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One of the anime I looked forward to most this past season was Aldnoah.Zero. Although from the beginning it feels heavily derived from many other popular and classic mecha anime, it increasingly reveals itself as a series that can stand on its own merits. Akin to a patchwork quilt, Aldnoah.Zero takes all of these influences and merges them into something that is also remarkably fresh and new.
The story in Aldnoah.Zero focuses on the effects of a lopsided war between the Earth and the extremely powerful space empire known as Vers. Having been resoundingly outgunned in their previous conflict due to the power of the Vers’ giant robots, the Earth has seen an uneasy peace for many years. However, an attempt to bridge the two sides ends in disaster, which leads the planet back into a battle it likely cannot win.
At first glance, Aldnoah.Zero looks like it comes from the Code Geass school of cool teens fighting political battles, yet it also has clear influence from Gundam. Which Gundam though? Its basic Earth vs. Space Colonies plot and its “ship on the run” ongoing storyline resemble the original Mobile Suit Gundam. The way each of the factions in the enemy Vers forces treat the Earth like a battlefield to assert the pride of their respective clans is more reminiscent of Mobile Fighter G Gundam and the literal use of the Earth as a ring for different nations to battle it out. Then there’s the princess-in-disguise plot thread, which evokes the events of Turn A Gundam. On top of all of this, while he looks less muscular, the character Inaho’s logical nature, reticent personality, calm under pressure and his decision to consistently use what amounts to a generic no-frills mecha calls to mind Chirico Cuvie, the hero from Armored Trooper Votoms. In certain ways, it’s a strange mishmash that typically only works in something like the Super Robot Wars games where the “rules” of cohesiveness can be bent liberally, but Aldnoah.Zero manages to pull it off gracefully.
This is probably most apparent in how Aldnoah.Zero handles mecha battles. Given an opponent with vastly superior technology, the rag-tag Earth forces that we follow have to rely on wit and ingenuity, while also taking advantage of the fact that the Vers soldiers tend to be a little too overconfident in their weaponry. The battles are one of the highlights of the series, and what makes them interesting and consistently both fun to watch and intellectually stimulating is the fact that the gap is so large that it more or less feels like the “real robots” of the Earth vs. the “super robots” of Vers, and seeing just how Inaho dissects the opponents’ mecha. Usually sides are either individual robot vs. monster (Mazinger Z), military vs military (Mobile Suit Gundam), dominant real robot mowing down enemy forces until the enemy comes up with something equal (Gundam W), or super-powered equals, which makes what Aldnoah.Zero does remarkably rare, if not outright unheard of.
The series even goes out of its way to make sure this technological and aesthetic contrast is there for the viewer to see in every battle. The mecha designs of the Orbital Knights look fanciful and tend to incorporate more fantastic weaponry such as rocket punches, beam swords, and powerful energy barriers, while the Earth forces use mostly ammunition. Even the one moment when the series could have given Inaho his own protagonist-level prototype weapon gets subverted, as he decides to remain in his mass-produced grunt machine.
Of course, not everyone will care about the quality of the robot action, but the story itself looks to be holding up well. Aldnoah.Zero has a lot of narrative elements that, again, feel as if they’re hitting notes from past anime, but for the most part they drew me deeper into their world rather than making me question how everything fits together. Of particular note is the character Slaine, a Terran on the side of the Vers forces who is caught in the middle, and who may be the real main character rather than Inaho. That said, the first season just finished recently, and we are left at what is clearly a turning point. It’s difficult to judge how the story will turn out in the end, as these kinds of series can often crash and burn from the changes they decide to make the second time around, but for now I’m looking forward to what comes next.
Captain Earth centers around an alien force attacking humanity known as the Planetary Gears, who see humans and their “libidos” as a food source. The main character is Manatsu Daichi, who, as a child, befriends a boy and a girl and is thus set on a strange path that ends with him becoming the pilot of a giant space defense robot known as the “Earth Engine.” At the same time that he defends the Earth with his friends, he must deal with the fact that there is another faction on Earth that believes that the only way to save humanity is to create an Ark to save the best of the best, and who are willing to get in “Captain Earth’s” way to do so.
