Does It Hold Up?: Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team

[Does It Hold Up is a feature in which I look back to anime I watched as a child. The caveat for this is I have to watch them as close to the original productions that were available back then.]

For most franchises, going back to the origin can have dire consequences. Usually, this can be seen as a cash grab or an attempt to catch fan nostalgia. When Gundam decided to go back to the events of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, it might have seemed like an odd choice especially coming off of Gundam Wing. Perhaps with Gundam Wing not being a huge success in Japan, going back to Universal Century 0079, the timeframe of Mobile Suit Gundam, was a safe bet. By making the next series an OVA, which meant they weren’t tied to a strict season based release schedule, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team managed to overcome any of these consequences.

The 08th MS Team first aired on January 25, 1996 and would last until July 25, 1999. For a twelve episode span, this seems like an oddity, but the production of this show had an unfortunate tragedy befall it halfway through. The first six episodes were all released in 1996, but in July of 1996, series director Takeyuki Kanda passed away. Umanosuke Iida of GONZO and assistant director on Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky was brought in to direct the remaining six episodes. Due to this setback, the timeframe for episodes being released was significantly affected. Only two episodes would come out in ’97, ’98, and finally in ’99. Iida would also go on to direct the tie-in film Miller’s Report and also write the manga which would run from 2007 to 2011.

After Gundam Wing helped put Toonami on the map and reintroduced American audiences to the Gundam franchise, Cartoon Network was happy to oblige with more shows. On July 23, 2001, Toonami began broadcasting the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Later that night as a Midnight Run exclusive, The 08th MS Team also debuted giving Gundam fans a double helping of the franchise. The 08th MS Team would run from July 23, 2001 to August 6, 2001 with the final episode not being shown. Parts of the Miller’s Report film would be spliced into episode eight in the Toonami run.

Credit to Sunrise.  Characters from  The 08th MS Team.

Credit to Sunrise. Characters from The 08th MS Team.

Even though The 08th MS Team was in the less censored Midnight Run block, the show would still face censorship even with its TV-PG rating. The language used in the show would have to be edited down to meet the rating requirement, since words like “shit” and “goddammit” would not be aired in a TV-PG setting. There is some blood throughout the series, but nothing too graphic that would have to be edited out. The other occurrence of censorship would be that there is female nudity in the second episode. Kiki is shown swimming in a river and comes out of the water topless in the second episode. Obviously, with America’s stingy attitude towards nudity, this would immediately be cut or a bathing suit top or tan lines would be added to try and edit out the nudity.

With the series not having to stick to a weekly format, the added production time meant that each episode looked gorgeous. Compared to Gundam Wing, there are no noticeably reused scenes; everything looks like it could come out of a studio today, and every shot looks remarkable. If this had been a weekly series, the quality would probably have gone down tremendously. Even with the hardships the team faced with changing directions, the quality of animation never seemed to dip. It’s also telling when looking at the 2013 released mini-OVA, that the original series looks remarkably better than what was created just two years ago.

Having only eleven episodes to tell the main story, The 08th MS Team makes the most out of each individual episode. Compared to Gundam Wing which focused more on a continuous power struggle in war, The 08th MS Team deals more with the human elements of war and what makes it so horrific. Since the setting of the story is so familiar to most viewers, the story doesn’t need to go too heavy into why the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon are at war with one another. Instead, what is shown is who are the people fighting this war and how this One Year War affects them on both sides of the fighting. The line between “good guys” and “bad guys” is never too clear as the series progress. The original Mobile Suit Gundam tells you one way the story of this war could be shown, but with The 08th MS Team you see that there are good people on both sides as well as despicable people.

Credit to Sunrise.  Kiki and Michel from the final episode.

Credit to Sunrise. Kiki and Michel from the final episode.

The characters that make up The 08th MS Team are all unique in their own ways and are able to stand out on their own. Shiro Amada, the commander of the 08th team is a brash and young leader. He uses different methods than normal to help get his team out of trouble, is stubborn, but has a natural charisma to him that makes the team want to follow him. Michel Ninorich is the youngest of the team and is skeptical of Shiro after meeting him on a flight to Earth. He ends up as working in helping the team with communications which disappoints him. He’s also constantly writing letters to a love interest back home which makes him one of the few characters here that has a constant backstory at home.

