“So this is what Gundam is about”
This is what I thought of a few episodes into Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, my first ever Gundam show. Gundam shows are political soap operas about a space war that shows events from both sides of view of the battlefield, and on different levels, from the lowly ground soldier to the highest of generals, giving reasons to emphasize and stigmatize people on both sides. All this is what I believe constitutes a Gundam show (well, a good Gundam show. Gundam AGE’s infamy reached even me a few years ago, back when I was way more casual about anime).
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team focuses on a ragtag group of Federation soldiers (The 8th Mobile Suit Team) through what seems to be the last leg of a long-winded war between the Federation and the Zeon, which takes place back on Earth in southeast Asia. Specifically, it focuses on the romance between the team leader, Shiro Amada, and his love interest Aina Sahalin, daughter of the Sahalin family, a prestigious family from Zeon. She is also the sister of Zeon commander and main antagonist, Ginias Sahalinn. It’s all standard Romeo & Juliet, “can love bloom even on the battlefield?” stuff.
The central love relationship itself is pretty corny, hokey stuff (Casablanca this ain’t). But the way that relationship conflicts with their allegiances, Shiro with the Federation and his team, and Aina with the Zeon and, more importantly, her brother, is a much more interesting thread to follow. Both characters seem clueless about handling their predicament. But it seems with Shiro, instead of trying to stop the war, he just selfishly looks for ways to quit and try to get back with Aina to escape. This was probably the biggest stickler of the show, which is Shiro’s whole hopelessly optimistic, extremely naïve attitude.
The secondary characters on the other hand are pretty good. Each on the 8th MS Team gets ample screen time and go through their own arcs with regards to how this war affects them. Karen, Sanders, and Eledore are great, well developed characters. Even on the Zeon side (the “evil side”) we get a glimpse of Zeon soldiers trying to cope with the war to get thru it with as little blood shed as needed. Outright inexcusable assholes do exist though, but they exist on both sides. And their actions are what mostly colors the judgment of the other side. I just wish Ginias was better developed. He seems like a weak villain with an unexplained motivation. I feel like some backstory would’ve help flesh him out more, and probably Aina too.
But I think the biggest thing I enjoyed about The 08th MS Team is the setting. The way the deep South Asian jungles clashes with the futuristic Gundams. And about the gundams and all other scifi machinery, I just love the how low-tech, mechanical, and analog they all feel. There’re no neural links or mind drifts or any of that sort of high-level attachment between pilot and machine. It’s all controlled by pushing buttons, pulling levers, and stepping on pedals. Things break ALL the time and need constant tinkering, tuning, “get your hands dirty” stuff. And the Gundams are not glamorized or made into a big deal. It’s not about Gundams combining or becoming more powerful and other mecha archetypes, they’re there for a very simple, ancillary, disposable purpose. They are simply tools.
All in all I enjoyed Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team. It’s not a greatest anime but it was a good on its own merits. It was also a good introduction to the Gundam meta-series. And at 12 episodes it’s a pretty short series compared to the other popular Gundam shows, which tend to be 40-50 episodes long. So check it out.