When I watched the first episode of Captain Earth, I felt that the show had to be somehow related to the anime Star Driver, a previous work from the same studio, BONES. Like Star Driver, “libido” is presented as some kind of important power or energy source. The enemy mecha, known as Kiltgangs, bring to mind many of the “Cybodies” from Star Driver as well, not only in terms of design but also in their pilots’ very “spirited” (read: erotic) reactions. Mysterious songs herald the arrival of an enemy. In the end, it turns out that these allusions remain only as such and that there were no direct narrative connections between these two works, but I do still find it valuable to compare them because Captain Earth more or less feels like a more conventional, less wild re-telling of Star Driver.
Above: Enemy mecha from Captain Earth, Below: Enemy mecha from Star Driver
Whereas Star Driver has a main character whose sense of justice has him appear out of a rift in space like some kind of giant interdimensional Zorro, Daichi in Captain Earth is mainly inspired to do good by the example of his deceased father, and undergoes an elaborate combination sequence that has him launching into multiple space stations. While quiet scenes in Star Driver are set on a mysterious island and battles take place in an enigmatic pocket outside of time and space, fights in Captain Earth uses Tanegashima (home of JAXA in reality), and its most signature fights take place in orbit around the Earth. One thrives on symbols and mystery and is akin to being a giant metal Utena, while the other plays out more closely to a typical super robot anime, yet they share many of the same strengths and flaws as shows. Both shows have vibrant and expressive characters, a consistent sense of mystery about the enemy that gradually reveals itself, and beautiful animation especially focused around dynamic action sequences. However, they also share unusual plot reveals that are strangely abrupt, as well as changes of heart in characters that basically make sense but could be better if they were focused on more. Both stories feel liable to fall apart in a structural sense, but are held together by the dynamism and energy of their characters, for better or for worse.
How does this manifest in Captain Earth in particular? There are two points that stick out to me. The first is the fact that the Planetary Gears have an intriguing inverse relationship with their robots, in the sense that they are basically giant robots who take on the guise of their “human” pilots rather than the other way around. This is quite a unique idea, but it never gets explored as much as I would have preferred. The second point comes in the last episode, when Daichi is back to basics, fighting the enemy with just the Earth Engine and no additional weapons or frills. It’s something that happens at the end in a lot of giant robot anime such as Gurren-Lagann or Gaogaigar, but when Daichi calls out the Earth Engine’s attacks, I realized I didn’t actually remember any of them, because the story couldn’t quite ever focus on the main robot as this symbol of good and make its attacks memorable. What makes the scene a partial success instead is the fact that we are there with Daichi as he grows into the role of “Captain Earth,” and his romantic relationship with the character Hana.
Actually, when I think about it further, Captain Earth doesn’t feel like simply a different, less surreal version of Star Driver, but more the lovechild of Star Driver and another BONES work, Heroman. The Earth Engine basically looks like an upgraded version of Heroman with its red, white, and blue color scheme and its overall “physique,” while Daichi’s personality is right in between Takuto from Star Driver and Joey Jones from Heroman. What’s even more notable, however, is the fact that many of the other high and low points of Captain Earth that it does not share with Star Driver can be found in Heroman. In particular, when Captain Earth is focused on its main story, it has a sense of urgency and excitement, but often it ends up meandering in a way that is less irritating and more puzzling: “Why put this diversion here of all places? It’s not even humor to break up a serious moment?” With Heroman it’s the long number of episodes they spend dealing with that mad scientist villain, and with Captain Earth it’s the time they spend on Earth chasing down unawakened Planetary Gears. While the latter makes more sense, it just feels as if it comes at an unusual point in the overall story.
While its aesthetics don’t have quite the flash and razzmatazz of anime like Utena or Kill la Kill or indeed Star Driver, the show’s more by-the-books approach to looking good enhances the series and its viewability by giving care to both its characters and its mechanical designs. At the same time, I can easily see why someone looking for a cohesive narrative above all else would find Captain Earth infuriating, even if I did consistently enjoy and look forward to the series. I wouldn’t say it’s a show that you shouldn’t think about too much, but that you should think about it while well aware of where the characters and their emotions fill in the gaps that might not otherwise make much sense.
Most of the fights in the mecha anime Aldnoah.Zero follow a roughly similar pattern: In a reversal of the typical structure of giant robot combat, a technologically superior and seemingly invincible enemy is overcome by the tactics and ingenuity of the protagonist Inaho and his allies without the need of secret prototype weapons or trump cards. What I think makes these battles and the opponents’ eventual defeats work really well both narratively and thematically is that their downfall is usually based on them being blinded by arrogance.
