Project Z Revived! “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 1” Novel Review

Being a fan of Gaogaigar is to know joy and suffering. Its increasingly grandiose-yet-ever-personal story makes for one magnificent crescendo after another. But then, at the climax, fans were left with a bittersweet cliffhanger. The heroes we had cheered for were stuck in another galaxy, the only escapees the two alien boys who found loving home on Earth. For years, fans and characters alike were left in limbo, the one glimmer of hope—a proposed sequel called “Project Z”—dashed by sponsor and studio conflicts.

Then, out the blue, came a new light. Sunrise, the studio behind Gaogaigar, announced their own light novel imprint. From it has sprung The King of Braves Gaogaigar Novel 03: Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 1, a true novel sequel written by Takeda Yuuichirou, a former staff member on the Gaogaigar anime, and guided by Yonetani Yoshitomo, the original director. The book was created using Project Z as its foundation, so those who kept the fire alive for the Gutsy Galaxy Guard can finally be rewarded.

Note: There is also a two-part novelization of Gaogaigar Final, hence why this one is “Novel 03.” I’ve not read those prequel novels, so I don’t know what may have changed, or what new information might be available in them.

Plot

While there are many parts to Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, the main story focuses on Amami Mamoru and Kaidou Ikumi, the two extraterrestrial boys at the heart of the original anime. Where once they supported the brave robots, however, now they themselves are the pilots. Older and wiser but still full of passion, they pilot Gaogaigo, a combining mecha modeled after the original Gaogaigar with some added new powers. As the heroes of the new “Gutsy Global Guard, ” Mamoru and Ikumi must defend the Earth from old threats (namely the terrorist organization Bionet) and deal with a world where communications are crippled, all while trying to find a way to bring their old friends and comrades home. Looming over everything is a mysterious entity known as “Hakai-oh” (the “King of World-Conquerors”), whose visage appeared in the sky after a fateful event, and who bears an eerie resemblance Genesic Gaogaigar.

A Labor of Love

Thanks to the author and Yonetani’s efforts, the story is just jam-packed full of details from all facets of the Gaogaigar universe. That car above, shown for about five seconds at the start of Gaogaigar FINAL episode 2? That’s Polcott, a transforming robot that becomes a key member of the new GGG. Other new members of the Super Robot Corps reflect the use of Even the Gaogaigo is a “Neuro Mechanoid,” combining the Super Mechanoid technology featured in Gaogaigar with the Neuronoids of Betterman—a robot/occult horror series in the same universe. It makes sense, because without Galeon or Gaofar, they need something that can handle the burden of being the core machine.

Those are just a couple of details that show the unbelievable amount of love and care put into the novel. Whether it’s how characters have grown over a span of nine years, or connecting the mythos of Gaogaigar and Betterman together, or even drawing from all manner of obscure material without feeling forced, it made me happy to step back into its world. Of course, I wanted to know more than anything the fate of Guy and the rest of the old heroes (more on that later), but just seeing how the world has changed is a tremendous delight.

The Betterman side of the story is less prominent, but many of its elements permeate the story. An ongoing plot thread focuses on Lamia warning Mamoru and Ikumi of the threat of Hakai-oh, while also trying to convince his fellow Somniums if they should have a hand in the upcoming fight or leave humanity to their own devices. Many of the Betterman characters are also major players in the story. Chief Akamatsu, the designer of the Neuronoids, is the head of GGG (and apparently, Shishioh Liger’s son!). Sai Hinoki, the heroine, is a science and research officer at GGG as well. Seeing Keita and especially Hinoki at age 28 is wonderful in its own way.

Favorite Moments

Here are two of my favorite details from the novel. First, is that Mamoru still carries around his old GGG beeper. Second, is Gaogaigo’s use of Hell and Heaven. Much like in the real world, Earth in Gaogaigar is now filled with smartphones and the like, but 19-year-old Mamoru still holds onto that memento out of hope, and to keep his conviction to rescue everyone. That one item just says spades about where Mamoru is mentally and emotionally.

As for Hell and Heaven, fans of Gaogaigar might recall that the way this finishing technique worked was by combining the protective powers of Gaogaigar’s left side with the destructive properties of its right, allowing Gaogaigar to remove Zonder cores without harming them in the process. Gaogaigo’s works differently. Instead, it takes advantage of the fact that its copilots are Ikumi and Mamoru, bringing together the former’s J-Jewel energy with the latter’s G-Stone energy—a combination shown in Gaogaigar Final to create a power far more than the sum of its parts. Working with the technology, resources, and heroes they have, the Gutsy Global Guard have figured out different ways to protect the Earth.

