Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn RE:0096 has kicked off this week and, surprisingly, there are actually people who never knew that Gundam Unicorn’s OVA even existed. So, to help those who haven’t already seen Gundam Unicorn, especially non-Gundam fans, I’ve decided to do a quick write up of the universe that Gundam Unicorn is a part of – that is, the granddaddy of Gundam universes: the Universal Century timeline.
This is aimed at people interested in the new Unicorn broadcast who (1) have never partaken in UC Gundam and are uninterested in watching 150+ episodes-worth of old anime, or (2) used to like Gundam and need a refresher course on what’s been going on. As a disclaimer, Unicorn is enjoyable enough without having no pretext, but it was made to cap off the main Universal Century story. That said, there are a lot of references and even important themes/plot points that you’ll miss out on.
Another disclaimer: I won’t be covering every aspect of the Universal Century because we’ll be here for days if I do. I’ll only cover plot that could come up or may be relevant in context while watching Unicorn, as well as central plot elements that make this guide understandable. This way, I also won’t have to mention Quess from Char’s Counterattack at all.
- What is Gundam and the Universal Century?
- Which series belong to the Universal Century?
- Important Series by Chronological Order
- Series Synopses
- Mobile Suit Gundam
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
- Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
- Important Terms and Names
- Machines and Ships
- Crazy Newtype Stuff
What is Gundam and the Universal Century?
Gundam is a long-running multi-universe anime franchise. It all started back in 1980 with the airing of the original series: Mobile Suit Gundam. It wasn’t a very popular or critically acclaimed show at the time and was even cut short due to low ratings. However, it eventually sparked an enormous fanbase because of its imaginative universe and diverse sequels and spin-offs. In the 90s and 2000s, alternate universe shows, such as Gundam Wing and Gundam SEED, made their mark in selling Gundam overseas, but the original show and most of Gundam takes place in its first and most complete universe: the Universal Century timeline.
The Universal Century timeline takes place some hundred odd years in the future, at which the Anno Domini or Common Era years are replaced by Universal Century years to harken a new age of space exploration and habitation. Universal Century is popular because of its combination of rough wartime realism and surreal representation of human evolution and potential. Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn takes place in this universe.
What series belong to the Universal Century?
The Universal Century is commonly split into two sub-eras: the early and late Universal Century. The real bulk of the UC timeline takes place in the early UC. Gundam Unicorn takes place towards the end of the early UC, in the year UC 0096. There are several main series in the UC timeline, as well as many side-stories (often in the form of OVAs and ONAs).
Important Series in Chronological Order by UC year
(release date and main format in parentheses, central series bolded and asterisked)
0068 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (2015, OVA)
0079 – Mobile Suit Gundam* (1980, TV series)
0079 – Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (2015, ONA)
0079 – Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (1996, OVA)
0080 – Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (1989, OVA)
0083 – Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1991, OVA)
0086 – Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam* (1985, TV series)
0087 – Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ* (1986, TV series)
0093 – Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack* (1989, film)
0096 – Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn* (2010, OVA; 2016, TV series)
Here, I’ll quickly put together important bits of each series. I’ll bold details that I feel are integral to understanding Gundam Unicorn.
Pre-Series: Universal Century in Context
In the Universal Century, Earth has been made near-uninhabitable due to overpopulation and climate change. Although billions of people still reside comfortably on Earth, the Earth Federation – the central government – proposed for enormous space colonies (see: O’Neill Cylinders) to be built in space. By the time the original Gundam series began, more than half of all human beings are now in space.
Zeon Zum Deikum, a famous philosopher, proposed the idea that human beings could soon evolve into a new species that could transcend what we know to be human limits, and could finally find full understanding of one another with thoughts alone. He called them Newtypes.
Unfortunately, Zeon Deikum was assassinated in a plot concocted by the illustrious Zabi family. In killing Deikum, the Zabis manipulated the philosopher’s followers, fooling them into believing that the Earth Federation killed their leader, and forming the Principality of Zeon – a spacenoid government with the goal to fight for those abandoned in space. With the fuels of political turmoil brewing between the struggling colony-dwellers and a neglectful Earth Federation government, the Principality of Zeon wage war against the Earth Federation in a fit of passionate hatred and a desire to be independent.
Mobile Suit Gundam
The One Year War begins when the Principality of Zeon massacres a space colony and drops its empty shell onto the Earth, causing widespread devastation and loss of life. The Earth Federation fights back, engaging in a bloody war that would cut the human population in half during only the first few months. With Zeon forces utilizing giant machines known as mobile suits, the Federation are pushed back to the Earth.