One might argue that this is unrealistic, or more specifically that an opponent with such an edge in terms of firepower would likely not have overlooked some of the weaknesses that end up being exploited by Inaho. However, given the culture of the Vers Empire, the feudalistic space culture that attacks the Earth, I find that it makes a lot of sense. The subjects of the Vers Empire, especially their “Orbital Knights,” have been raised to believe that they are inherently better than people from Earth, and that this superiority derives from their discovery and use of a powerful technology called the “Aldnoah Drive.” While from our perspective it’s easy to point out that the “inherent” superiority of the Vers is anything but because it derives from an outside source in the Aldnoah Drive, actually history has shown that similar reasoning, as strangely illogical as it can seem, has often been used to justify similar mindsets or even forms of racism.
Consider the hypothetical example of a nation of people who believe they are simply better than their neighbors because they were born on land that was more arable. Although one could easily say that this is just a matter of luck or probability to an extent, it wouldn’t seem that strange for them to believe that they were somehow blessed by God or some other great power, and that they deserve this blessing on some fundamental level. It’s circular reasoning to be sure, but that doesn’t necessarily stop anyone from believing it.
Thus, the Orbital Knights believe that they are inherently superior in every way over the Terrans, therefore they receive the more powerful technology, therefore they are inherently superior in every way over the Terrans. They buy so much into not only the idea that the people of Earth are too stupid to figure anything out, but that they actually have no Achilles’ heels to exploit in the first place. With nothing to challenge them and without even acknowledging that they may have overlooked something in their robots (or “Kataphrakts” as Aldnoah.Zero calls them), potentially preventable defeats are addressed too late.
Four years ago I arrived in the Netherlands. In a few days, I return to the United States. I don’t know exactly where this post will go, but I feel it is important to say something about my time in Europe, both as a person and as a fan of anime and manga. I apologize for the rambling that’s about to ensue.
I’ve lived outside of the United States before, having spent a few months studying abroad in Japan (almost 10 years ago at this point!), but never had I been in a foreign country for so long. I can’t say I ever truly acclimated myself to this environment (I never even got fluent in the language, after all), but I managed a comfortable existence. Even putting aside amazing culinary cultures such as France and Germany, food has been an (often deep-fried) adventure. I’ll miss the Indonesian cuisine and the herring especially.
I could go on forever about food, though, so I’ll speak mainly about things that are more directly pertinent about being an otaku. One aspect that I had been somewhat aware of in the past but that had rarely entered my mind was that different countries have unique relationships with Japan, and this is certainly the case with the Netherlands. Famously the Dutch were the only foreigners allowed in Japan for a long time, and they stayed exclusively on the island of Deshima (or Dejima). So what does a Dutch group dedicated to bringing Japanese music to anime conventions in the Netherlands call itself? Deshima Sounds. It makes sense.
It was fascinating to see a different anime con culture compared to the US. The conventions certainly never even approach the massive attendances of an Otakon or an Anime Expo, but they have their own charm. From my first convention experience here, one aspect that really stood out to me was how the Artists’ Alleys greatly emphasized the production of full-on comics (one might even call them doujinshi) over individual images. While I don’t know if this is truly relevant, I do know that the Netherlands historically has been considered a strong country for book-publishing, allowing things that could get one in trouble in other countries (and I don’t mean pornography). It’s actually something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in the US.
Speaking of fans, I must apologize to the folks over at Manga Kissa in Utrecht for never really going, but I am fully behind their endeavor to provide an actual manga cafe with a wide selection. If you’re ever in Utrecht, I recommend you check it out, as it’s a nice place to relax.
While my focus has been on anime and manga for a long time, I was also presently surprised to find out that the Netherlands has its own comics culture. Whenever I went to a new city, I often looked around for a comic store, and while many of the comics were simply French or Belgian comics translated into Dutch, even that was interesting because of how the Dutch preferred less expensive paperbacks over the elaborate hardcovers one would find elsewhere. It was actually amazing to be able to attend an event and just walk straight up to some of the biggest names in the industry and get a sketch at no cost and without a significant wait in line.
