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Gundam: 08th MS Team
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, ©

Format: Anime
By:   Bandai Entertainment
Genre:   Anime / Science Fiction / Mecha Romance
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Imagine an animated adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, where the Montagues and Capulets express their famous antagonism towards each other via 16-meter-tall war mecha armed with heavy-particle rifles. That's the essence of Gundam: 08th MS Team in a nutshell.

Lieutenant Shiro Amada, a newly-minted graduate of the Earth Federation's military academy, is assigned command of the 08th MS Team, a rather misfit mecha unit fighting in Southeast Asia. The Federation is waging a destructive war against the Principality of Zeon, a breakaway orbital colony that has invaded the home planet. Shiro's got more on his mind than just combat tactics and anti-guerrilla warfare, though; in the first episode, he meets and falls in love with Zeon's ace test pilot, Aina Sakhalin.

Unfortunately for both Shiro's love life and his first command, Aina has been assigned to the same Southeast Asian combat theater to test the Apsaras mobile armor, a huge, round, deadly flying war machine. Locked in their own respective wartime concerns, and forced along by events surrounding them, both young pilots don't realize that they're really battling each other until it's almost too late. Even then, Aina's mad-genius brother and Shiro's war-hungry superiors force them into one last, deadly conflict and won't let something like young love get in their way, like the lords and ladies of Venice who cannot set aside their differences to save the lives of their children.

Despite the classical tragic tone to 08th MS Team, though, there's more to the story. In the course of this anime's 12 episodes, the outcast 08th Team forges unbreakable bonds of camaraderie, the brutal effect of war upon innocent civilians is explored, and the awful truth that in battle, there are no "good guys" and "bad guys", just scared humans trying their best to kill each other, is revealed. There's even a dose or two of humor, from Shiro inadvertently ogling the underage daughter of the local guerilla leader to an 08th squadmember's hysterical insistence that it's his destiny to be a famous singer / songwriter.

The combination of unflinching depiction of war and character-driven humor makes 08th MS Team seem like M*A*S*H with mecha at times, and saves the show from being a tragedy-laden rehash of the original Gundam Mobile Suit series. This featuring of the supporting cast (of BOTH sides in the war) serves to both humanize and counterpoint the almost storybook romance between Aina and Shiro. What could have been unrealistic is instead made heartrending, as we see how two people who could have lived happily together at any other time are kept apart by violent and opposing ideologies.

Even though 08th MS Team has a much less epic story than most other Gundam series (especially the grandaddy-of-them-all Gundam Mobile Suit), it's the personal scale that is its greatest strength. 08th MS Team has fantastic animation, realistic-beyond-belief mecha, appealing characters, and an engrossing story with enough variety in it to keep almost any anime fan interested, no matter what their favorite genre. And despite the edits Cartoon Network made to ensure the TV-friendliness of this series, the impact and sudden brutality of combat is not diluted in the least. The dubbing likewise does justice to the story, with all the important roles being played with feeling and intelligence.

If 08th MS Team has any flaw, it's that it's almost TOO personal. It's a fascinating and compelling story about the individuals who are on the front lines in an interplanetary war, but because of that the greater context is lost. If you aren't familiar with Gundam at all (and Gundam Wing doesn't count), then you may find yourself too perplexed to care about Aina, Shiro, and their respective teammates. Luckily, Cartoon Network premiered the original Gundam Mobile Suit at the same time they began showing 08th MS Team, allowing Gundam neophytes to understand just what the heck is going on in all these shows. The only other problem with 08th MS Team is that the Epilogue episode, which further explained and made up for the downer ending of this anime, was not shown on Cartoon Network. It's not really necessary viewing, but it would have been nice to see the creator's intended wrapup for the series.

In reruns on Cartoon Network's Toonami Midnight Run, Gundam: 08th MS Team is is an excellent, well-rounded anime series, spending more time on the people than on the mecha it is supposedly about. Gearheads and hopeless romantics alike will enjoy this show immensely, but if I were you, I'd watch a week or two of the regular Gundam before tackling this show. It'll vastly increase your enjoyment of 08th MS Team, trust me.

Kevin Pezzano is Anime Editor for RevolutionSF.

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