Despite its iconic nature, mecha is often considered a dying genre of anime these days due to a number of different forces, from kids’ changing tastes in entertainment to a shifts in demographic. This is why this season of anime is quite a surprise, as three new giant robot anime have debuted for the Spring: Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, and Valvrave the Liberator. That’s not even counting the still-running Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, and the Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny HD remake. All of them have been out for a few weeks now, and I’m enjoying all three, but what is especially impressive is the fact that all three shows are different enough from each other that they end up fitting rather different tastes to the extent that I can’t necessarily recommend all of them to every single person.
Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince is basically animated tokusatsu, a mostly silly show with some serious undertones akin to Magiranger or Kamen Rider Fourze. Featuring a group of five heroes (surprise) known as the “Failure Five” due to their repeated screwups, they’re given extremely powerful prototype robots to fight off a mysterious enemy that seems to have overwhelming numbers as one of its many advantages. The oil-and-water nature of the heroes’ personalities makes for some good albeit cheesy laughs, while on the mecha side each of the robot designs are so varied both in look and function that they each have their own unique flair. For example, the main character’s unit is specially designed to monitor the others, making it actually fit for someone in the lead position. Also, the character designs are by Hirai Hisashi of Gundam SEED fame, who is known for his tendency to draw very similar-looking characters, but who here has more variety than I’ve seen out of him in a long time.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is the most robustly science fictional out of all of them, and probably the one that will appeal most to fans of older 80s mecha anime due to its world-building and clash of cultures. Featuring a setting where humanity has spread into the galaxy and is at constant war, the main character Ledo is a boy who like so many of his peers has been trained to fight from childhood. During a battle, he is flung far off course to another world, where both he and the strangers he meets must adapt to the others’ extremely alien mindsets. The central robot has a very slick yet conventional design, and its rounded look and artificial intelligence remind me of the titular robot from Blue Comet SPT Layzner. It also boasts some serious hard-hitters when it comes to production, with Urobuchi Gen (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero) on writing and Murata Kazuya as director (Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos), as well as Naruco Hanaharu (Kamichu! manga) on character design, who is more famous for his less “mainstream” work. Urobuchi, who is generally criticized for being overly expository, seems to be tempered n this case, making it so far maybe his best writing in anime to date (though of course that remains to be seen).
Lastly, Valvrave the Liberator appears to be a textbook case of the modern giant robot anime, cut from the same cloth as Code Geass. Like the other two shows, Valvrave concerns a future of conflict, but the overtly dramatic personalities of its characters, as well as the focus on them amidst this war, gives it an appeal that the other two don’t quite approach in the same way. The similarities to Code Geass should come as no surprise as Sunrise is also responsible for Valvrave, and the character-centric motivations are capable of pulling in people who are more interested in that character drama. The mecha have some unique yet familiar designs, and the relationship between the main robot Valvrave and the protagonist looks to be an important factor in the story. Personally speaking, I also quite like the character designs in this show.
Given that I consider variety to be a valuable asset of the ever-changing entity that is the giant robot genre, I think this spread of shows is a very good thing. What’s even more important is that even though I compared and categorized the shows according to familiar examples, none of them seem to necessarily be absolute retreads of previous works. Majestic Prince, Gargantia, and Valvrave are not nostalgia grabs pining for a better mecha yesteryear, but are firmly contemporary anime that take their influences from different areas. I can’t say for now how any of these shows will turn out in the end, but the unique flavors of each leave me looking forward to continuing with all three of them.
I’m also still watching Gyrozetter.
SEED Destiny HD… we’ll see.