© 1995 Sotsu Agency - Sunrise
Gundam: The 08th MS Team
0079 Universal Century. The One Year War. Forever immortalized in the original Gundam series, this war between the Federation and Zeon forces marks the beginning of the Gundam saga. But while Amuro Ray and Char Aznable are off defining history with their pitched conflict in outer space, thousands of less significant battles are also taking place. The 08th MS Team focuses on one of these smaller conflicts—the war being fought by a group of grunts in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
In comparison to other Gundam series, The 08th MS Team feels scaled back. There are no legendary pilots to be found here—no Amuro Ray's or Heero Yuy's. Instead, we get Shiro Amada, a rookie commander placed in charge of a competent, but unassuming group of soldiers. Missions consist of skirmishing with enemy forces, performing recon operations, and other plebeian duties. Watching these guys, one gets a feel of what the trenches of a Gundam war are like, fighting the insignificant battles that only matter to the immediate combatants.
The members of 08th team are a varied bunch and they are developed nicely during the series. Shirow is the aforementioned rookie commander, and his initial arrival is greeted by wagers on how long he'll last. Also a rookie is Michel, the youngest member of the team, who has an infatuation with writing letters to his beloved "B.B.". A musician named Eledore mans their support vehicle, putting his ears to use listening for enemy activity. The two battle-hardened veterans on the team are Karen and Sanders, both Gundam pilots. Karen is all business, while Sanders bears the unfortunate stigma of being the only survivor from his previous teams.
For some, however, the mecha are the real stars. And for them, The 08th MS Team delivers. Combat scenes are tense, exciting, and well-animated. Part of the tension can be attributed to the setting. Instead of blasting off through outer space, pilots are forced to battle in the cramped and often claustrophobic setting of a dense jungle (mind you, you'll have to disregard the hole in logic that lets them readily traverse such terrain). The first time Shirow engages in ground combat he stumbles, then realizes the dynamics of piloting a Gundam are different with the addition of gravity. It seems like a minor detail, but I love things like these. Another interesting detail is Eledore's use of vibration detection equipment in his support vehicle to keep the pilots informed of the changing battlefield. While the creative team could have stuck in the arbitrary sensors employed in ever other sci-fi story, they made the effort to keep things believable. It works for me.
A common theme in the Gundam saga is painting the conflict in shades of gray. The 08th MS Team is no exception. Over the course of the war, Shirow develops a changing attitude towards combat and his regard for human life. He even bitterly refers to his attitude as "youthful idealism". But it's hard not to be sympathetic towards his feelings, as both sides of the conflict are humanized and demonized. During one episode, focus is on three retreating Zeon pilots that stop in a village for food. There is a moment where one of the pilots gives a village boy a helmet made from an old shell casing. The pilot's joyful reaction to the boy's happiness at receiving such a gift, combined with a picture of his own son in his cockpit, is but one poignant moment when you realize that the participants in the war are human. In contrast, other members of the Federation and Zeon forces—particularily those in charge—are portrayed as cold and heartless.
With an exotic setting and numerous doses of action, the production values of The 08th MS Team more than keep up. The artwork is at times gorgeous to look at. I remember pausing more than once to admire a detailed close-up of a Gundam. The animation, despite a few awkward scenes, is generally fluid and compliments the artwork. The music, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The opening or ending themes consist of standard J-pop that does not do justice to the visuals they are matched with. Background themes, however, are consistently moving, especially during some of the more intense scenes.
The only real element in The 08th MS Team I did not enjoy was the inclusion of a forced, half-hearted love story. But aside from that, the engaging characters, excellent story telling, and healthy doses of good old-fashioned mecha combat makes this series a no-brainer for mecha fans.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
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