Tag Archives: drama

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.

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Turn “A” Gundam

Turn "A" Gundam Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 50
Genre: Sci-Fi / Mecha / Drama
Vintage: 1999

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 28 Dec 2015

Grade: B+

The title of this series is stylized as ∀ Gundam.

A very different kind of Gundam series.

Plot Summary
The Moon’s Queen Dianna has begun her Earth Return plan, where citizens of the Moon return to Earth in waves in order to resettle the planet. Among the returners are Loran Cehack and his friends Fran and Keith. Each finds their own role to blend in with Earth’s population, with Loran becoming a driver for the Heim mining family. Things begin to change when an attack from the Moon awakens something from the distant past. What was thought to be a god may in fact be something more.

The Review
While I may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Gundam (I leave that to my colleague liquidcross), it is still readily apparent to me that Turn “A” Gundam is no ordinary Gundam series. This is in a completely different realm than my first exposure to Gundam: Gundam Wing. While that series is all about excess, Turn “A” Gundam is very grounded, figuratively and literally. Turn “A” Gundam is a Gundam series which takes place largely on the Earth, and with scarcely a Gundam to be found in its fifty episode run! Both do appear in the series, but only when the time is right, and this series is laid out in a very particular way.

Turn “A” Gundam is a series very much rooted in the past, despite taking place far into the future. The first indication of this is from an aesthetic standpoint. Character designs and settings are all straight out of the American 1920s. It’s an era plucked from the final years of Edwardian fashion and technology, presented in a mostly straightforward way without falling into the steampunk trap. Don’t get me wrong; steampunk has its place, but I find it to be a bit overused these days (though this is a fifteen year old series now). I usually prefer my Edwardian and Victorian depictions straight up and without all of the gears and steam. But I digress.

Another way which Turn “A” Gundam pays tribute to the past is in its production values. Though produced at the eve of the new millennium, it looks like it could have been made in the late ’70s, complete with a theme song which reminded me a lot of the opening song for 1979’s The Rose of Versailles. It is also the final Gundam series to be painted by hand.

Story and characters were almost culture shock, coming from Gundam Wing, but it was good culture shock. Turn “A” goes for a much more practical and less fantastic approach, and in fact seems to focus more on the characters and overall story rather than the mecha battles themselves. A slow and deliberate pace guides the series through its extensive backstory and exposition before literally launching it into the stratosphere. For a long time, Turn “A” doesn’t even feel like watching a Gundam series, but that works in its favor, instead of being a point against it.

As for the characters, everyone has a story, and most of them get theirs told, at least in part, and they are all interesting in some way. One of the Gundam quirks I am familiar with popped up again: characters addressing each other by their full name. It sounds a bit odd and overly formal, but in a way it wouldn’t be a Gundam series without it. For me, Loran is a lead character I am conflicted on. On the one hand, his pacifist ideals and desire to protect people are to be commended. On the other, he has a serious complex over one of the other main characters, and Loran’s indecisiveness can make Shinji Ikari seem like the pinnacle of assertion at times. My favorite character in the series is actually one of the supporting leads: Sochie Heim, the younger of the two Heim sisters who Loran works for. Sochie is a firebrand who speaks her mind and doesn’t take nonsense from anybody, and I found her to be a refreshing contrast to Loran’s extreme passiveness. There are many colorful characters in Turn “A” Gundam, from the comic relief duo to the battle-thirsty lieutenant who never seems to succeed. Don’t forget the suave leader of Dianna’s Royal Guard or the hippie Moon loyalists, either!

Turn “A” Gundam was recommended to me by liquidcross as a good “next” Gundam series for me because of its unique qualities which set it apart from even the cream of the Gundam crop. I’d have to say it was an accurate prediction, as I enjoyed it immensely, despite my issues with Loran. The story is always interesting, though it unravels just a bit towards the end. The characters are never boring, and the musical backdrop always provides just the right mood. On that note, the soundtrack is composed by none other than Yoko Kanno, though her style is very incognito for Turn “A” Gundam’s score, with her trademarks apparent in only a few pieces of a more tribal nature and some of the more proper songs.

Turn “A” Gundam will appeal to not only Gundam fanatics but also fans of mecha and science fiction generally. The Gundam trademarks are here, but even those not as well-versed in the franchise mythologies will find much to enjoy.

5 Centimeters per Second

5 Centimeters per SecondType: Movie
Genre: Drama
Vintage: 2007

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 27 Aug 2015

Grade: A

Makoto Shinkai’s third outing reveals a definite pattern, but in his case, it’s welcome.

Plot Summary
Told in a series of three vignettes, we follow Takaki Toono from middle school to early adulthood as he comes to terms with the relationships with others he’s had in his life.

The Review
Makoto Shinkai has a pet theme, but somehow he finds a new way to explore it each time and not repeat himself. That theme, of course, is how distance affects the relationships between people. Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days both did that, and quite well. In 5 Centimeters per Second, Shinkai does it again, this time without the science fiction element.

Storywise, there really isn’t much to talk about, but that is not a bad thing at all in this case. Unless you don’t enjoy slow-paced character drama, 5 Centimeters per Second is definitely worth checking out, and if you’re already a Shinkai fan, you know exactly what you are going to get, and it won’t be a disappointment.

Another of Makoto Shinkai’s trademarks is impeccable attention to visual detail, and the case is no different here. 5 Centimeters has a very organic look to it, which adds to the personal nature of the story. Little touches which blur the line between animation and reality helped to draw me further into the story.

This film is another case where I feel that the less I say, the better. If you are on the fence about watching 5 Centimeters per Second, go for it. Chances are that you already have a general idea of what to expect. Makoto Shinkai has done it again with a less-is-more approach.