Some shows will remain great forever, and some eventually need to be given a little leeway due to the times in which they were made, or how one particular aspect was mishandled slightly. This is one of the latter, I think.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 8th MS Team is meant to be the story of a forbidden love between officers on opposite sides of a great war, and how their love is the hinge on which turns the fate of many.
From what I gather, it’s something of a side-story to the very first, the original, Gundam series, taking place within the time frame of the war between the Earth Federation and the Duchy of Zeon, but is entirely self-contained within that continuity. The events here could have had a tremendous impact on the main storyline if things had gone differently. As is, I have to admire the story that was crafted, and how every loose end was tied off in ways that made sense. The one thing, really, that seemed truly forced was, well, the love story, and just how radically it influenced both of the lead characters.
For all the love stories that exist in the entire Gundam franchise, and for all that we can easily ship the many couples which result, it does still have to be said: most of the couples are simply just made to happen, because they need to happen for the story to happen. The same holds very much true for the central romance here, between Shiro Amada and Aina Sahalin.
It does make for an interesting story, I will admit. Colliding together as enemies, forced to momentarily set aside their differences and work together to survive, a handsome man and a beautiful woman, both of them strong and capable, are left with a lingering affection that transcends the lines on the battlefield. When they meet for a second time, however, is when things take a turn towards the dramatic instead of the realistic. Once again, they are enemies who have to work together to survive, and both of them are much more willing to do so after the first time. Here, they fall fast and hard, and it dramatically changes their entire outlook of the war around them, seeing the wastefulness of it, for the good people dying on both sides. They love each other, and so hate to see even their enemies die, as if they were the first ones in history to realize the humanity of their enemy.
As overly dramatic as this is, it is matched by the quickly growing insanity and inhumanity on both sides of the battlefield, most especially in Aina’s own brother, Ginias. He’s a mad scientist leading the development of a new weapon, one which would allow his side to strike straight at the heart of their enemies, to utterly wipe them out in a single blow. As the clock ticks and the pressure mounts, Ginias grows ever more unstable in his delusions of grandeur, until he is drugging his workers, assassinating his superiors, murdering his own team, enacting massive slaughter with the push of a button, and ultimately turning on his own sister. He rejects love as a weakness of brain chemistry, and sees no human life as having value except as it furthers his own ends.
In between these two extremes, of loving even one’s enemies and loving no one at all, are most of the rest of the cast.
There are the rebellious guerrillas, who are steadfast friends and loyal, as exemplified in their princess of sorts, Kiki Rosita. But their passions are often unwise and unrestrained, such as in Kiki’s unrequited feelings for Shiro, whose heart is already taken. Even worse is when their anger runs amok at the wrong moment, seeking revenge for a minor wrong that quickly cascades into the tragedy of mutual slaughter.
There is the general attitude of loyal camaraderie among Zeon soldiers. They may be cunning and ruthless in battle, but they regularly put their lives on the line for each other. All the more heart-breaking when an ace pilot chooses to die fulfilling his mission, rather than kill the enemy soldier which Aina, who is as a daughter to him, loves with all her heart. And all the more infuriating when such loyal soldiers are betrayed and murdered in cold blood.
And, of course, there are the members of the 8th MS team itself. Led by Shiro, they consist of a lovesick newbie who is always writing to his sweetie far away, a widowed veteran who demands the very best from herself and those around her, another veteran who seems cursed to lose all of his comrades, and an aspiring musician who fights just so he can survive and make music that the entire world will hear. Honestly, I loved the interactions between these people and the bonds they formed as they dealt with their respective issues in the midst of war. They really became good friends as they walked through the crucible together, nearly dying several times.
Speaking of, I have to appreciate the combination of sci-fi wonder with realistic details of warfare and mechanics. They never shout about it, but they show it all the time, like when they need to keep coolant flowing in a sniper’s beam-rifle. That’s one of many details that make the entire show feel more grounded, real, and significant. As opposed to, say, certain other iterations in the Gundam franchise which largely leave such realism behind, and so have to go the extra mile in other ways to feel as significant as this series, which is a fraction of the length of its peers.
Mind you, that realism cuts both ways. Not only does Shiro and Aina’s shared revelation that the enemy is not all villainous seem all the more contrived and forced when contrasted with such grounded details, but… well… did they really have to show Kiki and Aina nude like that?! I know it’s only for a moment, and each of them was bathing in their respective scenes, but full-frontal nudity is full-frontal nudity. That’s a pretty severe point against the show, especially considering how young Kiki obviously is.
With that in mind, I would have to say that 8th MS Team falls a little short of everything it aspires to, but that may simply be because of how brief it is. It mishandles the love story which is integral to its theme, but given what they had to work with, I can’t say they did the worst job ever. I enjoyed the depiction of war and of both sides of said war, and I very much appreciate the message of it, the argument that we must love even our enemies to some extent. It’s not a kids’ show, or a great show, but it’s still a good show.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.