By Jose Ivan Cazares
“Gundam Narrative” tells a fresh and captivating story with enthralling visuals despite the baggage that comes with being part of a franchise spanning 40 years. With top notch animation, “Gundam” has never looked this good.
The soundtrack composed by Hiroyuki Sawano is a highlight and worth listening to independently from the film.
It’s a mix of drum and bass beats and dramatic piano scores. The song ‘Vigilante’ is a particularly catchy tune.
The animation and movements of the mechas are fluid. Colors pop despite having one of the darker palates in the franchise.
There are plenty of action scenes packed with beautiful explosions and satisfying special effects.
The hour and a half runtime, however, make certain plot points and the conclusion feel abrupt, and the new characters aren’t particularly memorable.
“Narrative” is part of the Universal Century, the Gundam metaverse’s main continuity. It sets up for future entries while telling a standalone story.
In the Universal Century, humanity started migrating to artificial space colonies to alleviate overpopulation. The citizens of the space colonies see the people of Earth as privileged and mounting tensions culminate in a brutal war known as The One Year War.
The story revolves around three childhood friends who experience the war firsthand and political back dealings set in motion during the events of the original “Mobile Suit Gundam.”
The knowledge necessary to put “Narrative” into context is given to the viewer through flashbacks and exposition without hammering them over the head with it.
Rita Bernal, voiced by Brianna Knickerbocker in the English dub, has abilities similar to force users in “Star Wars.”
Newtypes have heightened spatial awareness, some can predict the future, and some retain their consciousness after death.
“Narrative” spells out what a Newtype is more clearly than any previous “Gundam” entry. They are believed to be the future of human evolution, but while some hope their abilities will lead to a future when humanity has moved past war, other seek to use them as weapons. Its central theme revolves around idealistic notions about peace and it critiques the military industrial complex.
Rita is singled out for her abilities and is subjected to inhumane research. She goes missing while being the test pilot for the experimental Phoenix Gundam. The Phoenix is a prototype mech designed to amplify newtype abilities.
“Narrative” picks up years after Jona Bashta, voiced by Griffin Puato, and Michelle Luio, voiced by Erica Ishii, are separated from Rita. They are scared by years of war and go about searching for their friend in very different ways.
Michelle is ruthless and it isn’t clear whether she’s after the Gundam Phoenix for selfish reasons.
She is the head of a major corporation, giving her immense power and influence, but she gets little character development. Certain actions in the later part of the movie seem rushed.
Jona pilots the titular Narrative Gundam. He could easily be dismissed as one dimensional, because his only motivation is finding Rita. He’s consistent, however, in that motivation, and isn’t overpowered or immune to failure for the plot’s sake.
The audience can feel sympathetic towards him because he’s average but is faced with extraordinary challenges.
Rita is the least fleshed out of the three. She is portrayed as selfless and caring, but doesn’t get developed beyond that character type. She’s not a damsel in distress, however, because she has fantastical powers and makes for an interesting McGuffin.
The antagonist, Zoltan Akkanen, is as much a victim of the military industrial complex as Rita and will feel the most fleshed out for some of the older fans because of the history of his character.
He is an attempt to replicate the abilities of a Newtype and invoke the mantle of a legendary ace and political figure.
Despite having rank and command of a battleship he is treated as a failed experiment and is disposable. He’s emotionally scarred, and his actions are motivated by his trauma and hate for the status quo.
New fans will enjoy the character more than old fans with a bias for previous iterations.
“Gundam” has never been hard science fiction, and “Narrative” continues the move toward more fantastical themes in the franchise.
It won’t make fans of those who long for the days of more grounded themes about moral ambiguity in war, but it will satisfy those enjoying the change and makes for a good introduction to new fans.
It’s a direct sequel to “Gundam Unicorn” but watching them out of order won’t take away from the experience. It’s loosely based on a light novel titled “Phoenix Hunting.”
“Narrative” only received a limited U.S. screening on Feb. 19 and a date for a physical release in the U.S. is yet to be announced.
The first 25 minutes are available for free on the official “GundamInfo” YouTube channel.