What happens when you take a Mobile Suit Gundam series and make it less and less about the Gundam? You get one of the best Gundam series ever created: Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team.
As I’ve previously mentioned in my G Gundam article, the Mobile Suit Gundam series is not my preferred mecha franchise, and its density often turns me off from ever getting to know it. But I would never outright dismiss the franchise to the curious as there are a number of creations within it that I’ve enjoyed and can recommend. Today’s recommendation happens to be one of those shows, and despite its approximately 20+ year old age, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team earns its A.S.S. stripes.
Removing the often political-heavy-handedness and space battles that a lot of the other Gundam series before and after it are known for, 08th MS Team focuses more on the ‘grunts’ of the Zeon & Earth Federation forces. The soldiers rarely leave the planet, and often showcase guerrilla tactics to accomplish missions, with the Gundam frames being less prominent and more fragile. Worry not, mecha fans, there are plenty of traditional Gundam and Zeku frames battling it out in this OVA series, just do not get excited for the typical space theatrics Gundam’s known for. Grounded is literally and figuratively at work with 08th MS Team’s presentations. In most Gundam battles, the hero and villain frames will retreat and often be ready for battle days or even hours later; but in this Vietnam-esque, land war excursion, frames are a commodity that aren’t simply replaced and repaired with zero consequence.
War is never fun and we’ve all played enough games, read and studied enough history, or seen enough shows or movies to understand this fact. 08th MS Team and its directors Takeyuki Kanda Umanosuke Iida also understand this and help present a look at a small subset of the One Year War raging in the early timeline of Gundam’s Universal Century. Given the small structure of the production, Kanda and Iida never bog down viewers with too many characters to get to know, thus completely wasting time and preventing a progressive story. There are only a few names and faces to remember, with the remaining riff-raff making up the familiar war faces of vets, fresh recruits, and villainous evildoers. It feels like a very-‘80s movies layout and plot, with a ‘90s sheen. Shiro Amada is the new Commander stationed in the Southeastern Asia district to lead his ragtag group to victory over the Zeon threat. Meanwhile, the Zeon forces have Aina and Ginias Sahalin working to bring down Shiro’s team and the Earth Federation’s plans.
Shiro and Aina will ultimately be the main focus of the overall story with 08th MS Team, but the remaining cast gets to shine in the sun throughout the 12-episode run. The cowardly veteran Eledore and new recruit Michel each have their character growth early in the series, while others on both sides of the war are given their depth in the remaining episodes, culminating by the end in a cohesive, startlingly lifelike series. By modern standards, the love story feels a bit hackneyed when compared to a lot of other shows or films of today’s time, but for a Gundam story, and more importantly its time, it’s passable. Shiro and Aina are both respectable and plausible characters in an already well-presented war zone. As I’ve previously teased, the Gundam frames often play second to the characters, and tend to play more as last resorts, than insta-death killing machines.
Even better, the frames are often rarely suited or their surroundings and can create more danger than help for the pilots. Sand and mud can easily trap the mechs, immediately stopping their assault; mere physics can almost destroy a Gundam’s epic stature and reduce it to cannon fodder in mere moments. 08th MS Team really hammers in the focus on tactics, while touching on the all-too-familiar moral dilemma Shiro and Aina deal with. Do you allow your personal morals to win out, but potentially allow harm to come to your teammates? Is loyalty to your teammates and the missions you undergo more vital than your morals? Why fight for the politician light years away to defend their morals and stances when they don’t sync up with yours? Are you really fighting the ‘good’ fight? 08th MS Team likes to ponder these hypothetical ideas throughout its run. Albeit, these plot devices have practically been done to death by this point in time, but as long as a viewer understands the time frame of a release of a series, as well proceeding with an open mind, old can be new or refreshing more often than not. The modern mindset of most war-devoted media is in the same vein as 08th MS Team: war is bad and it’s never black and white. War films and diatribes are no longer being promoted as propaganda, as most of populace has learned that it’s often a grotesque creation of man, and exasperated viewers of this ideal should just look elsewhere.
The finer points of the anime: the music, voice acting, and animation are all worth note too, as Kohei Tanaka’s soundtrack evokes a John Williams-Star Wars vibe. Minor scenes are often littered with a musical accompaniment that could potentially seem out of place, or distracting, but help create a better sense, and then his creations for big battles truly exemplify the struggle of war. Meanwhile the voice acting is quality considering the time period of its US release. As I’ve hammered to death, the early aughts was never really known for consistently producing exemplary voice acting; unless you were working with Funimation, or working on other Gundam properties, a lot of English dubs from this era hardly hold up. Admittedly, I do choose to watch 08th MS Team dubbed, since I’d already watched it many years ago subbed, I wished to be a bit more lazy on my re-watch. Surprisingly, I was treated to a voice I hadn’t expected: Daran Norris. While the name may not ring a bell, his works might: Fairly Odd Parents, Samurai Jack, and even Team America. His distinctive, gruff voice work is instantly recognizable, but it was still jarring upon first hearing it. The rest of the cast do passable jobs too, but none really stood out as strictly memorable.
Lastly, the animation with 08TH MS Team is immediate in its opening, and continues throughout every episode. Unlike a traditional weekly-released anime, OVAs benefit from an oft-broader release schedule. 08th MS Team’s release in particular was done over three years, so its budget was able to be spread out attributed better. The advantage of this budgeting is apparent in big and minor ways: The frames are gorgeous, both Zeon’s and the Earth Federation’s. Minor details are illustrated to a degree usually reserved for movies or opening animation. While I am not an animation snob, I do welcome small touches that are every so often aesthetically pleasing but not necessary. In the interim on the larger scale side, battles are a visual treat as bullets fly and frames dodge and attack. The standout battle comes later in the series, and the animators have a field day devoting so much attention to the detail, it’s marvelous. Debris flutters as shots ricochet of off shields and sparks streak across screen in sword-clashing stand-offs. Umanosuke Iida’s direction within these scenes is some of the best of the entire franchise, all 30 years of Gundam fights.
If you’re up for a slow-paced 12 episode series part of a greater universe that’s begging to be explored further, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is great series to look into. Again, I am no Gundam expert, and I’d love to devote an entire year to devouring everything the franchise has to offer and be able to personally discern the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ the series is known for, but alas, that isn’t likely to happen. Thankfully there are a number of terrific, standout Gundam series I think worthy of mention: the previously showcased G Gundam, the Gundam Build series, and what I could call 08th MS Team’s spiritual successor: Gundam Thunderbolt. But those are simply a couple of my preferential options in the Gundam universe(s). And you can bet I will touch on the aforementioned series soon enough. Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team has some problems, mainly for me, it’s final episode feeling tacked on and mostly unnecessary save for the closing 3 minutes, but it’s certainly a show in the Gundam franchise that’s worth watching. It’s a great standalone series in case you just want something to watch without having to comprehend several other stories, and it’s a great jumping in point in case you do wish to explore more of the Gundam universe. You may find the complete series online at Hulu subbed and dubbed, and I think, despite its age and old themes by modern standards, 08th MS Team still stands strong among lesser mecha series in the genre.
Like most people here, I’ve been watching anime for many, many years. I owe blocks like Toonami for getting me into the medium. Shows like Dragonball Z and Ronin Warriors shaped my beginning years, while shows like Neon Genesis Evangleion and Cowboy Bebop showed me that there’s some true artistic ability and expression found within anime (moreso than big burly dudes punching and screaming for hours on end). I now try to watch anime showcasing many genres and storytelling. Anime is just another great, creative medium for telling stories, and I’m happy to share my thoughts on the series I enjoy with you!