2021/04/08

MS Gundam: 0083

Gundam 0083

With innovation and originality in legacy entertainment now relegated to the past, I've been getting my fix from pre-Cultural Ground Zero properties. 

The best part of revisiting the classics is sharing hidden gems with friends who'd missed them the first time around. When it comes to anime, the late 80s to early 90s is a dragon's hoard of forgotten treasures. 

That was back during the Bubble Economy, when animation club otaku working out of a shed could get real estate speculator sugar daddies to fund their splatterpunk OAVs. That era was the last time anime as a genre took risks, and it gave rise to an unmistakable aesthetic never seen before or since.

For those who are unfamiliar with anime, the closest American analog to the Bubble Economy startups would be the mafia-financed 1970s film scene. The key difference being that 90s anime looks timeless, whereas the 70s mob kitsch looks dated.

One of my personal favorite early 90s anime series is Mobile Suit Gundam: 0083 - Stardust Memory. Admittedly, this OAV series from one of the biggest franchises around flew under my radar on its first release. Like most American viewers, I didn't catch 0083 until its US cable TV debut on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in 2002. The mechanical design, slick dogfights, and jazzy pop score hooked me right away.

0083 is remarkable for having had an unorthodox production at a time when weirdness was the norm. The series switched directors halfway through its thirteen-episode run. The results aren't remotely subtle, either. As a prime example, two characters who obviously don't recognize each other in episode one turn out to be former lovers in episode thirteen.

Contemporary viewers used to safe, by-the-numbers plotting might be thrown for a loop by 0083's tendency to fly by the seat of its pants. Being a meticulous outliner myself, the series' midstream tone and character shifts caught me off guard the first time around. But on rewatching, there's no question that the changes introduced by the second director turned out to be for the better.

Stardust Memory is thirty years old now, well past the spoiler statue of limitations. There's no need for a book-length plot synopsis, though. Three years after the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the victorious Earth Federation sends two new Gundam prototypes to Australia for testing. A Zeon remnant led by One Year War ace Anavel Gato steal the second prototype - which happens to have nuclear strike capability. Feddie test pilot Kou Uraki swears to Gudam engineer Nina Purpleton that he'll recover her lost pet mech and sets out in Unit 01 to confront Gato.

That would be a pretty typical Real Robot style story if not for that fact that Kou utterly fails his mission.

He goes multiple rounds with Gato, and the best result he can manage is a draw. Every other time the Nightmare of Solomon takes the plucky Ensign to the woodshed for a thorough ass-whuppin'.

One of those stalemates also ends with both Gundams Kou vowed to bring back exploding.

Right after Kou shows up too late to stop Gato from nuking two-thirds of the Federation fleet.

Even then, the uncaring universe isn't finished spitting on Kou Uraki, who suffers his crowning humiliation when he fails to avert a colony drop because Nina cucks him with Gato.

After that, being sentenced to a year's hard labor is an uptick in Kou's fortunes.

That's right, Gundam 0083 pulled off the "Slimy, backroom-dealing brass totally shafting their valiant frontline troops" plot in a way not seen again Until Galaxy's Edge.

Because 0083's special role in the Gundam canon turns out to be as an origin story for the main villains of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the tyrannical Titans.

NB: I hadn't yet seen Zeta the first time I watched 0083. This time around, the cornucopia of Zeta Gundam Easter eggs bowled me over.

Fresh off another viewing, Mobile Suit Gundam: 0083 cements its place as step two in my recommended Gundam newbie viewing order. If you're new to Gundam, watch the three original series compilation movies first, then watch 0083 before diving into Zeta. The peak early 90s look and killer action are well worth the price of admission.

Just don't expect a happy ending. After all, this is war.


They may not make 'em like they used to anymore, but I do. To scratch your High 90s mecha itch, claim your copies of my military thriller saga Combat Frame XSeed on Indiegogo. Every backer gets the two newest eBooks, plus a free short story. The Pocket War card game playtest is still open, and we're closing in on our Print-a-Mech stretch goal. Help indie mecha break into the mainstream.

