With innovation and originality in legacy entertainment now relegated to the past, I’ve been getting my fix from pre-Cultural Ground Zero properties.
The best part of revisiting the classics is sharing hidden gems with friends who’d missed them the first time around. When it comes to anime, the late 80s to early 90s is a dragon’s hoard of forgotten treasures.
That was back during the Bubble Economy, when animation club otaku working out of a shed could get real estate speculator sugar daddies to fund their splatterpunk OAVs. That era was the last time anime as a genre took risks, and it gave rise to an unmistakable aesthetic never seen before or since.
For those who are unfamiliar with anime, the closest American analog to the Bubble Economy startups would be the mafia-financed 1970s film scene. The key difference being that 90s anime looks timeless, whereas the 70s mob kitsch looks dated.
One of my personal favorite early 90s anime series is Mobile Suit Gundam: 0083 – Stardust Memory. Admittedly, this OAV series from one of the biggest franchises around flew under my radar on its first release. Like most American viewers, I didn’t catch 0083 until its US cable TV debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim in 2002. The mechanical design, slick dogfights, and jazzy pop score hooked me right away.
0083 is remarkable for having had an unorthodox production at a time when weirdness was the norm. The series switched directors halfway through its thirteen-episode run. The results aren’t remotely subtle, either. As a prime example, two characters who obviously don’t recognize each other in episode one turn out to be former lovers in episode thirteen.
Contemporary viewers used to safe, by-the-numbers plotting might be thrown for a loop by 0083’s tendency to fly by the seat of its pants. Being a meticulous outliner myself, the series’ midstream tone and character shifts caught me off guard the first time around. But on rewatching, there’s no question that the changes introduced by the second director turned out to be for the better.
Stardust Memory is thirty years old now, well past the spoiler statue of limitations. There’s no need for a book-length plot synopsis, though. Three years after the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the victorious Earth Federation sends two new Gundam prototypes to Australia for testing. A Zeon remnant led by One Year War ace Anavel Gato steal the second prototype – which happens to have nuclear strike capability. Feddie test pilot Kou Uraki swears to Gudam engineer Nina Purpleton that he’ll recover her lost pet mech and sets out in Unit 01 to confront Gato.
That would be a pretty typical Real Robot style story if not for that fact that Kou utterly fails his mission.
He goes multiple rounds with Gato, and the best result he can manage is a draw. Every other time the Nightmare of Solomon takes the plucky Ensign to the woodshed for a thorough ass-whuppin’.
One of those stalemates also ends with both Gundams Kou vowed to bring back exploding.
Right after Kou shows up too late to stop Gato from nuking two-thirds of the Federation fleet.
Even then, the uncaring universe isn’t finished spitting on Kou Uraki, who suffers his crowning humiliation when he fails to avert a colony drop because Nina cucks him with Gato.
After that, being sentenced to a year’s hard labor is an uptick in Kou’s fortunes.
That’s right, Gundam 0083 pulled off the “Slimy, backroom-dealing brass totally shafting their valiant frontline troops” plot in a way not seen again Until Galaxy’s Edge.
Because 0083’s special role in the Gundam canon turns out to be as an origin story for the main villains of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the tyrannical Titans.
NB: I hadn’t yet seen Zeta the first time I watched 0083. This time around, the cornucopia of Zeta Gundam Easter eggs bowled me over.
Fresh off another viewing, Mobile Suit Gundam: 0083 cements its place as step two in my recommended Gundam newbie viewing order. If you’re new to Gundam, watch the three original series compilation movies first, then watch 0083 before diving into Zeta. The peak early 90s look and killer action are well worth the price of admission.
Just don’t expect a happy ending. After all, this is war.
They may not make ’em like they used to anymore, but I do. To scratch your High 90s mecha itch, claim your copies of my military thriller saga Combat Frame XSeed on Indiegogo. Every backer gets the two newest eBooks, plus a free short story. The Pocket War card game playtest is still open, and we’re closing in on our Print-a-Mech stretch goal. Help indie mecha break into the mainstream.
Originally published here.