Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.
Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.
For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.
When you look at the full title of the 1990s OVA Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo Z-Mind: The Battling Days of the “Shitamachi” Virgins, which is a mouthful to say the least, you get a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the 6-episode OVA. Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo” literally means “Beautiful Girls in Puberty Combining Robot,” so in other words, expect pretty teenage girls piloting a big beefy robot, that peanut butter-and-chocolate combination which is at this point something of a staple in anime. And if it isn’t clear that this OVA is targeting robot fans, then note that 1) the vast majority of the robot attacks reference other anime (“Z-Boomerang” and “Z-Tomahawk” for instance), and 2) they even managed to insert a small Reideen cameo of sorts, as shown below.
Z-Mind centers around three Japanese sisters, Ayame, Renge, and Sumire, who pilot a giant robot named Z-Mind created through collaboration between the Japanese and American militaries. Together, they the Orgapiens, aliens with advanced technology who all look like creepy oversized babies. As the main heroine and leader, Ayame differentiates herself from her younger sisters by having a yamato nadeshiko-esque quality to her in contrast to her sisters’ more Western looks and fashion sense, making Ayame a character somewhere in the vein of Shinguuji Sakura from Sakura Wars.
The girls all exhibit strength and courage, and are also responsible for beating back the monsters at the end of the day, but the overall flat characterization in the series means that there isn’t much to discuss about them, other than that the desire to make Ayame more of a traditional beauty than her feistier sisters may say something about the kind of face the series wanted. Ayame is pretty inoffensive in any direction, but she suffers from the same lack of depth as the anime she’s in. Even Ayame’s love interest, a mysterious man from the future in a stylish red jacket named Kouji, is just kind of there until their relationship decides to grow abruptly, so it’s hard to say how much it affects her character.
When I finished each episode of Z-Mind, I would find myself regarding it as decent, but when I asked myself if I wanted to keep watching immediately after, the answer was definitely “no.” While this may have something to do with the fact that each episode exists somewhat independent of the others, in the end there was nothing so thrilling or compelling that I had to see the girls of Z-Mind again as soon as possible.
If I were being a little harsher, I would call the series mediocre, and if I were being a little kinder, I would say that it had potential, but I think the best way to describe Z-Mind is to say that, had it been properly released back in the 1990s in the US, I think it would have been a big hit. It’s short, it’s pretty, and while it’s sparse on characterization and development, it has enough in those categories to spark the imaginations of fans hungry to explore a fantastic world, one which sparks their imaginations and makes them thirsty for possible areas to elaborate. In this sense, I feel it would have garnered a reputation similar to Bubblegum Crisis, though one advantage it has over Bubblegum Crisis is that it actually has a conclusion instead of ending abruptly on a self-contained episode.
For Z-Mind, the character types, art style, and and overall feel of the series all come across as very much a product of their time, and Ayame too is a naturally both a part and a result of that combination. As such, Ayame winds up being a girl full of admirable qualities, but hard to categorize as anything more than a basic outline of a strong, ideal girl. Her character, and her anime, exist as one stop along the path of female heroines in robot shows.