Saturday, May 31, 2014

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)

Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)

Official Sites: Japanese, English
Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: PlayStation/Sony Entertainment Network, Xbox Video, DAISUKI

For the most part, the vast majority HardDoor's Free/Low-Cost Anime Picks are free, primarily because I like to choose titles that are as easily accessible and with as little upfront "risk" as possible. However, there are rare instances where there is no real viable (and, *cough*, legal) way of viewing a particular one without having to pay for it. When that is the case, you hope that work happens to be worth the price of admission.

That was the case for me with the OVA series, Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn) last year. Being the big (and expensive) 30th anniversary title for the venerable Gundam franchise, it was of no surprise that Bandai Visual showed little rush in putting it out for free viewing, not when it had yet finished (and was making them them huge amounts of money). The Blu-ray discs, at one hour-long episode per disc at $50+, were a little too rich to buy sight unseen and invest in through seven volumes, but happened to be a good sale on the first few at the time. Alas, the only accessible way to preview the series for me was via PlayStation Store rental, at $3.99/ episode in HD ($2.99 in SD).

"If I was spending over $50 for an episode, why would I waste $3-4 on a something I can't even own?" I long thought, wanting to save that money for the BDs, instead, However, with the sale being what it was, being a big Gundam fan, and having wished to see Unicorn for so long, I finally decided to relent and I rented the first episode. In spite of the latter point, I was simultaneously skeptical about the show (which, too, played a role in my not wanting to throw money at it), but unexpectedly, I was floored by it. So good was it, that I actually rented the second episode the next day--to be totally certain it was a series worth getting. After that one, I bought the ones on sale and the rest of the series later.

Unicorn is not exactly "low-cost" and you can only rent the series through the PlayStation Store, Xbox Live (last two episodes only at the time of this posting), and DAISUKI (priced by yen…). The moral of the story, however, is that renting an anime digitally can be a useful tool when you want to know if something is worth buying in full, particularly when your options are low (not to mention that money helps support the content creators). Additionally, I have chosen this particular title not only to illustrate this example, but to also commemorate the final, movie-length, seventh episode of the series, which just premiered in  Japanese theaters and is currently available for rent, and for Gundam's 35th anniversary this year.

Unicorn, begun in 2010 as an adaptation of the novel of the same name, does a very fine job in providing a capstone for the key conflict of the franchise's primary timeline, "Universal Century", and the saga that took shape from the One Year War (as chronicled in the first series, Mobile Suit Gundam). It sports one of the very best production values from all points and while those unfamiliar with Gundam or said timeline may be able to follow along, it is also a work that those with greater familiarity with the material will likely get more mileage out of.

Regardless, it should not be too difficult to get into, as it centers on a teen boy who gets caught up in intrigue and conflict between opposing sides on Earth and in space as he becomes the benefactor of the "key" to the mysterious "Lapace's Box", an unknown item which is alleged to hold secrets that could topple the entire Earth Federation. And this "key" happens to be associated with the equally-mysterious Unicorn Gundam, a mecha entrusted only to him, but what everyone wants. Though it may touch upon a number of franchise-centric tropes, they are often done in a fresh manner and at times, are turned on their heads (and most of it should fly over the heads of newcomers). It pays some slick homage and mecha eyecandy along the way, but its greatest strength lies in its direction and the coming-of-age journey that protagonist Banagher Links undergoes throughout. As a result, Eps. 1-6 have been very rewarding and enjoyable, much more than I was expecting.

I am not the type that likes to waste money or spend it loosely, but it was worth the $7.98 to preview something like Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn). Though more pricey than your standard anime release, it is not your standard anime series, either. Comparatively-speaking, as an OVA comprised of hour-long parts and a well-made physical product, the price is relatively reasonable (the cheaper DVDs fare better by price and episode count, but lack the BD quality and BD-Live extras). As far as using the rentals as a taste-test for dipping into the BDs (here or as a method at large), it is not free, but it is not a terrible way to go, either. Unless offered otherwise, the videos are in Japanese with English subtitles, and view periods, video resolutions, device compatibility beyond PC/Mac (e.g. PSN via Sony devices, Xbox Video via Microsoft's, DAISUKI), prices, and payment methods for Unicorn may vary among the given video services.

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