In the year Ad Stella 101, tensions run high between Earthians and Spacians. In the research asteroid Folkvangr, test pilot Elnora Samaya runs a Permet link connection test inside the Gundam Lfrith, but the test keeps failing at layer 33. Elnora wants to keep trying, but Dr. Cardo Nabo tells her to stop. Cardo says that if Elnora can’t clear that layer that nobody can, but Elnora wants to prove the usefulness of the GUND Format before the council takes action. Cardo notes that their success won’t mean anything if the result is that Elnora is crippled for life. She adds that someone has come to see Elnora – her young daughter Ericht, who just turned four. Ericht wants to have cake and asks if the Gundam Lfrith is sleeping, and Cardo comments that the suit is like a child and that Elnora is teaching it things. At a press conference televised by the Interplanetary News Network, it’s announced that the Front 3rd Autonomous Sector will be purchasing Gundam-type suits manufactured by the Ochs Earth Corporation. The Gundam system is controversial due to its impact on pilots, which has raised questions about the credibility of the company and the Mobile Suit Development Council. A pundit notes that the GUND Format was originally a medical technology designed to help people suffering physical abnormalities from living in space, but after the Vanadis Institute was acquired by Ochs Earth, the technology was implemented into military mobile suits. This led to severe injuries for the pilots whose bodies were overwhelmed by the data storm from their connection to the suit. Nadim turns off the TV report just as Elnora and Ericht come home for the birthday party. Nadim asks if layer 33 is causing trouble again and says none of this would be happening if the higher-ups weren’t in a rush to finish the Gundam Lfrith. He hopes that the council won’t do anything before the established deadline. Elsewhere, members of the Mobile Suit Development Council meet ahead of the press conference scheduled in an hour. As they discuss the Gundam issue, Delling Rembran declares that they must make a decision before the Gundam is completed. Elnora tries to put a candle on the cake, but her prosthetic right arm gives out, so she adjusts its settings. Ericht complains about the arm’s frequent malfunctions, but Elnora notes that she wouldn’t be able to live without this technology, so Cardo saved her life with it. Nadim gets a call from headquarters and leaves to answer it, which causes Ericht to throw a temper tantrum. A man named Yamaoka informs Nadim that the council is meeting now, well ahead of the deadline. In space, the transport ship Begavent approaches Folkvangr for docking. On the asteroid’s surface, a person in a spacesuit sabotages a computer system. Nyla Bertran asks Wendy Olent to help with the unloading of the incoming ship, and Wendy complains about all the space traffic. Elnora finds Ericht’s fork and notices that the child is gone. Ericht goes to the Gundam Lfrith’s hangar and complains that this was supposed to be her day, but everything only thinks about the Gundam. Cardo emerges from the cockpit and apologizes to Ericht. She explains that the Gundam Lfrith is special and that for people like Elnora and Nadim to live in space, they need adaptable bodies. Cardo believes that the Gundam will open new possibilities for humanity. Ericht doesn’t understand, so Cardo suggests talking to the Gundam. Cardo has Ericht press her hand on the suit’s console to be registered. Cardo hears about the council meeting and leaves Ericht alone in the Gundam. Delling orders the Dominicus Corps battleship Ulysses to attack Folkvangr.
