Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
It's been three years since the One Year War, but strain between the formerly Zeonic colonies and the Earth Federation has hardly dissipated. These underlying tensions come to a head when the Delaz Fleet, a rogue Zeon military group, infiltrates the Federation's Torrington base in Australia and jacks Gundam GP02a, a nuclear-armed mecha developed by Anaheim Electronics. Now it's up to rookie pilot Kou Uraki, with the help of Anaheim engineer Nina Purpleton, to use the remaining Gundam GP01 and retrieve the stolen suit. But as the Delaz Fleet makes progress on a mysterious project called Operation Stardust, Kou may have an even bigger mission on his hands: to prevent another war from breaking out.
There's a reason I refer to Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory as "Top Gundam" for short, and it's not simply because the intro song, “The Winner,” sounds so suspiciously like Danger Zone that it (along with other strangely familiar songs in the score) got composer Mitsuo Hagita accused of plagiarism.
Rather, it's this OVA's campy and unmistakable late '80s vibe that makes the 1991 entry in Gundam canon so similar to the 1986 American movie Top Gun. (The creators have admitted that the movie was a huge inspiration). Both are adrenaline-powered pro-military stories about tough guys engaged in petty one-upmanship. Both feature a love triangle that feels straight out of middle school. Most importantly, both star a main character who isn't as composed, brave, or secure in his masculinity as he may initially appear.
Our hero Kou Uraki is a Gundam-obsessed rookie. This 19-year-old boasts a piloting prowess beyond his years, yet retains a childish disgust for carrots. However, he's forced to grow up quickly when a ghostly remnant from the One Year War, the Delaz Fleet, invades the Federation base where he's training. He gathers his wits quickly enough to chase after former Zeon pilot Anavel Gato, who has hijacked the experimental Gundam GP02a, by instantly grasping the controls of the GP01. From there, the 13-episode OVA ebbs and flows with Kou's mercurial moods. It's spirited when he's motivated, and it slows down when he's morose. From his comically poor attempts to seduce Gundam engineer Nina Purpleton, to his rivalry with the inimitable Bernard Monsha, to his adolescent discovery that war is a lot more serious than the dick-measuring contest he seemed to regard it as before. This is a coming-of-age story that allows a teenager's emotional state to convey Gundam's “war is bad” message, for better or worse.
Visually, this OVA is a product of its time. It made me feel nostalgic for that time even though I only remember it from movies like Top Gun. Nina Purpleton has a fluffy perm that bounces when she shakes her head and a suit with shoulder pads. Kou is surrounded by tough-looking character designs straight out of an '80s war movie, from the mustachioed Monsha, to his leathery mentor Lt. South Burning, to the stoic former Zeon pilot Kelley Layzner, to his rival in love and war: the sleekly feline Gato. Mecha design-wise, while the Gundam units themselves are nothing to write home about, this series is home to some unique and beautiful Zeon suits, most notably the celestial mobile armor Neue Ziel. Characters, mecha, and backgrounds alike benefit hugely from this crisp Blu-Ray transfer, which allows me to see Kou's shifting expressions in higher definition than ever before. Likewise, the show's animation has aged well, now only enhanced by our ability to see it more sharply.
Music-wise, this show sounds a little familiar. Just as Gundam F91 sounded a bit like Star Wars, many tracks from Gundam 0083 are so similar to the ones in James Horner's scores for Brainstorm and Glory that the US release retains a rearranged soundtrack. The English dub is especially good for its time, and Paul Stephen nails Kou's whiny-ness.
But the best part of this Blu-Ray is the presence of the compilation movie, which has never before been released in the US. Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: The Afterglow of Zeon (sometimes also known as The Last Blitz of Zeon), is a two-hour film, brief considering the 13 episodes of content that it has to overview. The second hour focuses mainly on the series' final battle. Personally, I find it woefully lacking in Lt. Monsha's antics, but it's a story that can stand by itself for anyone who either wants to get the gist of the series without watching the OVA or enjoy a refresher (though in the latter case, you will miss out on most of the lighter adventures). The release also includes two short films: Mayfly of Space and Mayfly of Space 2, a picture drama created for this Blu-Ray's 2016 release in Japan. While there's hardly any animation to speak of, the newer drawings are intense—it's gorgeous to see these familiar characters drawn with modern production values in mind. The story also focuses on the Zeon side, further blurring the line of who the “good guys” are.
After all this hormonally charged action, the denouement does feel like a letdown. It's all a setup to the founding of the Titans, a Federation effort to hunt down stray Zeon soldiers to avoid being blindsided ever again—meant to be an explanation for how the Federation goes from the Universal Century's heroic organization to a reprehensible one. And Kou? He's left a little older, a bit wiser, and not much better or worse off than he was before. This show's two subplots are about love and war, and just like in real life, neither concludes with a satisfactory solution. Still, just as with Top Gun, it was a blast of high-powered entertainment while it lasted.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C
+ Funny characters and gorgeous mecha, an early '90s nostalgia bomb, crisp new Blu Ray transfer with more than two-hours of never-before-seen content
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