With this post, I begin looking at some of the other Gundam series centered on the One Year War. A troubled place to be in some ways considering that the larger amount of Gundam series in the UC seems to be scare people away from it. Mainly, the infamous One Year War. Even adding Alternate Universes doesn’t seem to help some people to get interested in Gundam. What people don’t seem to get is that the Gundam series really isn’t that complicated. Especially the UC itself. The main UC story lines are everything from Tomino. Everything else is very stand alone with a small reference towards the main story in it. Take for reference, this series. It’s set during the One Year War from the original Gundam series, but you don’t need to know anything about that series to enjoy The 08th MS Team. It’s a different take on war in the Gundam Universe and is far more relatable and grounded. No newtype powers, just character drama and mecha fights. Just as god intended. Ok, not really but I wanted to write that.
As I said above, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes place during the One Year War. Which means that it’s set in on the 0079th year of the Universal Century Calendar. Zeon declared their war for Independence against the Earth Federation and whatever happens in 08th MS Team is barely a blip on the radar for the whole war which is pretty fascinating in its own way. There is a chance that whatever happened in this story could have affected the larger war as a whole due to Zeon science and engineering playing a heavy role in the 08th MS Team. Still, this is where people with previous Gundam knowledge comes into play. This did come out a decade and a half after Gundam 0079. Instead, we get a minor scale war with a small number of mobile suits in the jungle which is pretty cool in its own right.
Ok, enough waffling. Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team starts with a young ensign by the name of Shiro Armada in a troop carrier ship, with other recruits, on route to Earth from the colonies. Each person there is excited to get their shot at fighting against the Zeons or Zeeks as they would say. As one would expect, there is a small skirmish between a Zeon Zaku and a breaking down Federation GM. With Shirou wanting to prove himself, he goes out in an outdated Ball mobile suit, saves the GM, but somehow ends up in a tie with the Zaku. Both pilots are stranded in space for the moment and work together to survive and hopefully be picked up by their own forces. The other pilot is an attractive woman named Aina Sahalin. With softer words and Shiro having Aina’s watch on hand, the two part ways safely without incident. There is a small amount of attraction but nothing major comes from it for the moment.
That leads to true beginning of 08th MS Team. Ensign Shiro is assigned as the leader of the well, The 08th Mobile Suit Team. A surprise to no one Especially when reading the show’s title. The 08th Team is the kind of team one would expect it to be. Very unusual and full of all sorts of interesting and colorful characters with their own sense of backstory and energy. Shiro is just another leader to replace the leader that was scared away from resident bad ass pilot Karen Joshua. She is a little over bearing and is not afraid to beat people up if she wants to. She was also a medical student. The pilot Shirou saved, Terry Sanders Jr. who supposedly has a curse of his teams dying after three missions. Eledore is a recon member of the group who is the eyes and ears of the Team and is a wannabe musician. Then of course is the younger Michel Ninorich who is almost constantly writing letters to his girlfriend. A very interesting group for sure that feels real in how everyone has their own interests and war got in the way.
The first six episodes of this ova series have a pretty clear goal. Establishing the relationship between the 08th Team, exploring the world around them, and finding out the threat of the experimental mobile armor Zeon is in the process of being fine tuning to perfection. While the way the units are run are very World War 2 like in style of the series, the story itself is very Vietnam like. I mentioned the mecha in a swamp, right? There is also a village full of rebels which plays a large part in the story itself too. The Zeon patrol the area while the rebels hide so it’s very much like a Vietnam movie as far as that village is concerned. Not only because they are there to fight the Zeon, but because they want to live. They aren’t too friendly with the Federation either until Shirou helps them get a victory. Even then, the relationship is tenuous.
This first feels excellent in how it’s paced and how the story is told. It feels very genuine and natural in execution. Most of the story is centered on Shirou because he’s cocky, self-sacrificing, and wants to keep his crew out of danger. Even if everyone is piloting a Gundam in this series, there is a very high chance of them getting killed anyway. Shirou gives himself the harder parts of the missions while trying to keep his members at a distance and pushing their abilities to a breaking point. At the same time, the 08th MS Team has a rotating commander role so there is this tension between the crew trying to keep him alive while also trying to follow his orders at the same time. It’s really interesting and endearing stuff. The episode before the crew attacked the experimental unit was filled with all sorts of character drama before Shirou once again gets in the way to protect his men and is taken down with the experimental unit.
