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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.
When I wrote my overview of anime in 1977 for the Golden Ani-Versary project, one thing I did not mention was the fact that all three of the major robot anime of that year featured to some extent a the relationship between a boy and his father. In Zambot 3, Kappei’s father had been away for a long time before he first appears. In Voltes V, the father of three of the pilots is missing, and the story goes from defending the Earth with the robot and base he built to finding out that he had been working on a noble task that requires him to be away from his family. In Danguard A, the hero Takuma becomes a pilot in order to fight the legacy of his father as the greatest traitor to mankind. Now the reason I did not mention this tendency in the article was that, upon further thinking, I realized that the “shadow of the (missing) father,” whether to be supported by it or to overcome it, is so ubiquitous that examples of it are strewn throughout the history of giant robot anime.
Here are some additional examples.
- Tetsujin 28: The Tetsujin 28, originally a weapon of war invented by Shoutarou’s father, becomes a tool for protecting peace.
- Toushou Daimos: Kazuya’s father, after having designed and developed the titular robot, is killed during negotiations between humans and the alien Baams.
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Amuro’s father Tem is a workaholic who barely sees his wife and child, and who has also developed the Gundam. When they meet again, Tem has gone insane due to oxygen deprivation. Char Aznable must also work through his legacy as the son of the great rebel leader Zeon Deikun.
- Rokushin Gattai Godmars: Takeru’s father secretly built the other five robots in order to protect Takeru.
- Mobile Suit Z Gundam: Camille, after informing both of his parents that they were cheating on each other the whole time, has to watch both of them get killed one after the other.
- King of Braves Gaogaigar: Mamoru inherits not just the will of his father but also of his entire race to protect the universe.
- Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Renton must continuously deal with the fact that his father is considered mankind’s greatest hero.
If you factor in the “shadow of the mother,” the list becomes larger as well, including titles such as Reideen the Brave, Panzer World Galient, Eureka Seven AO, Choujin Sentai Barattack, and even overlaps into some titles mentioned above such as Z Gundam and Voltes V. And I won’t even get into grandfathers at this point.
I intentionally excluded one title from the list above that I’m sure many people think of immediately when seeing the combination of giant robots and a strained relationship with a parent, because I wanted to set some perspective before talking about it in detail. Shinji in Neon Genesis Evangelion is sometimes spoken of as nothing more than a teenager with daddy issues. It’s not too far off, and of course the mother plays a role here too due to the fact that his long separation from his father Gendou is the result of his mother’s disappearance, but I think when this aspect of Evangelion is put into relief against the robot shows that have come both before and after it, you can say that it is the common thread which ties him with a lot of the hot-blooded heroes who are often considered his antithesis. The place where Evangelion differs, then, is more the degree to which the shadow of the father, and of the mother, are explored on the internal and psychological level Evangelion is famous for.
I do have some ideas about how this came about, though I also think the reasons may have changed along the way. With a title like Tetsujin 28, which began as a manga in 1954 and the anime in 1960, its back story contains the specter of World War II. The father becomes symbolic of that past, and so the shadow cast was about carrying their legacy or making up for their failure. The 70s marked the rise of the salaryman, and if you look at those 70s titles, they often feature missing fathers who are off either prioritizing their job above all else or working hard for the sake of their families. In this way, it’s not hard to see the relation to someone like the father Kentarou in Voltes V. My thought is that these series addressed a worry of children in this regard in order to assuage their fears about it, criticize the system, or to just point it out as something to relate to.
I haven’t thought through the transition into the 80s and then through the 90s, but Evangelion is often spoken of as the post-Bubble Economy anime, reflecting the reveal that the salaryman system of lifetime employment was not as guaranteed as people originally thought, which speaks to those reassuring images of the hardworking father from those 70s robot anime. It may also be, then, that a show like Eureka Seven reflects the current generation being told that the previous generations were so much better and greater that they wish to rid themselves of that legacy.
On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?
From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited. Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?
The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.
I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.
Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.
Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.
Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.
(Warning: This post contains spoilers.)
There are many interesting aspects about the anime Robotics;Notes, but one thing that’s particularly noteworthy is that it is a show about giant robots. That might not sound so impressive on its own, but it’s actually quite rare for a show to be “about” giant robots. Certainly, there are anime which include giant robots, anime which place giant robots in the spotlight, and giant robot anime which are driven by strong themes, all of which can be strong in their own rights. Where Robotics;Notes differs, however, is that it concerns the very thematic concept of giant robots, particularly what they mean to the people who watch and follow them.
