Week five of Hot Summer Flashbacks drags us back to the early 90’s with Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, a 13 episode OAV set in (you guessed it!) UC 0083. For context, MSGSM is a ret-con of sorts, and attempts to show us what exactly happened between the original Mobile Suit Gundam and the first sequel: Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Thankfully, MSGSM does this job quite well and, while I wouldn’t recommend giving it a watch without prior Gundam experience, it’s definitely worth your time if you liked the 08th MS Team OAV that precedes it.
On the surface, Stardust is the tale of vengeful Zeon survivors from the final battle of the One Year War run off with a nuke-loaded experimental Gundam and it’s up to a young test pilot and a rag tag force of heroes to stop them before a mega catastrophe can happen. However, since Stardust has to explain the mess that is Gundam Zeta (spoilers), it is also the story of multi-faction politics, characters who admire the ‘double cross’ and the collapse of the Federation’s moral high ground.
Our hero is Kou Uraki, a 19 year old test pilot and mecha-phile. I use the term ‘hero’ lightly here because Kou’s motivation bounce between revenge, hate, mecha lust, girl lust and momentum more than a meaningful sense of duty or hope in a better future. I didn’t find much to like about his regular scowl, selfishness but what really spays Kou as a central character is his total lack of agency in the plot. He’s just a pilot, and not that good a pilot if I’m being honest, and his powerful Gundam is powerless against the politics going on around it.
By comparison, Anavel Gato is far more compelling. At first he seems like a ho-hum villain with an ax to grind with the Federation. As we get to know him, and see the string of bureaucratic and/or evil Federation admirals up to no good, he won my sympathy in a way original Gundam’s Char never did. Gato also gave us a smile for shouting at Kou for being inept, and then again for shouting at Kou for earnestly thanking an enemy for lessons as if Gato were just another instructor. In short, where Kou is our proxy for feeling like an angry teenager in the Universal Century, Gato is out proxy for feeling trapped by politics and wanting to take meaningful steps to fix things.
Unfortunately, no Gundam would be complete without an extraneous maybe-love interest female character shoved in and, while Nina Purpleton isn’t completely awful, I didn’t like her much either. Like Kou, she’s emotionally all over the map. Worse, the abrupt nature of her moods makes her complex loyalty chart less interesting and less meaningful to us.
For goodness sake! Nina is a civilian engineering stuck on a Federation battle ship, responsible for testing Gundams for a private military manufacturing company based on the moon, which is selling tech to both the Federation and Zeon in an attempt to stay neutral, and she has a hate/love relationship with the Federation pilot who flies her Gundams AND a long lost love interest in a Zeon pilot who has stolen them. This should be interesting as hell but it’s not!
On the up side, Stardust pulls some neat twists and explains the political mess that follows in Gundam Zeta far better than Gundam Zeta does. Right or wrong, the Federation is a totalitarian fist willing to work with villains and sacrifice its own to solidify its power. Right or wrong, Zeon is the space-born’s only hope for independence and Axis (a semi-neutral post Zeon colony in the asteroid belt) is going to pick up Zeon’s torch. Right or wrong, People are willing to shift alliances to save the ones the love or even just save their own skins.
It’s also a good looking show with a solid render quality. Be it pin ups above the pilots bunks, or trash in the corner, Stardust pays close attention to the details.
On the down side, Stardust has THE WORST MUSIC OF ALL GUNDAM EVER, I hated the protagonist and really most of the Federation cast (the pilots are bizarrely girl crazy, antagonistic and mostly just background fill), and the romantic pacing was jerky.
In closing, I give the show credit for making its super power Gundams less powerful than the political change in the end. I also enjoyed that the story took its time to unfold and didn’t spell everything out. Still, given how many characters appear in the show, and what the show is ultimately about, I would have preferred the POV being told entirely from Zeon’s point of view. Hell, they have their own internal struggles, villains and heroes without having to focus on the bland bunch of jerk-teens we see in the federation.
MAL Score: 7.56