Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team is an OVA released between 1996 and 1999, detailing the story of the titular 08th MS Team and their operations in the Southeast Asian Theater during the second half of the One Year War. While on the way to his assignment with the 08th Team, Ensign Shiro Amada, the team’s young commander, comes into conflict with Aina Sahalin, a beautiful Zeon test pilot; feelings develop almost instantly between the two, and both are destined to fight once again in the jungles of Southeast Asia. While in combat, Shiro quickly discovers that Aina is the test pilot of the Apsalus, a mighty mobile armor created by her older brother Ginias. The Apsalus has one target: the Federation headquarters at Jaburo. Can the 08th Team defeat Zeon in time before countless lives are lost to the Apsalus? And how can Shiro and Aina rectify their feelings amidst the horrors of war?
At first glance, one might think 08th MS Team is just Romeo and Juliet with Gundams, but in reality it is so much more. While the romance between Aina and Shiro is a key plot point it is not the only thread running through the story. Aina faces her own demons as she has become Ginias’s pawn over the years, used for whatever ends the young noble sees fit; she cannot resist when tasked with flying the Apsalus, and whether or not to stand up for herself and risk betraying her family is a deep-seated conflict within the young woman. Meanwhile, Norris Packard, Aina’s father figure and a Zeon ace pilot, worries about what will become of Aina in the future; he, like several other Zeon officials, is suspicious of Ginias…and not without good reason. Ginias is a man of ambition: his only goal is completion of his prized mobile armor and the destruction of Jaburo. Ginias is willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to see this goal achieved, sending comrades to their deaths merely to see his grand design completed.
The 08th Team has its own share of drama. Shiro is a rookie commander, having never given orders or developed combat tactics on such a scale; as a result, he makes many mistakes in early missions, almost costing the team’s lives. Terry Sanders Jr., simply known as Sanders throughout the series, is an experienced pilot, yet harbors a great fear in his heart; nicknamed “The Reaper” since all the members of his previous teams, except him, died on their third mission together. Michel Ninorich, a young petty officer, pines for his beloved B.B. and can barely stand the war’s persistence. Eledore Massis, an aspiring musician whose expert ears are now used to locate Zeon forces, wants nothing more than the chase women and write songs; he is often distracted from their mission. Finally, Master Sergeant Karen Joshua, second-in-command of the team, has difficulty serving Shiro and is full of anger at his klutzy mistakes in their early encounters with the enemy. As the series progresses, however, each character finds his or her own place and grows to become a stronger individual though not without suffering the pain of loss.
08th MS Team’s story is fairly good, with some interesting uses of betrayal, intrigue, and confusion. There are numerous exciting moments, and even several heartwarming ones. I will say, however, that the plot in some episodes is nothing too complex, boiling down to “there are some Zeon somewhere, let’s defeat them, OK break!” Even so, a few episodes are gems and highlight the development of the characters. “The Time Limit on Trust,” for instance, showcases Shiro’s love for his team, while “The Shuddering Mountain Part 1,” the best episode by far, exhibits the team’s determination while also showing that even through all their struggles they still feel fear and uncertainty. I must also note that the series is presented in such a way that you don’t need to know anything about the One Year War in order to understand and enjoy it; in fact, this was the first UC Timeline series I ever watched, and I followed along just fine. The story is, ultimately, above average, though not necessarily deep or astounding.
Though the story is not amazingly complex, the action is second-to-none. 08th MS Team includes some of the best fights in Gundam history. The fight choreography is exceptional and each battle will have you on the edge of your seat, excited to see what will happen next. These invigorating battles are the result of great writing and superb animation, the latter of which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly. I also like that this series attempts to portray Mobile Suits in a more realistic light; as a result, there is a greater use of tactics during combat and the battles seem like authentic military operations. Additionally, the series makes use of other believable battle tropes: mobile suits run out of ammo, parts break, and pilots make grave errors. All these facts make the series much more enjoyable, as the weakness of the mobile suits reflects on the fragility of their pilots: humans can break, so why can’t the giant robots they drive?
