When NYAF announced that Tomino was coming we decide to try to watch as much Gundam as we could before he arrived. Since the original plan was to watch all the Universal Century series in chronological order this meant we had three Gundam OAVs to get through before we could move onto the next major TV series directed by Tomino, Zeta Gundam. I knew that different people liked different OAVs for different reasons so I was eager to watch them all as see which ones clicked with me. The two main selling points on 08th MS Team for me were realism and a good love story.
Since I really started to become a Gundam fan I have heard basically mixed opinions on every single iteration of the franchise. No one seems to completely agree on anything so really who knows what expectations to take into any of these shows! I can’t say I was any more or less curious about 08th Team than anything else on our plates. Nevertheless I went into 08th MS Team full of excitement and vigor, luckily the show kept me feeling like that throughout.
While Amuro Ray was still fighting during the One Year war there were countless other stories going on. One of those is the story of Shiro Amada a young Federation officer who came down from the colonies to help Earth fight the land war against the Zeon. During his trip to Earth he saves a fellow Federation officer in a underpowered Ball. Although he survives the encounter he strands himself on a derelict spacecraft and encounters a beautiful Zeon pilot named Aina Saharin. After they are forced to help each other escape, there is an undeniable bond between the two of them. Once on Earth, Shiro is assigned the commander of the 08th MS team and finds that his fate is tied to Aina who is a test pilot for Zeon’s newest mobile armor super weapon. Both Shiro and Aina must decided what is more important. Is their love doomed to tragedy when they are on opposite sides of the war?
Shiro’s new team isn’t exactly well loved and with a constant rotation of commanders people start placing bets on how long Shiro will last. And unsurprisingly this land war disrupts civilian life in the region as well. Because of this the 08th Team often finds them selves allied with a group of guerrilla fighters who live in the jungle region. While these guerrillas have no love for either side, they see as Shiro comes on the scene that they are the lesser of two evils for now. As for the flip side, we don’t see too much of the goings on as far as Zeon goes. We know there is a big, secret weapon. Though of course Aina is shown on some frequency both pining away for Shiro and also becoming increasingly wary of the project she is involved with. Most notable about this series is its focus away from the battles and robots. That is not to say that they are unimportant, but rather much more emphasis is given to the growing friendships and relationships on and off the battlefield.
One of the greatest strengths of 08th MS Team its cast. Shiro is a fairly likable young commander; he cares for his fellow soldiers safety; and seems to honestly believe in the righteousness of fighting for the Federation. He also sees the greatest change of anyone in the series as his relationship with Aina and his experiences during the war changes the way he looks at his life and how he has been fighting. Terry Sanders Jr. is a tortured soul scarred by the loss of countless comrades in the war. He starts off trying to keep himself isolated but slowly forms a bond with the rest of the team when he realizes with Shiro’s help that he is not the one responsible for the death of those around him. Karen Joshua is sort of the big sister to the group that holds them all together when no one else will. Eledore Massis is a general laid back guy who is also an aspirating musician who would much rather be anywhere else playing music rather than fighting in the middle of the jungle. Michel Ninorich is sort of a whiny nebbish is always either writing home to B.B. his girlfriend or complaining about something. The MS team becomes deeply involved with Kiki Rosita a local guerrilla fighting against the Zeon. She is a petulant tomboy who quickly develops feelings for Shiro. She is also oddly enough a majority of the fan service in the show. The team plays off each other well and as they grow from complete strangers to an effective team we see each of them teach the other some sort of lesson about themselves. Sometimes through being forced to work together to survive, some times through gentle lessons and kindness, and sometimes from punching people in the face.
The 08th Team (shows itself) has a mixed bag of veterans, rookies, and everything in between. The 08th Team proper, has the addition that many of them are new to the Earth fighting forces and they catch a lot of flack from other teams in the division. Karen is the head of the outfit before Shiro arrives on the scene so he relies on her quite a bit. She is a pretty bad-ass lady whose title is hilariously translated as “Master Chief” in the subs. Karen has a hard edge but she is logical and smart plus to top it off as the series goes on she shows her feminine side. Oh, and she is a competent mobile suit pilot! Shiro balances this out by being somewhat of a hot head but always being able to pull through in the end. As the series goes on, the team’s faith in Shiro is very noticeable and sometimes quite touching. This happens because of some minor but important interactions. Like Sanders’s (who were really hoping to have promoted to Colonel by the end, come on!) belief that he is a jinx and his standoffish attitude towards the group, Shiro goes out of this way to prove this cannot be and in the process brings everyone together. Each person has an effect on the others, so there is cohesive development all around. Both Eledore and Michel who are often some comedic relief are both changed through love and also the ultimate realization that you might not come back from war.
