Written by Richard Brown
All little boys love to play war. What happens when one little boy finds an actual one on his doorstep? What happens if he tries to join in? War in the Pocket, the first of several side story type sequels (see 08th MS Team and Stardust Memory), takes this as its main idea. The real question, is it any good?
The Basic Plot
As the One Year War draws to a close, a trivial operation takes place on a neutral colony. Zeon’s Cyclops unit has been ordered to find and destroy a new Gundam delivered there, having failed to destroy it on earth. Meanwhile a young boy called called Al tries to escape his unhappy homelife by following the war as a hobby. After a chance meeting between him and Zeon pilot called Bernie, Al is soon gleefully trying to help their mission. However, reality doesn’t meet his expectations.
War in the Pocket is one of those mecha animes that isn’t really about mecha at all. Its single most defining feature is how unflinchingly unromantic it is as a depiction of warfare. This is not to say the anime is overtly depressing, or that it kills off cast members every episode, instead we see the concept stripped of the kind of glamour animes like Gundam give it. The Cyclops team’s mission is fairly mundane, but we see what mundane actually means to soldier; periods of inactivity and sudden violence met with apathy. One slightly surreal scene sees a ship being disguised as a damaged civilian vessel, complete with dead co-pilot. But the main tool the anime uses to impress this on the viewer is that old stand-by, the naive kiddie. Al’s “wow, cool” attitude is used to contrast the increasing dark scenario. He completely fails to grasp the meaning of what’s happening around him, instead leaping in with enthusiasm to help Bernie. Fortunately, Al does not remain a tool in this way, through the series we see him change as he grasps what war actually means. When Cyclops Team fail in their mission, Al convinces Bernie to continue on. Suffice to say, it ends badly, and the anime ends with Al in tears, as what he’s done sinks in. It’s a notable achievement that this is both appropriate to the story and totally believable for the character. The anime’s message is that war is not pleasant, and it does it with class and subtlety. Of course, if you find Al irritating, this anime is in trouble.
Al, as a convincingly kidish kid, often comes across as a little stupid, so it falls on the adults to actually carry the story. Most of them are in the military, although none openly, the colony being officially neutral. Most notable is Bernie, a combat experienced but still green Zeon pilot. Very much the junior member of the Cyclops team, he finds himself becoming Al’s hero, while in effect babysitting him. The anime is just as much of a growth experience for him as it is for Al, as he is inducted into the special forces, only to find himself facing civilian life again. This forms a direct contrast to Chris, Al’s red haired neighbour, who hides her status as a pilot from Al. One bonds with Al as a warrior, the other tries to protect him by maintaining his innocence. Solid and thankfully angst free characterisation make for a mature drama. That said, a few things count against the series. While the personal relationships are excellent, the actual plot falters in the later episodes. At times, the anime feels that its been tweaked for the maximum amount of tragedy. A slow place and a necessary absence of simple fun, make it a touch inaccessible.
Fanboys (including me) often say the main reason why Gundam got popular in the first place was because it was a solid war drama, with the coolness of giant robots. War in the Pocket however actually feels like it is one, first and foremost. Deep, insightful, but not preachy, this mature anime is worth watching. However, it is perhaps an anime more to be admired than enjoyed.