A Paean For The 08th MS Team

Karen

From one red-haired Karen to the next, then. I’ve wanted to write about The 08th MS Team for a while, in the way that one aspires to a difficult accomplishment: it’s hard to write about something which is generally so well-regarded. By way of experiment I tried watching the whole thing last Sunday, in suitably tropical conditions with the sun beating down on my windows like The Sun beating down on Gordon Brown whenever he screws up. I still don’t know if I’m up to the task, but at least I had a fun day off. (Spoilers, of course.)

I’m always surprised by how – unlike The SunThe 08th MS Team is rather apolitical. It follows the standard Gundam approach to the armed forces themselves – the higher up the chain of command you go, the more unpleasant types you find – but there’s little or none of the political commentary found elsewhere in the franchise. To compare OVA to OVA – and excluding IGLOO because I haven’t seen it – 0080 touched on neutrality, 0083 had nukes and fear as a political tool and (I’ll grudgingly include it) Stargazer examined the use of hate. These OVAs aren’t scalpel sharp dissections – they’re mecha action shows – but they do at least have a political dimension.

The 08th is, however, a war story, and a love story. I think the word ‘story’ must be stressed: this show’s realism is much-touted, yet in truth I’ve never found it especially realistic (if that is the right question to ask in the first place). It can be gritty and convincing, yes, but there’s also something operatic about The 08th MS Team, a sense of convenience and arrangement which at times makes it feel like a vision. This reaches its peak in the seventh episode, with the idealistic lovers bathing in anime’s best improvised onsen, surrounded by swirls of snow and ice and backed up by an unsettling string piece form Tanaka‘s excellent score. And at the close the same snow, or perhaps steam, seems to swallow Aina whole.

Swallowed

It may peak in the seventh episode, but this sense of vision permeates the show. Norris’s defeat of the 08th MS Team produced two iconic images: his Gouf Custom silhouetted against the sun, and the same Mobile Suit splashed with an unfortunate Guntank pilot’s blood. Both are iconic precisely because they are so patently built to please. Indeed, part of the pleasure in a lot of humanoid mecha is the way that, however loudly one tells oneself that these are just machines, the human mind will insist on perceiving living things (consider the defeated Zaku struggling to raise its hand in the second episode, for example).

[Is that last sentence evidence that I've failed to grow up? Probably.]

Even when the Team are fighting in the jungle, the show rarely resorts to ‘mecha obscuraà la Gasaraki: it’s easy to see what’s going on. Indeed, the jungle warfare is itself consciously picking up on the Vietnam War, or rather said conflict as it exists in the popular imagination. Although, as Author has pointed out, the actual situation of the Team is not like Vietnam – and the One Year War as a whole resembles a certain theatre of World War Two, right down to the sudden attack using a relatively new, carrier-based style of warfare. That is, however, a story for another time, and of course the weapons of mass destruction were unleashed at the beginning of the One Year War.

Shinigami Sanders Indeed
One of the shots Author picked out. I don’t know my way around shading, but I can tell when the animators are making the Shinigami’s head look like a skull. (Author also notes the Moral Grey Area Edition’s idiosyncratic aspect ratio.)

The opening scene of Gundam 00 is an interesting contrast to The 08th MS Team‘s air of the artificial. With its irregular focus, its haze of dust, and its shaky ‘camera’ struggling to keep track of the rampaging Anfs this sequence is of course obviously artificial in another way: it’s plain that we’re watching animation pretending to be a camera lens. But it tries to give the impression of something which isn’t arranged, mainly because the rest of Gundam 00‘s action is about to shove its choreographed nature in our faces with Wing levels of power imbalance. The contrast is necessary because Gundam 00 was in part about how unfair it feels when someone comes down from the sky in his overpowered lump of military hardware and proceeds to blow you away.

Funnily enough, this is part of what The 08th MS Team does too. It’s a story about a group of ordinary soldiers facing a prototype weapon, rather than (as with much of the rest of the franchise) a hero piloting a prototype weapon and killing ordinary soldiers. The Apsalus, in its several variants, is the suitably menacing zenith of the show’s generally excellent mechanical design, a hideously bulbous, gravity-defying monster which (brilliantly) retains the cyclopean mono-eye. Need I mention its gaping – mouth? – which we’re forced to re-examine when Aina suggests Ginias built it as a surrogate womb?

That Mouth
Probably not.

