s a tasty enough appetizer of Universal Century until Hathaway’s Flash next year.