Around 2009 or so, I began to get into Japanese mahjong after having watched shows such as Akagi and Saki. Having originally played online, I eventually found a group to play with in real life, but it wasn’t until I lived in the Netherlands that I had the opportunity to actually attend tournaments and to compete for pride and glory (there were never any cash prizes but that’s okay). This country is small enough that even a tournament at a fairly obscure location was never too difficult to get to, and to find a fairly thriving riichi mahjong scene makes me incredibly grateful. I’ve met people from all over the world at these tournaments, gained some nice friends, and it’s even legitimately improved my mahjong to boot. Many of the Dutch players had originally come from a different style of mahjong, and so when playing them I had to learn that my style, which was built from playing the Tenhou online ladder, simply did not work. I had to re-evaluate how I looked at the game, and this experience is something I’ll never forget. I leave being fairly satisfied with my own performance, having attended three European tournaments and having placed 10th, 20th, and 6th.
Then there’s the rest of Europe to talk about! I wasn’t able to go to every country I had set my eyes on (Sweden, Luxembourg, and Switzerland I’ll perhaps regret not seeing most of all), but of the places I did have the pleasure of visiting I actually discovered quite a bit about geek fandom in general. I visit New York’s “Forbidden Planet” regularly, but it pales in comparison to the one in London. The comics museum in Belgium was a blast and made me want to read European comics more than ever.
Paris is, perhaps predictably, the most notable of all. While I had heard that the French were big into anime, it didn’t hit me until a simple trip from the hotel to the city center involved passing by not one, but multiple cosplay shops, in areas that didn’t even necessarily show signs of otakudom otherwise. Upon entering the toy and comic stores, I was continuously greeted by the ubiquitous presence of one UFO Robo Grendizer. I was already aware of the fact that Grendizer was a big deal for the French (and the Italian), that it was basically to them what Voltron was to the US, but in a way it was so much more. At the time, I suspected that the French benefited from the fact that Japan still continuously produced new Grendizer merchandise, and I think that theory still holds today.
I also got to attend a few Starcraft II events, which was wild.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out while I was living in a continent I had never even visited before. You’ve made my life that much richer, and I hope we can meet again someday. And yes, I am now aware of Alfred J. Kwak.
In a few days, I head to Otakon in Baltimore, which itself is undergoing a big transition with its eventual move to Washington, DC in 2016. Otakon is familiar territory at this point, yet I can’t help but feel that there will be some strange kind of culture shock for myself.
While at this point we have an understanding of the concept of a “weak” protagonists in giant robot anime thanks to characters like Ikari Shinji from Evangelion, rarely are main robots allowed to exude an image of weakness and vulnerability as well. If we even look at Shinji himself, while he’s known for being passive and lacking in will, the actual EVA-01 looks monstrous and acts even more terrifyingly.
In most cases when there is a “weak mecha,” it ends up being a joke character’s ride, whether that’s Boss Borot from Mazinger Z or Kerot from Combattler V. In terms of actual main-focus giant robots, the closest this concept gets its maybe Dai-Guard the almost-literal “budget robot,” or perhaps the perpetually incomplete Guntsuku-1 from Robotics;Notes. Maybe the Scope Dog from VOTOMS counts because it’s so disposable, but like Dai-Guard it still at least looks strong.
Of course it only makes sense that mecha tend to be on the powerful side; they’re giant mechanical humanoids after all. It’s just something I’m starting to consider a potential limitation of the genre and an interesting space to explore.
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.
Juusou Kikou Dancouga Nova, the 2007 sequel to the 1980s anime series Choujuu Jishin Dancouga, can be considered in some ways the epitome of an “average” anime. A more accurate description, however, would be that it’s a show that is overall somehow fun and satisfying despite not living up to a lot of the ideas it presents, which is evident in not only its narrative but also its sense of characterization.