By such Freudian paths we come to the characters themselves, about whom I have little to say. To borrow Hidoshi’s words, since he puts it well:

The cast plays upon archetype quite a bit. . . . the typical characters of a wartime drama take the stage. But a cliché is not always a bad thing, and by and large the cast manage to escape their moulds and endear themselves to the viewer. They do nothing particularly new, but their showing is a strong one, and of a high calibre.

It is the cast of a wartime drama; The 08th MS Team is a wartime drama, more than any other Gundam I’ve seen and perhaps more than any other mecha anime I’ve seen. It takes a group of familiar people and puts them through some easily recognised situations – futile battles, love across a divide, a Dear John letter &c – but it does it with great panache, a compelling touch of opera and the roar of Norris’s 75mm shield-mounted Gatling gun (I’m salivating). What’s not to like?

The last episode, that’s what. Sinking to a homily on the subject of naming is simply gauche. It’s especially gauche at the end of a series which managed, most of the time, to convey its messages without shouting. I can see the arguments for having an epilogue episode. The Universal Century story, as a whole, is the story of different people repeating the same mistakes. A brief glimpse of a life outside warfare is a reassuring reminder that people can escape those mistakes, in the same way that Conrad, for example, is sometimes praised for highlighting the transience of imperial rule at a time when it could seem everlasting. (Similarly, War and Peace would be a lesser book if it was just called War.)

What Is It Good For?
Insert obligatory Edwin Starr reference.

Infinite Ryvius – which is not a mecha show, but rather The Prince in the style of Dawson’s Creek, with fly-by-wire robots in the background – has an epilogue designed to do just that, to reaffirm that things can go right even if they’ve previously gone horribly wrong. G Gundam did something similar: the final five episodes might have been lacking in comparison to the superb forty-fifth, but they did remind us that winning the Gundam Fight wasn’t the point of the show. And Gundam is arguably performing this function for the entire Gundam franchise: one can escape the war, though one might have to be a cross-dressing chauffeur to do it.

Sadly The 08th MS Team does not benefit from its epilogue. The eleventh installment ended adequately – no, quite well, with just enough information about the lovers’ fate, and the sight of the unified Team running towards the Shuddering Mountain. The twelfth episode is an unfortunate superfluity in an otherwise restrained series, but then nothing ends perfectly. Our maimed hero, whose idealism had, at best, mixed results, would probably agree. The weak finish might leave The 08th MS Team looking like it’s missing a limb, but I can love it despite that.

Blogiography

21 responses to “A Paean For The 08th MS Team

  1. Well, the 08th MS Team was as realistic as one could get in the Gundam universe.

    It’s still my favorite Gundam show to date.

  2. Gundam 08th MS Team was the first Gundam I actually watched and liked enough to finish. Although I didn’t have anywhere near the same level of appreciation for it than you do, I thought it more or less had the right amount of everything to make it an enjoyable show. I agree that episode 12 was a rather weak way to end the series, but at least the very end of the episode made me go, “Aaawwww. That makes me feel oh so warm and fuzzy.” :D

  3. >>nothing ends perfectly

    Evangelion : O

  4. As a grunt myself I love 8th MS Team more than most other Gundams, it was a nice twist to see things from the rank and file side rather than the all too familiar young and upcoming “ace pilot” dynamic. It’s about as realistic as it gets in Gundam, besides it at least felt like they were using real team work rather than merely going to the same place at the same time. It was about some guys trying to do their job and not get killed in the process and less about the fate of the world resting on their shoulders.

    I thought that ending was bittersweet in a sappy sort of way.

  5. It’s been a while since I saw 8th MS Team, but it certainly is one of the better gundam ititerations, though not my favorite. While it’s interesting to see gundam being realistic, and when gundam tries to be realistic the results are usually good, what I love about gundam is the space opera aspect of it.

    In 8th MS Team, the gundam are merely military tools to be used as such. In other series, especially UC, gundams are weapons of ideological justice, used by men to prove their correct version of honor, country, and the human race. While the reality is that was is as gritty as 8th MS Team portrays it, the romantic version of space warfare is all the more enjoyable , and perhaps enlightening, to watch.

  6. >>Infinite Ryvius – which is not a mecha show, but rather The Prince in the style of Dawson’s Creek

    Aww, you watched Dawson’s Creek! :D

    But I don’t see any resemblance at all. I’m trying hard to imagine who’s Joey, who’s Pacey, etc etc @_@

    I’d like to think of Infinite Ryvius as Survivor set in outer space lol.

    >>The weak finish might leave The 08th MS Team looking like it’s missing a limb, but I can love it despite that.