Back it now!

Combat Frame XSeed: SS - Brian Niemeier

8 comments:

  1. The "Slimy, backroom-dealing brass totally shafting their valiant frontline troops" plot is more or less what sets VOTOMs off, too. Though ends up leading to a bit of reversal of fortunes by the end.

    Gundam OVAs appear to have a history with splitting in two parts via two sperate directors. 08th MS Team did this, too. Though that one is because the original director (who co-directed the original Ultraman anime, as well Dougram with Ryousuke Takahashi, and directed Sunrise classics like Vifram, Dragonar, and Mellowlink) died.

    I have to say that I haven't seen 0083 since its original run on adult swim. I'm probably about due for rewatching some Gundam. It's been a while.

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    1. Many of the same production crew that worked on VOTOMS were also involved with 0083, including the latter's first director.

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    2. I'd thought it was 0083's director who died midway through production. Upon further research, you're right. It was 08th MS Team.

      Thanks for clearing that up.

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  2. I remember being lukewarm to 0083 the first time I watched it (which was also pre-Zeta for me) but liked it more on rewatches. There's really only three things that bug me about it now:

    -The ridiculously foreshadowed death, to the point of absurd parody (you know the one).
    -The trite and pointless love triangle
    -The fact that 0083 going forward led to F91 getting its budget cut. F91 had some great mech designs and still has a solid opening act and climax. But the middle is nearly incomprehensible without multiple rewatches and the story is unfinished.

    I'm not sure if 0083 works better before or after Zeta. If you've seen Zeta there's a lot of winks towards that series, and the Axis stuff makes a lot more sense. But if you haven't seen Zeta the actions from the proto-Titans in the final act are much more shocking.

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    1. Largely agreed. The love triangle itself was actually a sound directorial decision that raises the stakes of the Kou vs Gato conflict. It would have worked much better had Nina's fling with Gato been revealed earlier, and if Kou had a better reason to fall for her.

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    2. And yes, F-91 had loads of cool ideas that were tragically wasted. It deserved a full series.

      Still, none of that detracts from 0083's merits.

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  3. I'll admit a few things. The second half of the series felt much more engaging than the first, I think on account of the Cowboy Bebop director taking the helm. The jokes failed to land in nearly every instance and didn't match the tone, whereas the humor in the original compilation movies felt like it was more calculated and fit the tone perfectly.

    The main character was largely uninteresting, and it felt like he didn't earn the right to pilot a Gundam. They tried to make this up by having him be passionate about mech tech, but that just wasn't enough to make me feel like he deserved the seat.

    The relationship highs and lows between him, mustache, and Nina felt childish, and it only got more face-palm-y when Gato got personally involved (and too coincidental). As a result, Nina spent the second half of the series being useless, hemming and hawing while acting tragic and looking out space windows. I thought she'd finally prove herself when she brought a gun along to see a...certain person, but then the main character pops outta nowhere to steal her chance to actually do something useful for the Feddies in the plotline. Instead, there was a complete and utter betrayal, which made any possible future between her and Kou impossible to swallow. Ms. Purpleton annoyed me more than Haro.

    The show also failed to lend real weight to the loss of life. For example, while it's very effective at making you feel how hopeless it is when the colony crosses the point of no return, or when Gundam 1 and 2 both get wiped from existence, it fails to communicate to the audience just how horrible the colony drop actually is. The cost of war is something the compilation movies particularly excelled at, so it's disappointing to see it was lacking here. The heavily telegraphed death was also too melodramatic and predictable to have any sort of emotional payoff.

    The show failed to make us care about him, and in fact made him look like an incompetent leader time and time again, unable to even inspire his team to behave themselves.

    I know I'm being hard on this show, but on the bright side, it did have an Empire Strikes Back vibe going for it. It felt like a 'setup' segment where the bad guys continuously win due to their cunning, and the second half gave us many epic space fights.

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