There is an interesting spectrum in the three Gundam OAVs we have watched recently. On one end is Gundam 0083 which is the biggest in scope and totally focused on the mobile suits. It deals with the events that make Zeta Gundam possible but I highly doubt that anyone claims their favorite characters come from 0083. In the middle you have 08th MS team where the story is more personal while still having a good mixture of mecha to character importance. Then you have Gundam 0080, everything about this series is personal. The objectives, the feelings, and the missions are all clearly motivated by the characters not the politics. There are mobile suits but they are almost MacGuffins to move along the individual stories within 0080. I won’t claim that 0080 is the Gundam series for people who hate robots, that Gundam series does not exist. However, this is the Gundam series for those who care most about the people behind the machines and how they are effected by war.
Since we decided to watch the Universal Century OVAs in timeline order, this was our second stop and truly I felt 0080: War in the Pocket had much to live up to since I enjoyed 08th MS Team so very much. I knew this OVA was going to be different from other installments in the Gundam franchise merely because I had been told so, but I didn’t fully understand what that meant till actual viewing.
Maybe just to prove that this OAV is very different from any other Gundam series, we start with an elite commando team trying to steal an experimental mobile suit from a secret facility. While this seems extremely formulaic it deviates when after two attempts the Zeon unit cannot waltz off with it like it was a free sample of cheese and crackers at the local supermarket. During the second attempt Bernard Wiseman is shot down and crash lands in a deserted part of the colony. Bernard is discovered by a young boy named, Alfred Izuruha, who is a mobile suit fanatic. As Alfred beings following Bernard they become friends. Bernard soon discovers that the Zeon fleet has decided they will just destroy the whole colony. Will Bernard try and save his new friend or will he leave everyone on the colony to die.
From what I have seen, the 0080 OVA may be the Gundam series that deals the least with robots and pushes the development of its characters and the moral ambiguities encountered in war. Also of note, Gundam tends to do away with young children protagonists except as background or minor characters, but not so in 0080. But hold on there, no Alfred isn’t a super annoying (okay sometimes he is annoying just not all the time) and irrelevant child character. He shares the screen with Bernard and is equally vital to the telling of this story.
Bernard comes off as suave, charming, and an ace pilot. Bernard knows deep down that he is not that great a pilot and the courageous hero he pretends to be. Alfred is a boy who is fascinated by fighting robots but he obviously does not realize the terrible cost that comes with said fighting. He looks up to Bernard as everything he want to be. It’s obvious that Bernard never wanted to random Federation kid looking up to him as a role model but as the series goes on he becomes attached to Alfred. As he is forced to get to know Alfred he discovers he is a bright and clever kid who becomes a valuable asset for the mission. Bernard also becomes attached to one other person on the colony: Christina Mackenzie, Alfred’s next door neighbor and test pilot for the new Gundam model. She is a charming and beautiful lass but also a capable and professional pilot. Christina and Bernard begin flirting with each other after they meet unaware of each others’ true identity. These friendships and romances are seeds for tragedy as the deadline quickly approaches.
Bernard is an eager soldier with a desire to prove himself in combat, he immediately comes off as cocky but also ignorant of the politics and motives behind the war he is so ardent to fight in. His overestimation of his skills comes to a sad and helpless end which comes off as particularly human. Bernard is like the person who Alfred would have become had the world not turned out very differently from his meeting with Bernard. Alfred in the beginning is like so many boys at his age, carefree and vibrant with a fascination for war and robots. But of course he hasn’t lived long enough nor developed to the point to understand the destruction, pain, and gray qualities of large scale combat and conflict. Alfred is really quite tragic, there is viewer conflict as if you want him to understand the dangers of war but at the same time admire the innocence he possesses. This duality also occurs in Bernard as their relationship builds. There is significant change to these figures and it’s presented quite honestly.
The main themes of War in the Pocket are the loss of innocence and the birth of maturity. Bernard and Alfred both start off as immature. Alfred is a naive child who knows of the war between the Federation and Zeon but since his colony has been neutral he has been untouched by its effects. He starts with a glamorous view of combat and the mobile suits that participate in it. When he sees Bernard’s Zaku crash land he rushes to see instead of fleeing in the opposite direction. Alfred involves himself in Bernard’s mission because he sees it as a great adventure. By the end of the series his childish concepts of war are burned away. Alfred is irrevocably changed by his time with Bernard. Bernard starts off as a rookie pilot who seems very selfish and while he is more mature than Alfred he is still naive about how the military operates. When the full nature and ramifications of his mission come to light Bernard must weigh the possibility of almost assured self-sacrifice against his obligations to the Zeon. So, Bernard’s time with Alfred in turn changes Bernard just as much.
This OVA had an added bonus with Haruhiko Mikimoto heading up the character designs which maintains a look and feel much like his Macross character work. Though other than that the animation itself doesn’t really stand out, afterall we are minus big battle sequences for the most part. You also might recognize Chris’s voice actress, the infamous Megumi Hayashibara in one of her early roles.
Gundam is hardly a series known for its upbeat happy go lucky endings. Most Gundam series end with the deaths of several likable protagonists, one or two unlikeable protagonists, and/or scores of antagonists, nameless soldiers, and civilians. Our heroes might win but at a terrible cost proving to us the price of war. That being said, War in the Pocket stands out to many as the most bittersweet if not downright tragic of all the Gundam series. This is in no small part due to the fact that we grow attached to our principle players right from the start and so when the tragedies come we are as devastated as the characters are. The ending of Gundam 0080 might not be the most epic of all the battles in the Universal Century time line but it might be the one that sticks with you the longest.
I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but I was certainly caught off guard with this OVA. War in the Pocket is a short series that uses all of its time with deliberate and poignant purpose. The struggles faced and the changes the characters undergo in just a few short episodes is gripping and dynamic and in the end 0080 asserts itself as a tragic lesson. War in the Pocket pulls its story from the core of what Original Gundam had to say about war to make a thoughtful and unique work in the long running robot series.