Reviewby Lauren Orsini,
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
Blu-Ray Complete Collection
In the year 0079, far from the critical space battles that decide the One Year War's culmination, a brutal guerrilla war is going on in the jungles of Southeast Asia, as both Zeon and the Earth Federation want control of the area and its resources. Zeon is using the region to test its best hope of success, a massive mobile armor called Apsalas, piloted by Aina Sahalin. Meanwhile, the Federation is reinforcing its numbers with one Ensign Shiro Amada, the newbie commander assigned to the 08th MS Team. However, Shiro's chance meeting with Aina en route to Earth, followed by an against-the-odds repeat encounter on the battlefield, means Shiro and Aina will have to decide where their loyalties lie: with their respective sides or with each other.
Gundam's Universal Century isn't much for compelling love stories—except when it comes to this 1996 OVA. After a slough of Tomino-directed stories in which Newtype pilots fall in love simply by psychically “sensing” one another, Shiro and Aina's love is palpable, to the point that even their most unwise decisions seem believable in the face of it.
I don't think it's any coincidence that Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is both one of the best overall stories and best romances in the Gundam canon, because it's often an unrealistic or unrelatable love side plot that sours the rest of a Gundam story. Instead, this OVA is about the complexity of emotions; rather than the war outside, the focus remains on the war that rages inside every one of us as we struggle to prioritize our allegiances. In Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, you won't find any psychics, flawless Newtypes, or pseudo-magical unbeatable mobile suits. Instead, you'll watch real people and real-ish combat, making it one of the best Gundam shows out there.
The overall storyline of 08th MS Team follows the life and love of Ensign Shiro Amada in a straightforward arc, but fans might be surprised to know that the OVA took four years to produce, partly because its original director, Sunrise's Kanda Takeyuki, died shortly after the first OVA was released. GONZO's Iida Umanosuke took over the project, but since the story transitions smoothly throughout, this is simply a bit of interesting trivia about the show rather than a critical explanation of its choices. In 08th MS Team, Shiro finds love and loses it. At the same time, he earns the trust of his team, and then loses that when he's under suspicion for treason—because he found love with Aina once again. Throughout the process, Shiro remains true to his emotions. He wears his heart on his sleeve and his feelings frequently get the best of him; when he goes to break up a fight between Sanders and another soldier, he gets so outraged that he comes out swinging, rushing to Sanders's defense. Later in a pivotal battle with an ace Gouf pilot, Shiro rallies by pulling off his own Gundam's arm to attack, yelling, “I want to live and marry Aina!”—much to the sheepish dismay and embarrassed relief of his team.
Shiro alone shows the way 08th MS Team creates realistic human beings by marking a differentiation between a person's traits and a person's beliefs—while Shiro's earnest personality doesn't change no matter what happens, his opinions and ideals shift considerably as he grows and experiences new things. You see this realism in his ensemble cast, too. Both Karen and Sanders have endured prior trauma, but Shiro's unblemished optimism persuades them to give hope one more chance. To the younger members, Michel and even sarcastic Eledore, Shiro becomes an inspirational role model. Their humanity comes out not only in the way they interact with their commander, but with each other. Michel bonds with guerrilla princess Kiki over unrequited love, while Eledore develops a crush on Karen, and Aina chooses to distance herself from her incestful codependence on her genius brother, un-subtly named Ginias, by recognizing her own individuality. (You can see that love of all sorts is a theme here.) These connections can get messy and make characters clash and behave badly, but I was never taken out of the moment wondering about their motivations, which always seemed on point. The one hiccup is how the show seems to conclude in episode 11, but then goes on to a twelfth episode that takes place after a time jump, which strangely focuses on a group of Zeon child soldiers. The payoff at the end explains why the show bothered to tell their story at all, but while you're watching, it's a little odd.
Visually, the art is as lifelike as the story it frames. Created in the mid-'90s, it's modern enough that Blu-Ray enhances its strengths rather than highlighting its flaws. More than the verdant jungle backdrops or the glittering night sky, I noticed the way the mobile suits are painstakingly detailed with battle damage. This is as real as the “real robot” genre gets. Gone are the glossy and colorful models of Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam; here they're replaced by clunky grey and white models (or camo-green on the Zeon side) that are more like practical implements of war than they are action figures. Even the least realistic of the bunch, Ginias's Apsalus III, is designed with function over form. And all throughout, you can see nicks and dents and bullet holes, sometimes being added to the suits in real time as they get damaged in battle. It's likely that since this was released as an OVA, the animators could spend extra time making every detail pop.
On the animation side, the action looks good but less glamorous than usual. Battles that would take a Newtype in a plot-armored mobile suit five seconds to finish just aren't present here. Some of the most memorable battles are atypical, like when Shiro must attack a Zaku on foot, equipped with nothing but a rocket launcher, or the aforementioned time he uses his suit's arm as a bludgeon. It's realistic in that pilots have to be scrappy to survive. If all you have is a beat-up Ball, arguably the Federation's weakest model, that's what you gotta use.
Of course, a good character-focused show wouldn't work without good character acting, and I much prefer the sub track on that note. Aina's dub voice, for all the emotion it expresses, sounds dramatically different than her Japanese voice actress's husky vibe, while other English voices just don't seem into it. Sound effects are pitch perfect though—even the mecha seem to have personality in that each model has its own stepping sequence. The show also includes one of my favorite opening tracks in Gundam, the amped-up “Arashi no Naka de Kagayaite,” followed by one of my favorite ending tracks, the instantly iconic “10 Years After,” both by Chihiro Yonekura.
Along with the OVA, this Blu-Ray comes packaged with two significant pieces of bonus content. The first, Miller's Report, is an hour-long film that takes place over the course of episodes seven and eight. It serves as an incomplete compilation movie, going into the detail of Shiro's court martial when he is under suspicion of treason (though in reality, he was merely snogging a Zeon soldier, not feeding her information). It introduces a brand new character, the titular Alice Miller, who is a no-nonsense foil to Shiro and his gooey ideals and feelings. It adds a bunch of additional footage, but it's by no means a replacement for watching the OVA. If you haven't seen it, its ending will feel a lot like a cliffhanger. The second bonus video is a nine-minute short film created for the OVA's 2013 Memorial Box Set. Because of its recency, this film especially benefits from a Blu-Ray transfer. Its storyline is a little bit of fanservice, giving viewers a taste of never-before-seen 08th MS Team hijinks, but it's far from vital for understanding the core plot.
In conclusion, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is one of my most-highly recommended Gundam shows. Just like my other favorite, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, this OVA really digs into the human cost of the One Year War—and the love story between Shiro and Aina is no less relatable than the friendship between Al and Bernie. Sometimes, Gundam's “war is bad” message gets lost in its cool robots and flashy battle sequences, which is why its grittier entries, focused on the people who live or die by their mobile suits, provide more depth of feeling. At 12 episodes, it's a short series, but through thoughtful character portrayals and tense front line battles, it's powerful enough to leave a deep emotional impression.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Lovable protagonist and ensemble cast, deeply emotional storyline, lifelike yet no less fantastical battle sequences and mecha
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