    Yes, despite that, 08th is still good, right? I count it alongside War in the Pocket as one of the best mecha OVAs I’ve seen.

    >>And ∀ Gundam is arguably performing this function for the entire Gundam franchise: one can escape the war, though one might have to be a cross-dressing chauffeur to do it.

    Well, I think Turn A Gundam to be the best Gundam series I’ve seen so far. I still have a lot to watch from the Gundam franchise though.

  7. While I didn’t read the rest of the post for fear of spoilers, I’ll say that my favorite Gundam series is Gundam Wing, but the best is Turn A.

  8. Just so people have an idea of what the last U.C OVA is all about, MS Igloo focuses on the engineers side of the One Year War, as in the people that made and tested the weapons we saw in the show as well as ones we never got to see because they were either defective or inefficient once Mobile Suits were introduced. It’s far more oriented towards the tech side of the universe and doesn’t really feature much in the way of character development (although there are recurring characters), but heck if it doesn’t stick true to it’s Hidden One Year War subtitle. It’s definitely not for people who aren’t already fans of Gundam though.

    It also features some really good music, especially the battle theme Shishuseyo and 603 no Bolero, which is more or less the theme song for the 603 or Jotunheim unit as a whole. The visuals are debatable. On the one hand the mobile suit CG can be good, but the characters themselves range in rendering quality from mid 90’s PC game at worst to early PS2 FMV quality at best.

    It’s definitely worth checking out though.

  9. @ drmchsro: Sadly, in terms of the mechanics, that’s not very realistic. But you’re right that it’s realistic relative to the rest of the franchise (an image of Kira Yamato’s Freedom From Danger Gundam just crossed my mind).

    @ nckl: Ah well, I suppose the last episode has some shreds of merit. It does let fans speculate as to which later UC canon characters might be descended from Shiro and Aina.

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: Evangelion‘s ending is interesting, but it’s bad entertainment.

    @ Crusader: I guess the way the Gundam pilots related to each other on the battlefield – as you say, the teamwork and the importance of the listening hover-tank for information – is pretty realistic. It’s definitely the grunt’s eye view, while of course in the rest of Gundam the grunt’s eye view is limited to the occasional scene of some nameless guy being blown up in his cockpit by the hero.

    @ Demian: Amidst my fanboying, it’s worth being reminded that Gundam’s normal space opera approach has its utility too, I guess. Though I’d say in 0080 the Mobile Suits are tools of war, one of which gets misdirected by Al into trying to become an ideological weapon – and we know how that worked out! Also, Gundam Sentinel.

    @ hayase: I didn’t watch Dawson’s Creek – I grew up without a TV to watch it on – but I was trying to draw a storytelling comparison rather than an analogy between characters. Infinite Ryvius is like a treatise in political philosophy (The Prince), written using dramatic interactions betweeen teenagers (in the style of Dawson’s Creek). It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but I wanted to do something different to the usual ‘Lord of the Flies – IN SPACE’ description, accurate though it may be.

    I reckon The 08th is Gundam’s pinnacle for UC fans, while 0080 is Gundam’s pinnacle for normal people. Turn-A is my favourite, though I think it has flaws. I just like it excessively, I guess.

    @ Michael: I’ve found Wing really hard to like, but then I’ve only seen a few episodes. The battles were rather boring. But I will persevere (one day).

    @ Kaioshin Sama: Thanks for describing IGLOO; I’ll have to check it out sometime. I remember people saying that the CGI work worked better on the Mobile Suits than on the characters. Let’s hope the upcoming OVA is an improvement.

  10. >@ 21stcenturydigitalboy: Evangelion’s ending is interesting, but it’s bad entertainment.

    meh, I’ve never known 2 people to share an opinion on it, but at least you like it. I found it more entertaining than the rest of the show, if only because I LOVE weird visual shit and pseudophilosophy. First time I saw the ending I didn’t blink for the whole 2 eps, and my mouth was still open 30 minutes later XD

  11. 8th Mobile Suit Team sure does feel like mixing the MSG universe with the Vietnam War.

  12. I have erased the last episode of 08th ms team from my mind.

  13. @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: It’s gripping, certainly. But if they’d just had Shinji sort out his issues, give his father what-for, kick some Angel butt and sweep Asuka off her feet in the final two episodes it would’ve been more fun. Not as original, or as brave, and it wouldn’t have had the impact that it did – but it would’ve been more fun.