Other Details

The novel comes with a number of extras. There’s a side story all about what happens with Ikumi when he landed in Australia unconscious (as briefly shown in Gaogaigar Final, above). Afterwords written by Yonetani and Takeda are very revealing and informative, chronicling the struggles of the original toyetic Gaogaigar production, the feeling that there wasn’t enough space to do everything desired in Gaogaigar Final, and the long path to making Gaogaigar vs. Betterman happen. The novel also includes an entire Gaogaigar glossary for every obscure term you might need to know, in addition to a timeline stating where every event—yes even the “Silverion Hammer” side story as well as random side stories from drama CDs—occurs within the Gaogaigar/Betterman universe.

Like other novels/light novels, illustrations are included throughout. Character drawings are by the original character designer, Kimura Takahiro (one of my favorites!), with mecha designs by Nakatani Seiichi, who was an animation director on the original Gaogaigar. The mecha drawings seem kind of weak overall, but I think that’s just because they seem a bit rushed or lacking in polish. Nakatani can clearly do good things with robot designs; they just lack dynamism on still pages.

The Big Questions

Now, I know a good chunk of you want to know what actually happens in the novel. You’ve been waiting years and years to find out the fate of Guy and the rest. So let’s get into…

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS (Highlight to view)
The very start of Gaogaigar vs. Betterman has the old GGG crew (plus Soldat J and friends) trying to get back to Earth through special wormhole technology from Galeon. After that first chapter, no trace of them is seen…until the climax at the end of the book. Mamoru and Ikumi, along with the other new GGG members, travel to Jupiter to confront Hakai-oh, who’s been compressing Jupiter into a black hole (or something like it). During the fight, which also includes an ally in an awesome combined Betterman (built from the monstrous forms of the Somniums), Guy suddenly emerges from a rift in space! Apparently, the rest of the old crew had went ahead previously, but their whereabouts are unknown. Guy, meanwhile, confirms that Hakai-oh is indeed Genesic Gaogaigar, but somehow controlled by a primal force that is the original source of THE POWER.
Guy is without a robot of his own to fight, but thanks to the Limpid Channel through which the Somniums communicate (featured in Betterman), Chief Akamatsu is able to talk to his uncle, Shishioh Leo, and bring along the prototype Phantom Gao. This allows Guy to form Gaofighgar and inform Mamoru and Ikumi of his main goal: get to Hakai-oh and rescue Galeon. However, during a grueling battle where they almost extract Galeon, the robot lion actually repels them and sends them away from Hakai-oh, sacrificing itself in the process. Guy is back (albeit the same age as ten years ago due to time dilation), Hakai-oh is still at large, and J and the old GGG are somewhere in the universe.
I have to admit that I jumped in my seat when Guy popped out. What’s even better is Guy hearing Mamoru’s deepened voice and not entirely recognizing him for a second. To Guy, Mamoru’s supposed to be this elementary school kid, and now he’s about the same age as when Guy first started piloting Gaogaigar. I may or may not have shed a tear.

Next Mission

Suffice it to say, I can’t wait for the next one. It truly feels good to have Gaogaigar back in my life.

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Real Robot Sincerity: Pacific Rim Uprising

I enjoyed the hell out of the first Pacific Rim. Being able to see a big-budget film directly inspired by the giant robot anime I love was all I could ask for. At the time, the film under-performed at the US box office, which made the prospect of a sequel fairly unlikely, but against the odds (OSCAR AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR) Guillermo Del Toro managed to produce an update in Pacific Rim Uprising.

Taking place ten years after the original film, Pacific Rim Uprising focuses on Jake Pentecost, son of the deceased hero Stacker Pentecost from the first movie. A prodigal son, Jake appears to be a scoundrel in every way his father was a shining example of humanity, but a chance encounter with a mechanically gifted young girl named Amara Namani leads Jake on the path to redemption. Originally kicked out of the military despite his skill for piloting the titanic Jaegers that helped defend humanity from the vicious Kaiju all those years ago, he reluctantly returns to fight and train a new generation of fighters.

I have not seen the first film since I originally watched it in theaters, so my memories of it going into the sequel are faint. That being said, the general impression I got from Uprising is that it’s simply a superior film in most respects, and especially in terms of being a piece of giant-robot fiction. The action is snappier and more stylish, with plenty of robot fighting to satisfy genre fans. The acting is much more fluid and natural, thanks in large part to John Boyega’s performance as Jake Pentecost being amazing compared to the wooden performance of Charlie Hunnam as Part 1’s protagonist Raleigh Becket. The characters are developed just enough to get a sense of their characters and their personal development without slowing down the pace of the film or its emphasis on combat (see Girls und Panzer der Film for a similar example). In a way, the film feels a little more “cartoonish,” like it’s really trying to bring more Mazinger Z into its world, but the sincerity of the performances also makes it feel more serious as well.

