Every so often, I’ll come across a specific type of retcon in a long-running series that essentially says a certain important character or thing was unseen in the background all along, and that the audience just wasn’t aware of this. It’s a kind of shortcut to make new information not feel shoehorned in, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing—just evidence that things weren’t planned from the outset, for better or for worse.
The Gundam franchise has sort of always been this way, whether it’s the Mobile Suit Variations line that talked about all the other aces fighting in the One Year War offscreen or anime such as 08th MS Team showing events from a different perspective. But the film Gundam Narrative takes it to a whole other level, being what is essentially spackle for a specific period in the Universal Century timeline.
Early Gundam series were not made to overly adhere to a finely tuned canon, as they were usually set years apart chronologically to emphasize the idea that “things have changed.” But as the timeline has become more dense with sequels, prequels, sidequels, and spin-offs, there developed a certain unexplained plot element that had no real answers: why did the crowning technology from the film Char’s Counterattack, the Psycho-Frame, stop being used in later UC works like Gundam F-91 and Victory Gundam? It’s the kind of thing that can be explained by simply saying, “Stuff happened,” but the space-opera minutiae fairly present in Gundam potentially makes that an unsatisfying answer.
The result is a movie about three kids—Jona Basta, Michele Luio, and Rita Bernal—whose lives are tied to major events throughout the Universal Century series. They were there when a space colony fell on Australia before the start of First Gundam, but burgeoning Newtype powers resulted in them being able to evacuate their town to safety. They were involved in the Cyber-Newtype experiments that were a major element in Zeta Gundam. And now their story takes them to being directly involved with the aftermath of the events of Gundam Unicorn and the hunt for the third Unicorn-class mobile suit, known as Phenex.
Gundam Narrative basically tries to act as a bridge between two eras, and while the story is decent on its own, the focus with reconciling that incongruity results in an unusually jargon-heavy work (even by Gundam standards!), and a bit of weakness when it comes to the social and political themes that usually come part and parcel with the franchise as a whole. I’m not sure if it’ll end up being anyone’s favorite Gundam, but it’s also not a hot mess. Gundam Narrative serves a function, and it’s fairly entertaining while doing so, but I tend to prefer something with more meat on its bones.