Christmas always brings thoughts of War in the Pocket, for it takes place at Christmas, and I first watched it at Christmas, longer ago than I care to recall. I was glad, therefore, to see Stephen Hero publish a new essay on it at Zimmerit, which, first of all, I encourage you to read, and this prompted me to type out a few scraps of thought on the OVA.
Stephen sees 0080 honing Gundam’s earlier scepticism about utopian visions of space colonisation. While perhaps most clued-up Gundam fans know of O’Neill cylinders as a concept, he offers some handy background on the times and the optimistic milieu from which the concept came, and which the original Mobile Suit Gundam might in part have been answering.
He doesn’t, though, really discuss how or whether the colonisation of space matches up with the colonisation of land on Earth. The two differ. Space lives up to the coloniser’s otherwise-illusory fantasy of a place owned by no one. The evils of space colonisation in the Universal Century appear to be the division of space up into private territory, and the use of space as a dumping ground for unwanted groups.
In any case, my instincts agree with Stephen and with early Gundam: if you put humans in space in large numbers, they’re still going to act like humans. Plus, the reasons and processes which put them in space will pass on all the moral stain of Earth’s troubles. If, hypothetically, space-dwellers emerged who could more deeply grasp each other’s thought, they would indeed live lives tragically shaped by the mess surrounding them. I don’t believe people would act better given a clean-slate starting-place, but since we’ll never achieve such a clean slate the problem’s moot.
None of that makes me wise or clever. It just means I’m a pessimist! And even I think that at some times and places in this life we have moments when we can be better, when we can, if you will, choose to push the asteroid back a little.
Stephen also touches on the problem of Gundam’s view of war. I think someone wrote on that fairly persuasively a decade and change ago. That guy’s prose style, attitudes, and general knowledge all left much to be desired, but I broadly agree with his view that most Gundam titles before the mid-nineties presented war as something terrible yet sometimes necessary.
0080 makes one of the few early departures from that, with its hints that its story would have turned out better had someone, at some point, refused to fight, and with its troubling vein of toy imagery lurking in the background of Al’s fascination with mobile suits.
The crisply realist animation of the battles heightens this effect, most notably in the beginning’s Arctic raid and in the bloody, catastrophic hangar gunfight in episode 4. (When I say ‘realist animation’, I don’t mean that what happens plausibly could happen in reality. I mean that the animation makes what happens look as it might if it did happen.) We can assume that the graffiti saying ‘Beirut’ didn’t wind up in 0080 by chance.
(Yet I hesitate over whether we should receive these as fables. A fable has a moral graspable from the outcome of its plot. As each year passes I grow less and less sure that we should take this as our default model for talking about anime.)
One thing I wonder about the colony setting of 0080 is: why does it look so much like certain bits of the USA, right down to white picket fences? Side 6 has struck me since I first saw the OVA as a confection of Americana. Specifically, planned, late-industrial Californian mid-twentieth-century urban Americana and, even more specifically, Irvine and Lakewood. I’ve only visited one of these. The other, in its later-twentieth-century form, I’ve read of.
That’s just my impression, of course, as an outsider to both Japan and the States. But it is my impression. If I’m right, I wonder why they did that.
A note on the covers in this article: these appear to be from laserdiscs with digital audio, which circulated from 1987 under the name ‘CD Video’, a name they unhelpfully shared with a separate CD format which carried a short clip of built-in laserdisc video.