A lot of the film takes place on a Chinese military base, and both mainland Chinese and Taiwanese characters have a much greater presence in Pacific Rim Uprising compared to its predecessor. I believe this has to do with the great success China had in bolstering the first film’s box office success. The US might not have been so keen on super robots, but it looks like Asia took to them like young boys to combination sequences.

Pacific Rim Uprising is worth watching for any mecha fan, and it doesn’t even require seeing the first film to really get it. As excellent as I think the film is, however, I feel a bit hesitant recommending it to skeptics. What makes the film work is how it embraces the tropes and the feel of giant robot shows and movies, because sincere fondness for that type of storytelling is what holds the film up and provides the structure by which viewers can delve deep into the fast-paced and emotional world it presents. On the flip-side, an open mind can do wonders, and Pacific Rim: Uprising will likely be rewarding to those willing to extend their hand first.

The Legacy of a Knight. Mazinger Z: Infinity

A mechanical titan emerges from a pool of water, piloted by an impetuous youth. With the power of Japanese science, this boy and his robot use lasers, mjssiles, and (of course) rocket punches to defend the Earth from the forces of evil. This simple concept became one of the foundations of anime and manga, helping to spawn the “super robot” genre as we know it, and made Mazinger Z a household title across Japan. The 2018 animated film, Mazinger Z: Infinity is the latest iteration, joining other recent Nagai Go revamps such as Devilman Crybaby and Cutie Honey Universe.

As one of the seminal works of an entire genre, Mazinger Z has been re-imagined and reworked time and time again. Whether it’s a mythological alternate world (God Mazinger), an ultra-macho 90s edition (Mazinkaiser), a mid-2000s meta epic (Shin Mazinger), or something else entirely, there’s always a desire to return to the father of super robots. Common to all of these works is a desire for action, tension, and spectacle, so it’s interesting to see how each film navigates the balance between new and nostalgic, as well as where on the Nagai spectrum of “goofy to gory” it falls.

Mazinger Z: Infinity takes place ten years after Kabuto Kouji, the hot-blooded hero of the original series, defeated his arch-nemesis, the mad scientist Dr. Hell. Now in his late 20s and a scientist, he researches photon energy (the power source of Mazinger Z) alongside his childhood love interest, Yumi Sayaka, spreading a clean energy source around the world. But when the forces of Dr. Hell reemerge with the goal of retrieving Mazinger Infinity—a mysterious robot/artifact that dwarfs even Mazinger Z in size—the people of Earth and Kabuto Kouji have to decide how to best protect their planet. Key to this conflict is a girl found inside Mazinger Infinity named Lisa.

The action scenes are amazing, as expected. The very first thing the audience sees is Great Mazinger in combat, piloted by Tsurugi Tetsuya, using nearly all his signature moves as if to make clear that this film revels in the thrill of combat. Later sequences are similarly impressive, especially in how they focus not on the classic one-on-one battles of the 70s but on large-scale clashes. The rest of the film, i.e. the non-action moments, tend to feel kind of safe and harmless at least in terms of presentation, like what one might typically expect from a Tezuka Production anime (Mazinger Z: Infinity is by Toei Animation). Visually speaking, Devilman Crybaby this is not. If Mazinger Z: Infinity was just about fighting, it probably would have been good enough. The film, however, is surprisingly ambitious.

This desire to do more can be seen in both the world-building and the messages conveyed, as blunt and hamfisted as they are in execution. Throughout the movie, there are numerous cases that show, “what if the technology of the Mazinger world has progressed?” Not only is photon energy ubiquitous, but it was even instrumental to helping the world rebuild from disaster—which is probably Dr. Hell-related but also draws parallels to the 3.11 Fukushima triple disaster. Robots of a global peacekeeping force are based off of the Mazinger series, and Kouji’s little brother Shirou is a pilot.

Yet while Mazinger Z being powered by a miraculous energy might have once been interpreted as a kinder look at nuclear power, Mazinger Z: Infinity takes a contemporary stance in light of 3.11. At one point, Sayaka expresses that although photon energy is an incredibly clean source of energy, it can still be exploited by humans for less than altruistic purposes. Mazinger is classically described as having the potential to be a “god or demon”—a notion that not so subtly reflects humanity’s relationship with technology. Messages about life and family further reflect a desire to communicate social morals, which is quite different from most of the previous sequels and re-imaginings.

While the movie is meant to take place a decade later, that 10-year difference feels massive and more like the 50 years that have passed since Mazinger Z debuted. Yes, Kouji is still in his prime, so his inevitable return to the cockpit can be less of a Rocky Balboa or The Last Jedi Luke Skywalker situation. But for everything else, that decade of time embodies various cultural and historical changes since Mazinger Z debuted, and includes idols, home computers, the internet, and more. Lisa, with her robotic personality, can even be seen as a Nagai version of Ayanami Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion. On a similar note, Kouji is faced at one point with a very Shinji-esque situation, but approaches it as only the very first super robot pilot would.

