Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
The year is Universal Century 0079, during the final days of the One Year War. Principality of Zeon officials suspect the existence of a prototype Earth Federation Gundam model in the neutral colony Side 6. Zeon organizes a covert operation to destroy the Gundam, but things get complicated when a rookie commando, Bernie Wiseman, befriends an 11-year-old colony resident, Alfred Izuruha. Living in a colony mainly untouched by war, Al is thrilled at a chance for some excitement close to home. However, he quickly learns that war isn't all fun and games, and it might even lead to the demise of everyone and everything he holds dear.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket was the first Gundam story not to be written or directed by Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino. Instead, this OVA was penned by Hiroyuki Yamaga, a founding member of Studio Gainax, and directed by Fumihiko Takayama of Super Dimension Fortress Macross fame.
As a result, this story has a completely different feel to it than any previous Gundam work. Released in 1989 to commemorate Mobile Suit Gundam's 10th anniversary, this modest six-episode OVA lives on as a fan favorite even today. Like the name “War in the Pocket” suggests, it's an intimately personal Gundam side story that hones in on the emotional toll of war. As a cinematographic beauty that packs a tragic punch you can't look away from, you'll have to stop yourself from consuming the entire work in just one sitting—like I did! It's a fast-paced, easily digestible story that packs layers of emotion into Gundam's core anti-war message.
Our story takes place beneath the specter of the distant One Year War, which kids like Al Izuruha process only as new material for war games with his friends. This 11-year-old thinks watching mobile suits fight is “better than fireworks.” When an unexpected battle takes place on their neutral colony, school is canceled, and the children are delighted at the surprise holiday while upbeat military music plays. People are dying, but it's not anyone these children know. It's an allegory directed specifically at Gundam fans, designed to make us think critically, but it does so in such an irresistibly human way that I don't feel like I'm getting a lecture.
When a Zeon mobile suit nearly destroys Al's school, it turns into one of the best days of his life. Fearlessly, he chases the crash-landing Zaku to a nearby park, where he finds himself face-to-face with its pilot Bernie, in a moment so well-framed it could be a painting. Al is unfazed by the loaded pistol pointed at his face, perturbed only because Bernie won't let him hold it. In Al's negligible experience, the trappings of war are just toys.
This naive courage propels Al into becoming a Zeon informant, something this son of a Federation military official is especially equipped to do. He turns down playing with his friends because he's found a much more fun “game.” Steiner Hardy, the captain of the Cyclops Team, knows exactly how to play him too, giving him a wire disguised as a coveted military badge. From Hardy and the other Zeon soldiers, Al gets the attention and validation he craves and doesn't get from school or his parents. The soldiers even call this C student smart.
War in the Pocket is Al's story, and these six episodes give us a rich view of his life, his needs and wants, his strengths and flaws, at school and at home. The return of his neighbor and babysitter Chris brings the war ever closer to his doorstep. United by their shared affection for Al, Chris and Bernie's blossoming relationship is one of the more tragic elements of this story because it's so personal. Without the war, these two soldiers on opposing sides of the war would have been friends and maybe more.
Ultimately, this is heavy stuff. Despite the show's fast pace, the tragedy unfolds as if in slow motion, with everyone taking their positions on cue to meet their untimely fates. After all the dust has settled, only Al learns the whole story—knowledge that becomes both a blessing and a curse. It's a somber coming-of-age story. One minute he's playing a video game, cheekily destroying the in-game school, and just a few episodes later, his own school lies in ruins. Everything only hits home for Al near the end of the OVA, when he witnesses rescue workers pulling a child's body out of the wreckage, and he realizes that could have been him. This is one of the lifelike little moments that characterize this show. Without any of Tomino's usual crack psychology about space and the human psyche, the anti-war message is more relatable than ever.
This stark realism is portrayed against watercolor backdrops as fuzzy as childhood memories. I think War in the Pocket is one of the most aesthetically pleasing Gundam shows. The cinematography matches the feeling of being 11 years old, a playful child one moment and an anxious young adult the next. From the eyecatch with weapons of war as children's toys, to the end with black-and-white photos of school children and mobile suits that may remind you of World War II photography, the focus is very much on civilians wrapped up in this war. The dialogue is peppered with references to the major players and places in the One Year War, like “that Newtype on White Base” AKA Amuro Ray, Granada, and Solomon. But this is less a text on war tactics than an exploration of what's unfolding in civilians' backyards.
Audio-wise, War in the Pocket has a “contemporary” soundtrack, music that's a product of its time. While it is charming, it still sounds very 1989. The sub is clear and full of emotional performances, but the dub is marred by some exaggerated stereotypical Mexican and Russian accents, especially when it comes to Garcia and Misha's performances. Speaking of the occasional off-putting detail that took me out of the moment, a villainous Zeon superior named Commander Killing is a little on the nose.
Still, these small imperfections do little to take away from the powerful message of War in the Pocket. A short but weighty emotional tale, this is as human as Gundam gets. It's no coincidence that most of the mobile suits depicted in this show are at least ten years old, even to viewers who watched it back in 1989. It's not about the robots this time—it's about the people.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B-
+ Characters that are relatable and likable despite their flaws, an emotional message that makes an impact without feeling like a lecture
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