Senomiya Akiho, Robotics Club President
In episode 1, we’re introduced to the Central Tanegashima High School Robotics Club and its president, Senomiya Akiho. An energetic girl, Akiho is an avid fan of giant robot anime, particularly the highly influential and hot-blooded series Gunvarrel. Akiho’s primary goal as Robotics Club president is to complete a 1:1 scale functioning robot replica of Gunvarrel called the Guntsuku-1, a task she inherited from her sister Misaki. Akiho, we are shown, has nowhere near the genius of her sister who designed the blueprints for Guntsuku-1 in the first place, and the enormous task before her sets up a couple of important questions. First, is Robotics;Notes the sort of anime that would, after deliberately pointing out how unfeasible it would be to replicate the design of an in-story fictional robot while also providing examples of “realistic” robots in society, allow Guntsuku-1 to be completed? Second, whether it ends up being finished or not, how prominently will Guntsuku-1 figure into the narrative? More specifically, will it actually somehow fulfill the role of a giant robot even with its various setbacks? These two mysteries work together to create a slow-burning sense of anticipation in Robotics;Notes which center upon the idea of “giant robots,” or more specifically the “giant robots of anime.”
Legendary anime Gunvarrel
The “high school kids in a club” setting is not new to anime, but because of its increasing prominence in recent years Robotics;Notes initially gives off the impression that it might stay primarily in the microcosm of the clubroom. Even when factoring in the fact that Robotics;Notes is from the same company which created Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate, two series with grander themes than K-On!, there still exists in the early episodes the possibility that the anime would focus on the everyday of the Robotics Club amidst this greater story, or at most show how small their world is by comparison. While the story of the Robotics Club does eventually begin to tie itself into a greater conspiracy and makes it clear that the show is not so limited in scope, even from the beginning Robotics;Notes creates a strong sense of connection between many of the characters and varying conceptions of robots. This in turn helps to establish that deeper thematic level of the meanings of giant robots.
Robotics Club members (left to right): Senomiya Akiho, Daitoku Junna, Koujiro Frau, Yashio Kaito, Hidaka Subaru
Going by just the club members, the male lead and childhood friend of Akiho, Yashio Kaito, is a slacker who primarily experiences giant robots through a fictional Virtual On-esque game called Kill-Ballad, which is itself inspired by Gunvarrel. The hikikomori fujoshi Koujiro Frau, turns out to be not only the creator of Kill-Ballad, but also the daughter of the producer of the original Gunvarrel anime, making Gunvarrel her tie to her missing mother. Hidaka Subaru, who initially refuses to join, is a champion of small-scale robot battle competitions who is forced to compete in secrecy because of his father’s disapproval. Daitoku Junna’s grandfather specializes in robotics, but an accident at a young age left her with a fear of robots. In each of these examples, Robotics;Notes in some way connects the theme of giant robots to other people.
The completed Guntsuku-1
There are two important developments about halfway through the series. First, the Robotics Club manages to complete Guntsuku-1, but it turns out to have accumulated over time so many compromises and shortcuts in its construction that the final product is a cumbersome and ugly-looking machine. Physically speaking, it is no more a robot than a golf cart with a head grafted on. Second, it is revealed that the final episode of Gunvarrel never aired because it was actually brainwashing propaganda (the broadcast of which was was stopped by Frau’s mother), which creates an extremely negative public opinion of Akiho’s beloved anime. Here, Akiho’s reactions to both events emphasizes the role of giant robots in her life, which in turn foregrounds how giant robots as a fictional concept can be interpreted.
The Gunvarrel conspiracy
In regards to Guntsuku-1 and its lackluster debut, Akiho specifically mentions that they are not abandoning Guntsuku-1. Rather, they are setting it aside so that they can come back to it later, which is indicative of Akiho’s belief in the spirit of the giant robot concept. Even as the Robotics Club moves onto working on a more realistic robot (the Guntsuku-2) for a robotics expo, Akiho not only makes sure not to forget Guntsuku-1, but her influence encourages the other club members to create an augmented reality modification so that people using a technological interface can view Guntsuku-2 as if it actually were Gunvarrel. Similarly, even when the horrible truth of Gunvarrel becomes known and people view it with disdain, Akiho resolves to still love Gunvarrel because she believes that her positive experiences with it trump whatever diabolical authorial intent may have been at the heart of it. At this point, it becomes increasingly clear that what is important to Akiho (and Robotic;Notes) is not the physical component of giant robots as massive titans of power but as symbols and icons of inspiration, existing in the hearts of those who love what it could be, instead of what it was supposed to be.