One aspect of Kouji’s aging I enjoy is the fact that he became a scientist; it’s the future I always wanted for him. His grandfather and father were both scientists who built Mazingers, so I always thought it would only make sense. I just wish he would build his own robot finally, but perhaps him being more of a “peacetime” scientist is important.

Before Mazinger Z: Infinity, there were special interviews with the staff, and what’s notable is the utter lack of pretention. When asked what they key point of the film is, the response was “entertainment.” When asked what fans should look out for, the answer was essentially “cool robot fights.” It’s a largely straightforward film that wears all of its messages on its sleeve, speaking to kids and adults alike.

A final note about nostalgia: One original character for Mazinger Z: Infinity is the leader of the joint forces that defend against Dr. Hell’s mechanical beasts. That character is voiced by Ishimaru Hiroya—the original voice of Kabuto Kouji.

Gattai Girls 8: “Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars” and Moriyama Nayuta [Anime Secret Santa]

Introduction: The above title might seem like a confusing mess. The reason is that this post originally began as my annual review for the Reverse Thieves’ Anime Secret Santa, only for me to realize it also qualified for my ongoing Gattai Girls review series—posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre. So it’s a double special!

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, preferably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

 Overview

In the year 2070, middle school student and small-town resident Murata Hajime witnesses an extraterrestrial attack. To his surprise, Hajime’s neighbors in his town of Tenmo barely flinch, not even when a mysterious floating titan appears to stop the invader. It’s the beginning of a new life for Hajime, especially when he gets to know two of his classmates tied closely to the secrets of Tenmo: new transfer student Subaru Muryou and student vice-president Moriyama Nayuta.

2001’s Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars is an eclectic series. Also known as Gakuen Senki Muryou (“Record of School Wars Muryou”), Shingu combines science fiction mystery, small-town suspense, and everyday school life in a way that makes its continued enigmas consistently satisfying, even when it withholds answers. While the teasing of revelations and the subsequent disappointment of their reveals can often tank even the mightiest of works, Shingu always says just enough and encourages the use of imagination to fill in the blanks without feeling like a cop-out.

The deftness by which Shingu lays out it mysteries can be seen in one of the first scenes, when Muryou shows up for his first day of class in a school uniform. While this seems perfectly normal, it turns out that school uniforms haven’t been a thing for decades. Immediately, Muryou is shown to be unusual by placing him in an environment where what we perceive to be typical, i.e. school uniforms, simply isn’t. It’s an effect also used in the manga Coppelion to convey the uncanny quality of its main characters. The only explanation given is that Muryou got the uniform from his grandfather as a way to blend in, which puts Muryou potentially out of time, or at least sheltered from the world.

Moriyama Nayuta

It’s actually difficult to pin down a true “main character” for the series. Based on the English title, it sounds like Nayuta is the central protagonist, due to the fact that she can transform into the titular Shingu. However, the Japanese title centers on Muryou, who is a major catalyst in the narrative. And while Hajime can come across as a generic audience stand-in, his seeming blandness actually plays an important role in the series, as his ability to go with the flow and keep and open mind are key to humanity’s development. Because this is a Gattai Girls entry, I’m going to focus more on Nayuta and how her role as the Shingu works in the anime.

Nayuta feels cut from the same tsundere cloth as Evangelion‘s Asuka, especially when contrasting her with another female character, the taciturn Mineo. Nayuta has a not-so-secret crush on Hajime and sports the signature hairstyle of the tsundere, the twintails, but she’s not solely defined by those traits. Bullheaded, hardworking, and always eager to do the right thing, Nayuta’s closer in kindred spirit to Sonoda Umi from Love Live!, at least if Umi had the ability to transform into an alien behemoth.

Incidentally, Nayuta is not voiced by the tsundere master, Kugimiya Rie. Instead, Kugimiya plays a different character, Hajime’s adorable little sister Futaba, with Nayuta being played by Park Romi. Shingu is one of many series where Park and Kugimiya work together, perhaps most famously Full Metal Alchemist.

The fact that each of the trio fulfills a very different role, with Hajime and Muryou generally providing support for Nayuta, also means that she is rarely ever overshadowed in battle. As for the Shingu itself, it’s is an unusual design—a hollow vessel resembling paper that is then “filled out” by taking control of a nearby energy source or element such as water. It feels more reminiscent of the monsters found in series like Evangelion and RahXephon, with a dash of Ultraman thrown in. Aesthetically, the Shingu comes across as a combination of the alien other and beings from Japanese folklore, like a science fictional shikigami or tsukumogami.

