Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – “Battle in Three Dimensions”

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! I’ve never watched “Miller’s Report” chances are I’ve never seen “Battle in Three Dimensions” either. In case you haven’t realized it, this rewatch is over. This is the last post.

Summary: “Battle in Three Dimensions”:
Original Release: February 22, 2013

This special short is set during the middle of the series. Eledore is away being treated for his injuries and Michel is stuck co-piloting the hover truck with Sanders. Michel is writing a letter to B. B. and we learn that he feels Sanders is a difficult person to talk to and it makes for awkward situations when he has to spend time with him.

The 08th team is out on a mission. They reach a large bridge and begin to cross. Karen’s Gundam gets hit by a Zaku sniper and she is knocked out by the blast. A Gouf Flight Type jumps over the bridge and shoots at Shiro. The Gouf’s pilot remarks how tough the Gundams are, obviously expecting that his surprise attack would have been more successful against Shiro’s Gundam. Shiro manages to use the sniper rifle from Karen’s mobile suit to destroy the Zaku sniper. That evens out the battle and makes it a one-on-one fight. The Gouf’s superior manoeuvrability gives it the advantage and Shiro isn’t able to make a successful hit. The battle isn’t really one-on-one though since Shiro has Michel and Sanders providing him support. They use a cable to send Michel over the bridge to communicate the Gouf’s movements to Shiro who uses it to shoot the Zeek pilot’s mobile suit. Shiro manages to destroy the Gouf with the use of his beam saber.

Michel and Sanders become chummy as soon as the fight ended but things return to the familiar awkwardness in the evening. Sanders seems to realize how uncomfortable things are so he offers Michel a cigarette and he refuses since he’s underage. Embarrassed for asking, Sanders walks out of the hover truck. Michel runs after him and says that he’s sorry for turning him down but, if he offered coffee, he’d have a drink with him. He hands Sanders his cup. The episode ends, suggesting that they bond over coffee.

The title refers to the fighting style of the Gouf pilot. Gundam wikia has this to say about the experimental mobile suit:
Developed as a refined version of the MS-07 Gouf Fligh t Type, the MS-07H-8 was a prototype unit designed to test the concept of an atmospheric flight-capable mobile suit, However, the Zeon military halted this unit's development to focus on the creation of a flying mobile suit. Despite the cancellation of the program, several experimental units still occasionally found their way into the field for testing. The MS-07H-8 featured an improved backpack fitted with more powerful thrusters and thermonuclear jet engines. Aerodynamic control surface wings were added to the backpack and waist armor, giving the MS-07H-8 more stability in flight. Although the unit was a vast improvement over its predecessors, tests revealed that the H8 still suffered the same problems encountered by previous versions: the engines were prone to overheating and consumed a lot of fuel at high altitudes and high speeds, limiting its range and flight time. 
So battle in three dimensions because the Gouf is effectively flying above and around Shiro’s RX-79(G) Ez-e Gundam, which is a ground type mobile suit. The title of the episode does not refer to 3D animation as I previously thought.

The episode is short. It’s about 9 minutes long including the credits. Because of the short length we do not get anything spectacular as far as character development goes but the inclusion of Michel and Sanders budding friendship does add a bit more depth (even if only a tiny bit) to what could otherwise have been a shot length action video of a Gundam battle.

The animation during this short is much better than anything previously seen in The 08th MS Team. It’s a joy to watch. I think it was a smart decision to focus on a mobile suit battle as opposed to characters because it’s easier to appreciate the level of animation when there is a lot of movement on screen. There is use a computer generated graphics but it’s mostly used for background like clouds and jungle vegetation. All in all, it’s a smoother integration with the more two dimensional characters and mobile suits compared to how CG and digital animation have been integrated in the past, particularly in the early 2000s.

It’s kind of shitty that Karen gets taken out so early in the episode. I think it would have been nice to see her participate in the battle. Mostly though, the show exists to give Shiro yet another good mobile suit battle. On a final note, I love seeing the Gundams with their backpacks on. They’re just so big and blocky. What do they have in there?

Last Stop:
Here ends my rewatch (and part . . . first watch) of the entire Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team. I have to admit that going into the rewatch I was equal parts excited and worried. Excited because this, as far as I could remember, is my favourite Gundam series but I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up well under additional scrutiny. I was also worried that the less than stellar episodes (and the one really terrible episode) would only be worse than what I remember. I realize now that I shouldn’t have worried because The 08th MS Team holds up pretty well.

The themes developed in the show are rather typical for a Gundam series as well as for military fiction. Several characters are defined by the way they view and interpret the acts of war or peace and two characters in particular (Shiro and Aina) are complicated by their opposing ideals of peace and their roles in the war. While nothing is really done with these themes to make the show more memorable than another, they’re handled well for the most part. The consistency in Shiro’s behaviour during the revelation and development of his character arc is well done. What makes the show really stand out is its attention to realism in the context of the larger Gundam metaseries.

In one episode they call for a lunch break in the middle of a mission. There is as much interesting conflict outside of the mobile suits than there is in them, not everything is about the mobile suits (but they still play the primary role in the series). The inclusion of a support team piloting the hover truck is a nice way to ground the action but the best of all is that these Gundams sustain battle damaged and it doesn’t magically disappear once the credits role. Not only that but the Gundams break down and sometimes it’s for a simple a reason as a filter clogged with sand. It’s also refreshing and interesting to see battles fought on the ground as opposed to the free for all, no rules combat in space. The added realism to this series also increases the viewer’s concern for the characters’ well-being since we’re shown multiple times that these Gundams are not infallible. Both those elements combined with good character development (some of these characters are more developed than the main characters of Gundam Wing and Gundam SEED) make for a slightly more serious Gundam show that isn’t without humour or impressive action sequences. Not only would I recommend this show to fans of all things Gundam but I would also try to introduce someone to the metaseries with the help of this show.   

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – “Miller’s Report”

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! I’m such a fraud. I’ve never seen this before so I can’t truthfully call it a rewatch, can it? Well yes, I can. As long as I use a disclaimer! Caution: not actual rewatch ahead. Commentary might be poor due to the lack of familiarity with “Miller’s Report”.

Summary: “Miller’s Report”:
Original Release: August 1, 1998

The episode begins with a recap of the desert episode where the 08th team set up an ambush for the Apsalus. It shows the beginning of the ambush up to the point where the Apsalus flies away with Shiro in tow. The title card appears and a voiceover by Alice Miller describes the setting of the story. She’s been sent to the Kojima base to investigate the development of a new Zeon mobile armour (the Apsalus). We’re introduced to Miller properly when Shiro is brought to her by other soldiers. She’s in a hangar and she’s studying the wreckage of the Apsalus. This takes place ten days after Shiro’s return to base, presumably after his inquiry. Miller is familiar with the details of the events of Shiro’s time in the mountains with Aina. She informs him that he’s being investigated for espionage. Shiro dismisses the accusations as ridiculous and Miller agrees with him but she tells him that it’s very difficult to convince the higher-ups to change their minds. She tells him that the only way to prove his innocence is to tell the truth about what happened in the mountains.

