Everything Oldtype is Newtype again.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed the western theatrical release of Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative, the newest feature film in the franchise and the first installment of the new project detailing the next in-universe century of the Universal Century. In that review, I lamented that the film presented such a lockout for new fans because of the sheer amount of prerequisite knowledge required to understand the slightest bit of what was happening beyond a superficial level, which is saying something coming from me, someone who has been well studied on this area of the franchise for close to a decade.
However, after I posted the review, one thing nagged at me the more I thought about it: The possibility that the film, at its core, was a microcosm of these signifiers, tropes, and symbols that this universe had held onto since the story’s debut. But more than that we’re trying to replicate the conflict and stakes of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, only to fail…but with the intent to SHOW that they can never be replicated.
So, to finally get this thought out of my brain and into all of yours, let’s re-examine the film in the context of the Universal Century Timeline to see what commentary it makes by imitating certain aspects.
Federation vs Zeon:
The great rivalry that began the most famous conflict in the timeline was the one between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. The Federation essentially unified its governments to become a global government, while Zeon started as colonies near the Earth that slowly began to form independence based on goals of their leader, Zeon Zum Deikun, before he suddenly and mysteriously died and his ally Degwin Zabi seized power and initiated events that would lead to the One Year War. This span of time is the most expanded on a period in the entire franchise, often finding new angles to explore within the events of the initial 43 episode television series from 1979.
But with that comes an odd need to parrot the even more intense rivalry between the first Gundam pilot, Amuro Ray, and the man known as the “Red Comet”, Char Aznable. The two and their battles are so iconic in not just Gundam, but ALL of the mecha genre, that it’s naturally led to the franchise itself trying to keep the imagery of a white Gundam and a red Zaku (Char’s initial mobile suit with his signature color) at almost every opportunity. As such, the term “Char Clone” is a common one across many similar characters in other Gundam shows, with the distinct qualities of a red mobile suit, a mask, sometimes blond hair, and an almost obsessive fascination with their respective protagonist.
For context (see how much research you need to explain just to talk about this film?), Narrative’s immediate predecessor, Gundam Unicorn, also paid homage to this by having its own Char Clone, this time taking the term literally and having a character named Full Frontal, made specifically to fulfill the esteemed legend that Char held during the war. And the reason for that is, between that first series and Unicorn, Zeon had been just about utterly obliterated and was in desperate need of reclaiming the ideas and symbols that made them a force to be reckoned, even for a moment. In that series, they staked it all on finding something that would, once and for all give them the leverage to truly be a presence in the universe and…they lost again.
So, a year after Unicorn, by the time of Narrative’s events, the only remnant of what Zeon once was lies in the unstable reject for the Full Frontal program, Zoltan Akkanan, who comes in a white version of Full Frontal’s own mobile suit. Over the course of the film, what was initially a mission to retrieve the Gundam Phenex almost turns into the spark that ignited the war all over again, all because Zoltan wished to prove himself as the true embodiment of Zeon, but is finally killed. I believe this is to show that the embers of that bond between Amuro and Char had finally gone out.
The Eternal One Year War:
While Zoltan represented the urge to resuscitate the strongest individual fight of that war, his designated Amuro represents looking at the war on a grander scale. Like Unicorn, Narrative expands on the origins and impact of the One Year War of 0079. This time, through the perspective of our three protagonists: Jona Basta, Michele Luio, and Rita Bernal. Through flashbacks, we learn that their friendship and tribulations are tied directly to major events across not just the original Gundam series, but also its sequels, Zeta, ZZ, and the “Char’s Counterattack” film. And obviously, Unicorn as well, because the Phenex is the last of the Unicorn line. All of these glimpses of old major moments in new animated versions (and sometimes just using the clips from the 80’s, when they aired) put the entire timeline under the microscope to summarize how it kept repeating, as well as why it should finally end its current iteration.
In the opening scenes of the film, a flashback shows Rita and her latent Newtype abilities predicting the fall of the space colony on Earth that would be the spark that ignited the war. Aside from brief mentions and references, that’s the first time (as far as I know) of that event being given this much attention, but it serves an important purpose. It’s to show that the scars of the war are still present. As of that film, the war hadn’t been over for even two decades, so the protagonists of this film, Jona especially, are reflections of a generation that grew up in the aftermath of that conflict. In that time, multiple different versions and off-shoots of that same war have played out, whether with the Neo Zeon factions or Federation entities like the Titans. Unlike most of the other protagonists of this timeline, Jona and his friends are the closest to the heart of how these battles all started.
Thus, it is down to the three of them in resolving the conflict of the film by defeating the last remnant of Zeon’s old drive for war, finally putting an end to the ghost of the One Year War, once and for all. Jona holding the spirit of every protagonist before him (as well as assistance from Banagher Links from Gundam Unicorn), Michele with her goal of mending her friends’ bonds, and Rita by tapping in fully to her Newtype abilities.
Newtypes of stories:
As mentioned, this marks the start of a new series of films in Gundam’s “UC NexT 0100 Project”. With this, the timeline will finally move away from the mysticism of the Newtype legend and get back to more grounded storytelling (even if it’s in space), with more focus on the ever-evolving society within the Universal Century timeline. However, creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s dreams of how people might evolve once in space are still at the core of these tales, even with all the destruction and chaos. And I think that’s actually kind of fitting in a franchise about the horrors of war. After every war, there is reconstruction, which inevitably leads to more war. But the optimism to bring people together persists in spite of that. Even if the idea of a Newtype is never solidified, it’s still an ideal the characters AND their viewers can strive for. So we can make new Narratives to last for universal centuries to come.
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