Karen Joshua is a battle hardened veteran and one of the few remaining members of the 08th team before Shiro joined. It takes her a while to warm up to the rest of the team since the 08th has been a revolving door of members recently. She has seen her own form of hardships with her husband being killed in combat, which might be a cause of her cold appearance to others. Terry Sanders Jr. is the oldest member of the team, but comes in with excessive baggage as being labeled as bad luck from other soldiers. He has to overcome his fears of thinking he truly is bad luck after years of being on squads that would be wiped out except for him. Eledore Massis is the final member of the team and head of communications. He is very aloof and provides a raunchy sense of humor with his adorning the hover truck with pin up posters. Each member of the team is different than the other, but they come together to from a very cohesive unit.

There is also Kiki Rosita who is the daughter of a guerrilla leader. She ends up helping the 08th team at various points with her knowledge of the jungle environments, but is also very brash and has feelings for Shiro. Another character that has feelings for Shiro is the Principality of Zeon’s Aina Sahalin. She pilots a new Zeon weapon called the Apsalus which is a giant mobile armor. Aina and Shiro have a chance encounter in the first episode where they have to team up in order to not die out in space. They would face another life and death situation halfway through the series where the relationship between the two would fire up. Aina also has to deal with her brother Ginias who she wants to support initially, but he eventually is driven insane from his thirst for power.

Credit to Sunrise . Aina and Shiro from episode 11.

Credit to Sunrise. Aina and Shiro from episode 11.

Obviously, the relationship between Aina and Shiro is a main focal point of the series since it is two people from opposite sides of the war coming together. I can understand that if you’re in a life or death situation and get out with the other person, feelings might develop there. Where it starts to fall apart for me, is when in the second time the two of them are together on the mountain, Shiro tells Aina that he loves her. Now, if I was around someone for only the second time and they said that, I’d probably be a bit weirded out. Personal feelings aside, not seeing this relationship fully fleshed out is a side effect of the main story only being eleven episodes. It might have been interesting to see the writers put more into their relationship, but extending the run of episodes for The 08th MS Team would have detracted from what made this series special. This is not to say that once the love confession happens that everything is fine for the two of them, as Shiro is suspected of being a traitor and Aina eventually comes to grips with her brother’s madness for power and gets shot by him. The two eventually do find happiness as shown in episode 12 when Kiki and Michel find the couple.

While I might not be the biggest fan of how Aina and Shiro’s relationship comes together, it is a huge basis on how this is a story of human beings in war. Here we have two people on opposite sides of the battlefield who come to realize that the war they are fighting might not be right or worth it in the long run and yet also are trying to find some way to come together again. They realize that they are essentially pawns in this war which is exactly how their commanding officers are using them as. Eventually, all of the main characters face some sort of consequence for this war. Shiro is injured in his final battle losing his leg, Aina also gets injured in that same battle, Michel learns that the woman he had been writing lost interest in him and got married, Eledore would get injured midway through the series, Karen sees another commander leave his post, Sanders after finally being accepted has to decide whether or not to betray Shiro due to orders from higher up, and Kiki sees her father and a lot of the guerrillas be murdered in a battle.

As is par the course with most anime that was dubbed into English from the 90s, this dub is serviceable. Nobody puts in a bad performance, but I wouldn’t say that anyone has an outstanding performance either. This dub would rank above both the previous entries in this series, Cardcaptor Sakura and Gundam Wing, but it’s nowhere near the rank of some of the best dubs from this time period like Cowboy Bebop.

For people that are my age and grew up with Gundam Wing, The 08th MS Team is something you absolutely need to track down and watch. This goes for fans of Gundam in general, giant robot/mech shows, and anime fans as well. If you are new to the Gundam franchise, you might want to read up slightly on the One Year War before going into this series since you’ll have a better understanding of the show with that knowledge. If you want a story that shows off the very nature of humanity in the face of chaos and disaster, this is the show for you. Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a show that can be enjoyed by Gundam fans and anime watchers all around and definitely still holds up.