Anime Review: Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket

Why do we have to fight? When we are so dear to each other?

The Mobile Suit Gundam franhise is famous for its realistic depictions of life during war, however, it was not until 1989 that ordinary people and soldiers became the focus of those stories, instead of Newtype pilots. That year, director Fumihiko Takayama, screenwriter Hiroyuki Yamaga and the crew of Sunrise Studio made the first OVA of Gundam universe, Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (WITP for short) – a great innovation for the Gundam series.

The anime, as the name of the movie – Pocket War – suggested, does not tell about big battles like other Gundam animes, but is a small side story that took place during the One Year War, about the relationship between the boy Alfred Izuruha, Zeon rookie Bernie Wiseman and EFF soldier Christina Mackenzie. The OVA has only 6 episodes: the first 3’s pacing is really slow, mostly focus on establishing the relationship between the three main characters, and the last 3 are the result of what has been set up. Despite its extremely short length, the OVA series conveys a lot of unique content, in a very emotional way.

Viewers get to see the story through the eyes of Alfred, an 11-year-old boy living in Side 6. Alfred has the personality of an ordinary boy – hate studying, playful, naughty – with a normal life – go study at school, have friends, have a full family. He and his friends have an innocent view of war: they adore soldiers, like Mobile Suits and collecting war rank badges, and enjoy playing violent shooters. However, after meeting and becoming friends with Bernie, a Zeon soldier whose mission is to infiltrate Side 6 to destroy the Federation’s Gundam, and having a taste of a “real” conflict, he has matured in a depressing way.

The second main character of the anime is Bernie, a Zeon rookie who, although seemingly dumb compared to his teammates, is a man with a heart of gold and wise words, true to his last name, Wiseman. The fact that he overcame his own fear and ego, stayed to fight for the safety of Side 6 and remained faithful to his mission, the way he cared more and treated Alfred better than Alfred’s parents, and the messages he left to Al made Bernie one of the true heroes in the Gundam universe.

The last main character, although not having as much screen time as Bernie or Alfred, but playing an important role in the film’s plot, is Christina Mackenzie. She is Alfred’s neighbor, after serving in the army, was sent to Side 6 to join the task of protecting NT-1 Alex Gundam. Chris has the strong personality of a brave soldier, shown in the determination to fight to protect her loved ones as well as those she knows, like Alfred, but also has a very ordinary and feminine side, like during the times when Chris talked to Al, or when she and Bernie exchanged cordial words, and when she was dumped by her lover. Christina Mackenzie’s character isn’t all that impressive, but it’s the bond between her, Alfred, and Bernie that makes WITP’s tragedy so bitter.

What makes WITP great for me, is the realism of the movie. The realism not only shown in the battles and Mobile Suit designs, but also in the settings, characters, and messages of the movie. The OVA does not tell about the grand, fantasy battles like other Gundam series, but takes place in a city similar to where you live, revolving around an unremarkable boy and his kind neighbor and his best friend – a setting that any viewer can picture themselves in. The characters Alfred, Chris, and Bernie aren’t like the Gundam characters you’re used to seeing either – unusual characters, whose personalities are sometimes exaggerated to make the film more dramatic; the way they behave towards each other, the fact that their bond is what drives Chris and Bernie to fight, their choice to fight instead of being forced or pushed by fate, makes them feel like ordinary people living around us. It is these things that make it easier for viewers to empathize with the characters, therefore effectively delivered the message of the series, if compared to when watching other Gundam anime.

And the movie’s messages are also very close to reality, in terms of their content and transmission. Besides the obvious one against the glorification and romanticizing of war, the messages of WITP, compared to the philosophies in most Gundam series, are only “pocket” in size, but have a lot of power. Bernie and Chris do not fight for ideals, for peace, for justice or for revenge, but simply for fear of losing their loved ones, because they do not want to disappoint those who have passed away. If we let viewers think about great philosophies and about living without loved ones, they will probably sympathize with the latter part more. The “Gray Morality” message common in Gundam is also present in the film, but instead of criticizing and denigrating all sides, WITP shows that whoever is on either side has their own good, has their own reason, and are all victims as long as the war goes on. The message “Adults are part of the problem” is also conveyed in a more personal perspective, in that Alfred’s parents do care for their child, leading him to fall in the middle of the Zeon and Earth Federation war, unlike most Gundam series where adults cause a bunch of problems and young people have to deal with them.

The ending of the movie is a well-written tragedy: although it is easy to guess, it leaves a lot of impressions on viewers. The fact that Bernie decided to fight for Alfred and Chris, for his fallen comrades, only to die a tragic death – “a pile of burger” – at the hands of the person he has feelings for, but for nothing because the danger to Side 6 has been averted a few hours before the fight, as to say, whatever your reason for fighting, noble or lowly, in the cruelty of war all sacrifices are always meaningless. WITP ends with a hauntingly chilling scene, that of a traumatized Alfred after witnessing Bernie’s death, unable to stop crying when listening to the principal’s speech about war. His friends thought he was sad because he could no longer collect bullet casings or soldier ranks, and came to comfort him, “Another war will happen soon and it will be even more epic and fun than this time…”. The camera recedes into the distance, until what it’s shooting is the whole galaxy, and everything closes on a terrifyingly cheerful soundtrack. All of this creates a chilling ending, reminiscent of horror movies with open endings where everything seems strangely cheerful on the outside, but on the inside everything scary is still going on.

As for the visuals, the film does quite well that most of the emotions are conveyed through the images without much need of explanation. WITP’s animation is not very smooth, sometimes there are still frames, but the animation style suits the movie’s realistic battle scenes: the MSs move slowly and rigidly, looking like the movement of a real robot, not too flexible and agile like in a regular Gundam anime. The characters in the film are not designed in an overly complicated and colorful way, but look like people you might encounter every day, and this helps reinforce the realistic style of the OVA. The mecha design is pretty sick: WITP takes the old MSs from “Mobile Suit Gundam” (the 1979 one) and adds more modern touches to them, and they do it so well that this became a trend for many following series. There are only two new MS designs, Kampfer and Alex Gundam. I don’t really like Alex Gundam, it looks like the RX 78-2 has a bit more armor and is quite monotonous. But Kampfer is my absolute favorite: its slim, muscular body makes it look elegant and beautiful, and the weaponry is also quite cool, especially the shotgun. In terms of filmography, Gundam anime always has very expensive scenes and WITP does too, like the scene where Chris’s Alex Gundam and Bernie’s Zaku collide, with Alfred running in the middle, one of the most iconic scenes in the entire Gundam franchise.

The film’s sound array is not very remarkable, but still fulfills its role well. The background music has a strong 80’s vibe, and sounds neither too good nor too bad. Most of the music sounds quite upbeat, happy, in contrast to the movie’s depressing content, whether this is the film’s artistic intent, I don’t really know :P. The opening theme song, Itsuka Sora ni Todoite, really fools the viewer with its playful rhythm and lyrics, it’s more like a song you turn on every morning to recharge than the opening to a sad anime series. The ending music is deeper, melodious and gentle, very suitable for the emotional war images in the ending.

Pioneering the retelling of side stories in the Gundam universe from civilians and ordinary soldiers perspectives, Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket becomes one of the most humane Gundam series in Gundam film history, because of its honest and close to heart story. The film is an emotional reminder that before we can understand the vast and complex ideals, we need to understand the little things around us first.

-Getter Andy-

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