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

Dan Brown wrote in his theological thriller series ‘The Da Vinci Code’, “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books – books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe.” I think this idea holds a lot of merit, because one can see that in media, war has always been represented in hazy, extremely biased colours. You have these so-called winners going to extreme stakes to beat the eventual losers, rendering them in heroic colours along the way. It wasn’t until the middle of the 1970s where Hollywood’s ‘Vietnam movies’ began to turn the tide in Western war stories, introducing another side to this argument; for the first time, those in control of the social trends that were pushed forth by media were those that had lost. Many of these movies were making low-blows at the Vietnamese infantry who used ‘cheap tactics’ or were torturing their prisoners, which runs directly in-contrast with the fact that the Americans were obliterating entire fields at a time with chemical warfare. But these movies dominated the scene, with Deer Hunter picking up many accolades on the back of creating some of the most iconic cinema of the decade. As time has gone on and America has been involved in more wars that it is difficult to say that they ‘won’ and you have movies like Hurt Locker, Oscar Winning movies about PTSD experienced by soldiers in Iraq. Thankfully, satirists are privy to this biased representation of war, with my favourite encapsulation on the matter being the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle’s: “not only will America go into your country and kill all your people, but what’s worse I think is they’ll come back twenty years later and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad.”

I say this because Mobile Suit Gundam has always been an interesting war-show. It comes from a country whose continuing zeitgeist struggles to admit that they had formally been ‘the bad guys’ in many prior wars. The sci-fi reimagining of World War 2 in the country-levelling ‘One Year War’ with the Principality of Zeon – representing ‘space nazis’ – is therefore a very notable feat, as much more complex characterisation was given to the enemy, embracing the same kind of tragic morality that was more present in pre-World War 2 stories, where soldiers have much less personal agency than the ‘heroes’ and ‘evil bastards that torture and rape our boys’. Sadly, Mobile Suit Gundam moved in more general ways in its sequel, Zeta Gundam, discussing in broad strokes the scale of power, rather than making apt social commentary. However, the side-stories filmed within the One Year War were particularly privy to the changing times. 0080: War in the Pocket handpicks social constructs from children being exposed to the naïveté of adult media to duty-bound soldiers doing their job with a sense of a pride, and it finds a humanistic message amongst the debris to pack a powerful, tragic punch into 6 tightly crafted episodes with an undeniable American influence – from its character designs to its Christmas themed finale.

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The evocative title of the first episode, ‘How Many Miles To The Front Line?’ is a phrase I believe to exemplify the series’ core philosophy so readily. The imagery of Steiner holding his buddy’s corpse in his hand, looking out at the open sky and clashing visual hope with human despair, is just the opener to this impassioned call against arms; and it becomes o so poignant as Al and his friends play with war relics and as Bernie lies about having a high kill count. Thematically, War in the Pocket quickly gets to its meta-statement on outsiders’ views of war and killing, suggesting that we are far too prideful, far too excited and far too unsympathetic to the plight of all the lost lives. Bravely, War in the Pocket gets to the depths of two men’s hell to show just how many stories are on the line here – and how tragic all that loss is, because even in the single digits, death is tragic.

The Pocket is a small colony where The Feds are designing an improved Mobile Suit, but the Zeon cannot wage war here due to politics. Fundamentally, the War in the Pocket is an essential addition to the Gundam franchise, because it does not paint with the enduring campaigns of huge battles, but instead is focused on the sidelines – espionage, with an extremely small cast. It’s a pointless battle, really: Bernie is assigned to a team making a final, desperate attempt to thwart the scientific advances of their enemies, all while the higher-ups realise that they’re on the brink of defeat. The imagery of Bernie flying through the battle outside, disguised as a delivery ship, is phenomenal: this skirmish is meaningless. It’s just another battle over a few miles.

