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Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1990)

It is the year UC 0083. A tentative cessation of hostility pervades the Earth, the colonies and those living on the Moon. The Earth Federation knows there are remnants of the defeated Zeon forces plotting and seeking an opportunity either for revenge or to achieve their aims of the One Year War that concluded in UC 0080.

On Luna (the Moon) Anaheim Electronics have developed two new Gundam mobile suits (RX-78GP01 and RX-78GP02) which are being shipped to Australia to undergo Earth-based testing and evaluation by the test pilots at the Torrington Base. Meanwhile Anavel Gato- an ace Zeon pilot- is putting into practice a plan to turn the tide of war against the Federation. When the Albion transport ship arrives, 19 year old test pilot Kou Uraki drags his friend Chuck Kieth to see the new mobile suits. As the Zeon operation commences Uraki charges headlong into combat and becomes embroiled, along with Gato and the Albion, in Operation Stardust.

I was very much looking forward to the release of Gundam 0083. I knew nothing about the show other than it was set in the Universal Century and given the date in the title, it was bridge between the events in the original Mobile Suit Gundam and those in Zeta Gundam (the eagle eyed will spot some familiar faces). As I am a fan of the UC-set shows (apart from one) I had high expectations from the story and the mechanical designs. What I wasn't expecting was a show from 1990 to look *that good* and have such great animation. I cannot stress enough just how good it looks.

The 13 episode series is Directed by Mitsuko Kase (first half) and Takashi Imanishi (second half). Imanishi also directed other Gundam shows like the recent Gundam Origin. It has a pretty high pedigree of individuals who worked on the show with character designs by Toshihiro Kawamoto who went on to co-found the anime studio Bones (RahXephon, Wolf's Rain, Fullmetal Alchemist, Space Dandy, My Hero Academia to name but a few) and was the character designer on the much loved Cowboy Bebop. On mechanical designs we have Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell are a few works he has been involved with). Thankfully I found this out afterwards otherwise those expectations would have been *very* high indeed.

Operation Stardust begins with a simple act - the theft of one of these new Gundams. One of them looks pretty familiar in shape and size (the RX-78GP01 if you're interested), the other is its twin if it had been on a strict body-building regime. The GP02 is bulked out with extra armour and shielding which is highly functional given that it is equipped with a cannon that can fire a nuclear warhead. With the GP02 stolen a sense of urgency and panic creeps into the Federation and a their allies. Just what is the Zeon plan?

The Albion seems to be able to act autonomously which is handy given the bluff, double-bluffs, deals, spies, insurgency, rebellion and chaos that ensues as we approach the finale of Operation Stardust and the inevitable confrontation of Uraki and Gato. Embarking on missions on Earth and in space the Albion and its crew are at the centre of much conflict and some impressive action sequences. The mecha design work is familiar and very "Gundam" and throughout it feels like a theatrical quality animation distilled into a TV show. 

Whilst I really enjoyed the central story of Operation Stardust and the return to the cat-and-mouse chases between the Federation and Zeon military some of the side-stories didn't work for me. These tended to focus on the relationships between crew members on the Albion which seemed at best charmless and worst tasteless.

Where they did work they were a bit of fun or added to the world. The fun bits included Chuck going on a date with Mora Bascht a military engineer assigned to the Gundams. It was daft but fit Chuck's character. In terms of world building showing how the Zeon survivors integrated into society or tried to was initially a distraction but I warmed to Kelly Layzner (voiced by Richard Epcar) and wished we could have spent more time with him, his partner and Uraki to pick apart some of the issues they raised. Also seeing the opportunistic and arrogant behaviour of both Federation and Zeon forces (usually adults) gave a hint of realism and grounding to the familiar anti-war stance of the show.

