"Stardust Memory" is the prequel to "Zeta Gundam" and so is tasked with telling the story as to why the Earth Federation went from being the good guys in the original show, to being a load of jackasses that created the Titans.
"Gundam 0083" is better than "Zeta" for several reasons - chief amongst them being that the show has a plot. "Zeta" was just an endless repetition of battles without any kind of resolution. With only thirteen episodes, every moment is essential for the storyline to move forward, meaning we can't waste time with moronic extraneous characters or whiny teenage angst. But more importantly, the characters here by and large actually are likable. The animation is not only crisper but the battles are better choreographed and give a proper feeling of danger and tension - its amazing how much better Japanese animation got in just ten years between the 80s and the 90s. "Gundam 0083" didn't leave me wishing for every character to die, so it gets a pass.
First of all, I am currently in a wild very hot love affair with the first opening theme of this show, "the Winner". Some people compare it to "Top Gun"'s legendary main theme, "Highway to the Danger Zone". I don't know about that, but they're at least as equally as awesome. The second opening theme, "Men of Destiny" is less good, but I'm not complaining.
One of the cool things about "Gundam 0083" was that they actually tried to give the villains sympathetic motivations. Zeon lost the war, all that's left is a small fleet of underdogs gambling everything on a final attack. These are not the cartoon villains from "Zeta" who gas whole Space Colonies for no reason. They're proud warriors led by the Nightmare of Solomon. Oh, the Nightmare's real name is a lot less scary - its Anavel Gato. Yes, the Nightmare of Solomon is actually Mr. Kitty. On the other hand, "Gato" does have a kinda dark ring to it. Gato is such a man of honor that he sends out a warning flare to his enemy in a surprise attack. Its the heroes who have the overwhelming force, its the villains whose plan could fall apart any moment. Plus the fact that we never really know what the goal of Operation Stardust is until the last second gives a great air of mystery. One villain, Lady Cima, is basically a mad pirate who lounges on her tigerskin couch while laughing about how evil she is. Okay, she's a cartoon villain, but the others are okay.
The mobile suit battles are excellent works of art. Ironically enough, I think the very first fight of the show, a training fight on Earth, is the best choreographed battle in all "Gundam 0083". But its never like the battles actively get boring to watch. The fights on Earth are better designed - because sadly even after thirty years I don't think Gundam directors have managed to figure out how to draw battles in space. Unless there is a large frame of reference like the ground of the Earth or the Moon or a Space Colony below, the fights really don't make any sense, you don't get a real sense of speed or location. This is why the final climax of "Gundam Wing" had Zechs and Heero fighting inside a space station. Of course, "Gundam 0083" figures out about as good of a solution to space combat - simply throw so many ships and explosions and characters yelling that the climax manages to be totally awesome anyway. The final battle also wisely takes place during an imposed time limit to stop a catastrophe - sort of like the endings to "Gundam Wing" and "Char's Counterattack".
What I find hilarious is how amazingly overpowered the Gundams get by the end of the show. By episode ten both Gato and Kou upgrade to new mobile suits. The things they then pilot are giant hulks of death, massive machines that blow up battleships in seconds. They're also like ten times the size of a regular mobile suit, and regular mobile suits are all six stories tall. These things are as big as Godzilla and just as deadly***. I don't remember any single Gundam in any series being this overpowered. One of them has a canon so big that Kou uses it to literally gun rape a mobile suit. "Zeta" is supposed to be the sequel, yet the weapons in that war seem so much slower than the normal units here - probably because the animation there is far less fluid. And there is no weapon in "Zeta" that ever gets near as ridiculous as the things that Kou and Gato fight each other with.
Of course, this is ultimately a Gundam series, so its ultimately a space soap opera. The hero, Kou, of course has a love interest in Nina, the engineer behind the new Gundam models. Kou, however, is a silly guy too timid to even ask her out... and Nina is a goddamn bitch. Nina in episode five leads the guy on, then suddenly turns to ice out of nowhere, leading Kou to get so pissed off that he accidentally trashes his Gundam. Later on they seem to get together and everything almost works out, until the last episode... we'll get on that in a moment. Just know that Nina likes to cry a lot. I'll give Kou some respect though, because he grows up a lot during this series becoming a true MAN OF DESTINY. The other side characters in this show do a good job of supporting the hero. I like how the hero's tiny nerdy best friend and the heroine's gigantic best friend wind up as a couple, she's like twice as big as he is and it works in the weirdest way. And the mentor is the most badass character on the show - his name is BURNING for one thing. Sadly BURNING is the killed off in the most brutally cruel manner.
Now onto Nina... here come spoilers okay. This is unavoidable because I simply cannot avoid talking about this. Normally spoilers are something I reserve for shows and movies I don't like, I got to make an exception here because what Nina does in "Gundam 0083" is so unbelievably bitchy that there is no way I can't address this issue. Its a writing fumble so bad that the show literally shotguns itself in the foot. SPOILERS: Turns out that Nina is actually Gato's ex-girlfriend who he left when he started Operation Stardust. The whole show, Nina is actually pining after Gato while giving Kou sloppy seconds. (This is actually a earth-shattering plothole because Nina sees Gato steal the Gundam in the first episode, but doesn't recognize him. And Gato isn't the kind of guy you forget about.) So in the climax, Kou confronts Gato while Nina is in the room. Kou has a gun, Nina has a gun. Gato is minutes away from his evil scheme coming together. So what does Nina do? She points the gun at Kou! She decisively chooses the villain over the hero! She's the most horrible character ever!!! Even Bella Swan is not this bad. I mean, she fucks with two guys at the same time, but at least one of those guys isn't trying to effectively blow up the Earth. Then at the end of the show, when Gato has killed himself in a kamikaze attack, Nina goes back to Kou, and he takes her back. WHY?? WHY?????? Why would anybody take this bitch back? And the funny part is, I'm not just ranting right now (well I am) - everybody who has seen "Gundam 0083" says the same thing. This entire plotline is stupid.
Kou thinks Nina is a bitch too.
The voice acting here is pretty decent in English. I didn't try the Japanese dub because well... I prefer English. Deal with it. Its not like the acting is perfect, it could be better, but its not like it was intolerably bad like "Zeta".
One more thought: whoever is the guy who hired Gundam engineers is the biggest pimp in all of history. They're collectively a bevy of babes lifted off of a ridiculous Michael Bay movie. There is not a plain one in the bunch. Who needs Nina when there are like ten other beauties to choose from?
So that's "Gundam 0083", pretty decent. Short and sweet, basically without major issues aside from Nina. Next Gundam target is "08th MS Team" - a show that for some reason I've completely forgotten in the last ten years. But I recall that one being something like the best series of all, it might be the only Gundam series to be better than "Wing". And after that I think I'll be all Gundam'd out.
* Again, why don't Gundams ever have keys? So many of these plotlines could be avoided if Gundams just had the advanced security system of my beat up old Chevy.
** The Battle of Solomon was a major battle in the original "Mobile Suit Gundam". Luckily "Gundam 0083" explains this to people who have no idea what that is, like myself. I gave up the original series when it aired on Toonami in like two episodes - it was as bad of a show as you can imagine. Even worse than "Zeta". Even worse than "Gundam X"! Not as bad as "SD Gundam" but that's only because "SD Gundam" was this. If Toonami, the masters of awesome promos, can't make your show look good, nobody can.
*** Gundam vs. Godzilla, make it happen, Japan. Seriously, make it happen.