One can imagine the skin-crawling confrontation as our not-very-good-hero, Bernie, attempts to get through the custom control, but this technical prowess is consistently utilised. 0080 moves into a series depicting the chance meetings between people and the fundamental humanities arising, as it becomes clear how many innocent lives are being wasted. Al is a young boy who glorifies war, nonchalantly blowing up towns in his video games and playing with bullet shells and arguing with his friends over who has the coolest war machines. He gets a little overexcited by a broken down mech in the outskirts of town, and after falling asleep in downed zaku, he comes into contact with Bernie.

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Al actually saves Bernie’s groups from the cops, which is impressive considering Team Cyclops were moments from killing the boy. Al and Bernie end up forming a tight brotherly relationship throughout the series, as the useless and postering Bernie shows off to Al and Al hero worships the soldier. The pair are tasked with futilities; they eat burgers while staking out their target science lab, but it’s all for nought because the real soldiers, who look down on Bernie, are doing the real work behind the scenes. Everybody’s fighting their own war – even Al, who is struggling to find a place between his divorced parents and needs Bernie’s familial touch.

However, when Bernie ends up the sole survivor of Team Cyclops, he finally has his own battle to fight. Due to the operation’s failure and the make-or-break status of the war, Zeon forces decide to nuke the entire site from orbit and give Bernie precious few moments to escape. Seeing him come to terms with The Pocket’s lifestyle and choosing to save it is one of the most heartfelt moments of the anime – but not the most, we’ll get to that in a moment. Bernie shows some tactical brilliance near the end, but all plans in war are futile as Bernie darts around the city in its Christmas celebration, making a distraction and attempting to destroy the Gundam. It is really quite tragic when he learns who is piloting it, too – Al’s neighbour. In the end, nothing really mattered, because, after he enacts the plan, the ship carrying the nukes en route to The Pocket were already destroyed.

Bernie knew he was going to fail. Every soldier knows failure is an almost guaranteed outcome, but, Bernie had planned for that inevitability. He wanted to leave a world for Al to grow up in, and he knew that that world would be a good one. There’s a floppy disk recording waiting for Al when he gets home, and it features the strongest tearjerking monologue I’ve yet seen. Kouji Tsujitani as Bernie put on an impressively impassioned performance in these last few moments, explaining that soldiers are merely doing all they can, fighting for what they believe is right. ‘Don’t hate the Gundam Pilot,’ he says, as the quiet strings begin to rise. ‘They’re just like you and me: they’re just trying to do their best.’

We see Al crying at the dawn of the new, peaceful world, but, the world has not changed. Al’s friends attempt to cheer him up by showing him their new war toys. The Feds are lavishing in their victory. War isn’t cool, boys. War in the Pocket goes to great lengths to show just how tragic the reality is. When there’s any unneeded loss of life, War in the Pocket argues in a franchise deconstructing, audience-critical six episodes of sheer tension and gut-churning depictions of war, that we are all losers. Every last one of us.

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3 thoughts on “Great Anime: Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket

  1. I remember seeing this series. War in the Pocket did a much better job portraying that subject better than most Gundam series. While it’s not as powerful as Grave of the Fireflies in that regard, it’s still a worthy watch.

    That Frankie Boyle quote…Wow, that is so true when it comes to America and war movies, it’s not even funny.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must admit that I didn’t rate Grave of the Fireflies too highly. I found it quite one-dimensional, and more pandering to morality than sympathetic. I think I’m in the minority there though whoops.

      Frankie Boyle is an interesting comedian, ain’t he? Good ol’ satire. Shame he spent a good chunk of his career trying to shock more than anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re the first person who said that about Grave of the Fireflies without saying the movie was too depressing. That really is contrarian to say the least. Although, there are tons of movies I don’t like while everyone else seems to enjoy even though I’ve built a reputation for not liking a certain exalted ripoff. Haha!

        I’m not too familiar with his work, but that was a biting quote with so much truth. It’s no wonder why I’m not a fan of so many American war movies, shows, or games since they come off as jingoistic and has an agenda to it. Some war-based movies I do like are Sophie Scholl: The Final Days and Mother of Mine.

        Liked by 1 person

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