Gundam Unicorn, which was originally released as a series of seven films, is currently airing as a re-edited version on Japanese TV as Gundam Unicorn Re:0096. Whether film version or TV version, it is not only an excellent Gundam series, but a great anime in its own right. However, as it is set late in the main Gundam timeline, it can be hard for a new viewer to pick it up. So for those of you interested in Gundam Unicorn, here’s a list of the five things you need to know as background before watching Gundam Unicorn.
The Principality of Zeon
In the future, as Earth’s environment became less and less able to handle the stress of humanity’s growing population, a plan was put into place to move the “less desirables” of humanity on to space colonies, asteroids, and the moon while the planet recovered. Over the decades that followed, these people and their descendants came to consider space as their true home. Exploited by Earth and with no representation in the planetary government, unrest spread amongst those in space, eventually leading to a secession from Earth. The new spaceborn nation was known as The Principality of Zeon.
At the end of a bloody one-year war, Zeon was defeated and space put once again under Earth’s control. However, in a similar situation to our world’s Hong Kong, some of the former Zeon colonies were reformed into the semi-autonomous “Republic of Zeon” under the Earth government.
Yet, even with this concession, those loyal to the Zeon royal family–the Zabi–tried time and again over the next thirty years to bring about the dream of an independent space empire, with all attempts ending in failure.
In the first months of the One-Year War, nearly half of humanity was wiped out thanks to the use of nuclear weapons and Zeon crashing a space colony into Earth. In order to avoid the extinction of the human race, nukes and crashing of colonies were banned by both sides. Around this time, a new type of weapon came to the foreground: the mobile suit. Roughly mirroring the shape of a human, though on a much more massive scale, these mecha became the front-line troops across both Earth and space.
A Gundam is (generally) an Earth-made prototype or high-performance mobile suit that is far stronger than the mass-production models. While not exactly a common term amongst the general populace, those in the military speak of Gundams with awe because of their prominence as the deciding factor in the Zeon/Earth wars.
A Gundam is easily recognizable by the V-like fin attached to the mecha’s brow.
The founder of Zeon, Zeon Zum Deikun, was a philosopher as well as a politician and crafted the theory of “Newtypes”–i.e., a new type of human more evolved as a response to growing up in space. After his death, the Zabi family used the idea of Newtypes as a way to rally the spaceborn under the idea that they were superior to Earthlings (and so worthy of independence).
By the time of Gundam Unicorn, the Newtype theory has been largely discredited–now little more than a term synonymous with that of “Ace Pilot.” However, they do exist, walk among the rest of the population unnoticed, and are far more than just pilots.
Newtypes have a wide array of instinctive mental powers. The most obvious of these is heightened situational awareness–something that makes them amazing pilots and allows them to control complex machines that require multitasking beyond what a normal human can manage. However, they can also sense each other’s presence, speak telepathically, and occasionally read each other’s minds. In extreme circumstances, they can make contact with the spirits of the deceased and even twist the fabric of spacetime to perform the impossible.
Char is the most well-known champion of Zeon and a powerful Newtype. The illegitimate son of Zeon Zum Deikun, Char grew up in hiding after the Zabi murdered his father and claimed Zeon as their own. Joining the Zeon military as a pilot and wearing a mask to hide his identity, Char used his growing renown as a tool to bring him closer to the Zabi family–and give him the opportunity to get revenge for his father’s murder. Eventually, he revealed his identity as the true heir to Zeon and became the leader of one of Zeon’s numerous revivals before his supposed death three years before the start ofGundam Unicorn. However, as Unicorn begins, there are rumors of a masked figure appearing once again to lead the remnants of Zeon.
Mineva Lao Zabi
Born during the One-Year War in the original Gundam, Mineva is the last remaining heir of Zeon. A child princess, she was used as a figurehead to start several wars. By the time of Gundam Unicorn, she has finally come of age as a woman and is torn between loyalty to those who revere her and her own desire to do whatever it takes to avoid another senseless war in her name.
As a little addendum, here’s a short glossary of a few proper nouns used (and largely not explained) in Gundam Unicorn.
ECOAS (Earth COlony ASteroid): An Earth-sanctioned special forces unit focusing on clandestine missions.
Londo Bell: An Earth special forces group led by the heroes of past Gundam series.
Psycommu: An interface system that directly connects the pilot to the mecha, allowing his or her thoughts to control it directly.
Psychoframes: An advanced version of a Psycommu that is small enough to fit inside the frame of a mobile suit.
Minovsky Particles: Special particles that jam most communications, damage unprotected electronics, limit depth of vision, and disrupt the targeting systems of most weapons.
Cyber Newtype: A Newtype made artificially through medication and torture for use as a living weapon.