Miller knows about Aina and when she tells Shiro, he thinks back to the events of the first episode and parts of it are replayed. While he appears to be remembering these events, he’s actually recounting them to Miller. He also tells her about the events of the inquiry.

The viewer is also privy to more information as we get a scene that takes place at the base’s bar while Shiro is in the inquiry. The other members of the 08th team are talking about Shiro. Sanders is very vocal in how much he likes the captain. Karen isn’t as nice. She thinks Shiro is too simple minded and it’s that personality trait that makes her think he’d make a poor spy. These events are expanded upon from those we see in “Duty and Ideals”. It’s a very good episode and it’s nice that we get to see the consequences of that battle. Kojima decides to trust Shiro a little because he defeated the enemy but the mission he assigns him to is an extremely dangerous one with a low probability of survival. That mission is the one where they get air dropped: “Front Line”.

After he’s done telling the truth about the events that happened while he was with Aina, Miller confronts Shiro about the contradictory nature of his belief in peace and his actions against the Zakus. She fails to convince him to forget about his non-lethal strategy towards warfare and, with the support of his team, Shiro heads out on his new mission.

This movie is essentially a clip show which uses a combination of clips from episode of the OVA series and new clips which expand on them. After having just watched all 12 episodes, it’s kind of a bore to rewatch bits and pieces of it intercut with Miller’s interrogation of Shiro. It’s so uninteresting in fact that I can’t help but wonder why it was ever made.

I admit I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the short movie, my mind just started to wander, but I’m pretty sure that Miller doesn’t find out new information that viewers and fans of the OVA don’t already know. It makes me wonder who the intended audience for this short movie is. Surely the point can’t be for to show viewers that Miller attempted and failed to reform Shiro as a mindless soldier of the Earth Federation Forces. What this movie does it take some the good episodes (desert ambush, inquiry episode/Zaku attack on the guerrilla village) and cuts it up with new footage of Miller’s investigation and the result is a re-edit of those episodes that lessens their impact. I get a feeling it was meant to do the opposite and make it more interesting but it fails to do that.

The focus of the story is Shiro’s relationship to Aina because that, Miller believes, is the key to understanding Shiro. By getting a good understanding of Shiro she will be able to determine whether or not he is a spy and poses a risk to the Federation. The problem is that concentrating on Shiro and Aina is to focus the short movie (well, more of a long episode) on one of the most uninteresting and poorly development storylines of the series.

The conversation between the members of the 08th Team is the most enjoyable scene in the movie. It’s nice to see their personality being expressed for an entire scene. Most of the series gives us snippets of each individual while keeping the center of attention on Shiro. Such a small scene doesn’t make up for the otherwise uninteresting movie, though.

The best part of the episode is just the 08th team talking about their situation. I like this bunch and just having them talk to each other is more interesting than the clichéd diatribe Miller spouts throughout the movie.

The only thing this movie is successful at is tarnishing the superior OVA episodes that precede it. Yes, even the first episode and the one with Shiro and Aina in the mountains are better than this movie. Two decent episodes and two very good ones are used in what amounts to an extended and poorly re-edited montage of good and bad scenes from the series.

At least the next mini-episode, the subject of my final post in this rewatch, was made up of entirely new footage. It’s also pretty great. See you tomorrow.  

I Went to the Bookstore and Something Incredible Happened

I went to my local Chapters today to pick up the newly released (in mass market paperback) Star Wars: Kenobi. I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t you the guy who just wrote an essay on why old books are better and buying from used book stores is a good way to support local economy.” Well yes. I also buy new books. Sue me.

Since I still had some wiggle room left in my monthly book budget, I also wanted to pick up another paperback. Choosing which other book to buy was, as always, a difficult decision. I settled on Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. When I was at the cash, this happened:

A Female Cashier scanned my books and took my payment. A Male Cashier nearby comes and snoops at the books I’m buying.

Male Cashier: “Alright, Sanderson. He’s the man. You’ve got good taste!”

He runs away. I don’t say anything and neither do my fiancée and Female Cashier. I’m punching the keypad and completing my purchase when Male Cashier comes back and puts a book on top of the books I’m buying. For a split second I think “Hey, whoa dude. I love books but I’ve got to stick to my budget.” Naturally, I start to wonder what it is when he says, “Take it. It’s free. You’ll like it, I’m sure.”

This is what he put on the counter:

“Oh neat, but I already own it.” (It’ll be reviewed someday, I promise).

Female Cashier: “Oh do you?”

Male Cashier: “Flip it!”

So Female Cashier flips it and:

Male Cashier: “It’s a sample of two other book by Brandon Sanderson. Take it! I haven’t read the other one but The Way of Kings was awesome!”

Needless to say, I was very pleased that Chapters and the co-ed Cashiers are pimping out Sanderson. It was doubly awesome because while in the aisle, for a brief moment, I almost chose to buy Mistborn. I chose not to because I have a big to read pile and I’d rather not get committed to yet another trilogy or series at this time. The really cool thing is that The Way of Kings collects the entire first part of the novel. That’s nearly 200 pages! Both books together are nearly 300 pages of free fantasy goodness. For those who have seen the mass market paperback of The Way of Kings it’s fat. It’s so thick it’s difficult to hold. When I eventually get to reading it I’ll probably start reading the sample book just because it’ll be easier to hold. Once I’m done I’ll most on to the complete, ultra thick, copy.

I might do a little giveaway contest once I’m done reading the sampler. Don’t keep your eyes peeled or anything. It’s likely going to take some time. Until then enjoy you non-free books while I enjoy this awesome sampler by a fantasy novelist I really like. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 12 Last Resort

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! The rewatch has successfully confirmed that this is a good Gundam show but this episode might ruin everything. I remember it being bad. Really bad. Will it redeem itself after years of being aired? Probably not.

Summary: Episode 12 “Last Resort”:
Original Airdate: July 25, 1999
English Airdate: Never aired

December 24, UC 0079. The One Year War has ended. On Earth, Michel is on a board and he’s thinking about the end of the war and the giant machines left behind on old battlefields. We learn that the members leftover from the 08th MS Team where shipped around the globe as part of the post-war reorganization. Michel received a discharge and he now spends his time looking for Shiro who he believes is still alive. He does this with the help of Kiki. They find a Zeon spaceship that crashed into the jungle. They investigate and find out that someone is living in the jungle. They spend the night in the ship.

When they wake up the next day, Kiki and Michel find themselves tied up on a raft piloted by the children from the Zeon ship. They float through a village that has been flooded during the war. The children are taking them to their leader and on the way there, they pass a few graves in a field. Upon arrival they are ask to provide their names and rank. They’re very hostile towards them. The kids were drafted during the war and now that it’s over, they’re just trying to lead a peaceful existence in an abandoned village in the jungle.