Akiho’s persistent spirit along with Guntsuku-2
Akiho embodies this “giant robot spirit.” Late in the series, when the conspiracy which underpins the series is in full swing, Akiho falls into a panicked depression, which comes as a shock to Kaito. Throughout the series, Kaito acts like a reluctant accomplice to Akiho’s madness, someone who follows only because he must. In this situation, however, Kai reveals that he was only able to act the role of the slacker because Akiho was there as his beacon of light, with enough motivation to carry the both of them. Kaito always saw in Akiho what Akiho sees in giant robots: something (or someone) who is not the most logical or rational but is an enduring source of motivation.
By the end of the series, the Robotics Club must stop the leader of the conspiracy and prevent the death of millions. In order to do so, they (along with their friends and family) repurpose the Guntsuku-1 using parts of Guntsuku-2, giving it functional modifications that they were simply unable to the first time. Appearance-wise, it’s still more or les the cumbersome hunk of metal it was before, but at this point in the story it’s clear that what makes Guntsuku-1 into a valiant giant robot just like Gunvarrel is not how closely it matches the original design but rather the intent of the people who support it. This includes not just the current Robotics Club and the people they know, but the people who worked on it throughout the years such as Akiho’s sister. As if to reinforce this point, when the antagonists view Guntsuku-1 through the technological interface of their own robot, all they can see is the actual Gunvarrel (via the same augmented reality image used for Guntsuku-2), complete with signature attacks.
The virtual image of Guntsuku-1
In describing Robotics;Notes as an anime about giant robots unlike so many others, this distinction mainly has to do with the fact that Robotics;Notes incorporates into its story how giant robots as cultural artifacts are received and interpreted by the people who engage with them. It is not the only anime to address this on some level, with Martian Successor Nadesico and the 2004 Tetsujin 28 being a couple of examples, but Robotics;Notes does so while putting into question throughout its narrative the very existence of its signature robot. It is not until the conceptual processes for conceiving the effects of “giant robots” are in place that Guntsuku-1 truly takes center stage, which in turn creates a unique and interesting position for Robotics;Notes. If one were to categorize Robotics;Notes, would it be considered a “giant robot anime?” The fact that this can be argued both ways is, rather than being a weakness of Robotics;Notes, one of its greatest strengths.
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 a galaxy-spanning war which is affected 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 .)
The anime AKB0048 asks a simple question: “What if the J-pop AKB48 was in the future and its members fought with light sabers?” Essentially another marketing platform for an already extremely popular band, the anime uses a lot of existing AKB48′s songs, most of which are fluff pieces about falling in love or being young girls. The songs are part of their image and have factored into their popular and financial success, but within the context of AKB0048, I find that these same pop songs start to carry a different meaning.
AKB0048 takes place in a future where mankind has colonized space, and during which a movement to ban all entertainment and performance has grown increasingly strong. Successors to the “legendary AKB48,” the girls of AKB0048 fight in order to protect people’s rights to rock out, and in this setting the songs of AKB48 are near-ancient “relics” passed down through the generations. No longer acting as the supposedly genuine expression of young girls’ thought and feelings, the songs are “weaponized” within the context of a guerilla movement to restore entertainment in the universe. The songs act more like representative anthems of a better world, not so much in the actual lyrics, but in the way they promote the right to have lyrics so light and fluffy.
AKB48′s songs in AKB0048 act as symbols of change, revolution, and renewal. This is even more apparent when looking at the songs made for the anime. Compare the lyrics below:
First is “Heavy Rotation,” a popular preexisting AKB48 song used frequently in the anime:
I want you!
I need you!
I love you!