At the conference, the council announces a freeze on the development of all Gundam-type suits, as well as a directive to seize all materials held by Ochs Earth. Cardo asks her staff if any ships are scheduled to arrive, and when someone mentions that a ship just got here, she immediately orders that they not allow it to dock. The ship docks, and a commando team emerges and starts killing Ochs Earth employees. At the conference, it’s announced that the council is creating a new auditing organization called Cathedra to maintain the credibility of mobile suit development, under Delling’s supervision. Outside communications are cut off, and Nadim finds that both Elnora and Ericht are gone. The Ulysses increases speed and launches Heingra mobile suits with orders to not let anyone escape from Folkvangr. Nyla sees a smoke grenade in the distance and is shot while pushing Wendy to safety. Nadim runs into Elnora and tells her to protect Eri while he launches. Elnora doesn’t want him to go, but he tells her to believe in the GUND-ARM she developed. Nadim prepares to launch in the Gundam Lfrith Pre-Production Model and tells his co-workers to create an escape route while he holds off the enemy. After launching, Nadim sets the GUND Format Permet score at two. The Heingras open fire on Nadim, but he’s able to outmaneuver them and counterattack with swarm weapons that attach to the Heingras and explode. Nadim raises the Permet score to three and feels increased physical strain on his body. Wendy launches in the other Pre-Production Model and declares that she’ll avenge Nyla. The Ulysses deploys ace pilot Kenanji Avery and his Beguir-Beu suit to provide backup. At the conference, Delling declares that weapons are meant purely for killing, but the Gundams are different because they also kill their own pilots. Wendy raises her Permet score to engage Kenanji, but he emits a field that suppresses her GUND Format link. With her swarm weapons disabled, he moves in close and stabs her cockpit with his bayonet. Cardo reaches for a gun in her desk just as the commando team arrives. She comments that humans are fragile in space and that just as infants need clothes, people need the GUND. The commando leader dismisses that as an excuse to justify a technology that requires sacrificial victims. Cardo pulls out the gun and yells that they’re taking away the future that the GUND will save. Nadim struggles fighting Kenanji and tries to dodge his attacks. Elnora enters the hangar and finds Ericht alone and crying inside the Gundam Lfrith’s cockpit. Inside the cockpit, Elnora picks up an enemy transmission stating that Cardo and all the key members are dead, and that they’ll retreat after preparing the explosives. Ericht is surprised to see a callback from layer 33 and is shocked when she realizes it’s because of Ericht’s vitals being registered in the system. The Gundam Lfrith blasts out of the hangar and reconfigures its bit staves into the Compo GUND-BIT shield. With her connection to the system, Ericht picks three Heingras to target, and the bit staves easily destroy them all, much to Elnora’s shock. Elnora comments that the explosions look like birthday candles, and the bits reform into the shield just before Kenanji attacks at close range with his bayonet. Kenanji deploys his GUND Format suppression field, causing the bits to become inactive and allowing him to slice off the left forearm. Nadim then opens fire on him with vulcans and destroys one of his non-kinetic pods before slamming into him. Nadim calls Elnora and tells her to escape so that both she and Ericht can live. As Elnora falls back, Nadim raises the Permet score to four, placing even further strain on his body. He thinks about Ericht and starts slowly singing the happy birthday song to her before abruptly cutting off ahead of a large explosion. During the press conference, Delling declares that Cathedra will deny all Gundams.
In just 22 minutes, this prologue, set at least a decade before the TV series, manages to tell a tragic story. There’s a lot of worldbuilding crammed into this episode, which is expected since a new alternate universe is being established. It’s probably a good thing that said exposition is being front loaded here so that the TV series proper can get off to a running start. The Ad Stella world, like Universal Century and other universes before it, is a place where capitalism has run amok and corporations have the power to just openly kill people in the name of their ambitions. Political tensions are visible between Earthians and Spacians, and according to a TV news graphic, they have completely different concerns that don’t overlap. It also appears that the Spacians are in the more powerful position, which is also atypical for Gundam. I would note that although we’re told Cardo is dead, we never see her be executed, so I suspect she was taken in alive so Cathedra could learn more about her research and put her to work for them. I like the concept of the Gundams being a controversial development of medical technology, which is not a background setting we’ve ever seen before in this franchise. While we have definitely seen system in the past like Gundam Wing‘s Zero System or Iron-Blooded Orphans‘ Alaya-Vijnana System that place a strain on the pilot, none have been lethal. The fights in this episode are well executed, and you can see the visible strain on Nadim and Wendy as they raise the Permet score and strain their bodies for increased performance. In just a short time, the prologue establishes how much Elnora and Nadim love Ericht and what they’ll sacrifice to protect her. The shock on Elnora’s face when she realizes that Ericht is connected to the Gundam says it all – this wasn’t the life she wanted for her daughter. We know that Ericht will eventually go by the pseudonym Suletta Mercury in the series, but what will her life be like at that point? Will she comprehend what happened in this prologue, and will she be out for revenge against the people responsible? Whatever the case may be, I’m eager to see more of this new universe.