Aina Saharin is our major look into the Zeon half of the equation. We see her much less than Shiro but we see she seems just as committed and loyal to the Zeon causes and it’s soldiers as Shiro is to the Federation at the start of the show. Although she is always very serious she cares a great deal about the people around her but seems resigned to compromises. As the series goes on her attitude slowly changes much like Shiro. Her brother Ginias is in charge of the super weapon project and is both charming and intelligent. As the series goes on we learn that he is both ruthless and quite a bit unhinged especially when things start to fall apart. His slow but violent mental breakdown is at the center of much of the tragedy in the series. Norris Packard is an ace pilot and a friend of the Saharin family. He often acts as a father figure, mentor, and adviser to Aina throughout the series. I can’t forget to mention Mr. I’m-too-good-to-wear-a-shirt-with-my-uniform Yuri Kellarney who is mainly around to look sort of goofy but not really contribute to the plot. I always find it interesting that the Federation is usually made up of self serving people that are in a gray area of morality; the Zeon are made up of really good people or utter scum and almost no one in the middle. People like Aina are super noble where as the one Zeon soldier who raids Kiki’s village, his dialog mainly consisted of what he is going to steal and who he is going to rape. I mostly find this odd dichotomy amusing.
08th Team makes it quite clear where the focus of the story lies in the first episode, this is about love and not just one love (thought of course Shiro and Aina’s relationship is the biggest key) but multiple loves and relationships that change everything. The other relationships that develop have more minor roles but are nevertheless impactful on the cast. Having our fated lovers on opposing sides of a war is classically dramatic and tragic. Aina and Shiro’s brief moments in space, and later on Earth, where they have a respite from their allegiances have a somewhat magical quality to them. However, the series never comes off as dark or depressing, in fact at times it has a very 90’s anime hokeyness to it. This is to the show’s credit and made it engaging and fun to watch.
Other than Aina’s rather goofy looking mobile armor, all the mobile suits in the 08th MS Team are normal ordinary mass produced suits. No one has overpowered uber Gundams or crazy transforming experimental suits. Everyone in the 08th MS team has a RX-79[G] which is better than the ultra cheap RGM-79 GMs you see getting blown up all the time but are hardly godly suits. The 08th Team has to work for all of their victories either thorough cooperation or through strategy and improvisation. For the most part the Zeon are no different. Even a veteran ace pilot like merely Norris Packard has a Gouf and most of the other Zeon pilot have extremely common mobile suits like Zakus. There are also no Newtype pilots. Everyone is a normal human being that has to struggle to survive. In fact all the battles have a degree of gritty realism and everyone struggles giving you one of the most realistic real robots series in the Gundam franchise. That without a doubt make the last episode all the odder.
A number of things about the production are worth mentioning in 08th Team. I really loved the opening, which of course is there just for fun since this is an OVA. The song has a little bit of a electronic influence with a popish sound over it, though less so that Gundam Wing. Also while I did mention that sometimes it shows its 90’s-ness through the romance (hey stop with that terrible saxophone music!) overall the animation is strong even now. The only major fumble for 08th MS Team is the last episode of the series which was added much later on. I can kind of understand why people wanted an extra because the ending is a bit shocking and open-ended, but this episode isn’t what we needed! The focus is just plain weird and really doesn’t tie in with what was happening previously. I suggest not watching it, it leaves an unfortunate mark against the show at the end.
08th MS Team started us off on a very good foot. As an interesting and well done gaiden series it was a pleasure to watch. One of it’s most interesting aspects was the fact that it has no real major impact on the over all major Universal Century time line. No one in the story went on to become famous. The events hear don’t go on to change history. This was the story of the regular soldiers we rarely get to see much of in the Gundam universe. This is the story of what happens to the little guys who were fighting just as hard as the big name heroes like Char and Amuro. We get a solid and touching love story over the backdrop of a realistic depiction of war. Good characters that draw you into the story. A solid story that that never wears out it’s welcome. One of the best iterations of the Gundam franchises hands down.
This is by far my favorite of the UC OVAs thus far (since who knows what Gundam Unicorn will be like). It has the right balance of realism and romance with a major focus on characters and their interactions. Though of course I would prefer more robot action overall it doesn’t take away from the strong points of the show.