Overall

Director Satou Tatsuo is more well-known for the series Martian Successor Nadesico, and much of the humor and interaction there can be found in Shingu. However, its mix of SF and the everyday also results in something that feels like the anti-Evangelion. Both Shingu and Eva focus on a trio of middle school students who have varying access to special abilities and must fend off unknown alien-like attackers. Both can arguably fall into the sekai-kei genre—stories where the personal struggles of the individual manifest into global consequences and where often the fate of the world is tied to the relationship between a boy and a girl. But Shingu is also more than just “boys and girls”; it’s about community and history, and the ability for humanity to learn and grow. Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars nonchalantly moves from one unexpected place to another, varying in scale from local to cosmic, and believing in people along the way.

Teikoku State of Mind: Anime NYC 2017

When a brand-new convention decides to call itself “Anime NYC,” it’s practically asking to have the deck stacked against it. Running a first-year convention is no small task, doubly so if it’s in the heart of Manhattan. And with no reputation to go by, potential attendees may feel reluctant to try things out. Small attendance numbers can mean a lack of overall interest and the inability to justify the high costs of NYC, while large numbers means a greater chance of disaster striking if mismanaged. As a longtime resident of New York City, I’ve seen cons come and go, but somehow, someway, Anime NYC went so swimmingly that I almost can’t believe it was real.

General Impressions and Exhibitor’s Hall

Those who attended New York Anime Festival and the first few New York Comic Cons might recall what it was like to go through the Jacob Javits Center without feeling like sardines. Walking through Anime NYC felt reminiscent of that environment, as the con was fairly heavily populated but with plenty of elbow room to spare. Panel rooms were right next to the Exhibitor’s Hall, making transitions between checking out the goods and listening in on industry and fan talks. Special events were held in a Main Event Hall that was a fair distance away, though nowhere near as disorienting as, say, the Baltimore Convention Center where Otakon used to take place.

Because it was so easy to navigate (without the space feeling overly empty), I came out of the three-day con feeling satisfied yet unstressed. Usually one comes with the other due to the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything done, or because there’s so little to do at the event itself that boredom and lethargy set in. Anime NYC struck a Goldilocks-type balance with a schedule that thrilled but did not overwhelm body and mind.

A major contrast between Anime NYC and NYCC is that the latter is focused on being a general comics pop culture event, with a film and television presence that all but overshadows the “comic” in comic con. Anime NYC, on the other hand, is first and foremost concerned with anime and manga. A few features branched out from that core, such as the presence of Overwatch voice actors who were there to meet the fans and sell autographs, but this was certainly no “anime ghetto,” as fans took to calling New York Anime Fest when it began to be dissolved into NYCC.  For those who love anime and love a big convention feel but think New York Comic Con’s a bit too much, Anime NYC has potential to be a gathering point for anime fans in the tri-state area.

Concerts

Anime NYC featured two concerts that shone in different ways. The first was Anime Diva Night, while the second was the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert.

At Anime Diva Night, three Japanese musical guests performed as part of the Anisong World Matsuri. Two of the singers, Ishida Yoko and TRUE, are amazing vocalists in their own right, but the third, Yonekura Chihiro, was the reason I wanted to attend. She’s the voice of so many amazing anime themes over the years that it almost doesn’t compare. Notably, she sang the opening and ending themes to Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team.

While having Yonekura alone would’ve sufficed in my case, all three did a wonderful job. Some singers sound significantly better in the recording booth than they do onstage, but this was not the case for the Anime Diva trio, who sounded incredible even though the makeshift Main Events Hall did not have ideal acoustics.

The concert had a somewhat unusual format. Rather than move from one act to the next, each performer would do a few songs, perform a duet with another, and then the newer singer would take over before the next duet. There were two rotations in total, with all three singers performing together at the start and end of the show. All of the group performances were cover songs of popular anime themes—”Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” “Moonlight Densetsu,” “God Knows,” etc.—while the solo acts were their signature songs. Yonekura did indeed sing the Gundam 08th MS Team opening, but also an old favorite of mine in “Will” from the anime Hoshin Engi (aka Soul Hunter). Highlights from the other two singers included TRUE performing the first Sound!! Euphonium opening and Ishida doing arguably her most famous song, “Otome no Policy” from Sailor Moon R.

There were a couple of songs that didn’t make the concert that I was hoping for: Yonekura’s “Yakusoku no Basho e” from Kaleido Star and Ishida’s “White Destiny” from Pretear, but it was a small loss for an otherwise amazing concert.

The Gundam Thunderbolt Concert was highly unusual compared to what typically happens at an anime con performances. Generally, they’re closer to Anime Diva Night, sounding like the j-pop or j-rock one expects out of anime. To have the Gundam Thunderbolt composer Kikuchi Naruyoshi lead a jazz band himself on saxophone was a truly rare treat, and it’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve had at an anime con. The closest equivalent I could think of was Kanno Yoko’s concert at Otakon 2013.

