23 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Secret Santa review: Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket


My experience with Gundam hasn’t been filled with joy, to put it lightly. The first I saw was 00, which I enjoyed until the last batch of episodes in season 2 where it didn’t so much shoot itself in the foot as drop a nuclear missile on its toe. Then I saw the first episode of Unicorn, which I couldn’t follow for the life of me. I figured that I should probably learn more about the UC universe so I could follow Unicorn, so I jumped right back to the original. I thought that was decent so long as Char was on screen, but I got bored around the stage they went on that stupid hunt for salt and never picked it back up. Next was Seed, which I probably would have enjoyed if any of the characters had any personality whatsoever, somehow making it through a solid 20 episodes of that. The last was Age, which caused me to hurl my hands up in the air in frustration yelling “IT’S ALL THE SAME SHIT”, vowing never to touch Gundam again.

But then my Secret Santa gave me War in the Pocket so I didn’t really have a choice.

First impressions were bad, primarily because it set up exactly the same way every single other friggen Gundam series seems to do. We’re on a space colony and here’s this kid who loves giant robots but ohsnap robots attack! The kid finds a giant robot with no pilot in it. It’s around about there that this show differentiates itself because the kid in question is about 8 years old. Even when the pilot of the downed robot picks himself up and points a gun at him, the kid is still jumping about with unbridled enthusiasm, wanting to have a look at the Zeon gun and asking to have a go in the cockpit.

The primary theme of War in the Pocket is…well, it’s Gundam so it’s WAR IS BAD. But being a bit more specific, it’s about the childish wonder and dreams of war and the military versus the grim reality of what it actually entails. It’s not just about war being full of death and destruction and all that, but also how the glamour isn’t really there and the frailty of what appears like magnificent war machines being exposed. The story is primarily about Bernie, a rookie pilot from Zeon, and his relationship with Al, the enthusiastic kid I mentioned earlier. It’s a familiar story about the failure of an adult lying to a child to gain his respect and be hero worshipped, but when forced to face by the reality of the situation he draws strength from the belief of the kid who believes in him and becomes the hero he pretended he was.

Calling Bernie a failure isn’t really correct. It’s more that he’s hopelessly out of his depth. He boasts to Alfred that he’s an ace pilot who has shot down loads of Federation mechas, but in reality he’s some nobody whose only battle experience is being instantly shot down. Yet he’s placed on a veteran commando team who give him tasks simply to keep him out of their way. If anything looks like its going wrong in the plan, it’s always his fault. I don’t mean that ironically either, the show is very deliberate about how it will be little things that he says or does that causes their plans to go wrong.

That’s something in general that impressed me about War in the Pocket. It’s very deliberately put together. There’s nothing there that doesn’t need to be there, and all the scriptwriting is incredibly tight. Something I wanted to throw myself down on the floor in praise in was how it allowed character’s personalities to play out without ever having to point them out. The commando crew are all men of habit. Things like how their captain would put cigarettes in his mouth but never light one, or how one of them would make a habit of filling up his hip flask and hanging it up in his robot. It’s a sign at how long they’ve been doing this, while in comparison poor old Bernie has no traditions like that. It’s a small thing, but these traits build up.

Bernie is the king of this, and easily the best character of the show. His growth from bragging but inexperienced rookie to role model for Alfred is fantastic, particularly again in the way the show never feels to point all this out to us. His relationship with the female Federation pilot Chris was pretty great in how it was clear they had feelings, but both seemed to know that they were ultimately on two different sides of this war and would never be together. The hopeless romantic in me clung to the belief that this would be power of love overcoming their opposing sides of this conflict.

Which is what makes that ending the biggest kick in the gut.The BIGGEST kick in the gut, to the point that I was gripping the side of my face going “oh god no don’t do this noo”. Let me make this clear that I mean this in a good way. The painful fragility on this war machine Bernie and Alfred had poured their soul into rebuilding. The way it wraps back into the pointlessness of the conflict, particularly with who was piloting the Gundam, gives the show a much better narrative arc to something like Grave of the Fireflies, where the depression just feels relentless and done deliberately to hit you. In War in the Pocket, it’s ultimately the only direction that would have given the show the proper conclusion to what it was building up.

