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This post is my latest participation in the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Project, wherein fellow bloggers anonymously recommend each other some anime and everyone writes a review of one of their “presents.” Given the Christmas theme of the endeavor, it is perhaps all the more appropriate that I review an anime which takes place in a land of endless winter, but really the reason why I ended up picking Overman King Gainer out of the choices I was given is that I had always wanted to watch it but had never gotten around to doing so.
Overman King Gainer is a 2002 anime from the mind of Tomino Yoshiyuki, the famous creator of Gundam. He’s a man with a long history and resume in the industry, and when people talk about Tomino anime, they usually divide them into two categories: Depressed Tomino Anime and Happy Tomino Anime, with the amount of bloodshed and trauma varying accordingly. Featured above is a gif of Tomino during the production of Overman King Gainer; I’ll let you decide which kind of show this is.
At first glance, Overman King Gainer is a strange show, not only because of its extremely catchy opening courtesy of Fire Bomber and JAM Project’s Fukuyama Yoshiki, Gaogaigar composer Tanaka Kouhei, and both characters and giant robots alike doing the Monkey (possibly the show’s most enduring legacy in anime), but because it presents new information about its world constantly and without any prior warning, making the whole thing quite difficult to summarize.
In the future of Overman King Gainer, humanity attempts to survive a harsh and close to uninhabitable planet by living in massive shelters known as “domepoli,” but among the people there are movements to participate in “Exoduses,” mass pilgrimages to lands with potentially more opportunity and resources, accomplished through the use of massive moving cities. The main character is a boy named Gainer Sanga, a video game champion who becomes the pilot of a mysterious organic robot he dubs the “King Gainer,” and who ends up becoming a part of the Exodus despite his objections to it. There is a complex world underpinning the main narrative, but we the viewers only ever get to see a few slivers of the whole, and even into the final episode the show still keeps a lot of its secrets. In that respect it reminds me of Xam’d: Lost Memories, which shares that similar pacing of world-building = plot progression, but much like Xam’d that’s also where a good deal of its charm lies.
Watching this show, I couldn’t help but feel that, more than Ikari Shinji from Evangelion or Kira Yamato from Gundam SEED, Gainer Sanga is the true updated version of classic Gundam hero Amuro Ray. Gainer has this strange introversion to him, as well as an aversion to the situation he finds himself in, but he adds this additional modern otaku element from the way he engages in his gaming. As an aside, the fact that he engages in games instead of tinkering with machinery reminds me that the original Gundam came out in a very different era of video games.
The character designs in this show are excellent, with both male and female characters clearly showing that a lot of care was put into their creation. The designs are full of vibrancy and personality, and though not the sole character designer on the show, the influence of Yoshida Ken’ichi (who would go on to do character designs for Eureka Seven and Xam’d) is both quite obvious and welcome. I have to wonder what material would have been made for Overman King Gainer had it appeared in a post-Megami Magazine, maybe even post-Pixiv fandom environment. The show has a large number of female characters who seem to have a fair deal of enduring popularity, and I suspect that characters such as the strong-willed Sara Kodama, the spunky child princess Ana Medaiyu, the spy-turned-humanities teacher Adette Kistler, and the eccentric Cynthia Lane would’ve won the hearts of many current fans had the show been made in the last few years.
Tomino is often known for having rather stiff dialogue, and it’s easy to put Overman King Gainer in the same category, but I feel like that doesn’t quite tell the whole story, because it doesn’t take into account for its usage as a comedic element. The awkwardness of the phrasing and the responses they engender from other characters feels like this constant revolving tsukkomi, and when you take that sort of interaction and apply it to a diverse range of characters, including crazy Koyasu Takehito (see current anime JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure for reference), it makes for a fun if confusing anime which exudes a strange sort of energy that’s hard to find in other anime.
