Tag Archives: sci-fi

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.

Mobile Suit Victory Gundam

Type: Series
Number of Episodes: 51
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1993-1994
Date of Review: March 28, 2017

Many decades after the legendary battles between Earth and Zeon, the world has settled into an uneasy peace. When the powerful Zanscare Empire threatens that peace, the League Militaire takes up arms when the Federation cannot. Even children are dragged into service, as Üso Ewin discovers when he pilots the Victory Gundam to protect his loved ones. But can he hold out in the face of a devastating and depressing war?

The latest chapter in the Universal Century saga sees us moving even further into the future, over fifty years beyond the classic Gundam series, and with almost zero connection to those save for a few minor mentions. As such, Victory almost seems like a standalone series, though newbies might be confused by some common saga terminology — Minovsky particles, Newtypes, psycommu, et cetera — because Victory does assume some prior Gundam knowledge. Still, I don’t think a newcomer would be too lost, with one caveat: the first few episodes. Legend has it that Bandai wanted to introduce the Victory Gundam in the very first episode in order to kickstart toy sales, whereas in the original planned broadcast order, it doens’t appear until a few episodes later. As such, the episodes were hastily edited and reordered, throwing the Victory Gundam (and the viewer!) into a story that’s already begun. It’s confusing, to be sure, but once you get past that, everything makes much more sense.

At times, Victory seems that the powers-that-be were throwing things at the wall to see what would stick. For better or for worse, this gave us some radical new mobile suit and warship designs, incorporating unlikely influences from helicopters and motorcycles. While the treaded units laid waste on the ground, the tires look absolutely ridiculous in space, a sentiment shared by the League Militaire. While some enemy suit designs are a bit head-scratching in nature, in general, the Zanscare Empire’s mecha forces have a very unique look that sharply contrasts with our heroes’ more “generic” grunt suits. This obviously makes it very easy to instantly distinguish between the good guys from the bad guys, but it’s always great to have more variety!

As for the eponymous Victory Gundam, it’s a fantastic design. Compact, modular, and exceptionally effective in combat! This series also marks a very rare occurrence of the titular Gundam later being mass-produced in the same form. This makes perfect sense in-universe, as the League specifically designed the Victory to be easily repaired and replaced in the field, with many modular parts available from the start.

In keeping with the Gundam franchise’s multicultural leanings, Üso and friends are distinctly European. Aside from the requisite space battles, most of the fighting on Earth takes place in either Europe or North America, and Üso returns home more than once only to find that he just can’t stay there while the war rages on. Üso’s cohorts are interesting and believable in their own right, as are the villains who don’t fall into the expected mold of “just plain evil.” There’s plenty of shades of gray in there, but I will say that one character in particular was so infuriating, I was just waiting for them to get shot or blown up or meet some other terrible fate. So what happened to them? Watch Victory to see if they got their just desserts.

Victory has a reputation for being a very dark and depressing series, giving creator Yoshiyuki Tomino his infamous nickname “Kill ’em All.” Indeed, many popular characters get brutally killed throughout the series, and the last batch of episodes in particular are a massive deathfest, both for the militaries and civilians. The moral of the story is, don’t get too attached to anyone in Victory. (That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have its lighthearted or weirder moments, like the bizarre sequence in which Üso is accosted by a bikini gunner squad. That one really came out of left field.) Though he’s usually a strong-willed pilot, I’m surprised Üso didn’t snap, especially after a horrifically tragic event he witnesses near the series’ halfway point. Other Gundam protagonists have lost their shit over less.

Victory is a robust yet often forgotten part of the Universal Century that isn’t reliant on throwbacks. Great early 1990s animation mixed with a solid score makes this an underrated show indeed, and the last full Universal Century series, to boot. If you can handle the darkness (and the misplaced order for the first few episodes), Victory is well worth a watch.