The artwork in 08th MS Team is great. The mecha designs are perhaps the best in any Gundam series and, though an OVA, introduces us to some amazing mobile suits. From the RX-79, a mass produced Gundam, to the RGM-79 GM Sniper type, the series is loaded with creative mobile suits that one can really believe the Federation and the Zeon would have used even if they did not appear in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. These suits exhibit key tactical roles in a war of this nature, injecting further realism into this anime. I couldn’t talk about 08th, however, without referencing one of the most popular mobile suits of all time: the Gouf Custom. Norris Packard busts out this bad boy in the second-to-last episode of the series and, in my opinion, steals the show in such a way that the final episode seems banal in comparison. The Gouf Custom is effectively the creators of Gundam saying, “Let’s see how many awesome weapons we can throw on one suit and still make it somewhat realistic.” They sure went to town with the Gouf Custom: it has a gattling gun, heat sword, 3-barrel arm mounted machine gun, shield, and a heat wire. Truly, the conflict between the 08th Team and the Gouf Custom is the most epic fight in any Gundam series I’ve ever seen, and I’ve included a link to it at the bottom of this article for anyone who’s interested in watching.
I’ve talked a lot about the mecha designs, but now let’s discuss the characters. The animators definitely made great choices with the characters in 08th: each one has his or her own unique hair color and style of dress. As a result, each one looks vastly different from the others, but these choices are not purely aesthetic; on the contrary, every individual in the series dresses and comports him or herself in a way that reflects his or her characteristics. Aina, for instance, initially dresses in a very military style, even when not in combat, yet as she lets her guard down and falls in love with Shiro she selects feminine fashion, something Ginias notes with contempt as he feels his hold on her slipping. Similarly, Shiro begins to wear fewer and fewer layers of clothing in the cockpit of his Gundam; though this is clearly to resist sweating in the jungle heat, it also indicates how he is allowing himself to feel more comfortable and closer with his men. Ultimately, the artwork is great and has withstood the test of time to remain among the Gundam pantheon of great designs.
08th MS Team’s voice acting is above average for both the Japanese and English audio tracks. In my opinion, the Japanese voice actor for Shiro, Nobuyuki Hiyama, is better at displaying emotion than his English counterpart, Steve Staley. Other than this instance, however, I feel the two groups of voice actors are nearly equal. Both portray their characters with gusto, the voices matching the attitudes and personalities of the key players. Norris Packard, Ginias Sahalin, and Karen Joshua have some of the best voices in my opinion. Overall, I feel I prefer the dub, mainly because some of their diction flows better, though for those who prefer to watch the original you won’t be disappointed with the Japanese performances.
The music in 08th must be commended. The stellar instrumental tracks give each battle the requisite amount of heroism, drama, and excitement. Though I keep referencing it, the battle between the 08th Team and the Gouf Custom provides us with some of the best music in any Gundam series to date. Now and then the music may seem a little odd, such as when Shiro attempts to help Aina’s Apsalus take off from a frozen mountain, but looking back it fits the emotion of the scene, escalating the feelings between the two until Shiro directly declares his love for Aina. I also like the opening theme; it’s easy for it to get stuck in your head even though it seems a bit light for a Gundam series. Thus, the music is a great part of the series.
08th MS Team is, overall, my second favorite Gundam series, losing out only to War in the Pocket, which I reviewed previously. The series contains some of the most exciting battles in the franchise’s history involving some of the coolest mobile suits. Though the story is somewhat predictable at times, it is still enjoyable and entertaining. This OVA is only 11 episodes (12 if you count the horrendous “The Last Resort,” which I prefer to pretend doesn’t exist) so it’s fairly easy to watch for someone pressed for time. It’s a must-see for any Gundam fan, and even people with little to no interest in mecha will still enjoy the series for its drama and action.
Brett Simon is a twenty-two year old mecha fan. The best holiday gift he received was a Gouf Custom model.
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