Michel is speculating as to why they don’t come out of hiding and surrender themselves to the Earth Federation. He thinks they crash landed their ship on purpose to escape from the war. Thanks to Kiki’s quick thinking, they escape. The find the kids digging yet another grave in the field. They bury a girl with blue hair. She’s bandaged and we can’t see her face. Kiki interrupts them, taken aback by their lack of respect for their dead friend. Kiki puts numerous flowers into the grave and conducts a makeshift funeral. Kiki doesn’t understand how strangely the kids are behaving and she gets them to talk about the woman and how they knew her. One of the kids says her name was Aina. Kiki and Michel are surprised. She shows them a picture of Shiro asking them if they recognize him. The oldest of the children tells them Shiro is dead.

Later, Kiki confronts the leader and asks him who that girl really was. She says Aina wasn’t that young. She thinks the children are hiding things and she wants to know what it is. The next night Kiki and Michel go grave digging. They feel bad about it but finding out the truth is that important for them. The kids, without the leader, arrives and tells them the graves they’re digging up are empty. The children share their story. A man named Dr. Flanagan was conducting tests on them. After their ship crashed the man died and the children were eventually found by Shiro and who taught them how to survive. They gave all the kids some names (the names of the members of the 08th team and their friends). That’s what the leader of the group is scared of losing. He worries that Kiki and Michel will take away his name and his identity. Kiki calms him down by telling him that she, no anyone else, can ever take away his name.

Later, it begins to snow. They use the wreck of a Zeon mobile suit and they use it to warm up the water in the river and they swim around. It’s a trick Shiro showed them. The leader tells them where Shiro and Aina went. They’ve travelled North in the hopes of finding a new world to live in. When Kiki wakes up the next morning, she finds that the kids have disappeared and they haven’t even left a single footprint in the snow. She and Michel start to think maybe they never met them. Michel is thinking either an illusion or ghosts but Kiki just thinks they left in search of a new world, like Shiro and Aina.

That’s basically what Kiki and Michel have been looking for. A new life. That’s why they’re searching for Shiro and Aina. The episode ends with them finding the pair. Aina is pregnant. D’aaawwww.

While “The Shuddering Mountain, part 2” was a bland ending for a series, in part because of its lack of denouement following the show’s climax, “Last Resort” is no better. Actually, it’s worse. It doesn’t give us much of anything to enjoy. The story with the kids is forced and filled with clichés. More importantly, they don’t matter at all. They’re just an aside to the main story of Kiki and Michel’s search for Aina and Shiro. With such vague directions as simply travelling North, it’s difficult to believe that they even find them in the end. Why Michel and Kiki? They’ve both lost someone important to them and I guess Shiro is now the most important person in their lives which isn’t all that hard to believe because he has that endearing naiveté and strong personality which makes for a memorable friend.

Attempts at character development are made. Michel carries around a picture of B. B., the woman he wrote to during the entire length of the series. In the picture she is seen wearing a wedding dress and accompanied by a man (who’s face has been scribbled over) and holding a baby. That’s kind of rough for Michel, especially when you consider that her letter earlier in the series in which she said she can’t deal with the uncertainty of whether or not Michel will survive the war was probably bullshit. She just found another guy.  

The sad thing about this episode is that it doesn’t offer the viewer anything interesting. It doesn’t even work wells as a story about what soldiers (enlisted and guerrillas) do after a war is ended. Again, it’s all clichés. Michel becomes a lazy drunk with no ambition and Kiki becomes obsessed with finding a man who once rejected her love for him. What is she going to do when she meets Shiro? Does she plan on living with him and Aina and butting in our the life they’re making together? It just seems odd as I would have picture her living the rest of her life in her village, surrounded by friends. I also don’t know why Michel stayed on Earth. I guess he’s still heartbroken by B. B.’s decision to marry another man and start a family of her own? Since I’m asking questions, can anyone tell me why is the episode called “Last Resort”?

This episode is the fucking worst. I’m done rewatching Gundam: The 08th MS Team OVA but there are still two posts left. Next up is “Miller’s Report”.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 11 The Shuddering Mountain, Part 2

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! There is still one episode to go after this one but really, this is the big finale. The final showdown against the Apsalus. Will the 08th Team survive? Probably, they’re the stars of the show!

Summary: Episode 11 “The Shuddering Mountain, Part 2”:
Original Airdate: April 15, 1999
English Airdate: August 6, 2001

Ginias is celebrating the completion of Apsalus and calling it his son. Blood drops out of his mouth as he stands victorious in front of his completed machine. Aina asks him where his research staff is (he murdered them in the first part of this episode) and, when he doesn’t respond, tells him to put on flight suit. The episode recaps what happened during the first part including the launch of Apsalus III and Shiro’s decision to resign from the service.

We learn through the use of a flashback that Karen was ordered by Ryer to kill Shiro if he deserted. When Sanders see that there is a mobile suit weapon locked on Shiro’s Gundam, he realizes that the higher-ups got to her too. She doesn’t kill him but she yells at him and Shiro’s Gundam walks away.

Aina, quite aware of her superior firepower, burns a perimeter at the bottom of the mountain. She gives the Federation commanders an ultimatum: if they do not cross that line she will not attack them. She hasn’t entirely given up her ideals of peace. She wants to evacuate the sick and injured from the mountain base. Karen comments that she understands why Shiro loves her, she’s as naïve in her way of thinking about war and peace than Shiro. War isn’t that simple, Karen thinks.

The Federation says they will not be intimidated but they agree to a ceasefire. Captain Ryer lied though and orders snipers to take out Aina who’s excited her cockpit. While outside watching the Kergeulen take off, Ginias steps into the pilot’s chair and starts attacking the Federation’s mobile suits. Captain Ryer orders that his forces shoot the Kergeulen. They do and it is destroyed. Kojima says to himself that the Federation is no better than the Zeeks, something that Shiro has been saying for a while. Infuriated by the Federation, Aina strikes out in angers and fires a beam shot right about the Federation’s command center and destroys a huge part of a nearby mountain.

Aina and Ginias argue over their conflicting philosophies. She pities him for attributing so much value to war and his Apsalus Project. He shoots her and she falls off the Apsalus but Shiro manages to catch her with his Gundam. Ginias blames Shiro for influencing Aina and making her disagree with her brother. He accuses Shiro of being the reason she died. A mobile suit shoots one of the legs of the Apsalus and it crashes to the ground. Ryer tells Karen to capture the enemy pilot, Aina, and execute Shiro since he deserted in the face of the enemy. Kojima disagrees with Ryer. He orders Karen to assemble the troops; they’re running a different mission now. Kojima goes against his superior’s order stating that even though they’re waging war, there are certain lines that cannot be crossed and Ryer crossed it when he ordered the Kergeulen, carrying sick and wounded passengers, destroyed.

Kojima’s orders are to destroy the Apsalus and take Shiro into custody. Reunited once again, Shiro and Aina are happy. The rest of the 08th Team, accompanied by Kojima, are racing to the Apsalus. They want to get there before the sniper does so that they can capture Shiro and prevent the Sniper from killing him. Aina and Shiro are piloting the Gundam (damaged while battling the Gouf in part 1) together and are trying to destroy the Apsalus. The Sniper destroys the Gundam’s entire right arm but Shiro and Aina are still alive. Ginias turns his attention to them. He’s preparing a full power blast to destroy the remaining Federation troops. Shiro apologizes to Aina letting her know that he plans on killing Ginias. Ginias fires at the command centre, killing captain Ryer and many others but most of the troops survive because Shiro pushed the Apsalus out of the way.

