Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Anime review: Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
Like many Americans, my first introduction to Gundam came in the early 2000s via Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. When a friend of mine first told me about Gundam Wing, it was late in the series. With the plot being difficult for me to follow at the point and my general dislike of the style of Gundam Wing, I ignored it (though nowadays I’ve warmed up to the series more). When Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team aired, however, I started from episode one and was almost immediately hooked. The battles were gritty and intense and I felt as if there was something about this series that made it special, that broke it away from the rest of Toonami’s shows. Perhaps it was due to the fact that 08th MS Team was one of the edgier shows that ran in Toonami’s heyday (re-watching the series in unedited format proved to me that it wasn’t exactly intended for the preteen audience). One thing is for certain – 08th MS Team is the single Gundam series that got me hooked on the franchise and is still one of my favorite anime series today.
Earth Federation pilot Shiro Amada has been assigned to lead the 08th Mobile Suit Team, which is comprised of misfits who aren’t exactly keen on one another from the start. Karen is the toughest of the bunch and often critiques her squad-mates. Sanders is paranoid that he carries a curse which will bring about the death of the rest of the squad, but tries to remain as focused as he can when on the battlefield. Eledore and Michel provide support from the Hovertruck. Eledore is a dreamer who wants to be a songwriter after the war ends, while Michel is a hopeless romantic constantly writing love letters to his girlfriend who still lives aboard one of the space colonies.
As their tour of duty carries on, the team encounters many friends and foes. Kiki and the guerillas in a nearby village support the Federation in driving the Zeon patrols away from their home. Shiro personally develops a relationship with Aina Sahalin the test pilot for the Apsalus and a daughter of Zeon nobility, as the two continuously encounter each other over the course of the series. As the two become lovers from opposite sides of the war, this aspect of the series draws a great deal of inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. During the final battle of the series, Shiro finds himself facing Norris Packard, a veteran Zeon pilot whose mobile suit of choice is a customized Gouf. While the fight sequences throughout 08th MS Team are executed beautifully, this particular fight is the cream of the crop, combining carefully laid out tactics with a plethora of questions looming in Shiro’s mind about the war and the future.
08th MS Team separates itself from most other Universal Century series through its depiction of the One Year War. As the series starts late in the war, things are becoming more and more desperate for the Zeonic forces. The pressure of constructing the Apsalus gnaws at Ginias Sahalin, Aina’s elder brother, and he slowly loses his grip on sanity. While Shiro questions the causes and outcomes of the war, the Earth Federation chain of command becomes increasingly suspicious of him and presumes him to be a spy, asking his squad members to take drastic action should he disobey their orders in any way. While Karen and Sanders don’t want to ignore orders from their superior officers, they trust Shiro a great deal and this makes for a tense atmosphere during the latter portion of the series.
Unlike the original Mobile Suit Gundam, 08th MS Team focuses almost exclusively on ground combat. The 08th MS Team is granted use of the RX-79 Gundam, mass-produced after the schematics of Amuro Ray’s RX-78. The RX-79 is a much stronger mobile suit than the typical grunt GM, but is not invincible, as evidenced when the team encounters Zeon forces in battle. The series’ combat sequences are tense but carefully planned out. Shiro calculates the possible outcomes before beginning a mission, as he greatly values the lives of his pilots.
While the most intense and entertaining episodes are saved for the second portion of the series, 08th MS Team does a great job with its pacing. There is a practically perfect balance in action and plot development throughout and some minor story climaxes spike before the the two-part finale of "The Shuddering Mountain". The final episode of the OVA (which was never aired in the US on Cartoon Network) feels a little disjointed at first. It isn't exactly the resolution most viewers will be expecting, but it is very much appropriate given the context of the series. Even if viewers aren't overly thrilled by episode twelve, it is seperate enough from the main story that it won't ruin 08th MS Team for them.
Though it was an early dub, the English voice actors do a great job of portraying their characters to a point where it becomes almost interchangeable with their Japanese counterparts. The soundtrack is much more fitting and inspired than most Gundam soundtracks, but it still isn’t quite at the level of superb. The art style utilizes a more realistic look, with greens and browns for the backdrops of the jungle and desert environments. The mobile suits are incredibly detailed down to the tiniest inner mechanics. Everything is given a weathered look, emphasizing the impact of the One Year War and the pilots' time spent on the frontlines. Thankfully there is no filler content, and while the pacing of the episodes may make them feel longer than they actually are at times, this is a good thing as it allows all the events to settle in and make an impact on viewers.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is certainly one of the more adult Gundam series to date, and this could be a make-or-break aspect for viewers. The impact of the One Year War is ever-present over the course of the series and the logic posed by the characters much deeper and more meaningful than in many other Gundam series. The characters are very believable and while some viewers might not enjoy each diverse personality equally, it is those differences that allow the characters to play off one another so fluidly.
My rating: 9.75 (out of 10)