The basic premise of the anime is that four unrelated people in Japanese society are summoned to pilot the mighty super robot Dancouga Nova, which intervenes in battlefields around the world in order to aid the losing side. However, rather than simply aiding the weak, this mission of Dancouga Nova’s is quite literal, as it will defend a military force one day and attack it the next, depending on that force’s relative strength in any given scenario. It’s an interesting idea to be sure, and Dancouga Nova even takes some steps to explore its consequences (a journalist character actively questions whether or not Dancouga Nova’s actions are merely creating stalemates that perpetuate war, for instance), but given the obvious question of what this will all possibly lead to, the series responds by more or less dropping the issue like a hot potato and shouting, “aliens!!!” Then they fight the aliens and it’s fairly exciting, but it leaves one wondering where the rest of the story went. As an aside, for some reason I find this less disappointing than how Gundam 00 transitioned between similar plot points despite being a stronger work overall.
Given these issues, it would be reasonable to expect the show’s treatment of its characters to be equally inconsistent. This is indeed the case to a fair extent, as the members of the Dancouga Nova team are all defined by sets of traits that seem destined to lead jokes about their personalities that fall pretty flat, (though they don’t come across as unbearable). Dancouga Nova gunner Tachibana Kurara for instance does the Golgo-13-esque “Never approach me from behind” thing, but the fact that she says it every time the situation calls for it turns it from an interesting character trait to a catch phrase that wears out its welcome (like most of the quips in the series). Main character and team leader Hidaka Aoi has the fewest of these qualities, which makes her lead position more enjoyable than if anyone else had as much of a spotlight.
However, whatever weakness in plot and characterization that exists in the show, it’s worth nothing that its portrayal of the female pilots is for the most part neither putting them on a pedestal above men nor subordinating them to supportive roles. A number of series that focus on groups of female characters both inside and outside of the mecha genre have a tendency to be about how beautiful and wonderful the girls are, a setup which has its place, but here the team of four is divided between two men and two women, all of whom contribute in battle evenly.
(It’s also interesting that all of the pilots are adults, rather than teenagers).
An additional female character is added later, but is shown to be just as effective as the others (and for a while is even their rival). Aoi herself is more or less a solid if underdeveloped character in terms of her portrayal, and while one possible criticism might be that she lacks agency in that she’s thrown right into the thick of things with little say in the matter, that’s more a problem for all of the characters in the show regardless of gender. In fact, the only point of “inequality” might be that the female characters (Kurara is a narcotics officer, Aoi is a professional racer and model) are more glamorous than the guys’ (salaryman and hobo). However, beyond this, neither male or female characters are rendered useless, and even the sole situation that might be considered a “damsel-in-distress” situation is more a matter of a female character staying to fight knowing that she’s at a clear disadvantage due to a number of factors wholly unrelated to her gender.
This is not to say that this series is aiming for a strong sense of feminism. On some level, all of the girls in Dancouga Nova are clearly supposed to be attractive feminine ideals, albeit in different ways. Fanservice, or more broadly the overt sexualization of its female characters, is certainly present in the series in quite a noticeable way. However, while creatively positioned camera angles and bouncing breasts appear throughout the anime, at the same time they are also not so prominent that fanservice becomes raison d’être for Dancouga Nova unlike a number of other similar series. For the most part, the anime keeps the “cheesecake” separate from the fighting, so battles do not consistent of prominent T&A shots while the female characters are being tossed around in their cockpits. Some revealing shots do occur in the action scenes, but they’re usually brief and fairly mild, and instead the summoning of weapons and the destruction of enemy mecha comes across as powerful and mostly gender-neutral.
When it comes to Aoi in particular, I do find it notable that while she is a fairly hot-blooded type as befits a super robot protagonist, she still comes across as relatively subdued as far as passionate yelling pilots are concerned, especially when compared to the hero of the original Dancouga, Fujiwara Shinbou. In contrast, there is a similar character in Dancouga Nova, Kamon Sakuya (the homeless one), but his attempts at playing the role of the 70s super robot hero are, like Kouji from Godannar, mostly a source of comic relief. A part of me wonders if this is making some kind of statement, that the old school nekketsu inevitably makes way for a newer type to fit modern times. I must admit that my impression of Dancouga comes mainly from its appearance in Super Robot Wars and just a little bit of the actual show, but even from this partial view Dancouga is famous for its passionate yelling and a dynamic visual style that makes even standing still an exciting assault of flashing lights and colors and crazy exaggerated proportions courtesy of Obari Masami (animator on Dancouga, director of Dancouga Nova). Perhaps in light of this, the look of Dancouga Nova is not as exaggerated either. I would have chalked this up to “digital animation,” except Choujuushin Gravion, also directed by Obari, proves otherwise.