    @ Hangmen: In terms of style, absolutely. It’s very carefully picking up on Vietnam War films in its jungle combat scenes and in some of the scenes with the off-duty soldiers playing around. As Author said, the factual situation in the One Year war ins’t like Vietnam, but parts of The 08th are aesthetically there.

    @ Westlo: I call it the Gasaraki technique, focusing on the penultimate episode and ignoring the last one.

  14. Forgetting about that last episode, which to me felt so out of place with the rest of the show, I really enjoyed 08th MS Team. An Earth battlefield was a welcome change of setting, especially since the attempted occupation by Zeon had hardly been explored.

    Also, how nice was it that the characters weren’t children? Not that I’m bashing the archetype teen ace (or should I say angst) of Gundam, but the more mature than usual Shiro and Aina made their little love story a lot more engaging.

  15. Good point. I like it when Gundam goes to Earth – some of Zeta‘s Earth-bound episodes stood out in a show which, at other times, bored me a little. I guess my soul is weighed down by gravity? Joking aside, I liked the way The 08th handled it, by beginning in space and then descending to ground-level warfare with the second episode. Shiro’s age (from memory, he’s the oldest animated Gundam protagonist) is nice as you say – though in fairness, I’ve just started Gundam X and Garrod Ran manages to be a teenage Gundam pilot who (so far) has avoided angst. Of which more in a future entry . . .

  16. Interesting you mention Freud right after Ghinius. Reminds me of how a friend and I got in an epic discussion that involved psychoanalyzing him. We more or less came to the conclusion that everything he does boils down to his severe mother issues. It’s a damn shame he didn’t have more screentime, background, and development because if he did he would’ve probably been one of the deepest characters in the show. Oh well, at least he didn’t end up as bad a character as his sister.

  17. Pingback: THAT Animeblog - Gundam 8th MS Team: Ten Years After… Plus Three! (Final thoughts)

  18. Did I feel that ep 12 was a homily? I’m not sure, but it does feel a tad out of place. Crusader explained it as due to a director change (the original director died before the last ep could be made). I wonder how much difference that change made in terms of the writing of the show.

    I think that the material was already written prior to the actual making of the episode, but I don’t know.

    But you know what, I like the ending anyway. The final scene where Kiki and Michel meet them, I absolutely found the restraint: the fact that we couldn’t hear what was said, It remained a private word among friends.

    Maybe they said, “I missed you!” or something equally trite. Not hearing it makes me concentrate on the beauty of the moment: a long search fulfilled, old friends (war comerades!) reunited, an old love forgiven, and some other things I can’t articulate at present. But I’m glad I didn’t have to hear it. Seeing Aina pregnant and happy makes me not want to think about what has to happen in 0083 and Zeta.

  19. @ A.r.: Eh, I suppose Ghinius is an interesting study. Psychoanalysis probably produces more amusing results than the ‘Space Aids’ explanation. Though that kind of flippancy is probably itself just the product of his limited screentime.

    @ ghostlightning: A change of directors can explain, but it can’t excuse (and I’ll say the same of 0083, where the change may have had more drastic ramifications).

    I agree that the final scene of the final episode is good, though, and you’re right that it’s good that we’re not privy to their conversation. And the pregnancy fits well with the episode’s previous events. That final scene is hope, even in the face of the Zeta-era. But the final scene of the penultimate episode isn’t bad, either – the series could end at that point with just enough hope, I felt.

  20. I will have to agree with Crusader. As an infantryman , i loved o8th MS .

    The 12th ep was a little campy, but nonetheless reminded me of coming home. In a way I felt bad for the kid named shiro. I remember having to have someone hold me like that, letting me let it out. Sometimes you just gotta let go and move on.Some of us got drunk, others just kinda snapped.

    GM Snipers. As a sharpshooter/sniper hunter in iraq, we (my partner and I) loved the GM snipers. We even had a little toy of one we carried with us! (We painted it desert tan, though)

    MS IGLOO 2 is far more awesome than IGLOO 1. It shows grunt grunt grunt level war against mobile suits, using TOW anti-tank launchers (fun as hell btw, I got a kick out of how similar they were to the real ones!) and tanks (pretty badass too). and the whole deathgod-hallucination-nightmare thing hit kinda close to home. Plus the “spaghetti western” music during the Barberry Scene. But I digress. watch it yourself!

    Well, I have ranted enough. its 4:27 and PT is in an hour and a half.
    Everyone keep your knees and feet together and be sure to count to four! Airborne!

    Ace.

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