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BEST MALE CHARACTER
Iori Sei (Gundam Build Fighters)
Much like last year’s winner, Armin Arlert, Iori Sei is a character whose skills come from forethought, patience, and preparation. Unlike Armin, however, Iori Sei is in fact the protagonist of his own series, reflecting a more general trend as of late where those who would normally be considered side characters are entering the limelight. In this respect, Sei’s talents, designing and building exquisite plastic Gundam models to use in holographic simulated battles, are best seen when his designs are utilized in the hands of his teammate Reiji. His gentle personality both contrasts with and complements his dedication to honing and refining his craft, and while he eventually becomes a skilled “pilot” as well, it feels like a very natural progression. Also, his innocent romance with Kousaka China is adorable.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Kiryuuin Satsuki (Kill la Kill)
The main rival in Studio Trigger’s popular series of 2013-2014, in order to understand Satsuki’s strength as a character it’s necessary to also be aware of the surface impression that Kill la Kill often first creates. The main motif of Kill la Kill is clothing and nudity, and Satsuki herself is no exception as early on in the series she dons her Kamui Junketsu, a sentient battle uniform, and proceeds to fight in an extremely skimpy and revealing outfit. At many points in the series, her body is on full display, and it is portrayed as very sensuous in its own right. However, when thinking of the character Kiryuuin Satsuki, what first comes to mind is not what she’s wearing (or not wearing), but her commanding presence, her ambition, her radiant confience, and ultimately her redemption. One of the strongest moments in the series has to be when Satsuki apologizes, taking a deep bow that humbles her yet also elevates her to even greater heights as a human being of iron-clad will and determination that nevertheless has room for love and compassion.
Andy and Frank (Yowamushi Pedal)
Andy and Frank (pictured left and right) support, advise, and push Hokane Academy’s 1st-year sprinter Izumida Touichirou to strive for victory. Developing their strength throughout his training, one has to wonder where Izumida would be without the help of Andy and Frank; it’s almost impossible to picture him without them. Though they seem quite similar, what’s also remarkable is how each of them have their own unique yet complementary personalities. It’s what makes them such an incredible team.
While there’s nothing that clearly links these characters together (though Andy and Satsuki might have something in common), I found that my choices this year were surprisingly not that difficult. Especially in the case of Satsuki, while there are plenty of great female characters this year, such as Anetai Toyone from Saki: The Nationals, Koizumi Hanayo from Love Live! School Idol Project, or even her fellow Kill la Kill characters, Satsuki’s sheer presence dominated them all in my mind. Perhaps the most notable thing is how different Sei and Satsuki are in terms of personality, and that their paths during their series lead them in what might be called opposite directions. Sei, though talented, learns confidence, while Satsuki learns humility and the value of friendship. At the same time, both remain true to themselves and their convictions.
Gundam: Reconguista in G continues to be the kind of whirlwind experience that I love in a Tomino anime. Part of that feeling comes from the show’s tendency to throw around a lot of terms without explanation that everyone but the viewer understands, only to gradually peel back the layers over time. Among these many terms are clear references to the Universal Century timeline of the original Mobile Suit Gundam that Tomino directed back in 1979, and I’ve noticed that there are a couple that relate strongly to the character Lalah Sun from that first series.
The first and most prominent reference is the G-Reco character Raraiya Monday. Not only does she have dark skin like Lalah and appear to exhibit some connection to the G-Self, the “Gundam in everything but name” of the series, but characters will sometimes even refer to her as “Rara,” which sounds mostly similar to Lalah in Japanese (ララ vs. ララァ). When looking at their last names as well, a connection forms: Lalah Sune -> Lalah Sunday -> Rara Monday -> Raraiya Monday.
The second reference comes from one of the terms being tossed around by characters that has yet to be seen: The blueprint of the “Rose of Hermes.” In Japanese, Hermes is pronounced “Erumesu” (エルメス), which is the exact same pronunciation as Lalah Sune’s Mobile Armor, the “Elmeth.”
(By the way, I learned about the pronunciation thing from watching Densha Otoko, which has as an important object in its story, Hermes-brand tea cups.)
What does this all mean? While I don’t know if these are thematic references or actual plot points, if I were to assume the latter it would mean a few things. First, Raraiya is probably a Newtype (maybe even a Cyber Newtype given her personality?), and the reason nobody is aware of this possibility is because the concept of Newtypes has been buried with time (we also see the protagonist Bellri have occasional Newtype-like flashes). Second, the blueprint of the “Rose of Hermes” might actually refer to design documents for the Elmeth’s bits. If that were the case, whoever joins Raraiya with the Rose of Hermes would gain a powerful weapon, which would also connect to the criticism of militarization that is a central plot point in Reconguista in G.
One of the talking points of the new anime Gundam: Reconguista in G, related to the fact that it’s the return of Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki in a directorial role, is that the dances performed by the characters in the eyecatches were choreographed by, of all people, Tomino’s youngest daughter Yukio. According to Japanese Wikipedia, Tomino Yukio is a modern dance choreographer living in the Netherlands, and as it turns out, some of her performances are available on YouTube.
Be warned, these videos contain some nudity.
I’m not really into dance, so I can’t comment in depth on the performances or the choreography, but I find it interesting that both of his children went into the performing arts (his oldest daughter Akari is a theater director in Japan). Obviously I have no idea about their family but I do feel that Tomino’s own work in anime reflects a kind of performative spirit in itself (his dialogue often sounds like it comes from a musical or play), and I wonder if this has influenced his children in any way.
