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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.

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.

It’s not uncommon for an anime to pay homage to its predecessors, but when the homage becomes a source of inspiration itself, then you have something special. That’s Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. The image of Gunbuster rising up from a ship with its arms crossed is especially famous, and for anyone to whom the phrase “female robot anime protagonist” is relevant, Takaya Noriko and the Gunbuster carry great significance. As I even use it in my introduction, it was only a matter of time before Gattai Girls got around to Aim for the Top!

In the future, mankind is under siege from massive alien creatures. In order to combat them, young cadets are recruited and trained so that they may travel through space and confront the aliens directly. One such pilot is Takaya Noriko, who appears to be lacking, but the school’s coach sees potential in her and makes her a candidate for mankind’s strongest weapon, the Gunbuster. As she trains alongside her “big sister,” a talented, beautiful, and hardworking upperclassman named Amano Kazumi, Noriko learns and matures. However, because battling the enemy requires faster-than-lightspeed travel, those who fight must live in a different time frame from those they care about.

First released in 1988, Aim for the Top! is in many ways an anime for anime fans, which should come as no surprise when considering that it’s an early Gainax production. Gainax is famous for being the anime studio created by fans, and when you look at this OVA series and even the fact that it bucks the trend by going for a fierce and powerful female protagonist in Noriko likely stems from these origins. The series fuses the melodramatic shoujo sports setting of the tennis manga Aim for the Ace! (of which the OVA is at first clearly a parody) with both the hot-blooded nature of the super robot genre and the devil-may-care atmosphere of Top Gun. One thing that strikes me about Aim for the Top! is that, even though it has its basis in shoujo, the character designs and overall art style are quite far-removed from Aim for the Ace! and really embodies that 80s look.

If I had to pick a more modern series with similar tendencies (aside from its sequel Aim for the Top 2!, of course), it would be Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and the way it takes the magical girl concept traditionally aimed towards girls and combines it with an almost mecha-like aesthetic for the enjoyment of male fans. Same goes for the treatment of male characters: like in Nanoha, guys are clearly less important, even to the point of being more plot devices than anything else.

The reason why I bring all of this up is because I can’t say that Takaya Noriko is intentionally a progressive character. Giant robots and cute girls are two popular tastes among otaku, and Noriko is a notable example of that. It also should be noted that Aim for the Top! is notorious for popularizing in anime the concept of incredibly jiggly breasts, the girls’ outfits emphasize their legs like crazy, and casual nudity is somewhat common in the series. Nevertheless, in some ways I would argue that there are very clear benefits to the fact that Noriko is a very strong female protagonist regardless of feminist intentions. Aim for the Top! asks, why can’t the girl be the lead? Why can’t she save the day? And why can’t she be the one yelling with fury at the top of her lungs as her robot plants the spiked treads on the bottom of its foot on alien creatures ten times its size and tears straight through them?

It’s not like Noriko at her core is a very original character. She’s not much different from her predecessor Hiromi in Aim for the Ace! (and Kazumi is still clearly based on Ochoufuujin from the same series), but just by shifting the activity and context, it changes the responsibility given to the lead character away from the relative safety of “sports as a female activity.” Where Hiromi learns to utilize a more “masculine” style of tennis which better suits her, Noriko ends up exceling in the traditionally masculine role of super robot pilot. In that capacity, “preventing the extinction of the entire human race” is a pretty big accomplishment.

I think the one thing which really captures Noriko’s appeal is her screaming. Noriko’s cry as she launches attacks is so distinct and memorable that, in terms of the ability to generate sheer excitement through her passion and intensity, she is possibly unmatched among female robot pilots in all of anime. By the end of the series, Noriko has more than proven herself as not only powerful in her own right, but a source of strength for others. Noriko’s strength is such that guys may not just want to be with her, but actually be her as well.

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 .)

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 fight 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 that if it had 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.

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.

Between its generic Monster of the Week stories, basic “defend the world from evil” plot, and its overtly toy-oriented design, the  1976 anime Gowapper 5 Godam by Tatsunoko Pro is a largely bland and mediocre giant robot series. Following the “Gowapper 5,” a team of five kids whose purpose is to “go on adventures” (really) and who discover a giant robot, even the normal saving grace of such a show, the giant robot itself, is lacking.

Even ignoring the Rudolph nose (which I can let slide), the titular robot is so blocky and aesthetically awkward that even the animators for the show who are otherwise skilled at producing action scenes cannot make Godam look impressive. Despite a handful of fairly impressive episodes which manage some good bits of characterization or interesting moral dilemmas, overall Gowapper 5 Godam would be even more forgotten than it already is if not for two reasons.

First, the character designs were by Amano Yoshitaka of Final Fantasy fame, who worked on many other Tatsunoko anime as well.

Second, it is the first ever giant robot anime to feature a prominent female character in a leadership position.

Despite being the token female character, Misaki Youko transcends that position in a number of ways. In addition to being the unmistakable leader of the Gowapper 5 (she wears the red uniform and her teammates consistently refer to her as such), she is clever, courageous, cool under pressure, a highly-skilled fighter (possibly the most skilled of the five), always dresses sensibly, and, perhaps most amazingly of all, never actually gets kidnapped or put in damsel-in-distress situations. She shows strong leadership even in moments of weakness, at one point willing to relinquish her position for what she feels is her own error in judgment, and is able to pilot Godam effectively and deal the finishing blow on multiple occasions to the enemy. Even today, such a character is a rare exception in the mecha genre (especially when you exclude those shows where all of the pilots are female), let alone in 1976.

However, even though Youko as a character remains extremely capable, she is hurt by the fact that the show itself can never actually decide if Youko is its main character or not. Even the opening flip flops between emphasizing her as the most important character and focusing on the blue second-in-command, Gou.

Looking at who is most prominent when piloting Godam itself, a method which would work with just about any other giant robot show, doesn’t really apply here. While Godam is the centerpiece of the series, usually the Gowapper 5 go out and fight hand to hand or in their personal vehicles, leaving whoever is left behind to pilot the robot, whether that’s Youko or Gou or one of their three comically misshapen teammates. Much later in the series when they start to regularly pilot it all at once, Gou sits in the center chair, but then other times Youko acts like the main character, even being the one to directly defeat a major villain.

Because of the way that Youko receives fewer and fewer episodes devoted to her as the show goes on, I get the feeling that the makers of Gowapper 5 Godam originally wanted her to be the undisputed protagonist (with Gou as deuteragonist), but something had to make them backpedal, possibly as early as when they were making the opening. The fact that Gou, the character who has more of the look you’d expect from a giant robot hero, overall gets the most episodes dedicated to him followed by the youngest character Norisuke makes me think that they determined that a female character as the central character of the show was hurting their sales and that they had to do something about it. Moreover, the odd 36-episode length of Gowapper 5 Godam and the number of sudden introductions of new merchandise into the series in the last 1/3 of the show hints at a possibly troubled production or low toy sales which they would have to try and overturn. At the same time, the fact that Youko continues to be prominent even at the very end might imply that this was an on-going conflict throughout the show’s production.

As the first true female leader in a giant robot anime, Misaki Youko is in many ways a pioneering character. She is well ahead of her time to the extent that she may have been too much for the very anime she comes from. In that respect, she perhaps not only the patron saint of female protagonists in mecha, but also the patron saint of characters who transcend the quality of their own anime.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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