It’s there that you also realise how deliberately the whole thing is put together. It’s not that it ‘gets better’ or anything. War in the Pocket is always good, but the further you get into it, the more you realise how everything ties together. It’s the mark of fine storytelling. I will say though that I do think it missed a trick by not playing Bernie’s video as the very last thing. I get why they wanted to have the shot of the kids saying “don’t mind, there will be another war soon” as the last thing because of how it ties into Alfred’s loss of innocence. I guess this is a selfish desire, but the doomed relationship between Bernie and Chris felt like the perfect symbol of the pointlessness of the conflict. With Bernie’s final words in that video asking Al to hi to Chris for him, it fucking hit me like a sledgehammer.

War in the Pocket is without doubt the best Gundam I’ve seen by a considerable distance, and with the possible exception of FLCL, the best short OVA series I’ve ever seen. Thank you Secret Santa (although I’m pretty certain I know who you are because you kinda let it slip to me when you were drunk), I enjoyed that a hell of a lot more than I was anticipating.

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  1. Karry
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s actually quite nice to know that even such mediocrity as War in the Pocket, the worst Gundam OVA, had found its faithful audience. Well, i guess Alex is a nice and clean design, so thanks for that, at the very least.

  2. Inuhanyou
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    When someone says war in the pocket is mediocre, that’s when i guess you really find out there are all kinds of people on the internet.

    Man i saw this series as a kid on toonami many years ago and i bawled like a fuckin baby at the end. There isn’t one gundam series around that actually lives up to the theme of the entire franchise more than 0080, i can say that having watched every single series at one point or the other.

    Wing is popcorn fanservice fun, and 08th MS team has excellent production values, but there’s nothing else in the Gundam Universe that can actually get you to thinking about how meaningless conflict all is and how it tears apart relationships and how the kids actually see these scenario’s never having to come face to face with actual death and loss from wartime and and and.

    Just…a very great series.

  3. Posted December 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    War in the Pocket really is a tightly written story (the screenwriter also wrote Royal Space Force fwiw), something I tend to forget because it’s that gut punch that tends to stick around in your memory.

    Ultimately it’s not as much of a “proper” Gundam OVA as Stardust Memory or even 08th MS Team, as it’s such a standalone story and the idea of what particular war is happening is not super relevant to the story, but a “war is hell, but with nuance” story like that fits pretty nicely into the UC universe.

    As a side note, either of those two OVAs (Stardust Memory and 08th MS Team) and the theatrical versions of the original Gundam 0079 story (they cut out the salt hunt) would go a long way toward your appreciation of UC and Gundam in general. Seed is gross, 00 is less so but I couldn’t manage to finish it.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      It still benefits from knowing some general Gundam knowledge. Dropping references to White Base and Newtypes, but more importantly it’s seeing the Gundam itself in a different light that impressed me. Still, it does stand near-perfectly with no knowledge of the franchise

    • luffyluffy
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      Did you just tell Scamp to watch 0083, aka the only Gundam project to make me actually physically angry

  4. Inuhanyou
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I also would add that, if your looking to get into more gundam, the newer series aren’t really all that good for first impressions, so i’m sorry that you got suckered in with those first(i’m talking Gundam Seed onwards are pretty much all mediocre to varying degrees)

    I’d suggest trying out Turn A Gundam if you ever have the chance. No overt extensive knowledge of the franchise is necessary or required, and still an excellent tale nonetheless.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      I should point out that, apart from those last terrible episodes, I genuinely enjoyed 00. Probably helped that it was the first Gundam I saw that.

      I’ve been eyeing up Turn A for a while now, but the things I’ve been hearing about G Gundam have been putting that higher on my priority list

      • Inuhanyou
        Posted December 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Yeah i’d definitely agree with that. I felt a large dip in quality around the year 2000 mark for the Gundam franchise but i still don’t understand why that is.

        I found the original Seed to be somewhat decent although Seed Destiny was completely abysmal, and 00 was much better then that although it felt like it was aping a lot of the concepts that the previous gundam franchises put forth, although in a less than stellar fashion(00 in particular i thought cribbed criminally from Gundam Wing)

        Speaking of that, i’m sorry, did i say Wing was popcorn fanservice fun? No no no…G GUNDAM is popcorn fanservice fun. Its just great over the top martial arts action with extreme guts and yelling and just insanity like a windmill gundam or a magical girl gundam based on all the nations of the world.

        Its far removed from even the most outlying of the other non UC gundam franchises in its general presentation and setting. I’d definitely be another voice in recommending you check that one out pronto.