All of which leads to part 2 where things change and yet don’t. A surprise to no one, the pilot of the experimental unit is none other than Aina Sahali. Instead of being stranded in space, they are in a windy and cold area with a wounded Shirou. The two once again work together to survive, but they really fall in love with each other this time. While their first meeting had a lasting impression on them both, this time they know it’s all for real because of the way the two bounce off each other. It also means Aina gets a lot more focus in the second half too which is good because Gundam doesn’t work that well without Zeon getting more of a focus then being a vague enemy force. The Zeon is made out of people too. Some people call this Romeo and Juliet with Gundams at war. Fair enough, but there is also so many things going on here then just a Romeo and Juliet story.
So many crazy things start building up and building up in the first half. The first thing is the predictable change in behavior in Shirou Armada when he decides that he doesn’t want to kill anymore. An act that not only puts his men in danger, but one that creates more tension in the group with some federation calls to kill Shirou if he doesn’t fight against the enemy. I love that tension and it pays off very well. On Aina’s side, there is the base she is at having a confusing time with other Zeonic forces around who want to go to space. Also her brother Ginias is a crazy mad scientist who just wants to build his experimental unit and nothing else no matter what it takes. So he’s going more and more insane, but the unit does get completed. All of these factors combine together in a very good and powerful climax that is one of gundam’s best. Before the lack luster finale episode of course.
This show really loves a lot of things. Some of them are my favorites are making each singular person a personality instead of making each side just good or bad. Wars are always more complicated then that and 08th MS Team gives a good example of this in a short amount of time. There are Zeonic pilots that were friendly to the village they were stopping at because they also have kids. Or the Zeonic group that is like family and wants to make it back to space while Ginias is mad scientist. Same with Shirou’s commanding officers have differing opinions on what to do with Shirou and the situation at hand as well. One will dismiss everyone that doesn’t follow their directions and the other still likes his men alive. 08th MS Team is about normal soldiers fighting each other with some Gundam on top of it and I really like that fact. The last episode steers away from this territory which is why it’s so awful.
All of which leads to the more grounded visuals of the show. Gundam The 08th MS Team does have different designs different from other UC series. Each character looks more like a 90’s shonen character instead of going with the 1970’s and 1980’s designs from 0079 and the Zetas. A decision that I like because it easily differentiates the show in it’s own way. Each character has a unique character design which also gives off a lot of their personality and what they are about. The settings are really nice and well planted out. I mean, there is lots of jungle, a nice village in the jungle, the ms base looks really distinct, and I love the Zeon mountain base because it’s such a unique and wonderful set piece. This is a gorgeous looking show. Maybe not as good as 0083, but you can’t have everything.
I love the mechanical work of the mobile suits in this show. I do think that giant robots in the jungle is ridiculous by itself and the white mobile suits in the jungle are even more ridiculous considering everything, but it’s Gundam. I think those should get some kind of pass. I do love seeing the Zakus in new light. I do think that 0083 has grounded mecha, but these Zakus felt like they had much more weight behind them because of how slowly they stomped on the ground. The RX-79 G Gundam units are a more workmen model of the original Gundam and come with different varieties. Obviously they are meant to sell toys, but I kind of like them too. They had the same amount of weight to them. The animation is very on and off. In the first half, there is a lot of close ups and stock footage for movement when the fighting isn’t important, but after the cliff hanger for the second half and beyond, the notch is turned up to 11 and we get some fantastic fight scenes and imagery. It’s so beautiful.
I can’t help but give Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team a solid on my ranking list. It’s just a really good story of drama, love, war, and some great characters and everything. Some characters are a little more annoying then others, but everyone is aged appropriate I think. Plus, it’s really cool to see characters that want to fight in a war actually fight in a war again unlike most Gundam series where there is no choice. Episode 12 is still pretty awful and kind of side glanced the themes of MS 08th Team instead of approaching them in a way that means something. Otherwise, episodes one through eleven are absolutely fantastic and wonderful to watch. If you want to look into a Universal Century Gundam, 08th MS Team is one way to do it. My next Gundam post will appear in November and it’s more One Year War Stuff, so keep an eye out for it!