Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn takes place in Gundam's Universal Century timeline. Begining in U.C. 0001, at the very beginning of human space colonization, 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, three years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack and 27 years before Gundam F91. 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."
Gundam Unicorn is a return to the events of the Universal Century, following Char's Counterattack. The art style and mood of the story contrasts those of previous continuities; set in a universe already rich in history, the sheer amount of depth in how the characters interact is incomperable, with both the Federation and Sleeves having a multi-fauceted role extending far beyond the typical polarisation of factions. As a consequence, Gundam Unicorn feels far more mature than something like Gundam 00, as morality and conflict are no longer in simple shades of black and white. The art itself is spectacular, bringing the old-school art of the UC into high definition and returning character designs that distinguish themselves from current anime trends; instead of young female officers, experienced, burly men command their fleets into battle. The sound is also finely crafted: the orchestral pieces breath emotion into all of the scenes, and subtle sound effects like the hum of clashing beam sabres and the distinct blast of the Unicorn's beam magnum serve to add yet another layer of complexity to UC Gundam, reminding us of just how chaotic conflict is and ushering in a new standard for not just the Gundam franchise, but anime as a whole. Episodes release on a semi-annual basis, but with the quality we've seen thus far, the wait simply translates to the sheer amount of effort and quality that goes into producing each episode.
A Neo Zeon remnant group called the "Sleeves" travels to Side 4's Industrial 7 colony, so that its captain, Zinnerman, can receive a "key" to something known as "Laplace's Box" from Vist Foundation leader Cardeas Vist. The item is said to be capable of either restoring the future or destroying the world. Audrey Burns seeks to meet Vist first and convince him not to turn over Laplace's Box, believing the Sleeves will use it to start another war. Along the way, she is rescued by 16-year-old student Banagher Links, who agrees to take her to Vist. Meanwhile, a battle breaks out between the Federation's Londo Bell taskforce and the Sleeves. As the collateral damage rises, the colony is evacuated. Amidst the chaos, Banagher discovers the fatally-wounded Cardeas Vist in the cockpit of the Unicorn Gundam. Before his death, Vist entrusts the Gundam to Banagher, who realizes that Vist is his father. Banagher then launches in the Unicorn and confronts the Sleeves' elite pilot, Marida Cruz, who is piloting the Kshatriya.
The transformed Unicorn Gundam overpowers the Kshatriya and Marida is ordered to retreat. The Unicorn is picked up by the Londo Bell ship Nahel Argama. Banagher is questioned by Daguza Mackle about how he came to possess the Unicorn Gundam but is interrupted by the Sleeves' surprise attack. Full Frontal, the leader of Neo Zeon, demands that the Nahel Argama hand over any items related to Laplace's Box, including the Unicorn. Daguza tries to ensure safe passage by holding Audrey, revealed to be Zeon Princess Mineva Lao Zabi, hostage, but Frontal refuses to accept they have the real Mineva. With no other choice, Banagher sorties in the Unicorn against the Sinanju; he fights well, but is captured when blindsided by the Kshatriya. Banagher is taken to meet Frontal at the Sleeves asteroid base of Palau.
After discussing the nature of Zeon with Marida, who is placed in charge of watching over Banagher, a crew member from Nahel Argama disguised as a bum bumps into Banagher and passes him a map and a transmitter, telling him to get to the 14th space gate or risk being killed in the coming battle. Banagher laments over how the colony will become a battlefield soon.
The Earth Federation and ECOAS execute their assault on Palau, with the intention of rescuing Banagher and the Unicorn. Saboteurs destroy Palau's connecting bridges, while the Nahel Argama unleashes its Hyper-Mega Particle Cannon, pushing the asteroids towards each other to damage much of the Sleeves' forces. Any Sleeves unit getting out is ambushed by ECOAS units hiding in the rocks. Riddhe springs Audrey from detention so they can go to Earth and talk to his father, Ronan, but not before trying to convince a surprised Micott about their intentions. Banagher finds the Unicorn Gundam and tries to escape, defeating Marida in the process. She is eventually captured and Alberto Vist is allowed to escort her to an Anaheim Electronics facility on Earth.