Another element of the anime that really stands out from other shows is its mechanical design, which both Yoshida and Yasuda “Akiman” Akira of Capcom fame worked on. The robots in Overman King Gainer come in two categories, the more basic and grunt-like “Sillhouette Machines,” and the “Overmen,” strangely powerful robots with a variety of abilities from invisibility to lightning bordering on the super (natural). Between their organic appearances and elements (artificial muscle tissue in the limbs for instance), as well as their striking appearances, probably the part of the show which most clearly describes the aesthetics of the anime, and that’s putting aside the whole Monkey-dancing thing.
I know I’m talking more about the components of Overman King Gainer than I am the overall feel of the series, and it’s something I normally prefer to avoid when I write reviews, but again I have to point out that the show kind of messes with expectations. Overman King Gainer is an unusual hodgepodge of elements which perhaps shouldn’t work together but do, and it defies categorization in the sense that it’s hard to say whether the anime is extremely straightforward or extremely obtuse, but which ends up being fun and clever.
For the 2011 edition of the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa, I was given three excellent titles to choose from. Given that I have been hearing good things about Planetes for a very long time though, I felt that it was the right and proper choice to make. After having watched through all 26 episodes, I find the series to be one that is difficult to pin down because of how it handles so many of its elements extremely well, and asks a great deal of its viewers without making it necessarily a “challenging” watch. It is a show which eases you into its difficult, mentally engaging portions but also doesn’t let up on them either.
Planetes takes place in the early years of space colonization, when mankind is utilizing resources found outside of the Earth and has established cities on the moon and on orbiting satellites. In this era, space travel is naturally common, but decades of collected junk (old satellites, garbage launched into space, etc.) around Earth’s orbit have made it potentially dangerous. Even a seemingly harmless object becomes deadly when controlled by the unrestrained laws of motion. In order to combat this serious issue, mankind has developed the profession of “debris hauler,” a job which is absolutely vital to space travel but is treated with about as much reverence as a janitor. The story of Planetes focuses primarily on these debris haulers, especially the brash-but-serious veteran Hoshino “Hachimaki” Hachirota, and the new recruit filled with lofty ideals for people and space, Tanabe Ai. Together, they work for the Debris Section of their company, derisively referred to as the “Half-Section” for being perpetually understaffed.
Though I cannot comment on the accuracy of the science in Planetes, I can say that it plays a large role in the series, particularly how inertia works in space. It is taken seriously, and though the show feels light-hearted, the seriousness of their respective positions is also made immediately apparent. As space debris is dangerous, so too is the work of a debris hauler, as they have to be prepared for the fact that every time they are out on the job could be their last.
The challenges of space travel are not simply limited to the tasks at hand, either. When it comes to expanding humanity further into the universe, there are very real consequences. Space development is seen as a way to benefit all of mankind, but the truth is that the wealthiest nations, the ones that have the funds to develop space programs, are the ones that profit the most. The gap between nations grows ever wider. Planetes is an anime that questions progress and development, the interaction of politics and science, personal motivations, the nature of human interaction, and even the way we view ourselves individually.
The beauty of the series, however, is that it does not give a clear winner in the conceptual battle of “cynicism” vs. “idealism,” nor does it say which side is which. Planetes does not push one side over another, as if to say that once you weigh all of the advantages and disadvantages of space travel relative to the state of mankind, you can figure out which is right. The answers are as myriad as the the show’s cast of characters, all of whom are fantastically developed and who contribute heavily to the unlikely combination of feel-good comedy, political intrigue, and genuine speculation, balanced in a way that very few works of science fiction are able to accomplish. Even when you disagree with them, you cannot deny their convictions.
Hachimaki decided to go into space because he wanted to go faster and further than ever before. Fee Carmichael, the pilot of the Half-Section debris ship “Toy Box,” is a chain-smoking pragmatist whose skills are the best in the business, but who shirks at the chance to get promoted because she feels her skills are most needed out in the ”field” instead of being behind a desk. Werner Locksmith, the developer of the first inhabitable ship to Jupiter, is a brilliant mind whose emphasis on science over humanity can be shocking to those who expect empathy, but his attitude is also necessary for pushing space development technology further. Tanabe herself strongly believes that the key to everything is love, and that actions without love are lesser for it, an attitude which can be grating to those who see reality as a much harsher place. And yet it must be asked, who is truly naive, the one who believes that love connects humanity, or the one who believes that people are forever alone?