I am no jazz aficionado, but thanks to the concert, I felt as if I began to understand the almost primal appeal that jazz holds for listeners. As I listened, an analogy popped into my head: jazz is like constructing a human being from music. They can be loud one moment and quiet the next. They can be a mess of contradictions, yet still function. I’m unsure if this will send me towards checking out more jazz in the future, but my curiosity is definitely piqued.

I’ve been more or less referring to the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert as a “jazz performance,” but that’s not entirely accurate. To everyone’s surprise, the concert also included performances by the singers of some of the 50s/60s-style pop songs from the Gundam Thunderbolt anime. In the context of the series, the two main characters, Io and Daryl, are two soldiers on opposite sides of a war who each listen to music as they battle. Io is an intense man who loves equally powerful jazz, while the handicapped Daryl prefers softer ballads.

At the Gundam Thunderbolt panel, Kikuchi mentioned that these are basically his two favorite genres of music, and he thought both fit the characters well. Interestingly, while the Gundam Thunderbolt manga included jazz already, Kikuchi composed entirely new songs that he felt fit Io’s character better.

One funny coincidence of sorts when it comes to Kikuchi’s choice to add a golden oldies aspect to the Gundam Thunderbolt score is that one of the biggest names in classic mid-20th-century American pop, Neil Sedaka, once composed the theme songs to Mobile Suit Z Gundam in the 1980s. I’d be curious to know what Kikuchi would think about this.

Artist Alley

More than Exhibitors’ Halls, Artist Alleys at cons can be affected heavily by the space they occupy. Regardless of the artists’ skills, or the amount of people in the alley, a bad space can make an attendee want to leave as quickly as possible, while a good space encourages more browsing and exploring.

Anime NYC’s is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Held on the top floor of the Jacob Javits Center, natural light shined down on the entire Artist Alley from an entirely windowed roof. At times, it almost felt like an outdoor European boutique, which made it just a pleasant place to peruse.

I purchased a few items at the Artist Alley, mainly from Japanese artists (something of a rarity even at anime cons). One booth was ran by the wife and assistant (pictured above) of manga artist Ohno Junji, creator behind the manga for obscure titles Mobile Suit Gundam: Missing Link and Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin MSD: Cucuruz Doan’s Island. Unfortunately, the artist couldn’t attend himself. They were selling art packages from Ohno himself and his assistant, Ally Suwabe:

Ohno Junji

Ally Suwabe

Axel Rex is Ohno’s original web comic he drew for Kodanasha/Yahoo!! Comics from 2008 to 2009.

The other Japanese artist attending was Tatsuyuki “Mikey” Maeda, who’s worked for the past 10 years as a manga assistant. In a way, while manga artists themselves only attend cons sparingly, their assistants are even rarer. Maeda was selling a short guide called “Secrets of Manga: Basics of the Tools & Trade.” In it, he gives various technical tips to aspiring manga creators, the kinds of things that often get glossed over in favor of “character design” and “how to draw mecha.” The guide talks about differences in pen nibs (such as what you should use if you have a light touch vs. a heavy hand), how to effectively use white-out, and more. I highly recommend it.

Panels

Gundam Thunderbolt Panel

Panels are an important part of the con experience for me, though due to my schedule I could not attend as many as I would have liked. Still, the Gundam Thunderbolt panel was highly informative, as were the Inifini-T Force and LeSean Thomas panels.

Infini-T Force is a current 3DCG anime series crossing over the classic heroes of Tatsunoko Production—Gatchaman, Casshan/Casshern, Hurricane Polymar, and Tekkaman. The fact that Tatsunoko, one of the most influential anime studios ever, had a con presence at all was the main reason I decided to attend their panel. Overall, it was a fairly basic introduction to Tatsunoko, but I like that they conveyed a bit of the studio’s historical significance. They’re one of the most influential studios ever, pushing the limits of animation in Japan since their inception in the 1960s. They were also willing to discuss a bit of the reception Infini-T Force has received in Japan, such as the fact that the primary female character is a little contentious to Japanese audiences. This is also somewhat unusual for Japanese companies, and was somewhat refreshing.

The LeSean Thomas panel was a general Q&A, but was one of the highlights of Anime NYC. It was inspiring to see attendee after attendee express how Thomas inspired them to keep working at their art, and how his success as a creator of color gave them the courage to never give up. I previously interviewed him at Otakon 2016, and he does make for an excellent role model.

Cosplay

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

In Conclusion

Given how much I’ve praised Anime NYC, it might seem like I’m a paid shill, but I assure my readers that this is not the case. The con was actually executed so smoothly that there’s little I can complain about that would be the fault of the convention itself. While I attended for free as press, even the weekend ticket was affordable, especially compared to New York Comic Con ($60 vs. over $200 to buy four 1-day NYCC passes).