      • Posted December 22, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        I haven’t seen Turn A, but of the seven Gundam series I’m watching now, G is definitely the one that someone who hates Gundam is most likely to enjoy.

        Though getting into UC is also pretty worth it.

  5. luffyluffy
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I watched the 0079 movies on youtube and then 08th MS Team in about a week, but it was my one-day-watch of 0080 that truly made me fall in love with Gundam, and by fall in love with the series as a whole. Not only were the characters just LOVELY but the robot designs were amazing, I mean in one show you’ve got: The Hygogg, the GM Sniper II, Kampfer, NT-1 ALEX, and Bernie’s Zaku Kai. Those are all honest to god beautiful robot designs (WRIST MOUNTED GATTLING GUNS).

    I’m really glad you liked it scamp! You should give UC another try by watching the comp movies. They really upped the animation quality and trimmed the fat and also added a lot INTO the story like inputting a lot of things from the non-canon novels (Gihren secretary, the Flannigan Institute). Plus by continuing to watch UC you get to watch Zeta Gundam which basically has the best written protag IN UC, and Bright Noa.

    Also you dropped at the salt episode? What did you not even see Doan’s Island?

    • Posted December 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      I basically second everything that you said except that I haven’t seen 08th MS yet.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 22, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      I’ve got the comp movies, but again I’ve got a big solid backlog in the way of getting to any Gundam.

      • luffyluffy
        Posted December 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        it’s only three movies, it’s literally nothing to get twisted up over.

        I will say, the second movie drags a lot during the Ramba Ral arc but after that you’ve got the FANTASTICALLY redone Belfast arc and the whole attack on Jaburo, and then you’ve got All of Encounters in Space to watch. If I could get through 90% of UC Gundam in less than a year, you can watch three movies.

    • R1CK_D0M
      Posted December 23, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      Zeta? Fantastically done protag? You mean Kamille and his series wide revenge against Jerid for saying that Kamille is a girl’s name?

      (I know that’s not actually what it is but it’s fun to think that way)

      • luffyluffy
        Posted December 23, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

        Well, I’ve got a heavy bias towards Kamille (my own name is Camille so HAHAHAH BIAS) so in the end when you compare kamille from the first episode to kamille of the last episode, the difference is truly staggering. Zeta Gundam is basically my no.1 fave anime of all time.

  6. Posted December 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I got my start with Gundam watching the 0079 movies on the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd last year just in time to watch this with my friend on Christmas Eve. And it is most of the reason that I’ve decided to watch more of the franchise in the first place (though none of the others have topped it so far). Absolutely fantastic.

    The first thing that I noticed was that I’m pretty sure the fight scene at the beginning was done by Mitsuo Iso (the guy who did Dennou Coil and the Asuka fight from End of Eva). And it only went uphill (or downhill, depending on how you look at it) from there. One of the few anime that has left me sitting there speechless, and the only thing I could think afterwards was “that was really good” over and over again.

    Merry Christmas and I hope you enjoyed your hamburgers.

  7. R1CK_D0M
    Posted December 23, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    “What was in the Zaku?”
    “Nothing but a pile of Hamburger”

    >best line

    • Scamp
      Posted December 23, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Best line for me will always be the simple end of that video “say hi to Chris for me”

  8. Posted December 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    War in the Pocket is definitely the best Gundam OVA. Poor Bernie just wants to be cool, and then … all THAT happens to the poor guy. Jesus.

    • Posted December 23, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Also, War in the Pocket has a nice eye catch jingle. I hear it in my head every time I see that intro image, haha.

  9. Posted December 24, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Ghostlightning once told me that because 0080 was the 10th anniversary project of the original Gundam, Al was particularly modeled after the young, naive Gundam fan. Fans of the franchise were supposed to see their old selves in Al, watch him living out their grand robot war fantasies, and reflect on the sobering reality of that fantasy. In that way, War in the Pocket is a deconstruction of all the other Gundams and robot war stories in general. Merry Christmas indeed.

  10. banagherlinks
    Posted September 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    not so many gundam animes out there have the right to bear the name of “gundam”. Despite all the redundancies, super robot shittiness and fangirls screaming out loud….. heero!!!!! there was a hidden pearl in the franchise. Yup, war in the pocket is my favorite gundam ova(aside from unicorn). I even rewatch it every year during Christmas season, I hate to compare but this ova is definitely a hell better than mediocre dipshits known as wing, shit destiny,00,ZZ and age.

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