A young man named Amuro Ray lives in the colony cluster Side 7 when his home colony is attacked by Zeon. Coincidentally, the colony was the unsuspecting home of the Federation’s first prototype mobile suit: the RX-78-02 Gundam. Desperate to save his home, he pilots the Gundam and defeats his enemy using the overwhelming strength of his mobile suit.
Amuro and the Gundam are retrieved by the Federation’s experimental battleship, known as White Base, under the command of Earth Federation officer Bright Noa. Together with the crew of White Base, Amuro engages in bloody battles and grand adventures throughout space and earth.
Meanwhile, a Zeon lieutenant known as Char Aznable is making his name within the ranks, earning the title “Red Comet” thanks to his quick reflexes, fighting prowess, and preference for fast (and red) mobile suits. However, he is secretly the son of the late Zeon Deikum. Aware of the Zabi’s role in his father’s death, he is plotting to destroy the Zabi family once and for all. However, with the emergence of Amuro and the Gundam, Char’s attention is turned to defeating this new threat.
Char adopts a powerful Earth-dwelling Newtype into his army. Her name is Lalah, and her latent powers are seen as overwhelming. Amuro meets her, and their encounters lead to both Char and Amuro falling in love with her. She is chosen as the pilot for a deadly mobile armor. After a bloody battle, Amuro accidentally kills Lalah, after she tries to protect Char. Her death haunts Char and Amuro as a result of the guilt of her death and her life becomes a testament to the potential of Newtypes.
The fierce battles between the Federation’s White Base and Zeon forces accumulates into a final battle outside of space fortress A Baoa Qu. Amuro and Char duel both in mobile suits and in person, which results in a stalemate when Char murders who he believes is the last Zabi left. The Earth Federation comes out victorious over the Principality of Zeon, leading to a near-dissolution of the faction as the year comes to an end.
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam takes place several years after the end of the One Year War. The Earth Federation has created an army, known as the Titans, dedicated to wiping out the remnants of Zeon and stopping future rebellions from occurring in space by force. Recognizing the Titans as an oppressive, authoritarian force, part of the Earth Federation Army – known as AEUG – splits off to stop the Titans from their corruption.
Kamille Bidan, a young kid, joins the AEUG and pilots the Gundam Mk. II. He is joined by former Earth Federation officer Bright Noa and mysterious hotshot Quattro Bajeena (later revealed to be Char Aznable in disguise, wishing to end the Titans as well) aboard the battle ship Argama. During this war, Kamille encounters a woman named Four Murasame, revealed to be a Cyber Newtype created to fight for the Titans. She unexpectedly falls for Kamille, but perishes due to her Titan masters.
Later, Haman Karn, a Zeonic loyalist, commands the giant mining asteroid Axis as a base of operations for her new Zeon army. Char is shocked to find Mineva Zabi, a young girl and last remaining member of the Zabi family, in Haman’s care. He attempts to rescue Mineva, but she is taken from his reach as Haman begins her assault on the Federation.
The conflict cumulates in the Titans converting an entire colony, known as Gryps II, into an enormous laser. A battle takes place outside of the colony laser. Kamille faces off against Paptimus Scirocco, a powerful Newtype. In the end, Kamille wins over Paptimus, but withstands a psychic attack that leaves him in a child-like state for several years.
Meanwhile, Char, thought to have perished in battle against Haman, sneaks away, planning to return when the time is right.
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ
The following year, Bright Noa commands the Nahel Argama, the Argama’s successor and home to the Zeta Gundam. Following the events of Zeta, he takes in Judau Ashta, a powerful Newtype with a fighting spirit.
During their battles against Haman’s Neo-Zeon, Judau encounters Elpeo Ple. Elpeo is revealed to be a Neo-Zeon Cyber-Newtype – one of twelve designed to fight against the Federation for Glemy Toto, a Zeon officer. She befriends Judau and defects to the AEUG, but is ultimately killed defending him.
Judau Ashta defeats Haman Karn, as the two engage in a battle between mobile suits and minds. Both being incredibly powerful Newtypes, Haman loses to Judau. Later, Judau faces off against Glemy and his Ple clones, but the spirit of Elpeo Ple convinces Ple Two to stop fighting Judau. This leads to the defeat of Glemy and the apparent deaths of all Ple clones in the battle.
With the defeat of Haman, the first Neo-Zeon War ends.
Six years after the Haman’s First Neo-Zeon War, Char Aznable has emerged with a new Neo-Zeon army, set on defeating the Federation once and for all. Amuro Ray and Bright Noa lead the defense against Char’s assault.