After firing the Apsalus, Shiro’s Gundam and the Apsalus fall into the heart of the mountain. Shiro’s voiceover says that not long after that day, the war ended. They never find Shiro or Aina but Michel writes to B. B. that he believes that Shiro is still alive.

The last shot is of Aina helping Shiro walk out of the mountain base.

I like the progression of the 08th Team throughout the series. In the beginning they’re very much a rag-tag team. Through hard work and having shared the hardships of several missions, they’ve become a tight group of respected colleagues, if not outright friends. Still, superior officers of the Federation military have contacted Sanders and Karen in an attempt to have greater control on what the team does. Orders from superior officers are threatening to pull the team apart. Sanders struggled with his conscience during the first part of “The Shuddering Mountain” but he overcame this when he confided in Shiro. He likely sided with Shiro and his team because this is the first time that Sanders is in an MS team that hasn’t be destroyed during their third mission. He’s never really had enough time to build camaraderie with his fellow soldiers and he can’t let that go, even if ordered to do so by Captain Ryer.

In this episode, we learn that Karen was ordered to execute Shiro if he deserted. Ever since the events of Episode 8 “Duty and Ideals” it’s been clear that Shiro’s commanding officer, Kojima, no longer believes in Shiro’s ability to wage war with the enemy. He is of the opinion that Shiro is blinded by unrealistic ideals of peace. Karen’s a different kind of person than Sanders. She’s by the books. She takes insubordination seriously and has even been known to point it out to her commander when her own team members acted against orders (such as in episode “The Broken Order to Standby”). She can’t follow through on the orders to kill Shiro but she does call him out for his decision to abandon his team. She doesn’t deal well with abandonment, likely because her husband died doing a heroic (read: foolish) gesture. Something she’s had difficulty forgiving him for.

Shiro’s decision to kill Ginias is compatible with his behaviour throughout the series. At first he was trying to damage the Apsalus and make it unfit for battle but after Aina told him that Ginias is preparing for a blast at full power, he changes his tactics. The full power blast would destroy the entire area. He wants to protect his friends and the only way to do that is to destroy the Apsalus which will also kill Ginias.

The most disappointing this about this episode is the ending. It’s a bit of a letdown after the stellar action from the first half of the episode. It also doesn’t successfully deal with the implications of Shiro’s decision to leave the Federation forces, Aina’s decision to aid Shiro in putting an end to her brother’s plans or the consequences of Karen and Sanders breaking a direct order from a superior. It’s likely that Kojima let the Karen and Sanders off the hook because the orders came from Captain Ryer who proved to have no respect in how war is waged. In short, my main problem with the ending is that it feels like the two-part episode wasn’t really building towards anything other than the destruction of the Apsalus and when that happens, the episode just stops. There isn’t a denouement and that’s affecting the overall quality, not only of this episode but of the series as a whole. I guess that’s why they made another episode which serves as an epilogue. If memory serves me right, the episode marks a further decline in quality that this episode.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 10 The Shuddering Mountain, Part 1


Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! The little OVA that could continues to impress. This episode marks the first half of the climactic finale of the show and we’re treated with a great mobile suit battle. It’s one of my favourites.

Summary: Episode 10 “The Shuddering Mountain, Part 1”:
Original Airdate: July 25, 1998
English Airdate: August 3, 2001

Federation Jet Core Boosters attack the Zeon mountain base where Ginias is finalizing his Apsalus project. It’s a bombing run. Captain Norris Packard, who we’ve seen in several episodes before, counterattacks the Jet Core Boosters with a Gouf mobile suit. The Federation also brought MS teams and Guntanks as reinforcements. The 08th Team is part of those reinforcement forces.

Zeon’s plan is to evacuate the mountain base and escape in the Kergeulen. The 07th Team heads into the tunnels which lead to the centre of the base. It’s the Federation’s fourth attempt to infiltrate the base and, so far, 9 teams have been put out of commission. Captain Ryer suggests trying to destroy the entire mountain and not just the base within. Base commander Kojima is reluctant to do so since it would likely require the use of nuclear armaments which are forbidden by the Antarctic Treaty (confirm treaty name). Since mobile suits are powered by a nuclear reactor, Ryer suggests that they intentionally cause a mobile suit meltdown. A suggestion that Kojima is shocked to hear.

Aina is coordinating the evacuation and giving careful attention to the injured. After having a heart to heart with Norris, her friend sets out in his Gouf to clear a path for the escaping Kergeulen. Unheard to Norris, Aina vows that if anybody harms Shiro it will be her and she’ll be going into the afterlife along with him.

Back in the ruined city, Eledore hears a sound he’s familiar with. It’s a Gouf, piloted by Norris. He engages with the 08th Team. Norris proves to be an excellent pilot. The 08th Team feels as though they’re being played with. Because the Gouf is so fast and the Gundams’ vision is obstructed by all the buildings, command is given to Eledore. Using his ground sonar and the rest of the equipment in the hover truck, he will guide the MS pilots during the fight.

While Karen and Sanders fight very well, the real standout is Shiro. He’s not an enhanced or super pilot like some of the main characters from other Gundam series, but he’s very capable. He goes head to head with a pilot he admitted is better than any of the pilots in the 08th Team. He’s scared but he still does it. Norris defeats Shiro but doesn’t destroy his mobile suit entirely nor does he kill him. But he does use Shiro and his Gundam as a shield. Freaking out in a mobile suit which has had its fuses blown, Shiro starts screaming that he wants to lives. He reboots his Gundam, rips off his broken arm and starts attacking the Gouf again. He screams that he wants to marry Aina and grown old. Norris realizes that he’s been fighting the man Aina loves.

Shiro kills Norris by cutting his mobile suit in half but not before Norris can destroy another Guntank. Shiro failed to protect his comrades in the Guntank division. Disappoint by his performing and the senseless killing, Shiro announces to his team that he’s leaving the Federation’s military service.

Back in the mountain base, the Apsalus is completed and while toasting to victory with his top advisors, Ginias watches as the poisoned wine takes effect. He can now claim all of the glory and recognition for the completion of the Apsalus. Again, Eledore hears a sound he recognizes and he warms the team that Aina is about to pay them a visit. The completed Apsalus III, a larger model than what we’ve seen before, shoots out of the mountain. Its beam weapon destroys the mountainside.

There isn’t much character development in the series anymore and that’s ok because there isn’t really a need for it. Since enough episodes have been used to develop the characters, all we need now are small moments, such as what the characters say during a battle, to sustain their individual characteristics for the viewer. Since this is the beginning of the show’s climax, it’s fitting that the focus shifts to the action. The tension and excitement of watching the mobile suit battles is intensified by the viewer’s emotional attachment to the members of the 08th Team which we’ve come to know and like since they were first introduced. The battles are even more exciting because The 08th MS Team’s careful attention to detail and added realism helps to heighten the sense of danger for the characters. We know their Gundams aren’t invincible and we know that the enemy has better technology and weaponry but what the 08th Team has is great camaraderie and a willingness to do what is required of them to end conflict quickly. They’re also pretty fucking badass.