At approximately 20,000 attendees, Anime NYC has already become one of the larger anime cons in the US. The convention appears to have done a sound job of attracting locals, and I’m curious to see how much more it can grow. If the convention keeps up this level of quality, I’d be happy and proud to call Anime NYC “home.”

 

Gattai Girls 7: Shinkon Gattai Godannar and Aoi Anna

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.


This Gattai Girls entry is a bit unusual because I’ve already posted a review of the series before. Moreover, with a series like Godannar, I’ve already written extensively about the the portrayal of female characters because it’s all but unavoidable. If the prevalent fanservice wasn’t enough, there’s the fact that over half of the cast is women. While I’ll inevitably retread some old territory, this time around I’m going to focus more heavily on the main heroine of the story, Aoi Anna.

Godannar follows 17-year-old Aoi Anna, who’s engaged to burly, veteran robot pilot Saruwatari Gou in a May-December romance. Years ago, he rescued her from a monster attack, and eventually their feelings blossomed into love. But while she’s no slouch herself when it comes to mecha—she’s a prodigy who’s dreamed of fighting in a robot since childhood—Gou forbids her from becoming a full-fledged defender of the Earth. The reason? That’s how he lost his previous lover and trusty co-pilot. Still, Anna and Gou are humanity’s greatest weapons, as their robots combine into the might robot, Godannar Twin Drive, the “marriage of god and soul.”

From a characterization and narrative perspective, Anna’s story stands out in a way capable of overshadowing even the infamous double decker cheesecake of Godannar. Romance traditionally takes a backseat in many giant robot series, and when it does show up, such as in Macross, the two sides are often from different worlds, either metaphorically or literally. In Godannar, however, not only are Anna and Gou equal partners, but they have to work together as a team both personally and professionally. The cockpit becomes a second home of sorts, as they iron out their differences and fight the enemy. The series literally has relationship plot and mecha action resolve simultaneously, as if the two sides are permanently fused together, and it’s glorious. In a way, this is the story about the power of love, but it’s less “love defeats everything automatically” and more “love opens them up to resolve problems they couldn’t otherwise.”

In a certain sense, this heavy emphasis on relationships plays into the stereotype of girls only caring about guys, and one might even feel that Anna’s character is directly tied to her connection with Gou. While I think there’s some truth to that, I also find that Godannar‘s direct focus on its main couple (as well as many other couples throughout the series) is a big part of its, and by extension Anna’s, appeal. It’s basically a story about newlyweds who are also co-workers, and having to navigate that tricky interpersonal landscape. Through it all, Anna’s inner strength stands out. When Gou first tells her to stop piloting for her own sake, her response is that they have a duty to take care of each other as husband and wife. At one point, she feels herself unable to fight as Gou’s equal, but is able to find the motivation within herself to not back down in the end. By the end, due to unfortunate circumstances, she’s actually the one having to do the lion’s share of the work, to make up for what Gou can no longer do. Her strength, perseverance, and caring make her one of my favorite characters ever.

I’ve already made mention of it a couple of times, but when it comes to how women are depicted in Godannar, the series heavily sexualizes on a level where few other series can compare. To say otherwise would be disingenuous. When the girls, including Anna, are piloting their robots, they’re in ultra-form-fitting suits that leave less than nothing to the imagination. During combat, their breasts jiggle to and fro as if made from some alien substance. Even when they’re in regular clothing, the fabric hugs every curve as if holding on for dear life. The camera angles can also be extremely voyeuristic. Even if I wanted to say, “You should really just ignore all this,” that’s pretty much impossible whether you’re into heavy fanservice or not. There’s an incredibly good series with some strong, well-written characters both male and female there, but it requires either an acceptance or tolerance of just a non-stop barrage of sexual imagery.

One last aspect of the series I want to talk about is the interesting way it addresses the topic of gender roles. In the second season of Godannar, the enemy monsters begin to utilize a different tactic. Instead of just trying to out-muscle Earth’s giant robot forces, they also evolve to spread a virus that specifically targets hot-blooded, macho men—the very people who are supposed to excel at being mecha pilots. As the men become increasingly unable to fight, the women, led by Anna, have to take a stand. On the one hand, this plays into the idea that men are supposed to be strong and tough (though it should be noted that a more masculine girl gets hit by the disease while a more effeminate playboy guy does not). On the other, it brings up the notion that hyper-masculinity can become a weakness to be exploited.

Godannar is a contradictory anime. Its unrestrained sexualization of the female body makes it seem like a series all about pure objectification of women, but at the same time its female characters, notably its main heroine Anna, are fully realized characters who have goals and dreams and a desire to stand on their own feet. They’re fleshed out as human beings, but also practically the embodiment of “temptation of the flesh.” But if marriage is a union of separate yet compatible beings, then Godannar is an unlikely marriage of disparate elements that somehow, some way, work to make something beautiful.

