Sunday, 20 July 2014

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team rewatch – Ep. 04 The Demon Overhead

Welcome to The 08th MS Team rewatch! The series has put all the pieces in place, it’s been a relatively slow build up but The 08th MS Team is now firing on all cylinders. Let the action begin!

Summary: Episode 04 “The Demon Overhead”:
Original Airdate: October 25, 1996
English Airdate: July 26, 2001

Zeon is undergoing a flight test of their new weapon, the Apsalus. The new weapon is piloted by Aina and the test is a success. After Ginias announces the success of the field test and the near completion of the Apsalus project, the Zeon officers have a celebration gala. During the celebration, Admiral Kellerne makes his introduction to the series by crashing the party. He appears to be an old friend of Ginias and looks to be rather found of Aina. He’s not nearly as formal as other Zeon officers and he quickly begins to embarrass Ginias due to his casual nature and loud demeanour. Aina gets upset with Kellerne because she’s concerned his arrival will distract Ginias from completing the Apsalus project. She confides in Captain Norris Packard that she’s hopeful the project will end the war and bring peace to the Principality of Zeon.

Back at the Federation base, soldiers of the 07th Team are making fun of Sanders, call him the Reaper and generally being assholes about Sanders’s reputed bad luck. Michel who’s noticed the teasing before learn more about the nickname’s origins: every team that Sanders was a part of has been completed destroyed on their third mission. A fight breaks out and Shiro jumps into the fight to support his teammate who is outnumbered three to one. Before the team can head out on their third mission, Sanders announces that he’s like to resign and be relocated to another base. Karen is insulted and lashes out at him verbally and physically. She’s disappointed in him for falling pretty to the idea of the curse. She thinks that just because he’s had a bad luck streak doesn’t mean he’s curse and that giving up only strengthens the idea of the curse which only perpetuates it further.

Both storylines converge. Aina and Ginias have another test flight with the Apsalus and she’s having difficulty keeping the ship in the air. The 08th Team is tracking the strange activity of the Zakus who are trying to secure a perimeter for the Apsalus. The team is tense. They can sense that something unusual is happening. Michel, who bought into the idea of the curse, thinks it’s happening because Sanders is with them. They encounter the Apsalus and Sanders, frustrated and angry at the treatment he received from the other Federation soldiers and some of his teammates, attacks the Apsalus on his own. Shiro and Karen back him up and together they’re force Aina to retreat in a damaged Apsalus.

Having survived an encounter with Zeon’s newest weapon, the team, particularly Sanders, feel as though they’ve beaten the curse.

Overall, this is a good episode. We get some story development along with some character development and somehow there was still some time left for a mobile suit battle and the unveiling of a new Zeon weapon. While the first episode was a little slow and the second and third episodes focuses as much on introducing characters and the geographical setting of the series, this episodes demonstrates that the series has found its footing. The series is also at a point where it can comfortably shift the focus to the Zeon forces. Even though there is still a considerable amount of the episode given to the 08th Team, Zeons get some nice screen time.

We get to see more interactions between Aina and her brother. They make a good team. He’s the brains of the operation so he’s in charge of developing the Apsalus. Likely due to his poor health, Aina steps in and acts as the test pilot. Aina is shown to be very supportive of her brother and the Apsalus project and we discovered why. She believes that if Zeon can successfully develop a new type of weapon it’ll translate in a shorter war and led to peace more quickly than if things stayed as they are now. It’s definitely a backwards way of thinking. The path to peace cannot be over the dead bodies of countless shoulders. It’s a philosophical conflict that is present in all of the Gundam series I’ve watched, most particularly in Gundam Wing. It’s also strange that she doesn’t take into account the existence of Gundams and the possibility of even more advanced weaponry being developed and used on the battle field. The whole thing just makes her sound so naïve and it’s disappointing because there is a lot of potential for Aina to be a good character.

A few recurring Zeon characters are introduced in this episode. Some of which will play a larger role in the series. It’s nice to get the perspective of the opponents but it’s pretty standard for a Gundam show to do so. The shows usually focuses on the “good guys”, often the victors of the war being fought, while also providing a considerable amount of time presenting and developing characters who fight for the enemy’s side. In this capacity, The 08th MS Team is like any other Gundam series.

The 08th MS Team does find a way to be different from other series in the way it presents combat. Most of it is ground combat, unlike many other Gundam series where the battles takes place in space or in the skies. It makes for a very different, and let’s be honest refreshing, presentation of Gundam warfare. The tactics used are different. The inclusion of a hover tank which supports the mobile suits is a good example. It gives combat an intelligence role which makes the battles more realistic because strategy comes into play. It’s not just a matter of visually identifying the enemy and attacks them. Tactics such as listening to the enemy’s ration frequencies or using ground sonar are all part of the realities of combat in The 08th MS Team. The added realism contributes to my enjoyment of the joy but what really sells it is that it’s not overdone (it’s still a show about giant robots) and it’s use consistently throughout the series by which I mean the show isn’t noticeably unrealistic in order to accommodate a particular plot point.

I’m a little surprised that I like this episode so much because an important element is Sanders’s bad luck curse. I think it’s an uninteresting idea on the surface of things but it was used well in the context of the episode. I think that by having the team’s third mission be their first encounter with the Apsalus and getting to view its potential for destruction helps to add weight and importance to the supposed curse. The presence of the Apsalus also makes the team’s survival and defeat of the curse feel that much more like a noteworthy victory for them. I think it’s indicative of a good episode when an unoriginal plot element like the cures can be combined with a real threat to produce engaging character development that resonates emotional with the viewer.

I don’t mean to oversell my enjoyment of this episode, particularly because the next one is a personal favourite. Come back tomorrow for a rewatch of episode 05 “The Broken Order to Standby”.

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