The highlight of this episode is without a bout the battle in the abandoned city. It’s great stuff. Battles in Gundam series have often been reduced to two mobile suits meet up, fire at each other head on, and the good guy defeats the bad guy. That there is a battle with a terrain worth mentioning (the abandoned city) is refreshing. That they also employ a strategy specific to that terrain and the technological capabilities of the enemy’s Gouf (using the hover truck’s ground sonar to direct the MS pilots) is also refreshing. It’s also nice to know that the enemy has very capable pilots that aren’t superhuman or anything like that. Norris has a custom Gouf which he’s clearly piloted numerous times in the past and he’s using his mobile suit to great effect. I also like that Shiro is presented with a challenge. At three against one, Norris holds his own and it makes for a great action sequence.

The show isn’t entirely focused on the action though. Parts of this episode are setup for the second half of “The Shuddering Mountain”. There is also additional character development between Aina and Norris. We learn that Aina considers Norris to be a father figure for her and she’s greatly inspired (or intrigue) by a man who can be so compassionate and self-sacrificing towards his troops and Zeon civilians yet also be a considerable threat to the enemy’s forces.

There is one thing that confuses me and it’s how Ginias convinced Aina to pilot the Apsalus III. Shiro, despite his peaceful ideals, continues to battle with the 08th team because that’s his job. He’s a soldier. Refusing to do his duty can, and already has, resulted in disciplinary actions. Aina, as far as I can tell, isn’t part of Zeon’s military. She’s a civilian. She doesn’t have to do shit yet she continues to support Ginias’s Apsalus Project by being his pilot even though she disagrees with the project.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 09 Front Line

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! As we enter the last quarter of the series, things are getting serious. Even more serious than before! It’s hard to believe considering Eledore is back and spouting his disbelief at Shiro’s ability to fall in love in the middle of a war. Thought the episode doesn’t confirm it, I bet Eledore wrote a song about it.

Summary: Episode 09 “Front Line”:
Original Airdate: February 25, 1998
English Airdate: August 2, 2001

In a previous episode, Admiral Kellerne spoke to Ginias via teleconference and informed him that his soldiers are relocating to space. He believes the war will be won in space, not on Earth and so he commandeers the Kergeulen, a Zanzibar-class mobile suit carrier currently in Ginias’s possession. In doing so he effectively closed down the Apsalus project which infuriated Ginias. It didn’t really play a role in the episode in which this event occurred, but it setups some of the Zeon specific events of this episode.

Captain Isan Ryer, commander of the Eastern Asian war theatre, deploys the 08th MS Team on a mission. He’s hoping to exploit Shiro’s relationship with Aina and put an end to the Apsalus project. We also learn that Ryer has Shiro under close watch. In fact, Ryer commanded Sanders to report all of Shiro’s activities to him.   

The 08th Team prepares to get airdropped and Karen is noticeably nervous. It’s her first time being airdropped in a mobile suit and she’s talking to herself trying to remember the correct procedures for a successful drop. As soon as she’s out of the plane she sees a Gaul transport and attempts to engage. Shiro drops after here to assist. He tells the Gaul’s pilot to stop shooting, threatening to shoot them down if they don’t comply. They let the mobile suits go and Karen, along with the rest of the team, has a successful drop. Her luck doesn’t get much better though as she’s taken out by and Acguy, an amphibious mobile suit. She’s not injured but her Gundam is in poor shape and the enemy is still attacking. Unable to see due to her monitors being broken (the Gundam’s head was ripped off) Eledore climbs on the Gundam and helps her aim while Michel is distracts the enemy with the hover truck. Together, they manage to defeat the Acguy.

While moving into position, Sanders informs Shiro that Captain Ryer ordered him to report to Shiro’s activity to Ryer. Shiro doesn’t seem upset, in fact he’s sympathetic to the difficult position Sanders is in. They come face to face with several Magella Attack tanks and they’re being led by the captain who was piloting the Gaul. He hails Shiro on the radio and asks him why he didn’t shoot the Gaul when he had the chance? He doesn’t share Shiro’s weakness. He wouldn’t hesitate to attack. Shiro explains that he wanted to avoid needless bloodshed. The captain counters with “Is that why you’re about to shoot me down?” Shiro replies that he won’t fight simply because he’s ordered to but he will fight to protect his friend. This time he’ll actually shoot and he does. He destroys the Magella but the Zeon captain survives.

While the 08th Team was engaged in battle, Aina is helping to unload supplies at a Zeon base. She believes them to be medical supplies. A crate falls and breaks and Aina recognizes one of the drugs which the medical officer is administrating to the soldiers. It’s a stimulant which is being used to keep the soldiers working longer hours to speed up the construction of a new Apsalus under Ginias’s order. Aina tries to convince her brother to stop the Apsalus Project as it’s not only harming the soldiers, it’s also affecting him. Ginias is directly going against Killerne’s order by continuing to work on the Apsalus. In doing so, Ginias is withholding the Kergeulen which is in turn preventing Kellerne and his troops to return to space. Having found out that Kellerne didn’t report his order to end the Apsalus Project to his superior, Ginias traps Kellerne and his last remaining troops in a tunnel and kills them. Since there are no records that the order was given, Ginias is now free to pursue his project to completion.

This episode marks Eledore’s return and he’s surprised to hear that Shiro has a girlfriend fighting on the other side. Eledore can’t get over it and he keeps bringing up Aina throughout the episode trying to get the rest of the team to share everything they know about her with him. It’s nice to have him back because he’s a good source of comic relief. He’s not a total goof though, he’s also a skilled soldier and it’s that balance in his character that makes me like him so much. There are two other small character moments that I enjoyed in this episode. It was surprising to see Karen so nervous to be parachuted to the drop site. She’s usually confident in her ability to perform and she has a very self-assured attitude. Seeing her be so nervous doesn’t diminish the other aspect of her personality but it does help to balance things out and make her a well-rounded character.  I also enjoyed watching Sanders struggle with his conscience. He wants to admit to Shiro that he’s been reporting to his superiors before telling him later on in the episode. It’s a small moment but it shows just how much they’ve grown as a unit and how close they’ve all become. If he wasn’t close to Shiro he wouldn’t struggle with the decision to tell him. He would just continue doing as he’s told and leave his friend and commander in the dark.

It’s interesting that three important characters in this series have similar character arcs and all of them are related to individuals acting against the orders of their superiors.  I’m talking about Ginias, Shiro and Aina. All three of them are on good terms with their superiors and comrades when the series begins. As the series progresses, events in the war develop in a way that forces them to reject orders from their superiors in order to focus on personal goals. Ginias belives the Apsalus should be a priority for Zeon and when asked to shut down the project, he attacks Kellerne who is now an obstacle in the way of completing the Apsalus. Their allegiance as Zeon soldiers no longer holds any importance for Ginias. Likewise, orders to wage war in an efficient and cold blooded manner don’t sit well with Shiro. He does whatever he can to complete missions without killing the enemy’s troops is a difficult balancing act. His behaviour throughout the series informs the choices he will make in the episodes to follow. Aina, who doesn’t appear to be soldier per se, works for her brother on the Apsalus project. As soon as it became clear Ginias didn’t support her relationship with Shiro and her growing belief that the Apsalus will only result in increasing the number of casualties in the war, she begins to work against her brother.

