Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory

Type: OVA
Number of Episodes: 13
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1991-1992
Date of Review: June 26, 2017

The One Year War has been over for a few years now, but Zeon remnants still present a threat. A powerful Zeon admiral invokes Operation Stardust, a daring plan that involves stealing a new nuclear missile-equipped Gundam. Federation test pilot Kou Uraki will have to risk everything he holds dear in order to stop a legendary enemy ace!

Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory was one of the first Universal Century OVAs that helped fill the gaps between the regular series. Our hero is Kou Uraki, a relatively rare example of a Gundam pilot with a positive attitude. He’s also not someone just thrown into a conflict by chance, as he’s already a military officer and test pilot. This was not a common occurrence back in 1991 when Stardust Memory was released, and it’s no less refreshing now. Kou and his pal Chuck Keith serving at Torrington Base and on the warship Albion really showcases the camaraderie among the Federation soldiers and pilots, even when transfers from other ships and bases amp up the rivalry.

Kou’s love interest Nina Purpleton is a scourge of the fandom, it seems. During my rewatch of Stardust Memory, I didn’t understand the hate for Nina…until the last few episodes. Yeah, she gets pretty annoying there, but look on the bright side: she’s definitely no Quess. Besides, Nina’s friend Mora Boscht easily makes up for it, as she’s one of the best female characters in the Gundam universe. You can’t help but cheer when she belts a lascivious flyboy right in the jaw.

On the other side, within our Zeon remnants, we’ve got Anavel Gato. The infamous “Nightmare of Solomon” is one of the Gundam saga’s greatest villains; he may not be the mastermind of wicked schemes, or a genocidal maniac, or any other kind of evil stereotype, but he’s just an arrogant expert pilot that makes him the perfect foil to Uraki. Naturally, Gato’s not the only bad egg hanging around; you’ve got his commanding officer, the disgraced Admiral Aiguille Delaz, as well as Cima Garahau, the conniving master of her own leftover fleet. Expect plenty of doubledealing and betrayals when all of these folks attempt to work together!

But what about the Federation’s Gundam Development Project? That’s where the wonderful mecha of Stardust Memory come in. Leading the pack are the experimental Gundams designated “Unit One” and “Unit Two;” that second one carries a nuke, and its subsequent theft by Gato sets off the whole story. (The suits’ full names are RX-78GP01 Gundam “Zephyranthes” and RX-78GP02A Gundam “Physalis.” Now you see why people just say “Unit [insert number here].”) The Gundam designs are simple yet striking, and the two primary units couldn’t be more different from one another. The many battles between the two quickly become the stuff on legend; furthermore, Unit One is later upgraded for space combat, and Kou also gets to pilot Unit Three towards the end. (Even more Gundams, the GP00 and GP04G, are mentioned in supplementary materials. The latter showed up in Gundam Evolve, and was later released as a model kit.) There’s plenty of grunt suits to go around, too, like upgraded GMs and such. These new designs fit the aesthetic of Stardust Memory as well as looking like a perfect naturally progression of machines from the One Year War.

As is par for the course for a Gundam OVA, Stardust Memory is a showcase of stellar animation. The mechanical designs look amazing in motion, and neither ground nor space battles are given any slight. Character animation is great, too, accurately portraying the intense emotion that comes part and parcel with a tale of war and betrayal. Finally, the music sounds a bit too synthesized and artificial at times, but it’s not much of a distraction. The compositions fit the show well.

The recent domestic Blu-ray release really makes Stardust Memory pop, plus it includes the compilation film Afterglow of Zeon, plus two Mayfly of Space animation shorts giving more background to Cima. Despite Stardust Memory‘s bittersweet yet ominous ending (as it helps set up the events of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam), this OVA is a fine ddition to the Gundam saga, with thrilling animation and and a great story that’s worth enjoying.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team

Type: OVA
Number of Episodes: 12
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1996-1999
Date of Review: May 22, 2017

Not all of the battles of the One Year War were waged in space. Deep within the jungles and deserts of Asia, Ensign Shiro Amada and the brave 08th Mobile Suit Team fight to discover the secrets of Zeon’s newest weapon. Will their Gundams be able to hold up against Zakus, Magellas, and the dreaded Apsalus? The team had better learn to get along with one another first!

The 08th MS Team features a much smaller cast than most other Gundam productions, giving us more time to flesh out our characters. Unlike the standard Gundam formula, Shiro is not some random civilian haphazardly thrust into a conflict beyond his understanding; he’s an EFF officer with plenty of mobile suit experience and a deep drive to prove himself on the battlefield. The rest of his team are all varied and likeable characters, from the brooding Terry Sanders, Jr. to hardass Karen Joshua, plus timid Michel Ninorich and seeming slacker Eledore Massis. Everyone gets their chance to shine, and they’re all indispensable to both the story and the conflict.

Amidst the backdrop of gritty warfare is a classic tale of star-crossed love between Shiro and Zeon test pilot Aina Sahalin. The two come into unexpected contact more than once as the series goes on, leading them both to question their motives. In the end, their romance does seem a bit rushed, but that’s what you get when you’ve only got a dozen episodes to work with.

Most importantly, though, is The 08th MS Team‘s focus on ground warfare. Save for the introductory portion of the first episode, there are no space battles (and even that scene does not feature a Gundam). Most of the mobile suit fights are one-one-one, or a few small team battles. Even when facing down the Zeon mobile armor Apsalus, the threat is towards a Federation base, not the entire Earth Sphere. The battles are on a smaller scale, but no less relevant to the war effort.

