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.
Rinne no Lagrange – Flower Declaration of Your Heart (2012) is one of the most recent titles to qualify for the Gattai Girls series. Comprised of a galaxy-spanning war affected by the portrayal of the everyday lives of a select few characters, the approach that Rinne no Lagrange takes is fairly indicative of contemporary non-franchise giant robot anime and the tendency for plot to revolve primarily around individuals and their emotions.
The main heroine is Kyouno Madoka, an endlessly energetic teenager living in the city of Kamogawa. Always seen helping around the city while clad in a track jersey, Madoka inadvertently becomes the pilot of the ancient robot Vox Aura, spoken of in legends of destruction, she also becomes involved in a war between the two faraway planets Le Garite and De Metrio. Madoka manages to befriend a girl her age on each side of the conflict, Fin E Ld Si Laffinty (aka Lan), princess of Le Garite, and De Metrio representative Muginami, inspiring change in both alien girls to move towards peace for their peoples.
When I say that the daily lives of the characters affect the overarching story, what I mean is that Rinne no Lagrange literally spends episode after episode primarily focused on the three girls’ deepening bonds to the point that its pacing can come across as slow and uneven when one can argue that there’s development of the universe to be had. The show does make an effort to establish the science fictional aspects of the story and the origin of the conflict between the two planets, and the robots themselves have an interesting aesthetic that approaches to a small degree the same sense as the Motorheads from Five Star Stories, but a more prominent and fundamental theme of the anime is how Madoka the simple local girl can literally change the universe through a never-say-never attitude.
Madoka’s incredibly infectious spirit and a willingness to work hard for herself and others is probably the biggest draw of Rinne no Lagrange. Fueled by energy drinks, her philosophy in life is something along the lines of “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, and if you teach to fish, he’ll eat forever, but if you do both then it’s perfect.” Madoka is perpetually strong, the sort of character who is not entirely without flaw, but who is practically designed to be a walking, talking inspiration generator. Madoka’s strength both physically and mentally are not because she’s a girl or in spite of being a girl, but more having to do with her love for her city, a topic removed from debates about the role of women. Also, in the first episode she uses her robot to German suplex the enemy into submission.
In looking at the other girls, Lan and Muginami (who are both pilots of legendary machines themselves), their place in the story is clearly an active and important one, though they’re also designed strongly along popular character stereotypes. Lan is a mostly stoic blue-haired noble girl clad in a skintight suit who’s clumsy and easily embarrassed, while Muginami is clearly the ditzy big-boobed blonde type. The two manage to flip some of these conventions to a certain degree, such as the fact that Muginami’s airhead personality is clearly just an act, but they also show a great deal of loyalty to their “big brothers” while their friendship with Madoka provides a prominent yuri subtext for the series. While the show isn’t absolutely about yuri, it’s also obvious that Rinne no Lagrange encourages the viewer to read into it that way if they should so choose, provided plenty of reasons to do so. This isn’t an indictment of any of the elements discussed, but rather a reminder that this show is indeed about the closeness of its main heroines before it’s about giant robots.
I know it sounds a little strange to be saying this about an anime that came out just last year, but Rinne no Lagrange really feels like a product of its time. The way it de-emphasizes some of the more traditional elements of a giant robot anime of favor of “possibly yuri friendship adventure” is also suggestive of the heavy character-as-icon and moe styles of anime that have been a big trend for the last ten years or so. However, while its female characters cater to the viewers a good deal, the three heroines also establish themselves strongly, with Madoka herself and her boundless attitude creating the strongest impression.
(Last note: the show has a fantastically addictive opening .)