Char’s Sazabi and Amuro’s Nu Gundam are both mobile suits equipped with new state-of-the-art Newtype technology, Psycho-Frame: a mysterious interface linked to the cockpit to translate the thoughts of its pilots into the mobile suit systems. In the culmination to his plot to dissolve the Federation and make Earth uninhabitable (subsequently forcing humanity into space to evolve into Newtypes), Char attempts to drop the asteroid Axis onto the planet.
Amuro defeats Char in a duel, commandeering his cockpit and going off in a desperate attempt to push back the asteroid’s falling half from Earth. Seeing other mobile suits, Federation and Neo-Zeon alike, destroy themselves trying to help Amuro, Char recognizes the will of human beings despite his own beliefs. Ultimately reaching an understanding of others, Amuro and Char’s Psycho-Frame’s resonate together, generating a mysterious light that pushes Axis from Earth’s atmosphere.
Amuro and Char are never seen again.
Important Terms and Names
Earth Federation: The governing body of the entire Earth Sphere.
Earth Federation Space Forces (EFSF): The space portion of the Federation army.
Zeon: Usually referring to the faction, either the Principality of Zeon or Neo-Zeon.
Neo-Zeon: One of several movements to revive the Principality: Haman’s Neo-Zeon, Char’s Neo-Zeon, and the “Sleeves” Neo-Zeon in Unicorn.
Anaheim Electronics: An influential research and development organization. Originally serving the Federation, AE quickly became a neutral technology broker, supplying any faction with state-of-the-art machines. Also responsible for the militarization of Cyber-Newtypes and the creation of Newtype weaponry.
One Year War: The year-long conflict between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. The first global conflict between Federation and Zeon forces.
Gryps Conflict: The short war between two Federation factions: AEUG and the Titans. Named after the colony of the war’s origin, which was later converted into the colony laser.
First Neo-Zeon War: Haman’s rebellion against the Federation following the Gryps Conflict.
Second Neo-Zeon War: Char’s rebellion against the Federation, dropping asteroids (such as Axis) onto the planet to drive humanity into space to evolve.
Axis Shock: The mysterious event during the Second NZ War in which the Nu Gundam and Sazabi’s Psycho-Frames resonate, producing a powerful light that drives Axis away from Earth’s orbit.
Sides: Main clusters of colonies established in the early years of the Universal Century.
Shoal Zone: The remnants of colony cluster Side 5, which was destroyed in a massive battle in the One Year War.
Dakar: The Federation capital on Earth as of UC 0096.
Torrington: A major Federation city and base, shown in the OVA Stardust Memory.
Von Braun: A massive, encapsulated city on the moon.
Mobile Suit: A giant humanoid machine piloted by a human being. Most often used for the sake of combat.
Gundam: Originally the Federation’s first mobile suit, known as the “white devil.” The original Gundam is long gone, but other mobile suits – characteristically with high performance specifications and certain appearance cues – are also named Gundams. Regular mobile suits with a Gundam-like appearance are often referred to as “Gundam-types.”
Mobile Armor: A massive machine, often many times the size of a mobile suit, piloted by a Newtype and utilizing the most destructive weaponry possible. Usually equipped with heavy armor and prototype technology.
Funnels: Small remote weapons, often in the form of a beam generator propelled by small thrusters. Often seen on the arsenal of Newtype-specified mobile suits and mobile armors.
Minovsky Particle: A revolutionary particle unique to the Universal Century. This particle is used in nuclear reactors (powering ships and mobile suits), and often jams communications when concentrated in a single area. Minovsky particles can also be condensed tightly, making beam weaponry (superheated plasma generated by Minovsky Particles) and anti-gravity technology possible.
Psycommu: A cockpit-based interface utilized by Newtype pilots, feeding information from the pilot’s brainwaves into the suit’s central computer.
Psycho-Frame: The perfection of Newtype mobile suit technology. Usually only placed around the cockpit, the Psycho-Frame efficiently distributes neurological information directly to the mobile suit itself. A Newtype using a Psycho-Frame machine can theoretically move a mobile suit by mind alone in limited situations.
Machines and Ships
Nahel Argama: The Federation’s successor ship to the Argama. A battle carrier capable of carrying over a dozen mobile suits.
Rewloola: Char’s mothership during his rebellion; disappeared after the Second Neo-Zeon War.
Garuda: A large carrier ship created for mobile suit transportation within the Earth’s atmosphere.
