By Andrew Osmond.
As of writing, Gundam NT, also known as Gundam Narrative, is the newest cinema Gundam, opening in Japan in November 2018. This blog frequently highlights the fact that many Gundam anime are designed to be accessible to newcomers. Gundam NT, quite honestly, isn’t one of them. Firstly, the film’s very much a sequel to the lavish series Gundam Unicorn, which is a good starting point for newbies, covered on the blog here. Gundam NT picks up several of Unicorn’s story threads, and has appearances by some of its characters, though the protagonists are new.
(Warning: Some broad spoilers for Gundam Unicorn follow.)
But there’s more to Gundam NT than that. The story also dives back into the early interlinked Gundam titles that established the history of the Universal Century, as Gundam’s classic timeline is known. There are references to the first Gundam series, its sequel Zeta Gundam and the film Char’s Counter Attack, all available from Anime Limited. Indeed, the title Gundam Narrative has a sly double meaning. It’s the name of a giant robot in the film, but also reflects how the story interweaves Gundam anime through the decades.
The main story takes place in UC0097, a year after Gundam Unicorn and eighteen years after the first Gundam. Much like Unicorn, NT reveals a hitherto untold secret history of the Universal Century. We learn that back at the time of the first Gundam (UC0079), when the Zeons in space rained destruction on the Earth, there were legends of “Miracle” children who foresaw the disaster to come, and were even able to save some people before it happened.
Eighteen years later, things seem more peaceful, following Unicorn. But in space, a secret hunt is taking place. The target is an elusive golden Gundam named the Phenex, a Gundam Unicorn with the same staggering powers as its “brothers.” Its pilot seems to be female, but also something beyond human. Two factions are chasing the Phenex. One is a rogue Zeon force, including a grinning maniacal pilot called Zoltan, who’ll remind older anime fans irresistibly of Dilandau in Vision of Escaflowne. The other faction is from Earth, and it includes a young man called Jona who’s bent on catching the Phenex, which is linked to the most important person in his life…
As the film goes on, more is revealed about Jona’s backstory, and how he was thought to be one of the “Miracle” children. It’s a dark story, full of cruel experiments – if you remember the character of Four in Zeta Gundam, you may guess where it’s heading. But this is also a story of childhood friends, and a yearning for when that friendship was unsullied. Some of the remembered scenes, and the emotions that go with them, recall the anime of Makoto Shinkai, especially The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
Gundam NT also has something in common with another SF franchise title – the live-action American series Star Trek: Discovery. That’s another glossy 2010s space opera, but it referred extensively to the original 1960s Star Trek. There was even one 2019 Discovery episode (“If Memory Serves”) which has a direct flashback to a 1960s story, despite the very obvious contrast in visual style and production values. Similarly, Gundam NT is a glossy-looking anime that’s not afraid to drop in flashbacks to old TV Gundams with far quainter visuals; the first Gundam was made nearly forty years earlier.
Like Gundam Unicorn, NT is steeped in the themes and ideas of Yoshiyuki Tomino, Gundam’s creator, even if it doesn’t seem to have involved him. The film was based on “Phoenix Hunting”, a prose Gundam story by Harutoshi Fukui, and published as part of his Gundam Unicorn book series which inspired the anime of the same name. Gundam NT was directed by Shunichi Yoshizawa, who’d previously directed a couple of episodes of Gundam Thunderbolt in its original format as a web serial.
Despite a massive “carnage on an inhabited space colony” set-piece like the one in Unicorn’s first part, NT doesn’t feel quite like a new episode of Unicorn. The main characters are different; moreover, the images don’t have that extra level of hefty Akira-like dimensionality which made Unicorn so distinctive. However, an obvious point of continuity is the music. Like Unicorn, NT is scored by our friend Hiroyuki Sawano of Attack on Titan fame, and again the anime sounds very like Titan at times. On NT, Sawano worked with the rock singer LiSA (Risa Oribe), who you may know for her contributions to Angel Beats!, Sword Art Online and recently Demon Slayer.
Andrew Osmond is the author of the recently reissued BFI Film Classic on Spirited Away. Mobile Suit Gundam NT is released in the UK by Anime Limited.