Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket is the first Gundam OVA, released in 1989 to commemorate the series' 10-year anniversary. It's a self-contained six-episode series, so it's perfect for anyone who doesn't have the time to get into the franchise's many series or invest in its convoluted lore. War in the Pocket received major critical acclaim and remains one of the Gundam franchise's most beloved entries.
War in the Pocket takes place in the "Universal Century" (UC) timeline in the year UC 0079-0080, during the last days of the "One Year War" between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. The details might be a little confusing for a first-time watcher, but War in the Pocket's message is more important, and the story can be easily understood even if you haven't seen the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime its story parallels. Fans who have seen the original series will appreciate the OVA's various Easter eggs, like references to the popular character Amuro Ray.
The main character, 10-year-old boy Alfred Izuruha, grows up in the Riah Republic of Side 6, a neutral colony. Though his colony is affected by the fighting in ways like food sanctions, for the most part, it's shielded from violence. Al and his friends still retain childlike innocence, thinking that mobile suits are "cool" and romanticize the flashiness of war.
Everything changes one day when he meets rookie pilot Bernard "Bernie" Wiseman. After a battle between Zeon and the Federation, Bernie's mobile suit crashes into the colony. Fascinated, Al chases down the mobile suit and meets Bernie for the first time. Initially exasperated by this naive kid, Bernie tries to shrug Al off until he realizes that Al may be an important asset to gathering intel about Side 6.
Bernie and Al become closer, and eventually, Bernie meets Al's neighbor Christina "Chris" Mackenzie. Unbeknownst to the duo, Chris is aligned with the Earth Federation -- in fact, she's the test pilot of a Gundam being developed in the Federation base that Bernie's team was originally set out to destroy. Their attraction only adds to the irony of what is yet to come. Eventually, the two sides clash again, with Bernie and Chris having to fight each other in one last battle which ends on a sorrowful note.
Most Gundam series feature younger teenage protagonists or child soldiers operating complicated mechs. War in the Pocket, however, particularly stands out because Al is only in elementary school. He's a boy with no allegiance, no mech -- just a civilian accidentally caught between two sides whose innocence is shattered when he horrifically realizes what war truly entails. Bernie and Chris are also very young, only in their early 20s, and barely understand what they are fighting for -- but their lives are expendable to those at the top.
War in the Pocket is only six episodes long but delivers Gundam's anti-war message concisely and impactfully. Heavy lessons aside, the animation is also excellent, with a realistic style similar to the Macross series. War in the Pocket is a story that will stick with you. It's available on DVD and Blu-Ray in the United States from RightStuf.