Aina shows that her motivation to support her brother with the Apsalus Project might have been the result of her brother convincing her it’s the best thing to do. In an earlier episode she mentioned that she believed the Apsalus was a way to end the war quickly and therefore lead to peace negotiations more quickly. Now, she’s trying to convince Ginias to put an end to the Apsalus project as he was ordered to do. Ginias counters by asking her how she plans to end the war. His solution is to build stronger weapons and win by force. She doesn’t present one but she stands firm in her position that drugging their comrades is morally wrong. It’s a change in how her character perceives the war, specifically the necessity to wage war in order to achieve peace. It’s a change that resulted from her second encounter with Shiro, something that has affected both of them.

Aina shows that her motivation to support her brother with the Apsalus Project might have been the result of her brother convincing her it’s the best thing to do. In an earlier episode she mentioned that she believed the Apsalus was a way to end the war quickly and therefore lead to peace negotiations more quickly. Now, she’s trying to convince Ginias to put an end to the Apsalus project as he was ordered to do. Ginias counters by asking her how she plans to end the war. His solution is to build stronger weapons and win by force. She doesn’t present one but she stands firm in her position that drugging their comrades is morally wrong. It’s a change in how her character perceives the war, specifically the necessity to wage war in order to achieve peace. It’s a change that resulted from her second encounter with Shiro, something that has affected both of them.

I want to highlight once again just how much effort is put into making The 08th MS Team a more realistic Gundam series. I really appreciate. It’s simple things like the idea that mobile suits get airdropped and use a combination of parachutes and thruster packs to slow their descent. One of the things I disliked about other Gundam series is just how unrealistically the Gundams fly around (I’m thinking about you Mobile Suit Gundam). It’s also nice to see Gundams routinely break down. You might think that this series makes mobile suits look fragile in comparison to how they’re handled in other series but I think it makes sense. Mobile suits, especially Gundams which are often experimental or prototypes, are extremely complex machines. The more complicated a machine is, the easier it is for something to damage it in the way that will hinder its intended function. Two Gundams get damaged in this episode (Karen’s and Sanders’s) and it hinders the 08th team’s ability to complete their mission.

This episode mostly serves to setup the next episode which is in two parts. It’s putting the characters in place. It’s by no means a bad episode. We revisit characters we haven’t seen in a couple episodes and the viewer is brought up to speed on what all the characters are doing. The most notable of these are Eledore, Aina and Ginias. The episode still manages to make this setup interesting and include some good bits of action. It’s nice to see the Gundams parachuted down to their location and the Magella battle, though short, was nicely done. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 08 Duty and Ideals

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! Things get pretty serious in today’s episode and the series proves that Gundam isn’t just about giant robots fighting it out with beam sabers. It can also make you think about the price people are willing to pay to uphold their ideals of peace.

Summary: Episode 08 “Duty and Ideals”:
Original Airdate: December 18, 1997
English Airdate: August 1, 2001

Shiro Amada is facing an inquiry under suspicions of being a spy. Similarly, Aina is being interrogated by her brother Ginias for how she acted in the last episode. He believes she’s in love with Shiro but she argues that she was only trying to survive and doing so required working together with the enemy. Both of them argued that they believe there are good people on both sides of the war and believing in that gives them hope that one day there will be an end to the war. The Federation soldiers at the inquiry laugh at the idea. 

In the jungle, Kiki and some village children witness three Zakus walking up the river. The pilots appear to be lost. They spot the village and head there to get some food. Kiki is hoping that they can give the Zeon pilots the food they want and have them leave before they can discover that her village is the guerrilla resistance in the area.

At the Federation base, Michel, Karen and Sanders are spending time in the bar and other soldiers inform them of the situation happening at Kiki’s village and that the base commander doesn’t think it’s important to protect the village. The team goes to Shiro to let him what they’ve just found out. Shiro warns them that going to protect the village against the base commander’s wishes could get them court martialed. They just want to help their friend so Shiro orders them to help the village and by doing so put any potential blame solely on him. Jidan mentions that to the team but tells them there is another way. He shows them a blank order form with base commander Kojima’s signature on it which he is willing to sell but Shiro dismisses him. Karen, on the other hand, takes the form and follows the team.

They plan to take out the Zakus from a distance, 10 kilometers away. Shiro wants to avoid turning the village into a battle zone. One of the Zaku pilots is harassing the villagers and embarrassing them. One of the villagers gets pushed too far and launches an RPG into the Zaku’s open cockpit, effectively killing the pilot and destroying the mobile suit. The other pilots realize it’s a guerrilla village and they try to escape. The guerrillas aren’t going to them leave so easily and they attack in force.

Shiro tries to convince the villagers to lead the Zakus to the river to avoid the village’s destruction. They argue that they want to destroy the Zakus in retaliation for killing their chief, Kiki’s father. Shiro then admits that he doesn’t want to hurt the Zaku pilots or the villagers. The 08th Team proceeds to incapacitate the Zakus without killing their pilots. Shiro single handily takes out one Zaku armed only with a bazooka. Defeated, one of the Zaku pilots attempts to kill as many villagers with her as possible. Shiro is faced with the decision to either kill the enemy pilot or let the villagers die in the pilot’s final attack. He kills the Zeon pilot.

While the villagers mourn their lost after the bitter victory, Shiro contemplates just how difficult it is for him to live up to his ideals.

“Duty and Ideals” is an episode that brings to focus some of the main themes of the series: wars are fought by people and pacifism is a form of strength of character, not a weakness. Shiro’s reluctance to kill has been present since the very first episode but it’s been pushed aside for a few episodes in order to focus on developing the members of the 08th Team. He doesn’t have a problem with violence, especially when used defensively, but to actively seek to kill is something that doesn’t sit well with him. It’s going one step to far. Still, Shiro doesn’t go full on pacifist in this episode. He uses the Federation’s military resources to oppose Zeon’s military troops while trying to cause as few injuries and deaths as possible. He takes on a defensive approach and that’s consistent with his behaviour in previous episodes.

While it wasn’t pleasant to watch because it was sad, I appreciated that the show took the time to address Kiki’s feeling for Shiro and how he feels with her. They act like friends but they’re also very playful and it hints to deeper emotions. When Kiki sees Shiro in the village she thanks him for saving her. Shiro replies that he’s not just here for her, he’s here for the whole village. The body language suggests that she has feelings for him. She’s visibly upset that he doesn’t reciprocate the feelings she’s developed for him.