Zaku: The Principality of Zeon’s most common mobile suit, often seen as a symbol of the One Year War. Largely decommissioned by UC 0096.
Char Aznable: Also known as Casval Rum Deikun, son of Zeon Zum Deikum. A renowned leader of both the original Zeon and Neo-Zeon movements. Sometimes called the “Red Comet,” due to his lightning fast reflexes and tendency to pilot fast, red mobile suits. Presumably KIA after the Second Neo-Zeon War.
Amuro Ray: Famous ace pilot of the Federation. Known for piloting the original Gundam, as well as leading the counterattack against Char’s Neo-Zeon movement. Presumably KIA after the Third Neo-Zeon War.
Lalah Sune: A prodigal Newtype girl, and love interest for both Char and Amuro. Killed by Amuro in battle during the One Year War. Her spirit is said to still wander throughout space, along with other killed Newtypes.
Bright Noa: Veteran commander of the Earth Federation, notorious for leading several Gundam pilots into battle throughout his career.
Haman Karn: The leader of the first Neo-Zeon rebellion. Killed in battle near the war’s culmination. Often seen as a symbol for Neo-Zeon’s will to continue fighting.
Mineva Lao Zabi: The final heir of the Zabi family. Disappeared after the Gryps Conflict, hidden as Neo-Zeon’s deepest secret.
Elpeo Ple/The Ple Clones: Elpeo Ple and her eleven identical twin sisters are genetically engineered Cyber-Newtypes. They are presumably killed by the Federation during the First Neo-Zeon War.
Kai Shiden: A former crewmember of White Base and ally of Amuro during the One Year War. Has since been engaging in behind-the-scenes information broking, and often helps his old allies in their struggles throughout the years.
Beltorchika Irma: Amuro’s girlfriend in Zeta. Not a big deal, but the name comes up.
Crazy Newtype Stuff
Newtype: The hypothesized evolution of humanity – the result of humans mastering the vastness of space. Although not uncommon by UC 0096, many Newtypes are not awakened to their abilities due to a societal fear of their power. Newtypes often have abilities that seemingly transcend the limits of humanity, including a heightened sense of spatial awareness, telepathic communication, a profound inclination towards sympathy, and even communication from beyond the grave.
Cyber-Newtype: Cyber-Newtypes are genetically engineered human beings created with perfected Newtype evolution in mind. Although Cyber-Newtypes possess many of the inherent traits and abilities demonstrated by natural Newtypes, they often lack the same seemingly-unlimited potential and are often subject to answering to a “master.” A cyber-Newtype usually lacks independence due to mental programming in their design, but they can sometimes gain a tendency towards rebelliousness if influenced by other human beings.
Psychofield: The height of Psycho-Frame capabilities – a phenomenon that even the designers of the Psycho-Frame fail to comprehend. Often occurs when two minds equipped with Psycho-Frame come close to one another. The Psycho-Frame uses the incredible energy of the two Newtypes’ brain waves to produce a luminous field in which all things are seemingly possible. By generating a Psychofield, mental energy is somehow converted into physical force. Sometimes requires only a single Newtype, given sufficient potential and quantity of Psycho-Frame. Caused the Axis Shock that saved the planet from the asteroid Axis.
It can be difficult to get into Gundam because of the massive amount of content to push through, not to mention that most of it is rather dated. However, there are some recent and not-so-recent entries in the Universal Century timeline that are still seen as great experiences for modern viewers. Outside of Unicorn, these are my recommendations:
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (1996)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (2015)
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (1989)
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1991)
Of course, there are other series worth watching, but for anime fans who have trouble with watching older material, these are solid picks. The 08th MS Team is an excellent watch and provides a modernized view of the One Year War in a Vietnam-esque setting. Thunderbolt is another One Year War side story, with gritty realism whilst still exploring the idea of Newtypes and Newtype weaponry. War in the Pocket is another down-to-earth series and a short, emotional story. Stardust Memory is pretty much the essence of Gundam action in one series, although Newtypes are emitted from the story.
In general, it’s best to just know the stories of the main series. At the very least, Char’s Counterattack offers valuable context to the setting of Unicorn, despite its lackluster plot.
Again, I will reiterate that watching all of UC Gundam is not a prerequisite to enjoying Gundam Unicorn. Gundam Unicorn was made to cater to longtime UC fans as well as newcomers to the franchise, so there’s something for everybody. However, by knowing basic plot, Unicorn becomes a little less unapproachable and isn’t bogged down by confusing references and vague cameos.
Regardless of how you approach it, enjoy this season!