Dancouga Nova is a simple show that presents a female mecha lead who, while not exactly at the forefront of feminism, is strong, confident, narratively significant, and passionate enough that it’s easy to wonder why more characters aren’t like Aoi. It’s not so much that she’s a shining example of a great protagonist, but rather that she (or a character like her) should be the base line of what is minimally required for a heroine in this type of show. Aoi can be a bit simplistic, but in that way that defines a generation of male heroes in giant robot anime. Of course, as Dancouga Nova shows, being able to portray a female character well doesn’t necessarily mean a show itself is going to be amazing or that it won’t have its fair share of problems, but all the same Dancouga Nova is made better for having a lead like Aoi.
Gundam Build Fighters is a fun series about people using Gundam model kits to fight each other, and it’s absolutely oozing with references to both popular and obscure parts of the Gundam franchise. In the last episode, the anime pulls out what I think is the best reference of all, especially given the concept of the show.
In the final battle against the (scale-model) space fortress A Baoa Qu, the characters work together to take down a common threat. Among these characters is the father of the protagonist Iori Sei. Having won the silver medal at a previous tournament using a model of the original Gundam, in this scene Sei’s father Takeshi brings out the Perfect Gundam.
Though it did get a Master Grade model kit a number of years ago, the Perfect Gundam is not the most well-known Mobile Suit in the franchise. Its relative lack of popularity, however, is less important than its actual origin. The Perfect Gundam is featured as the hero’s Gundam in the 1982 manga Plamo Kyoushirou, which is premised around kids using Gundam models to fight each other in virtual reality environments. In other words, the appearance of the Perfect Gundam is actually an homage to the spiritual predecessor of the Gundam Build Fighters concept, reinforced by the fact that it’s the father of the hero who is using it.
I finished watching Sengoku Majin Goshogun recently. It’s notable for being an earlier work from the director of the early Pokemon anime, though overall it’s an okay show at best with a kickin’ rad opening. There are, however, a few things about the show that really stand out, and make the show fairly memorable.
Goshogun is abouta mecha-loving boy named Kenta who, along with the crew of the mighty robot Goshogun and their teleporting airship the Good Thunder, fight against an evil organization bent on world domination. While the episodes are often kind of bland and episodic, the ones which explore the pasts of the main characters tend to be quite interesting. It’s one thing when the lead pilot Shingo is a generic do-gooder type, but it’s another when you learn that his past was full of danger and tragedy and that he actively chooses to be the Good Guy in spite of all that.
Actually, the show in general has amusing characters. Remy Shimada is the fiery female character of the series, and while she often talks about not being able to get married and settled down due to her giant robot work, it’s clear that she doesn’t really mean it when she actively chose her path. The villain Prince Bundol is a handsome blond who plays classical music when he goes into battle and cherishes beauty so much that when someone tries to betray the heroes he dismisses the guy and doesn’t follow through on his tip because “betrayal is ugly.” One of the other villains, Kerunaguru (pictured above), a guy whose name basically means “Kick and Punch” and who owns a robot designed specifically to be beat in fits of anger. In one episode, he opens up his own fried chicken joint without any ulterior motives. The guy just wants to sell some good fried chicken on the side while assisting in global domination.
By far the most fascinating reveal of the show however is the secret behind Goshogun’s ultimate attack, the Go-Flasher Special. First, it answers what the “blue button” mentioned in the opening does. Second, as it turns out later in the series, the Go-Flasher works by allowing the normally non-sentient enemy mecha to gain self-will, which causes them to override their controls and then voluntarily explode because they don’t like being used for violence and evil. Basically Goshogun’s greatest weapon is to give the enemy robots an existential crisis which makes them commit suicide. Now that’s an attack.
Oddly enough, the best way to enjoy the character interactions of Goshogun is to watch the movie Goshogun: The Time Étranger, which curiously does not feature the robot at all.
Last spring marked an unusually robot-heavy season of anime where three mecha shows, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince, and Valvrave the Liberator, took three different angles each of which had their own unique appeal. I originally wrote about them as a package, so now with all three shows finished (aside from the fact that Gargantia has another series on the horizon) I figure it’s best to look back on them all at once.
Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince, which had a strong tokusatsu or even 90s anime feel to it, ended up progressing almost as expected, but without it being tedious or losing something in the process. In shows like Majestic Prince, there’s usually some sort of humble beginnings, in this case the main heroes being the “losers” of their class, and comedy gives way to a more serious story as the narrative progresses until it ends up in a giant space battle. It’s par for the course, but while I can’t say Majestic Prince will change the way we think about giant robot anime, I do find that the show is a little bit of everything, nothing in particular that screams, “Wow, this is amazing!” but lots of minor things done well which make for an overall satisfying experience, and a more consistently forward-moving story compared to Gyrozetter. It’s a popcorn anime, something you might show to an anime club or a group of friends to relax, where you find yourself gradually more invested by the final string of episodes. Because of this, Majestic Prince is the show I simply have least to say about, though I do want to point out that it has one of the most memorable death lines ever. You’ll know it when you hear it.
Although Majestic Prince isn’t a show I can talk about too extensively in terms of conceptual or thematic depth (it skims the surface of topics like genetic engineering and human behavior at the very mosy), Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is the strongest of the three shows in terms of both its ideas and how it presents them. Its initial format, where Ledo, a boy from another galaxy who knows only war, is exposed to the everyday lives of the Earth characters and their concept of family, acts as a part of the science fictional exploration of its world and which become the backdrop for the show to reveal its secrets was somewhat of a source of disagreement and controversy. As people wondered how the story would turn out, there were both complaints that Gargantia spent too much time focusing on the daily lives of characters and that it too much time on its narrative drama. Personally, I think it ended up striking a very nice balance, as we got to learn about the culture of Earth away from the galactic war which they were ignorant of (perhaps for the better), but when it came time to get “serious,” the show effectively used the context it established to make the circumstances and solution directly connected to the characters’ “everyday.”
Significantly, the series did not do the predictable thing and “bring the war to the people.” Instead, it brought the philosophy and ideas which came out of the eternal state of war in which mankind out there in space had become accustomed to, and challenged the people of the Earth (as well as the lead Ledo) to confront and address them. The everyday lives of the characters became the very “weapon” by which they could defy the way of thinking imposed by the world Ledo comes from, and I think there’s a lot to think about in that regard.
Out of the three anime, however, I suspect Valvrave the Liberator will, if not be the most memorable show, stick around the longest in the overall consciousness of anime fandom, though not necessarily for the best reasons. The rape scene in Valvrave is going to remain infamous, and it’s something which is impossible to ignore but also shouldn’t define the entire show. I really think the creators of the show wanted to use it for dramatic purposes but didn’t quite understand what they were getting themselves into, evidenced by the fact that they eventually just drop the subject after some questionable followups. Whether that’s better or worse than keeping at it, I’ll leave you to decide that, but one thing I will say is that having the victim still be in love with her attacker doesn’t inherently make for a bad or “harmful” story, as Watchmen manages to deftly incorporate something similar into its narrative and point out the difficulties associated with such a circumstance.
I was once asked why I kept up with Valvrave even though the show has a lot of odd and nonsensical twists to it, and I explained that the appeal of the show for me was about seeing if Valvrave was trying to celebrate the power of youth or criticize it. Even within the same episode it became difficult to tell if the show was saying, “Kids are the future, a source of new ideas and ideals,” or, “Kids are so damn stupid! Man, I can’t believe we let them touch anything!” I think by Season 2 it leaned more towards the former, but never entirely, and to its credit I think the second season was a huge improvement on the first, as its ridiculous qualities were focused down into a clearer direction while still remaining just as strange. Overall, I think the show turned out okay in the end even with the issues mentioned, if only because it managed to use its social media aspect to great effect, and shows a kind of tempered idealism. It also has a more satisfying conclusion than the Gundam 00 movie despite being fairly similar, but I’m not really sure why I feel that way.
It’s difficult to judge the effect of having so many mecha shows close together has had on anime, if any at all, but it is true that a number of new giant robot shows premiering in 2014, from Captain Earth to the bizarrely named Buddy Complex. I think what I liked most about having each of these shows is that even through their ups and downs, Majestic Prince, Gargantia, and Valvrave all manage to maintain their identities as shows, with developments, characters, endings, and themes which keep the mecha genre from feeling like “more of the same.” None of them are really similar in any way, and I hope this trend continues.