The blaring music
Playing in my head
Is on heavy rotation
The words “I love you” dance
Of your face and voice
Makes me go crazy
I’m so lucky
To get to feel like this
(translation taken from Kiwi Musume)
Now compare it with “Dreams Will Be Reborn Again and Again,” the 1st ending theme for AKB0048:
The stars shining in the night sky
are billions of light-years away
Even if the deep despair
turns into endless darkness
The truth will be passed on
Who will be the one to accept
its message of light
that is entrusted to the flow of time?
People will be born
People will die
The flesh is mortal
from its ashes
that goes to the next generation
(translation taken from Words of Songs)
The lyrics writer for all of the AKB48 songs, as well as “Dreams Will Be Reborn Again and Again” is the famed AKB48 producer Akimoto Yasushi, so it’s not like AKB0048 is divorced from the creative forces which govern the actual band. Suffice it to say, however, the songs from the “future” seem cut from a different cloth than their predecessors, and this changes the meaning of “pop idol group,” at least for the anime.
It is difficult to regard the fictional group AKB0048 as simply girls who desire fan support within a specific section of the music industry. The girls begin to embody values beyond music, youth, and sexuality, such as social and political potential. Granted, this isn’t too surprising, seeing as the man directing AKB0048 is the creator of Macross. Kawamori Shouji has decades of experience in creating anime about pop idols changing the world, though I actually feel that the usage of pop music in AKB0048 surpasses Kawamori’s more established work because of the more thorough incorporation of the very idea of popular music into the anime’s narrative.
With the criticism and controversy surrounding AKB48 as a pop idol tour de force and all that it entails, the existence of AKB0048 is a curious thing. Is it in support of that system, does it go beyond, or does it sit somewhere in the middle? Is the “ideal” of AKB0048 different enough from the constructed space of AKB48 that it can be considered something more?
In a previous post, I had likened the bizarre 3dcg anime gdgd Fairies to an Adult Swim cartoon. I still think it’s an apt comparison, and with the new season currently running this only renews my confidence in that description, but what I hadn’t expected was for there to be another anime like gdgd Fairies, especially not one that’s themed around a giant robot future. This isn’t so surprising once you learn that it’s from the same creator as gdgd Fairies, but what’s impressive is that in some ways this new show’s humor is even more absurd.
Straight Title Robot Anime (yes, that’s the title) takes place in a time when humanity has gone extinct and only giant robots are left to fight an eternal war. Living on this Earth are three human-sized female robots who are trying to stop the war by re-discovering mankind’s great invention: humor. In order to accomplish this, they try to figure out what it means to tell a joke and induce laughter, but the concept is so foreign to them that they’re unable to make any headway.
In other words, this anime is actually all about trying to explain jokes, which is classically regarded as humor’s own kryptonite, but amazingly this just makes the whole premise funnier. It’s also animated entirely in the free program Miku Miku Dance, which was created for just the purpose its name implies (animating Hatsune Miku).
If it wasn’t obvious that this show is from the same mind as gdgd Fairies from, the fact that there’s an “improv” section similar to the fairies’ own “Magical Spring Dubbing Lake” should be more than sufficient evidence. In it, the three robots visit simulations of “ancient human locations,” such as a hardware store, and try to figure out uses for the objects found. I’m not sure how they accomplish these scenes, but I imagine it actually involves them gathering materials from those real-world places and then having the voice actors engage in prop comedy. Here, not only are the voice actors unable to keep up their acted roles and break down into their normal voices, but one character goes from having a very artificial BEEP BOOP I AM A ROBOT voice to having a natural cadence which not even an electronic voice distortion can fully hide.
Most telling of all is the fact that, despite the show being premised around the idea that the robots do not understand what it means to laugh, the robots in this sequence are giggling constantly. The narrator nonchalantly explains this as “interference,” invoking that old Mystery Science Theater 3000 mantra, “It’s just a show; I should really just relax.”
So that’s Straight Title Robot Anime. In my opinion, the humor isn’t quite to the level of gdgd Fairies yet, but its appeal is such that if you liked gdgd Fairies you’ll probably enjoy this too. However, if your only response to the fairies was revulsion then this show won’t help either. These really are both love it or hate it shows, as is evident from the comments both anime received. You can experience Straight Title Robot Anime, gdgd Fairies 2, and the angry comments these shows tend to get, on Crunchyroll.
