Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
This OAV series is set during final days of the One Year War (Universal Century 0079) in the Mobile Suit Gundam timeline. Amada Shiro is a space-born young Federal officer given his first command, the 08th Mobile Suit Team of the Kojima Battalion, and quickly gets embroiled in fierce battles with Zeon forces in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. While there, they encounter formidable resistance from enemy Zakus, negotiate with wily guerrilla warriors, and discover a secret base that harbors a weapon that could bring down the Earth forces for good. It doesn't help that the first Zeon soldier Shiro meets face-to-face is the lovely, intelligent Aina Sakhalin. Can he reconcile his feelings for her and earn the trust of the soldiers of the 08th MS Team? Or will a rusting hulk of metal be his epitaph in this sweltering jungle battleground?
One of the things I like so much about Gundam is that the "enemy" is never treated like it's some impersonal, automatic hierarchy. On both sides are real people, with emotions and ambitions, hopes and dreams. But war is never fair, and so many of those dreams must be laid to rest with the soldiers who die on both sides. And 08th MS Team is no exception. Each of the characters in this story has their own agenda, apart from the politics of the Gundam universe, and while that's not so different from other Gundam stories, 08th MS Team departs from the epic scale of the main timeline (Amuro and Char's struggles) but focuses on the lowly grunt soldiers of a single platoon, much like Gundam 0080 and Gundam 0083 in the sense of a smaller scale. This style of storytelling is conducive to the in-depth characterization and personality that is indicative of anime at its best.
And, naturally, the characters are interesting enough to pull it off. Shiro, of course, is fairly standard hero material - brave and more than a bit foolhardy. When we first meet him, he challenges a Zeon prototype mobile suit with a Ball, a labor mech armed with little more than a machine-gun. He's hardly stupid, though, and he makes for a good lead character. The rest of the 08th MS seem like your standard platoon from a war flick, with all the jaded veterans, the fresh-faced recruits, and the cranky old munitions officers you'd expect. Yet none of the characters seems like a rehash of what you've seen before, really, and you really learn a bit of how the "war buddy" mentality works after a while. Of course, this goes both ways - those Zeon guys are mostly pretty normal too.
Just as soon as you've gotten to know the people involved, the series takes little time throwing them into seemingly hopeless battles and tight situations. And while the camaraderie between the soldiers rises, the motivations behind their commanding officers' actions (whether Federal or Zeon) start coming into focus, and it isn't pretty. While Shiro is more than happy to see an injured "enemy" retrieved safely by their forces (shades of Amuro Rey, anyone?) , his superiors don't see it that way. Though Shiro has a distinct hatred of what the Zeon stand for (due to a poison gas attack on a space colony that he witnessed), his feelings for the Zeon pilot Ayna make him question the morality of the orders he is given. Thankfully, the relationship between Shiro and Aina doesn't fall terribly into cliche, and this title doesn't quite have the hopelessness of Area 88, or the ironic Gundam 0080. The writing won't let this series go hokey, and the directing is quite solid, despite the death of the series' original director, Kanda Takeyuki, during the middle of production.
The animation is clean and crisp, adding to the atmosphere of the various settings, and though not movie quality, the action scenes are nicely done. Some of the battles in this series easily put Gundam Wing to shame - mainline Gundam is less about being flashy than being intelligent, and the sequences may not be as pretty, but they're better animated and more logically choreographed, especially the underwater battle sequence early in the series. The background music and sound effects are apt, as well, and you can practically feel the sweat on your brow as you imagine being in a huge hunk of metal in the stifling tropical sun, the smell of cordite permeating the air. And though the J-pop theme songs are fluffy and catchy, the sequences coupled with them emphasize the right points of the story. The only nitpicky thing is the introduction of assembly-line mecha that don't show up in series that happen later chronologically, but it's a forgivable (and frankly welcome) change.
It's hard to write a review for an anime as serious and as good as Gundam 08th MS Team because there's simply nothing to bash or make fun of at all in this show. In fact, it's pretty darn good, and it deserves praise for what it has to say, which is this: war is far from impersonal. The whole point of Gundam is that war isn't really fought by those super-cool machines that you see on the screen, but by the people who command them, who pilot them, who die in them. Gundam 08th MS Team is really the story of a young man who learns that life and war are never fair, and he must find the confidence to stand for his own beliefs in a battlefield ruled by the general and the politician. (Never seen that before, have you?)
If you want unbelievable characters who bicker and grandstand while making angsty soliloquies, this is the wrong Gundam for you. But for a slow-paced, well-written story that's a classic of serious mecha anime, Gundam 08th MS Team is one of the best you could choose. Though packed full of action, 08th MS Team is fundamentally about a character who must learn whether his morals or his loyalty is more important in the battlefield of life - and must find a way to survive while earning the trust of his comrades-in-arms.
For the serious fan who wants meaty, solid anime, this is one show to get. Take my word for it. This is what Gundam is all about, and that's why after so many years, Tomino Yoshiyuki's classic universe is still so popular. It's damn good.
I can't think of any conceivable reason why I would rate this any lower. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: As usual in an anime dealing with war, there's plenty of violence, mostly of mecha blowing up, but occasionally there's some blood, and even the main characters do get beaten up, shot, or otherwise injured quite a bit. Plenty of redshirts, though in this series, unlike most, they usually have a couple of lines before getting killed, so the emotional factor might be a bit higher. Shiro does stumble in on one nude bathing scene, which is part of the plot. No serious innuendoes as far as sexual content is concerned - excess cheesecake really has no place in a main timeline Gundam series.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source; R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (8/13)
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team © 1996 Sotsu Agency / Sunrise
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