I really like that beam weaponry is a big deal. It’s still new technology at this point in the Universal Century timeline. Soldiers and mobile suits still use traditional bullet weaponry, missiles and grenades more than they use beam weapons. It’s noteworthy to point out when an enemy has a beam weapon during a battle because it causes very serious damage and it’s difficult to defend yourself against it. If it’s a big deal that a mobile suit has a beam weapon during combat, it stands to reason that presence of a huge beam weapon on the front of the Apsalus is indicative of its vast power and destructive potential.

So far the series has been flirting with the contradictory nature of having soldiers discuss and think about peace before, during or after armed combat. At times it was poorly handled in how obvious the contraction was. I thinking specifically of Aina voicing the opinion that she believes the development of the Apsalus will aid in ending the war and herald in an age of peace. The dual desire to wish for peace and using war as a means to attaining peace is one of the main themes of this episode. The humanisation of the enemy is also an important theme. The Zaku soldiers have lines of dialogue and we see all of their faces more than once. Their reason for going to the village is a basic, human need. They’re looking for food. All this is to give the viewer a sense that these Zeek pilots are real people, too. Zakus and other mobile suits might look like robot, but they all have a human pilot.

During his inquiry, Shiro is asked whether or not he would still be able to shoot an enemy soldier, Shiro admits that he’s not sure what he would do. Later on, he experiences the scenario in combat and his decision is to shoot the enemy. The show addresses the contradiction between his ideals and his actions head on by having him later admit the difficulty of reconciling the two. That the series address this issue directly while still maintaining a level of action and entertainment as it does is what makes this a good show. It’s a common staple of war fiction and while the subject was handled poorly in earlier episodes, it’s very well done here. I’m reminded that this same contradiction is present is all of the Gundam series I’ve watched but it’s rarely been developed as well as it is here.

Shiro’s decision to shoot the Zaku pilot isn’t the only option available to him in that situation, nor is it necessarily the only action he’ll ever take in similar situations. All it really shows is that in that particular situation it was more important for him to protect his friends than to let them die in order to satisfy his own ego in the knowledge that he stood firm on his beliefs. It’s also very important for him as a character that he thinks about his actions. It was a difficult decision for him to make and he will continue to think about his actions and wonder if he did the right thing.

It’s so nice to have such a good episode follow the mess that was “Reunion”. Here’s hoping the next one is just as good.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 07 Reunion

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! After the brightness of the desert sun from yesterday’s episode, the show decides to dim the light and let the romancing begin. Too bad it’s kind of shitty. Read on to find out why.

Summary: Episode 07 “Reunion”:
Original Airdate: October 25, 1997
English Airdate: July 31, 2001

We get a quick prologue as the story opens at a Zeon base somewhere on Earth. Admiral Kellerne, first seen in episode 04 “The Demon Overhead”, is moving out with the few troops he still has left on base. He’s reassembling his troops to Ginias Sahalin’s base. The story doesn’t pick up in this episode but it’s setup for another episode.

There is a quick recap of the end of the last episode where Shiro hears the voice of the Apsalus pilot and recognizes it as the voice of Aina. The show takes up from there. We see an image of the Apsalus flying with Shiro’s Gundam still hanging on. Shiro tries to get Aina’s attention and he goes so far as to stepping out of the Gundam and climbing towards the Apsalus’s cockpit. He sees the damage his team inflicted on the Zeon weapon. Aina opens the hatch and steps out seeing Shiro and confirming her thoughts that he was the mobile suit pilot she was fighting. She gives him parts from the Apsalus to do a quick repair job of the Gundam’s circuitry.

With both mobile suits in various states of damage and disrepair, they plummet to the ground and in doing so get separated. Shiro’s Gundam falls into a crater and he ejects from the cockpit only to find himself stranded and alone in the wilderness. The Zeeks have been tracking her movements and they know that she’s encountered a Federation mobile suit since the last test. Zeon tries to recall the Aina to the base before Federation rescue teams find her. The Apsalus is in need of repair and an encounter with the Federation will likely result in the destruction of the Zeon weapon. She ignores them and tries to find Shiro. When she does, he’s passed out in the snow on a mountainside. She takes bandages his frostbitten hands and when he’s awake he instructs her to pilot the mobile suit and melt some ice with the beam saber. The result is an improvised hot spring. They take a bath together.

They break out into an argument about the war and what it really represents but they get interrupted by the arrival of the Zeon and the Federation search parties. A Federation ship tries to tow the Apsalus away but Aina blows it up, having rigged it earlier in the episode. She is rescued by her troops. When they ask her about the mobile suit pilot she tells them he’s dead. It’s unclear whether or not she’s protecting Shiro or vocalising how she feels after their argument.

It’s been nice to rewatch The 08th MS Team. I’ve enjoyed being pleasantly surprised that the Gundam series I’ve often cited as my favourite is actually good. I believed it when I first said it a few years ago but It’s been a while since I’ve watched this short series and I was genuinely worried that it might not be as good as I remember. The first episode, admittedly, doesn’t do much but episode 02 to 06 are really good Gundam episodes. Then we get episode 07 “Reunion” and it is shit.

I get the feeling this episode was supposed to be a good. The episode includes a short recap from the previous episode and that’s never happened before in the series. That’s a big deal because the original air dates indicate just how sporadic and spread out these episodes where during their original run. It’s quite possible that there was a recap during the Japanese broadcast or that they replayed the earlier episodes every time a new episode came out but I don’t know that for certain. Either way, a recap is unprecedented and it leads me to believe that it was one way to make this episode look like it’s an important episode to the series. And it is.

As the title suggests, “Reunion” is the culmination of a main plot point of the series. Shiro and Aina who first met in battle during the first episode have been separated since then. In this episode they’re reunited and it’s a big deal because they finally what the viewers have known since the beginning: they’ve been fighting each without knowing it. Yes, the characters already knew that they were soldiers fighting on two different sides of the same war, but that they had a chance encounter in space and ended up being on two sides of the same war front is a different thing altogether. It should have been an interesting and game changing episode for the series but it fails completely to be either engaging or important.

The episode is all about these two characters. That’s fine because their romantic relationship and their individual roles in the war are important elements of the series. Besides, the show’s format is essentially to focus on one or two characters per episode and to flesh them out as characters while also advancing the plot of the series and throwing in some action to keep everything interesting. The problem though is that the relationship between Shiro and Aina is terribly written and just doesn’t work when you start to think about it a little. Their second encounter is so strange. They seem happy to see each other and they flirt and take a bath in the mountains but then, as if suddenly remembering the context in which their meeting occurs, spout nonsense about the war and argue over it.

As much as I’ve enjoyed seeing how Shiro has proved himself a capable commander of his mobile suit team, this episode demonstrates just how romantically inept his is, especially when you compare him to the rest of the team. We do not know anything about Sanders but Karen used to be married which means she’s able to sustain a healthy and long lasting relationship. Her marriage also serves as an explanation for why she’s often emotionally detached and by the books. Her husband’s death impacted her in an important way. Michel, who should be pretty preoccupied with the war he’s fighting, is trying his best to keep his long distance relationship alive. As for Eledore, he’s a romantic. Instead of using the war as creative inspiration for song writing, he writes a love ballad. They might not all succeed as love but they’ve worked at in and it’s an important part of their lives. In comparison Shiro looks like a buffoon and that’s exactly how he acts in this episode.

