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
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.