Tomorrow is the start of New York Comic Con 2014, and I for one am pretty excited. Though I’ve attended NYCC in the past, it’s actually been five years since I was last able to attend, and I’ve heard from people that it’s changed a lot. Heck, people over the past couple of years have been talking about how it rivals San Diego Comic Con now, and that is certainly not the convention I left back in 2009.
I know that at a con this big I won’t be able to do everything I want, but here’s some stuff I’m considering.
Walt Disney Studios Tomorrowland and Walt Disney Animation Studios Big Hero 6. 1-2:30pm, Main Stage 1-D
Comics – What We’ve Lost, What’s Ahead. 2:15-3pm, 1A01
Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra: Book 4. 5:15-6:15pm, Empire Stage 1-E
“Marry, Do or Kill?” What Will it Take to Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics? 11:15am-12pm, 1A05
Voltron: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Presented by Perfect Square. 2-2:45pm, 1A21
Weekly Shonen Jump Presents: Takeshi Obata. 5-5:45pm, 1A10
CBLDF: The Battle of New York – Creativity, Censorship & the Comics Code. 6-6:45pm, 1A18
Sunrise Official Panel. 1-1:45pm, 1A21
The Mary Sue Presents – Strong Female Characters: The Women Shining in Geek Media. 1:15-2pm, 1A01 (Conflicts with above)
Vertical Manga 2014. 5:15pm-6pm, 1A14
Kill la Kill Episode 25. 8:15-10pm, 1A06
Image Comics: I is for Inventive. 12-12:45pm, 1A10
Kakehashi Project – New Japanese Animation Talent. 1-1:45pm, 1A21
Kodansha Comics. 2-2:45pm, 1A18
The Mary Sue Presents – All on the Table. 3-3:45pm, 1A21
Just as Marilyn Monroe graced the first issue of Playboy, it’s often somewhat telling who a magazine gets to be their first cover girl. For the anime magazine Newtype which debuted in 1985, it turns out to be Cham, the fairy girl from Aura Battle Dunbine, and I have to wonder what message that sent at the time.
Honestly when I found this out I was pretty surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been given the Newtype -> Gundam -> Sunrise -> Dunbine connection. And yet, of all of the female characters to be the visual centerpiece for a debut, Newtype went for the cute fairy girl as opposed to even, for example, other girls from Dunbine like Marvel Frozen (a prediction of Disney’s eventual purchase of Marvel nearly 30 years later?!). What could it mean, especially because she would be back only a few issues later?
I may not be the best person to speak on this. I never finished Dunbine, and I don’t have any real idea as to how popular Cham was at the time among anime fans. However, whether they were trying to appeal to a fanbase of Cham lovers or trying to push her as the next big thing (though at this point Dunbine had been over for a while), I feel as if Cham’s status as the inaugural spokesmodel of Newtype says something about where anime fandom was in Japan at the time and where it’s gone since.
You often hear about how anime’s changed and the advent of “kawaii” and “moe,” but where did it truly begin if it began in anime at all? Then you look and see that at the very start of this magazine for anime fans from 1985 and see a cute little pixie.
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.
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.
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.
Attack on Titan, the manga and now anime about a world where humans live in walled cities for fear of being eaten by nigh-invulnerable giants, is an interesting and unique title in that it goes against the grain of shounen action series and their conventions, especially when it comes to heroics. In particular, I find that Attack on Titan emphasizes people as a group over individuals in a way which doesn’t really happen in other popular titles.
When it comes to shounen fighting series, especially over the past ten years or so, gigantic ensemble casts are the norm. In something like Inuyasha or even Hajime no Ippo, you have the main characters, their friends and family, rivals, enemies, enemies turned allies, and so on until they require multiple volumes of guide books to keep track of them all. It’s even more the case that titles in the shounen fighting genre will emphasize group-oriented concepts, such as friends (One Piece) or fighting for a greater cause (Saint Seiya), but ultimately it boils down to unique characters cooperating. Where Attack on Titan differs, at least initially, is that it gives you a sense of a world where individual heroics are much more ineffectual, and it is only through the massing of people that they can have any hope of surviving in their world, and a slim one at that.
The reason why I make the comparison to Mobile Suit Gundam (though I understand that the comparison is not perfect) is that Gundam is known for bucking the trend of giant robots as metal superheroes, instead positioning it as an individual war machine as part of a greater force. The Gundam is still glorified to an extent, but compared to the shows which came before it, this is much less the case.
I think my point can be seen by just looking at the opening to Attack on Titan and comparing it to intros from other shounen fighting anime. Popular and long-running shounen fighting anime go through a process where their first openings emphasize a core group of characters, but as the cast expands they find it important to at least show a bit of each remotely significant characters. Whether it’s those slower-paced initial openings or the later frantic ones, though, there is still that focus on a multitude of individuals. In Attack on Titan‘s opening on the other hand, you barely get glimpses of the core cast, who are shown running and jumping from one structure to the next, almost as if the camera can’t stay on them for too long. Even Eren receives only a few brief moments centered on him, and in some of those cases he’s still seen as part of a group of fighters. The fact that the soldiers are all similarly dressed, male or female, instead of wearing unique outfits, and the fact that they all use standardized weaponry, creates a sense of them as a unified army.
That’s not to say that Attack on Titan lacks individualized or unique characters. There’s a clear protagonist in Eren, and there is a core cast of characters who are given personalities and particular skills such as sound judgment and lack of mercy. I’ve also read enough of the manga to know that there are developments which change things up significantly. However, the sense of group which Attack on Titan portrays goes beyond the typical shounen concept of such, and it lends an atmosphere which almost (but not quite) puts more attention on the military force than the people who comprise it. They swarm the titans like ants, which is about as un-shounen heroic as it gets.
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.