25 Days of Anime - #5: Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team

On quite the opposite end of the spectrum as the hopeful and adventure-oriented Turn A Gundam is the gritty and extremely realistic vision of mobile suit combat as presented through Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team. This OVA follows Shiro Adama and his ragtag group of Gundam pilots as they combat Zeon forces in the jungles of Asia. Because they are using production model ground-type Gundams, their offensive measures are nowhere near as dynamic as the capabilities presented to Kamille Bidan in his transformable Zeta Gundam or even Amuro Ray in his original Gundam RX-78-2. The armor used on the ground-type Gundams is nowhere near as durable as that of its more famous counterpart, and as a result the combat scenarios become far more tactical and interesting.

Every mission is carefully planned by Shiro, and he relies on his teammates to bond as a unit (even if that process is gradual and they don't feel any real reason to respect him on his first day planetside). Shiro interacts with local villagers, and through this the series does a great job of painting a very vivid picture of a small, contained environment, whereas some other Gundam series tend to aim for a grander scale. The storytelling is arguably where 08th MS Team makes the strongest divergence from traditions of the Gundam franchise. Not only is the Earth Federation's perspective presented through Shiro, his squadmates, and a handful of superior officers, but members of Zeon get a fair share of time in the spotlight as well. Aina and Gineas Sahalin are members of one of Zeon's noble families, and Aina looks after her brother whose illness and stress over research projects meant to act as trump cards of the Federation forces cause him a great deal of stress. Before she even arrives on Earth, Aina has a chance encounter with Shiro, and the two eventually find themselves caught up in a difficult romance scenario.

What follows is a gradual mounting of attacks from one faction against the other. Zeon continues research and development of the mega-powerful mobile armor Apsalus, while the Federation forces constantly target key Zeon bases in an effort to push back their enemies. Shiro and Aina both question the morality of what they are fighting for, and as a result Shiro is brought before a Federation council for interrogation on his true allegiances, while Aina tries to convince her brother Gineas that the Apsalus project is not worth risking both his physical and mental well-being for. The combination of a classic Romeo and Juliet love story barred by a larger conflict plays out interestingly in this Gundam setting, and makes for one of the best Gundam series ever made due largely to the fact that it is driven by quality storytelling that knows exactly where it is going from the outset and does not find itself bogged down by unnecessary subplots.

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