Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory

When I watched the first few episodes of Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory nearly nine years ago now, I was sitting beside my college roommate, a hardened cynic about anime--the kind of guy who loved sci-fi but could never get past the deadly "cartoons are for kids" mentality. He didn't think much of it, and I think my opinion was tinged somewhat by his lack of enthusiasm. But now we're well past college and into the 21st century, and I've had the opportunity to see the whole of 0083. I've got thousands more hours of anime viewing behind me and more perspective on the whole Gundam legacy, having seen the movies and OVA series within the original story's timeline. And I can honestly say that 0083 is the best of them.

Two new Gundams have been transferred to a Federation base in Australia aboard the Albion. A couple of new pilots, Kou and Keith, are in training under Lieutenant Burning, and they are excited about the possibility of trying out the latest and greatest mobile suits. They also take an interest in the beautiful but distant tech Nina Purpleton who's assigned to make sure that the Gundams are stretched to their fullest potential. But before the suits are even field tested, lax security on the base allows Anavel Gato to get onto the grounds. Gato, known as the "Nightmare of Solomon" for his feats as a Zeon pilot during the One Year War in 0079, has a score to settle with the Federation, and he steals one of the two Gundams--the one equipped with a tactical nuke.

Kou gets banged up trying to stop Gato's escape, but the fact that he could even survive a battle with a legendary pilot winds up in his favor. Kou must prove himself to the crew around him that thinks he's too inexperienced to pilot the most deadly Gundam in their possession, but that concern won't last long. As Gato's plans become clear, the Federation stops worrying about a simple nuclear explosion, as the entire Earth might be at stake. Romances blossom, traitors emerge, and alliances form as Kou struggles with the mysterious triangle between himself, Nina, and Gato.

Despite excellent reviews on a variety of sites, 0083 still seems to suffer under the burden of being a "lesser" Gundam piece. This amazes me, since I easily found it the best of what I've seen. The animation in the OVA series is still rooted in the early 90s, but it escapes the goofy look of the earlier Gundam series. In fact, in many places, it's downright spectacular. But back nine years ago, I thought there were problems with it. I honestly think this has to do with the popularity of 0083 as a fansub back in the early 90s; the quality drop that came with multiple VHS tapings meant that older fans never really saw what the animators had in mind. That's the way I saw it, and it distorted some really great animation work. In particular, the last couple of episodes have some amazing fight sequences. They aren't as technically wonderful as those in Char's Counterattack, but they actually work better within the context. With the DVD releases, questions about 0083's artistic competence should be gone.

To fully appreciate 0083, I believe you need to see it under the right circumstances, as it's certainly not a crowd-pleaser. The storyline almost always takes the most difficult route: the one of reality over popular entertainment. The ending of the show can be seen as realistic or amazingly frustrating, depending on your point of view. But little surprises me in anime these days, and 0083's ending kept me interested precisely because I couldn't predict it. The relationships are fully formed and thoughtful, with characters that are flawed but dedicated to their beliefs. Though the character of Nina will always be a point of contention for fans--she makes wishy-washy Minmei of Macross fame look positively clearheaded by comparison--in this era of girl-power shows, it's strangely encouraging to have a heroine who is not as with it as she's supposed to be.

As peculiar as this might seem, part of my enjoyment of 0083 comes from the lack of children and pretty boys constantly in our face. The original Gundam movies and TV show suffered not only because their star (Amuro Ray) was a young teen but also because they employed young children in tow as comic relief. 0080, although another truly excellent OVA series, is seen through an adolescent boy's eyes; it contains a surprisingly annoying soundtrack that reflects a turn towards a younger audience. Even the ragingly popular Gundam Wing has teenage angstboys slumping over in their Slurpees when they're not destroying the local cosmos. Even though Kou is not an old man by any stretch, 0083 deals with characters you can believe would actually be in a war of the magnitude presented. It is, perhaps, your father's Gundam, but the father you always admired cooking out on the grill and protecting your room from monsters at night.

If you've caught bits and pieces of the Gundam universe through the Cartoon Network and thought it was vaguely interesting, you owe it to yourself to at least try out Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory. I've yet to see the Gundam show to knock my feet out from under me in awe, but 0083 comes closest.

Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory -- violence -- A