Similarly, some problems are seen as trivial when faced by issues of a larger scale, seemingly insurmountable ones which affect entire countries, but those in turn are dwarfed by the vastness of a perspective with the entirety of the universe in mind. Suddenly those “small problems” of the individual start to play a much greater role. In the end, Planetes never leaves you with a definitive answer to any of the questions it posits, leaving you to decide for yourself.
Before I finish, I feel that I must emphasize once again that somehow through all this, Planetes is fun and even a bit romantic. It takes itself seriously, but it also doesn’t neglect the personal joys that can be found in life. There isn’t anything quite like it.
Note: This is the my review as part of the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Project.
Romance can be sweet. Romance can be exhilarating. It can be mellow, dramatic, fun, bitter, and much more. But often times the best word to describe this roller coaster ride we call love is “silly.” Not trivial, not foolish, and not frivolous, but the kind of silliness that reminds you that, as serious as love can get, it’s best to approach it with a genuine smile. That is the lesson Lovely Complex teaches over the course of 26 episodes.
Lovely Complex is the story of a girl and the boy who sits next to her in class. The girl is Koizumi Risa, an energetic high schooler who towers over nearly every guy in the class and often believes that love is beyond her long reach. Opposite Risa is Ohtani Atsushi, a diminutive fellow with lots of attitude who is very sensitive about his size. If love is a roller coaster, then Ohtani constantly feels like he can’t meet the height requirement. Though they may argue constantly and are quick to use each others’ height complexes to rub salt in each others’ wounds, Risa and Ohtani are actually friends even if they believe otherwise.
As an anime, Lovely Complex has many strengths. The characters are fun, interesting, and very human. The story moves along at a brisk pace; you never feel like it’s dragging or going in circles even when you think it might be, and the interaction between Koizumi and Ohtani is very entertaining and will have you smiling constantly. The best moments are when the two start to bicker, as even the most heated argument between the two can be defused by their shared enthusiasm for the silliest things, be it arcades, sweet drinks, or their favorite (fictional) hip hop star “Umibouzu.” Watching their bond develop is perhaps the most enjoyable part of Lovely Complex, and the result is that the show gets better and better as it progresses.
If the show has any weaknesses, it’s that not much emphasis is placed on the art. Characters will go frequently off-model and the show often sticks with a “good enough” mode of animation, but fortunately the format of Lovely Complex with its exaggerated expressions and constant style shifts is such that it doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary and it doesn’t lessen the impact of any scenes. In some ways actually helps to emphasize the characters’ personalities over their looks.
If it isn’t obvious yet, Lovely Complex is very much about the characters and I invite anyone who watches anime looking for a more down-to-earth, real sense of romance to take a look. Looking at the cast, if I had to pick a favorite character it would have to be Risa. She builds up her courage and makes a big move, and then immediately frets over it the next day. She’s tall but not “sexy,” clumsy but not “cute,” yet still has her own unique charms that make her feel less like an “anime heroine,” and more like a person. She’s a really wonderful character to the extent that I wish that somewhere out there is a “Koizumi Maniax,” because she really deserves it.
Lovely Complex: it’s a good romance anime where the drama is always cut through by good cheer and laughs. It’s silly, it’s serious, it’s a good thing to enjoy by yourself or with another.
I am participating in the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project, in which bloggers picked shows for other bloggers based on their anime preferences with the ultimate goal being a review of one of the anime picked for us.
Anyway, my show.
Good choice, Mr. or Ms. Claus. I hear this series is shoujo at its finest, and so I’ll be looking forward to taking it on.