Have you ever been sucker-punched by an anime before? Like in Neon Genesis
Evangelion, when all the identifiably realistic and amusingly quirky characters
that had kept us entertained for 13 episodes were psychologically DESTROYED
during the tearjerking, heartwrenching 13 episodes that followed? Well, before
Evangelion, there was Gundam 0080, the first of the Gundam
OAV series. Written by Hiroyuki Yamaga, a Gainax stalwart who also wrote
the incredible Wings of Honneamise, 0080 takes just six episodes
to draw you in, hook you inextricably, and then tear out your guts and stomp
Set during the end of the One Year War (the same one featured in the original
Gundam and 08th MS Team), 0080 tells the story of ten year
old Al, a pretty average elementary school boy living on a space colony in Side
6. Side 6 is officially neutral in the great war between Side 3's Duchy of Zeon
and the Earth Federation, but as always happens in these sorts of things, the
truth is less clear-cut. The Federation has a secret test base on the colony,
while the loyalties of most of its citizens, including Al, lie with Zeon.
By sheer accident, the war-obsessed Al first encounters, then befriends an
elite Zeon special forces unit sent to infiltrate the Federation base on
Side 6 and destroy the new Gundam prototype being built there. Al's main
friend is the young Zeon pilot named Bernie, who the fatherless Al adopts
as a sort of big brother. Reluctantly going along with Al's youthfully
enthusiastic playing at war, the Zeon troops make use of Al's knowledge of
the colony, his innocuous appearance, and his enthusiasm for their cause.
But war isn't a game, as Al shockingly learns in the last few episodes of this
series. Al's other best friend, a young woman named Chris McKenzie, just so
happens to be the test pilot for that new Gundam. Conflict between his new friends
and his old friends is inevitable... that's what happens in war. And people
DIE in war. Al learns that playing soldier isn't what he thought it was, and
it's a shattering lesson for one so young and innocent.
This unflinching look at the effect of war upon the noncombatants caught in
the middle is what makes 0080 so remarkable. Even anime series that treat
war as a serious, horrible thing almost always do so from the perspective of
the soldiers themselves. Amuro angsts over his friends' deaths in battle, and
Aina and Shiro in 08th MS Team are faced with a conflict that threatens
to tear them apart even as it brought them together. But they're still all soldiers,
and the pain of loss and the terror of battle are part and parcel of that. Al,
on the other hand, is just a boy, just an elementary school kid who enjoys playing
war. When war tears away his innocence, it's all the more tragic.
The short length of 0080 and its focus on war's tragic effect on civilians
as opposed to cool giant robot battles may be more than a bit offputting to
fans used to the kinetic battles of Gundam Wing or 08th MS Team.
But 0080 is too important to NOT watch, especially with Cartoon Network
running it barely-cut and for free as part of their Midnight Run block. With
a brutally serious storyline, fantastic animation, and character designs from
Macross god Haruhiko Mikimoto, Gundam 0080 is another not-to-be missed
event on Cartoon Network.
Anime, even giant robot anime, can be so much more than just big mecha smashing
the crap out of each other, and Gundam 0080 provides all the proof anyone
will ever need of that.