As one might expect from an OVA series, The 08th MS Team boasts high production values with some fantastic animation and great mechanical and environmental design. Even the seemingly small stuff — like Shiro digging around in a Gundam’s forearm to adjust the beam saber intensity, or working on unclogging dust-caked motors in the legs — is given incredibly close attention to detail. Most of the mobile suits are classic UC models or variants thereof, with the standout newcomers being the Ground Gundams. Rather than a single standout Gundam, they’re bunch of mass-produced models this time, and the entire team is familar with them. Later on, when Shiro’s unit is heavily damaged and rebuilt into the Ez8, it’s not some superweapon that’s miles ahead of the others; it’s still treated as a standard piece of war machinery. The real standout in the mecha department is the Apsalus, especially its initial form. The designers really had fun with that one!

The series finale functions as an epilogue and a sequel, given that it picks up over a year after the events of the penultimate episode. This gives The 08th MS Team even more closure than other series, and you don’t feel like you’ve missed anything. In addition, the OVA later got Miller’s Report, a compilation film that covers the first eight episodes (as well as some additional scenes that help add more weight to episode nine and beyond), plus the anniversary short Battle in Three Dimensions. To be frank, The 08th MS Team is a high point amongst all of the Gundam OVAs, and I think you’ll agree after watching it.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Type: Series
Number of Episodes: 50
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 2015-2017
Date of Review: April 24, 2017

Three hundred years ago, the Calamity War engulfed the Earth Sphere. Nowadays, law and order is maintained by the mighty Gjallarhorn fleets as well as private contractors, some of which do not hesitate to brutally draft child soldiers. When the kids in Chryse Guard Security overthrow their masters on Mars and form the independent private military company Tekkadan, they take on an escort mission that will change the fate of two worlds. The ancient weapons known as Gundam Frames will enter the battlefield once more…

Initially, the latest installment of the Gundam franchise only received a single season of twenty-five episodes, but its massive popularity resulted in an additional order of twenty-five to be broadcast the following year. Iron-Blooded Orphans marks only the second time that a Gundam series has received a second season (the first being Mobile Suit Gundam 00), rather than a sequel series. It’s a good thing that IBO absolutely delivers on all counts!

Right off the bat, we see that things in this Post Disaster era have some serious differences from the rest of the Gundam saga. For example, there are no beam weapons (with one notable exception in season two), which means that mobile suits usually just beat the stuffing out of one another with melee weapons. Rifles and other projectile weapons are used for long range support, but close combat still rules the roost. Furthermore, IBO has no Newtypes, nor their equivalent. Instead, we’ve got a few pilots who were subjected to incredibly risky surgery — often against their will — that enables them to interface directly with their mobile suits’ systems. Which brings me to the final point: child slavery is a big theme in IBO. Heavy subjects are no stranger to the Gundam franchise, but they don’t get much more serious than this.

The plot starts off as a group of these conscripted children, so-called Human Debris, violently take out their overseers. Our IBO poster boy and primary Gundam pilot, Mikazuki Augus, shows his penchant for quiet violence early on; his demeanor makes Heero Yuy seem absolutely happy-go-lucky by comparison. However, Mika’s not some reserved psychopath looking to get off by killing others. He’s driven by the need to survive as well as getting vengeance on those who have hurt or killed his comrades. This is in contrast to his best friend Orga Itsuka, the Tekkadan boss who is generally more cool and collected. Make no mistake, Orga will also take out any who stand in Tekkadan’s way, but his more reserved manner makes him a natural leader. Rounding out our trio of leads is Kudelia Aina Bernstein, initially an activist who is transported by Tekkadan and later becomes a critically important figure in the larger political sphere. Kudelia’s growth in particular over the series’ run is fascinating, as she’s forced to confront many uncomfortable truths, overcoming them with skill.

The deluge of great characters in IBO doesn’t stop there. We’ve got the charming rogue Naze Turbine (affectionally dubbed “Space Fellini” by the fandom), enemy aces Fareed McGillis and Gaelio Boudoin, and more. One of the series’ main antagonists (if you can even call him that) has a past that is truly horrible, much as the former Human Debris in Tekkadan had their own dark origins. Beyond our mainstays and supporting cast, IBO features a wealth of great characters, practically an overabundance of such. Countless Tekkadan soldiers, Gjallahorn functionaries, aristocrats, mercenaries, and random civilians we only see a few times are given plenty of personality.

I know, I know, let’s get to the war machines. Our lead unit, the Gundam Barbatos, goes through quite a few iterations and upgrades over the course of the series goes on as machine is constantly rebuilt and repaired with salvaged parts. The same goes for the rest of the Gundams and most other mobile suits in Tekkadan’s possession, giving the series a much more realistic feel. When you don’t have limitless repair facilities and spare machinery, you make do with what you have! The various Gundams are named after demons from the Ars Goetia, and the clever reasoning behind this is explained in the second season, alongside a new and terrifying function for Mobile Armors. Finally, there’s also much more of a focus on ground combat with mobile workers (tanks) as well as shipboard assaults in orbit. This helps keep to keep battles tense and fresh instead of just mobile suit battle after mobile suit battle.

In case you haven’t gotten the gist of it yet, IBO is absolutely fantastic. Gorgeous animation, amazing characters, some of the finest mecha design we’ve seen in a long time, all culminating in a truly surprising ending. This really makes the series a must-watch. If the comedy of the Gundam Build Fighters series wasn’t your cup of tea, then jump right back into Gundam proper with IBO.