The introduction of a trio of veteran Federation mobile suit pilots early on was bound to set up a tension if not hostility between them and Uraki. Bernard Monsha, Alpha Bate (really!??) and Chap Adel, ex colleagues of Lt. Burning (who trained Uraki and Kieth) bring mobile suit combat experience to the Albion as it searches for Gato. Monsha starts out a a lecherous foil for a naive Uraki. Monsha's actions encompass sexual harassment right through to something akin to assault and racism against the Zeon "spacenoids". This for me was the more tasteless side of 0083. Some of this is played for laughs (it isn't funny) to being a bit edgy (which it isn't). If he just stayed this lecherous character who had a problem with Uraki piloting the Gundam, I would have wanted him off the show but he would have been consistent. However the animosity seems to be dropped mid-way through and he just is ... objectionable. I'm not really sure what his friends are for - they try to handle him but I found them kind of forgettable.

Nina Purpleton (the object of Monsha's attention) starts out as a "systems engineer" on the new Gundam project. Torn between the love and passion of her work and her developing feelings for Uraki the character walks a fine line between professional and personal. Initially I wasn't sure if she was not manipulating Uraki to get more out of the Gundam test flights (would have been a neat plot point). But again midway through she changes to a lovesick character. Gone is the strength and focus she had and as we lack the foundation of a relationship with her and Uraki none of the emotion really lands. Unlike say Fraw and Amuro (when Matilda arrived on the scene) in Mobile Suit Gundam where you see and hear interactions so that when it comes their words and deeds really hurt each other and you get why.

Nina's descent into an adolescent mirrors Uraki's increased determination or as I interpreted, obsession, with Gato - again a bit like Amuro and Char but with much less history. As the various love triangles are revealed some of the vertices (to continue the geometrical metaphor) don't really connect or make a huge amount of sense because there is no prior information, no hint of a logical set-up or build-up to the big reveals. One of the final reveals left me going "What?! Where did *that* come from?"

There were a couple of other things that jarred with me too, like the character changes with Zeon prisoners later in the series. These, and other, mid-series changes could be a result of the episode director changing around the halfway point. I really am being quite picky about the more minor elements - normally these things wouldn't bother me. The change in Nina and the clumsy storytelling are pretty significant for me and, I don't know, just felt un-necessary somehow - it felt like she had been undermined in some way.

It is difficult to ignore the fact that RX-78GP02 is equipped with a nuclear warhead. Much has been written about Japan's relation to atomic bomb in anime and manga, from Tezuka works, Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen and many many more. The fear and uncertainty that this weapon brings to the show runs through it all and for a few characters in the show there is the hint that creating GP02 was a mistake, that lessons of the past have not been learnt.

In Gundam 0083 the nuclear part of the story feels more like a metaphor for the potential of technology and that it can be used for constructive or destructive purposes. It felt like it was saying that technology *will* be misused by humanity so ... think it through first. This then ties in very well with the more conventional Gundam conflict in the rest of the show.


For someone who has never watched a Gundam show let alone anything from the Universal Century  Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory is a fantastic place to start (even with the objectionable elements). It's 13 episode run time is very "modern" and gives a great, self contained story released at a time when 20-plus episodes was the norm. Its story also does not require any prior knowledge. Of course, having that prior knowledge gives some events or characters a bit more significance but everything that you need to know is served when you need it. Whether it was a conscious decision, it stays away from the more niche elements of the show (i.e. Newtypes) making it very accessible if you want to watch a space-opera with neat designs, good action and great animation which still holds up to this day.

Whilst really looking forward to watching Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was a well contained side-story set in the Universal Century with animation and character designs that still hold up today. I am still impressed by the quality on display for 1990 TV show, not an OAV. The character design work by Toshihiro Kawamoto pays homage to those of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko giving it a familiar feel. It fills the gap between Gundam and Zeta Gundam nicely. Sadly, it is let down by a couple of badly realised characters which, for me, dragged the show down when they were on screen. I was also not overly fond of the slightly upbeat end-of-credits moment at the end of the final episode - it felt out of place and crow-barred into the story. That being said it was great entertainment for fans and newcomers to the Universal Century Gundam.


IN A NUTSHELL:  A fantastic entry point into the Gundam franchise and especially the Universal Century and a must have for any Gundam fan.