Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War In The Pocket gets classified by writers like me as ‘not one of the best Gundam shows but one of the best Gundam shows.’
Something of a 10th anniversary project, or at least the Gundam to come out during the series’ not-initially guaranteed 10th anniversary, it marked a whole catalogue of firsts for the franchise: the first Gundam OVA, the first Gundam to flesh-out the Universal century’s One Year War beyond the original show, and the first entry in the series to not be helmed by the show’s auteur creator Yoshiyuki Tomino.
That last detail must have left some of the fanatics apprehensive at first, but this OVA ended up garnering much critical recognition, giving it some serious standing in the greater anime canon. Tomino seemed to be a little jealous when speaking about the work, praising it for realistically capturing the damage war portends outside of battles, but famously nitpicking minor animation flaws.
Gundam 0080: War In The Pocket centers on the relationship between Bernie, an undercover Zeon (the ‘bad guys’) soldier who infiltrated enemy Federation (the ‘good guys’) territory, and the youth Al who thinks big robots and war are cool, fantasizing about enlisting one day. Bernie and his small team have only come to the feddie town Al lives in because rumors say a new Gundam prototype’s being stored there, and they are tasked with destroying the darn thing before Zeon losses the whole war!
Al and Bernie strike up a friendship as Bernie lies in wait in said town, gathering whatever intel he can in the meantime, which inadvertently gets the youngster involved too. What further complicates things, as anime plots want to throw one twist at you after another: Al’s longtime neighbor and family friend Chris ends up becoming the pilot of the new top-secret Gundam. Shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler to say that the climax builds into quite an emotional spectacle, especially when you’re young Al.
Decidedly sparse with its Gundam against non-gundam robot action, Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War In The Pocket succeeds by instead portraying how war takes its toll outside the battlefield too, successfully broadening the Gundam franchise’s core anti-war messaging.
To achieve highlighting these more subtle reverberations of war, the show localizes its entire tale within this one city and a handful of its denizens, letting the viewer stew in their daily lives. You have a kid who’s been completely inundated with war propaganda, to the point where he cares less about what side he’d fight for so much as getting to fight at all. Citizens try to live their lives, keeping their paranoia at bay. Bernie contends with the fact that said citizens living in federation territory are just like him in every respect, except for whose flag they fly under.
Unlike Tomino’s mainline Gundam entries, which meditate directly on the senseless death, here we see a more ambient take on how casualties of war can still infect those not on the frontline.
Despite the lack of Yoshiyuki Tomino, Gundam 0080 achieves its less abrasive but equally horrifying vision with grace, from its greater ramifications to its human relationships.
Of course, any spin-off would be lucky to have the team that War In The Pocket had behind it; most notably you had Gainax co-founder and the man behind The Wings Of Honnaemise Hiroyuki Yamaga handing in scripts that showed glimpses of the emotional nuances his studio would continually strike in the following decade. Fumihiko Takayama directed, whose excellent Patlabor 3 gets all too over-looked for not being Mamoru Oshii’s Patlabor 2. 1980s character art legend Haruhiko Mikimoto, who gave a face to Super Dimensional Fortress and Gunbuster amongst many others, provided the cast designs.
This animator’s dream-team certainly met and perhaps ultimately exceeded the pedigree set by ‘kill em all’ Tomino.
You can recommend Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War In The Pocket to just about anyone. Not only does it remain one of the Gundam franchise’s crowning achievements, but being an OVA it sits at a digestible six episodes. The show’s not quite representative of how other mainline Universal Century Gundam shows operate, so it’s not strictly the best starting point if you’re looking to become a canonical Gundam head, but it’s still inline with the vision.
Those specifically looking for ‘good’, whatever that means, old anime to watch, this OVA’s a must.