Banagher and Daguza proceed to the remains of Laplace with the intention of activating Laplace's Box, but hear the original broadcast of the Earth Federation establishment ceremony. The Sleeves are not far behind and the EFSF/ECOAS units fight them. The Sinanju appears and Daguza sacrifices his life to buy Banagher some time to activate the Unicorn's Destroy mode. The fight sheds parts of the Laplace colony and sends them into the atmosphere. Banagher continues to pursue Full Frontal during the reentry, but a beam magnum shot meant for the Sinanju hits Gilboa Sant instead. As Banagher and the Nahel Argama enter the atmosphere, Audrey arrives at the Marcenas estate.
The Neo-Zeon and the Zeon Remnant forces attack the Federation Senate complex at Dakar in a feint operation. Banagher crashlands in the Australian desert and is captured by the Garencieres crew. Marida is transported to a Federation facility in North America, where Martha Vist Carbine manipulates her using the wreck of an old Mass Production Qubeley, which she had piloted in the past. Audrey is held at the Marcenas estate. Riddhe escapes after his father, Ronan, tells him the truth about Laplace's Box. Bright Noa returns to command the Ra Cailum and is ordered to capture the Garencieres. Called in from around the world, the Zeon Remnant troops assault Torrington base en masse. Banagher flies out in the Unicorn and activates the NT-D mode to try reasoning with the Shamblo's pilot, Loni Garvey, who's mind had fallen victim to the the mobile armor's malfunctioning psycommu system and had begun to indiscriminately massacre the population of the nearby city. Incensed by Banagher's refusal to kill Loni, Riddhe decides to kill her himself and is given orders Banagher at gunpoint to hand over the Unicorn Gundam to Federation control. Before he can go further, the Unicorn Banshee is deployed on the scene and engages its NT-D.
After neutralising the Delta Plus, the newly-arrived Banshee captures the Unicorn and returns it to the Ra Cailum, where Riddhe encounters and attempts to question Alberto Vist of Anaheim Electronics' motives, only to be ignored. Meanwhile, on the Garuda, Martha requests Mineva's assistance to coerce Banagher's cooperation in disclosing the location of Laplace's Box. On the Ra Cailum, Bright speaks with Banagher and comes to terms with the latter's actions, before learning of the Federation's covert deployment of the new Dogosse Gier-class battleship General Revil. He sends orders to the Nahel Argama, instructing them to rendezvous with Garencieres. The Tri Stars, Riddhe, Marida and Banagher are assigned to provide cover while Mineva is transferred back to the Garencieres. However, combat between the Garuda and Garencieres' forces breaks out, and in the ensuing chaos, Banagher restrains the Banshee long enough for Zimmerman to board the Garuda. Riddhe enters the Garuda's rear docking bay and confronts Anaheim staff in an effort to rescue Mineva, but before he can do so, Zimmerman begins firing on them. Mineva takes advantage of the distraction to reach Zimmerman, who gives her a parachute. An exploding Anksha damages the docking bay and incapacitates Zimmerman. Riddhe pleads with Mineva to no avail; she leaps off the Garuda and is caught by Banagher, who activates the Unicorn's NT-D. After he brings Mineva to the Garencieres, Banagher forces the Banshee into the Garuda hangar. Marida identifies the Delta Plus as a Gundam and proceeds to decimate it with the Banshee's VN Claw. Having regained consciousness, Zimmerman reaches out to Marida and implores that she return to the Garencieres. Realizing her identity, Marida is rendered unconscious and falls out of the Banshee's cockpit.
The Garencieres undergoes the next phase of its mission and attempts to link with the Nahel Argama as per the original mission. However, an engine malfunction causes the Garencieres to fall out of its designated trajectory. Despite this, the Nahel Argama fires its tow cable, which is caught by the Unicorn; the forces exerted on the Unicorn threaten to pull it apart, but with the assistance from the spirits of Daguza Mackle and Gilboa Sant, the Unicorn's psycoframe begins to resonate and produce a green luminesence. Having towed the Garencieres into orbit, both ships find themselves under heavy fire from the General Revil. Flast believes that this was orchestrated by the Federation, but Mineva notes that the Federation attack patterns imply their intent on destroying the Nahel Argama along with the Garencieres. Banagher attempts to engage the forces, but the Unicorn has exhausted its fuel supply. The arrival of the YAMS-132 Rozen Zulu grants them breathing room; as it neutralizes the Revil's mobile suits, Full Frontal heads straight for the warship and fires a rocket at its bridge.