 

 

Tomino Yoshiyuki’s “Big Picture”: Why the Gundam Creator Can Be So Hit or Miss

Director Tomino Yoshiyuki is a perplexing figure in the anime industry. He’s the creator of Gundam, which makes him a legend to a certain type and generation of anime fan. He’s been described as passionate and even frightening by those who’ve worked with the man. Also, because his anime range from legendary to seemingly non-sequitur nonsense, Tomino has a George Lucas-esque reputation, where people can’t tell if he’s a genius, a fool, or a one-hit wonder. While this might mark Tomino as an inconsistent director, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that a major factor in the effectiveness of his anime is length. Tomino is a creator who’s better with longer-format series than shorter works.

I think one of the roots of all this is the way he approaches setting up an anime. In a recent episode of the Anime World Order podcast on the Tomino-helmed mid-2000s animation Wings of Rean, the hosts referenced an interview included with the DVD release. When asked  about his approach to film by using a classic ramen analogy (do you start with the ramen itself or with the steam that suggests its presence?), Tomino says that he prefers to start right at the point the noodles reach the lips—and if the lips are sexy, all the better. This seems like a very roundabout answer that might not make sense at first glance, but it’s actually a very good description of how Tomino constructs narratives.

Take Reideen the Brave, Tomino’s first ever directorial work on a giant robot anime. Instead of calmly introducing the main characters, the villains, the stakes, and finally the wondrous robot (as was typical of even the best robot shows of the time), Reideen the Brave‘s first episode comes a mile a minute. The main character, Hibiki Akira, is playing soccer with his friends! Suddenly, DEATH AND DESTRUCTION AROUND THE WORLD AS LANDMARKS CRUMBLE. A voice calls for a hero to awaken. It speaks directly to Akira and tells him the AGE OF DEMONS has come about, and that he needs something called “Reideen!” A LIGHTNING BOLT HITS AKIRA.

Keep in mind that, including the opening, less than five minutes have passed.

I love this first episode because it really puts the viewers into the thick of things and leaves us to try and piece together everything going on. As I’ve watched more and more of Tomino’s works, this is clearly a trend, evident in shows from all across his history with anime, such as Space Runaway Ideon, Overman King Gainer, and Gundam: Reconguista in G. It’s the directorial equivalent of shoving someone into the deep end of the pool and asking them to make it to the surface, and when there’s enough intrigue laid out, it can become a fine motivator to stick with a series. However, this can be a double-edged sword, and the other side of that blade produces his more maligned works, like Garzey’s Wing and Wings of Rean. If that rush of information isn’t compelling enough, or doesn’t leave enough meat to sink one’s teeth into, it becomes a poor framework to build on.

My belief is that Tomino is a “big picture, big philosophy” creator who tries to show fragments of a world to give it a sense of scope and significance. By doing this, he tries to actively challenge viewers to think about the real world. The issue is that the “little picture” often escapes him. This is perhaps why creating convincing romances is one of his weaknesses—the development of relationships is a very intimate and local thing. He does fine with established romances, and he’s great at placing a romance within the greater context of a world in motion, but the actual motions of love burgeoning between two people seems to escape him. Instead, he goes for instant love: newtype psychic explosions and the like.

When Tomino has enough room to really lay something out, like in Ideon or Mobile Suit Gundam (even though those two series originally had their runs cut short), the blanks he establishes in the beginning can be slowly fleshed out and given dimension by him or whatever staff he has. Turn A Gundam is probably the best example. It was allowed to run its full length without being cut down at the knees like those other earlier anime, and the result is just a sprawling story where emotions and human actions ripple through outer space.

However, it always seems as if Tomino tries to make “big picture” anime even when time is much more limited, and this is why the shorter works end up feeling so inscrutable. Longer works can breathe, but there’s literally not enough time to fully expand on the forces that Tomino is trying to convey in his works. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the five-minute Ring of Gundam is so incredibly obtuse, even compared to the infamy of Garzey’s Wing. Something like Reconguista in G falls in the middle. There’s a lot of rushing from one moment to the next, but also plenty of indicators of how the world has changed since the era of the old Gundam anime, and the unceremonious death of one of the series’ main antagonists works satisfyingly well given the groundwork laid out by those episodes. It’s just that individual character actions often go unexplained.

Tomino Yoshiyuki will continue to be a divisive creator because certain elements considered to be fundamental to good storytelling are things he either can’t do or doesn’t care for. However, his desire to convey big ideas,  challenge viewers politically, and make them put in work while watching his anime is something to admire. This approach is poorly served in shorter works, because Tomino doesn’t try to compromise, but if given enough room he produces some of anime’s greatest.

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