A memorable scene from Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket highlights the horrors of war: after much damage to the town, paramedics pull a female pilot out of a wrecked Gundam surrounded by debris. Our protagonist, a young boy named Al, is shocked, pupils as dilated as can be. To him, this female pilot occupies a very different sphere: a domestic one. In fact, she’s his old babysitter.
Up until this point, we’ve seen Al treat war as a cornerstone of his boyhood. To him, war machines symbolize both an adventurous exploration at the military base and a relaxing video game at home. But during this time, Al also sees war as the domain of himself, his male classmates, and his new friend Bernie—all men. The involvement of a woman he knows shows him that war isn’t solely his domain, or just a game boys play. It involves—and hurts—everyone.
Through Al, Gundam 0080 explores and deconstructs how toxic masculinity drives war, offering the conclusion that humanity can aspire much more highly. This chief message is driven home further through a main character who embraces both wartime and peacetime roles: soldier and babysitter Christina MacKenzie.
Chris and her opposing identities
Al may be the OVA’s main character, but it’s his chance reintroduction with Chris that sets him on the path to understanding the true nature of war. Head filled with mobile suits, Al collides with Christina Mackenzie, his old babysitter, on the way home one day. Her boxes drop to the ground with a resounding clatter. Realizing his fault, Al apologizes and helps her move the boxes into her house, just as a heavy downpour begins. Chris then asks if he remembers her—and Al offers an enthusiastic affirmation.
At this point, Al has no idea that this nurturing woman in his life is a soldier. In the presence of Chris, Al grows softer and more childlike, echoing back to the lyric, “Can’t you see, that you are sweet?” asked by the series’ opening theme. Chris offers Al a dry shirt and pours him tea; in a gentle tone, Chris asks if his tea needs more sugar. Al clearly adores being babied like this.
Another domestic scene occurs when Al points his camera at Chris, and she responds by jokingly miming a gun with her hand. Neither character sees the irony here—not yet—because Al isn’t yet aware of Chris’s dual roles as both domestic and soldier.
Bernie and the performative masculinity of war
Gundam 0080 provides a contrast to Chris in the form of Bernie, an enemy soldier who pilots an enemy mobile suit, the ergonomically defunct Zaku. Upon first encounter, at the close of the first episode, the viewer watches him point a gun at Al, who looks particularly vulnerable here as an unarmed (albeit meddlesome) little boy with a red cap.
In his role as a soldier, Bernie projects toughness. It takes a while for Al to realize that there’s another side to Bernie, and that his big-guy soldier act is just that: an act. The two form an unlikely acquaintanceship.
However, unlike when Chris and Al spend time together in a purely domestic environment, when Bernie and Al are together, Bernie’s mission as a soldier remains the primary focus. Bernie never forgets that he’s here to defeat the Gundam (the very mobile suit that Chris pilots, although he doesn’t know this), even sending Al to help him gather parts. Neither of them realize this could put all of their lives at stake.
Bernie’s performative toughness represents elements of toxic masculinity. It’s this drive that compels him to attack Chris in the Gundam, but it’s not he who ends up killing her. In the desperate final battle, when Chris kills Bernie, she participates in the same system that he does. While Al associates only Bernie with the masculine-coded destructiveness of war, he soon learns that women can be just as complicit in—and hurt by—its patriarchal structure.
War: a system that hurts everybody
In front of a school left in pieces, the principal discusses the horrors of war before hundreds of children. Despite not participating in the war, these students suffered the loss of loved ones and of their school. Al can no longer ignore his trauma and begins crying uncontrollably, while his classmate Dorothy runs to get the teacher. All the while, the viewer’s perspective continues to zoom out until the ruined school is just a dot on the screen.
In this final scene, the denunciation of war is implicit in the way the series shifts the focus towards the audience rather than the destroyed building. After Chris and Bernie face off, only Al and the audience know the whole story, and this isolation makes it more painful. These two young soldiers will never know who they battled in those mobile suits; Bernie will never know who killed him, and Chris will only know that she took an anonymous life in order to survive.
In the end, Chris returns to the domestic sphere, offering Al a proper goodbye before she departs from the colony for Earth, reflecting the hospitality she shows as Al’s babysitter. Being able to “switch out” of being a soldier suggests that one can also turn away from the violence of war that society so often associates with “true” masculinity. It doesn’t excuse her participation in the system, but it offers hope. Could war itself be “switched out” of? Could we ignore humanity’s toxic inclinations in exchange for resolving our problems in a different, less violent sphere of interaction? This new hope draws Al’s tears, as he grapples with the harshness of what he’s seen.
It’s here at this destroyed school that 0080 showcases the harms of war. But by zooming out—at first slowly so as to show the teacher and and his classmate Dorothy helping Al, and then zooming out again to show the crowd as a single mass and moving onto space—the show provides a larger framing that helps put the viewer at slight ease. The destruction has been done, but this peace can be expanded and can grow from their experiences with this fight. In ending the series this way, 0080 suggests that there is indeed a better way.