Full Frontal and Angelo Sauper comes in to rescue the Nahel Argama and the Garencieres as the EFSF flagship General Revil bears down on them. The Londo Bell Tri-Stars chase down the Garencieres, which suddenly blows up as a decoy to buy time for the Sleeves to take over the Nahel Argama. In explaining the takeover, Full Frontal says it was an opportunity to finally open Laplace's Box, reveals his memories of the events of Char's Counter-attack and his reasons for continuing to oppose the Earth Federation; implying very strongly that he is in fact Char Aznable. He leaves Angelo in charge of the vessel as it heads back to Industrial 7 (where the last clue leads to) along with the Rewloola.Angelo has the Nahel Argama crewman send out an SOS beacon, prompting the Federation's Luna II base to send a Salamis cruiser in pursuit. Captain Otto defies Angelo's orders to destroy the warship. An ECOAS team led by Conroy Haagensen assaults the Nahel Argama and gradually fights the Neo-Zeon troops back to the MS hangar deck. Banagher activates the Unicorn to aid in the attack, but Full Frontal faces him and threatens him with death if he doesn't join the Neo-Zeon's cause, since Mineva already knows where the Box is. With Mineva's help, Marida reactivates the Kshatriya to prevent Angelo from destroying the Nahel Argama but declares not joining Full Frontal’s plan to use the Box to launch another war with the Federation. As Marida seeks Zinnerman's permission to fight the Sleeves, he decides to finally let her go and live her own life. Angelo and Full Frontal fly back to the Rewloola in Angelo's Rozen Zulu.
Back on Earth, Martha Vist threatens Bright Noa and Londo Bell with being left out of the pursuit operation if they do not collaborate with her. She also barges into a meeting of Ronan Marcenas and several EFSF politicians to announce her intentions to prevent the Box's opening. Upon entering the region near Industrial 7, Banagher flies out in the Full Armour Unicorn Gundam to get closer to opening the Box. A surprise awaits him though - the Unicorn Banshee Norn, piloted by Riddhe Marcenas, who was earlier briefed by Alberto Vist about the origins of the Vist Foundation.
Gundam Unicorn‘s closing act and swan song weighs in at 90 minutes, composed of a superb combination of pulse-pounding mobile suit combat paired with immensely emotional moments; from the episode’s opening at the Cheyenne base in Colorado, to the Mineva’s final speech, the finale acted as a fitting conclusion to the Gundam Unicorn OVA series. Every moment, combat or dialogue, was so powerful it raised the hairs on my neck and left me on the edge of my seat. While the ending was by no means flawless, the final outcome is consistent with Gundam Unicorn‘s major theme of possibility and breaking away from the status quo, making it a fitting conclusion to the series. Even then, possibility was only one of the main elements: Mineva’s final speech suggest that possibility can only be capitalised upon if people understand one another. Understanding was the core theme to Gundam 00: and its execution in the Awakening of the Trailblazer movie ultimately produced one of the more controversial endings in the Gundam franchise. Gundam Unicorn‘s finale, pushes the limits for what is reasonable and in fact, there are a handful of elements that are reminiscent of Awakening of the Trailblazer (such as the Unicorn’s supernatural performance and how its psychoframe takes on an ELS-like appearance). Nonetheless, through a fine balance in its presentation, this finale ultimately succeeds in wrapping up Gundam Unicorn, leaving viewers with just enough to piece together what is going on without yielding too many details. Throughout this episode, aside from the concept of possibility, there were many other overarching themes that were also explored, ranging from the futility of existence to yet another warning about how seemingly small lies can still have significant consequences.
The impact of music in Gundam Unicorn cannot be denied: each of the different pieces over the four soundtracks conjure up images of the Gundam franchise’s illustrious history from its epic battles to its memorable cast of heroes and villains. Through Hiroyuki Sawano's talent, this part of Unicorn is executed with finess and boldness: the stirring soundtrack touches not only upon the victories and the heroism, but also the tragedies of Gundam Unicorn. Below is the complete track listing for the soundtrack, which can be obtained here.