It’s not just Shiro though, Aina isn’t any better. Neither one of them talk about anything directly. They spout and yell nonsense about their love for each other, and their views of the war. The message they’re broadcasting is unclear and contradictory and it makes for an uneven episode. They both show a desire to help the other person which matches up with how they acted during the first episode but it’s still a mystery as to why they’re doing it. It can’t be because of their humanitarians at heart, they’ve both killed numerous times since the beginning of the series and presumably even before then. Not knowing why they help each other makes it difficult to relate to them. It is nice that they’re focus on helping others while being in the middle of a war but they contribute to that war and the atrocities it leads to which brings us back to the inconsistent message of the episode and the inconsistent actions of Shiro and Aina.

I really hope the next episode is a good one. I’d be really disappointed if this episode heralds a downhill progression for the series. There is only one way to find out: come back tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 06 Battle Line in the Burning Sand

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! It must not have been hot enough in the jungle because the 08th MS Team moves to the desert in this episode. It’s still hot but at least it’s not muggy. That’s a good thing, right? Things still get a little mushy though as emotions rise high and the characters face the Apsalus once more.  

Summary: Episode 06 “Battle Line in the Burning Sand”:
Original Airdate: December 18, 1996
English Airdate: July 30, 2001

The 08th Team is on a new mission. They’re trying to find a Zeon testing ground for their new weapons in the hopes of finding the Apsalus and terminating it. Thanks to Kiki’s connection with the locals, they get a tip off as to the location of the testing ground. They find it in the desert. Michel is operating the hover truck alone since Eledore is still as the medical base. Michel is reading a letter from B. B. the mysterious women he’s been corresponding with since the first episode. The letter must have had distressing news since Michel is lost in thought and acts as if he’s distracted. He helps Shiro repair his mobile suit which is malfunctioning and in doing so he nearly injures Shiro because of his inattentiveness to the task at hand. 

Karen and Sanders investigate a huge gash in the side of a canyon. At the center of the gash there is a segment of melted glass that follows along the length of a gash. It’s a sign of a large beam weapon which literally melted the cliff side. They inform Shiro of their discovery and he immediately suspects the Apsalus. They setup an ambush and test it out with a remote control plane. The entire team keeps asking Michel to do things and he gets irritated because he feels like he’s being treated like a child. They’re not asking him to do things because they specifically want him to do them. They’re simply asking Michel because he’s the one who’s operating the hover truck. He’s easily irritated though and it’s starting to rub off on the rest of the team.

They take a break and Michel begins to tell Karen about what’s bothering him but then he changes his mind. They spend the night waiting for the Apsalus and the next day, Kiki is in the hover truck with Michel when she finds the latest letter from B. B. She starts to make fun of him but soon stops because the letter gets serious. B. B. admits that she’s worried that Michel will get injured or killed and she will stop receiving letters from him. She can’t endure the uncertainty so she lets him know that it might be best for them to stop corresponding.

With all this pent up emotion, Michel eventually lets it out. Shiro learns that he’s been acting strangely because of a letter and he scolds him for being so childish. A fight breaks out between then and Kiki chimes in. They argue, quite literally, about love and war and it only ends when Sanders steps in to put a stop to it. He tells Michel that he’ll be piloting the hover truck from now on because it plays a crucial part in the ambush and he can’t trust Michel right now.

Later they all think about what they said and some of them question what they’re really doing in the war and about the people they love. A song plays on the radio. It’s Eledore’s song and the whole teams relax to its soothing melody. Michel apologizes to Shiro for his action and they make peace. Michel has decided to keep trying to broadcast his feelings to B. B. and to work hard with his team and not let anyone down.

The next day marks the appearance of the Apsalus. The team jumps to action and they execute their plan to trap the Zeon weapon in the canyon and blast it out of the air. Michel comes face to face with it and he freezes. Shiro saves him but only serves to turn the attention on himself. Unable to shake him off of the machine, Aina yells at Shiro through the radio. He recognizes her voice and, caught off guard, Aina escapes in the Apsalus with Shiro’s mobile suit still hanging on.

After two really good episodes this one might seem like a bit of a letdown but it’s still pretty clearly a good episode. Like most good episodes of any given Gundam series, it’s equal parts character development and action piece. Part of the character development and intrigue of the plot finds is rooted in events of previous episodes. It works well that the characters takes previous events and reflect on them. It’s interesting to see that they’re affected by what happens to them because it contributes to the feeling of realism that’s a key element of what make this a standout Gundam series.

Part of that realism was also evident in Shiro’s mobile suit malfunctions. The left leg of his Gundam wasn’t working and he didn’t know why but he took the time to stop and look at it with Michel. It ws just a filter that got clogged up with sand but it made the leg stiff and difficult to move. It was also nice to see that behind all the armoured platting there is an actual machine. We don’t get many chances to look at the inner workings of a Gundam and this just helps to remind the view that they’re man made creations with multiple complex parts. I also enjoyed that Michel drove the hover truck around the desert sand to erase the tracks made by the mobile suits.

Another way this episode adds to some of the realism is the colouring. The colours looks faded and washed out as if everything’s been sitting in the sun too long. It works well considering they’re in the desert. The animators also produced and interesting thing with how everything looks as though there is too much light bearing down. It contrasts quite a bit with the jungle setting of other episodes but it works well.

Not everything works though. The fact that Michel is still communicating with B. B. via actual letters is ridiculous. The events of this story take place during the 79th year of the Universal Century which began at the end of or slightly after the 21st century. There is no way that snail mail has survived. It might seem silly to discuss realism in a Gundam TV series but there are so many things we take for granted or that are quickly and easily explained, it’s nice to see that someone has taken the time to add some depth to the world by having the characters face such problems as clogged filters. When done well, it’s as interesting to see those kinds of moments as it is to see beam rifles tearing advanced machinery apart.

I couldn’t help but be curious is the mission to find the Apsalus is an official mission. It likely is because the 08th Team likely didn’t have difficulty proving that they’ve encountered the new Zeon weapon before. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that everything that appears on the pilot’s screens is recorded. If that’s the case, the Feds would have audio visual proof of the Apsalus’s existence. It’s no difficult to believe that their base commander would approve a mission to find and destroy the new weapon. I think it also makes sense that the 08th Team is alone and doesn’t have the support of another mobile suit team for a few reasons. The first is that the Federation likely doesn’t have the resources to let more than one team take on the missing. It’s not just a matter of equipment but also of time. Shiro’s estimate for the duration of the mission was three days but it took them a whole five days to find and engage the Apsalus in combat. It’s a much easier to let one mobile suit team go on a longer mission than two or three entire teams.  

Another important part of this episode is that Shiro discovers that Aina pilots the Apsalus. We do not get to see what the fallout of that but that’s ok because it’s the focus of the next episode and I’ll be talking about it tomorrow. Sadly, it’s not all that good.