The “Golden Ani-Versary of Anime” is a collaborative effort among bloggers, fans, and experts of anime to celebrate the 30th anniversary of anime on television. Coordinated by one Geoff Tebbetts, the plan is to have one article per year from 1963 and the debut of Tetsuwan Atom all the way up to 2012. I’ve included below an excerpt from my entry on the year 1977.
The year 1977 is something of a contradictory time in anime. Although the industry at this point was at the beginning of an animation boom and had been firmly established for over a decade, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact level of experimentation vs. continuation of formulaic trends, simply because in many cases the individual works of 1977 featured both.
The ’70s were the golden age of giant robot anime, and with six super robot-themed anime debuting (as well as five holdovers from the previous year) 1977 was no exception to that trend. Somewhat unfortunately for the robot anime of that year, the legendary arrival of Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979 tends to overshadow them as a whole, but while nothing in 1977 broke the mold as Gundam would, there were a few series which pushed that mold to its very limits. These shows managed to convey new and interesting ideas while working well within established convention, an impressive feat in its own right.
It’s fairly common knowledge that sequels aren’t the easiest thing to successfully pull off in entertainment. Even if the sequel ends up being okay, it may not live up to its predecessor because of how iconic moments and innovations can start to become formula (having to fit “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” into every Die Hard for example), or plot points from the first in the series have to be modified in order to cater to the new version. Whenever I watch a sequel, I’m aware of how daunting this mountain can be, and try to take into account those problems even if they ultimate are my criticisms. This is the approach I took when I heard that Eureka Seven, one of my favorite anime ever, was getting a sequel, but even with an open mind I felt that Eureka Seven AO not only paled in comparison to the original but was in certain ways a regression of what Eureka Seven had done.
Eureka Seven AO is billed as a direct sequel, as opposed to an alternate universe/retelling like the movie or the manga. The story centers around a young boy named Fukai Ao, who lives in the independent nation of Okinawa, and for whom life is difficult because of the way the community tries to ostracize him. In this world, the skub (or scab however they want to spell it this time), are considered a problematic natural disaster, especially because they bring with them mysterious monsters known as “Secrets,” which Ao ends up having to fight. For anyone who’s seen the original, the fact that the world of AO consists of real-world countries and continents is meant to imply that something is very strange or different about its setting, and trying to figure out just what in the world happened becomes part of the initial intrigue of the series.
When I say “regression,” I’m not referring to retcons or weird developments in AO‘s plot which cast a different light on the original’s events, but a regression of what mecha anime is capable of. Eureka Seven took an approach which let viewers explore its world through a cast of engaging, fleshed-out characters and a central love story developed gradually over the course of many episodes, and which anchored the narrative in such a way that the emotional excitement of the series builds up continuously throughout. It’s not altogether unique to Eureka Seven, and you can probably trace this style of show all the way back to Macross. Eureka Seven AO, on the other hand, feels more like a mediocre 80s mecha anime, more keen to develop its story as a set of vague mysteries and tensions but never entirely delivering on any of them. It’s not just that the plot is worse, but that it ends up resembling the way a staunch non-fan might look at and describe their idea of a Gundam anime.
What Eureka Seven AO does have, at least initially, is a strong cast of characters with plenty of potential as to how they’ll develop, but much of it never comes to fruition (though the brief glimpses at Ivica’s character and past were things I enjoyed in particular), or if there is a development the lack of impact from the rest of the series lessens the overall effect. In particular, AO never manages to have its story properly focused by something like Eureka and Renton’s romance, and though it didn’t have to necessarily be “another romance” (which might have well turned it into just a rehash of the original), there was nothing that could properly fill that void. It seems like the closest thing was just the mystery of what happened to Eureka and Renton, the intrigue of which the show feeds into fairly well, but the explanation we’re left with at the end is less than satisfying. And there is the potential for romance at the beginning, as the dynamic between Ao and his friend Haru is cute and gives a good sense of their relationship, but it ends up getting pushed aside. In the end, probably the most interesting point brought up in the show has to do with how the Secrets are treated by humanity, and how it reflects in some ways the way the Skub were regarded in the original Eureka Seven.
If the movie Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers suffered from having a weak and confusing beginning but then a fairly strong finish as all of its disparate ideas came together, then Eureka Seven AO is the opposite: It starts off strong and with many of the pieces in place to tell something both grand and personal, but its plot and character development are so discombobulated that when the ending finally comes it hits like a drizzle instead of the torrent of emotions that the original provided.