Gundam is one of the pillars of anime, an entire franchise birthed in the medium that branched off into other mediums and the most lucrative intellectual properties in the world to have its origins in anime. And it makes sense given how the spectacle of giant mecs fighting an interplanetary war is the perfect world for the animation medium where production costs won’t run as high as live-action TV and film.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team picks up at the tail end of the original series’ One Year War as the titular unit gains a new leader, the young, driven Shiro Amada (Nobuyuki Hiyama). But he finds his desire to kill the enemy Zeons curtailed when he meets Aina Sahalin (Kikuko Inoue) on the battlefield. She’s bold and beautiful and he quickly finds himself questioning everything as he tries to lead his band of misfit soldiers.
It’s a earnest show that wears its political commentary about the evils of war and the exploitation of youth on its sleeve. While there’s certainly lots of cool action, it’s a show very much about questioning warmaking, the invasion of the land of indigenous people, and military power structures.
But those who want to come for the fun mecha action will have plenty to enjoy. The animation is from the ‘90s hand-drawn era meaning there’s lots of vibrant colors and flashy setpieces. The animations and design pop and it tends to stick to the more realistic end of portraying characters and the world. Also, at 12 episodes, it feels like the studio went for quality over quantity as the detail of animation here is fantastic across the board.
Where the brevity of the show comes back to bite it is when the final conflict arrives, involving the higher-ups in a game of political intrigue that the show hasn’t explored enough to make the story beats hit as well as they could have. It might have been better to keep as much of the show from the perspective of the 08th MS Team because as the final episodes drift away from that, the weaknesses of the show’s antagonist begins to show.
The show entices with the promise of cool mechs and epic battles, but it’s the moments of anti-war drama that make the series notable. Sure, it’s a typical unrequited love romance story between a couple of crazy kids in a war, which might make it too sentimental for the kind of people who want to watch shows about mechs shooting each other. It might seem hokey to look for love amidst war, but perhaps that’s the only beautiful thing to salvage out of the horrors of war.
© James Blake Ewing 2018