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.

 

 

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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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Gattai Girls 6: The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Jeanne Fránçaix

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.

— 

The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross might be a mere footnote in anime history if not a confluence of factors. In Japan, it gains some notoriety by being the follow-up to Peruse in the Super Dimension franchise. In the United States, it was heavily edited into the second arc in the influential Robotech TV show, its characters transformed into completely different identities so as to bridge continuity with the previous Macross saga. Another feature, arguably more important in this day and age, is that Southern Cross is an action series that prominently features  capable heroines in leading roles and does not diminish their strengths.

In the future year 2120, humanity has ventured out and colonized space. On the planet Gloire, its denizens enter into a war with a mysterious alien force known as the Zor. Central to this story is a feisty 17-year-old girl named Jeanne Fránçaix, member of the 15th Squad of the Southern Cross’s Alpha Tactics Armored Corps. As Jeanne and her allies fight (and break the rules) on a regular basis, they learn the truth of the Zor, as well as the beauty and ugliness of humankind.

Southern Cross is something of a meandering show, with the largest and most compelling narrative developments coming quite late into the series. Given its early cancellation (indicated by its unusual count of 23 episodes) and its consequential rushed ending, the series is certainly flawed. However, its portrayal of a young and energetic group of soldiers going through life try to enjoy it more than dread it—less Gundam and more Patlabor. No character embodies this environment more than Jeanne herself.

Jeanne Fránçaix, Main Heroine

Jeanne possesses many features that could deemed stereotypically female—boy-crazy, obsessed with fashion and shopping, and generally ruled by her emotions. Southern Cross also isn’t afraid to give her more than a few shower scenes to flaunt her to the audience. However, it’s important to note that she’ never really portrayed as a “weak” girl. Jeanne a capable soldier who ends up being a clever and shrewed commanding officer. She pays attention to the feelings of her comrades. And when it comes to one the major criteria for Gattai Girls—the requirement that the heroine actually pilot a giant robot and fight with it—Jeanne is practically second to none.

Neither Jeanne nor the other two major female characters, Marie Angel and Lana Isavia, ever end up becoming damsels. When they go into battle, they do so with great skill and as equals to the men with little underestimating of their abilities. Lana is less talented in this respect, but that’s also because her position is less combat-oriented. When the show later introduces another major female character, the Zor girl Musica, the fact that she’s more meek and waif-like is just one possible example of a girl, rather than the sole portrayal.

Marie Angel

Lana Isavia

I’ve read that Dana Sterling, Jeanne’s counterpart in Robotech, has a significantly different personality. I’ve never watched the Robotech Masters portion of that series, so I can’t say how Dana fares as a Gattai Girl, but I imagine the basic core of a talented and tough heroine is still there. It would take some extreme cuts to make Jeanne/Dana anything but admirable.

Jeanne’s personality, and by extension the strengths of Southern Cross, can be best summed up by the following. In the film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, there is a scene towards the end where the female character Laureline urges the hero Valerian to choose love over duty. However, it comes across as a bit incongruous in that context, as we see plenty of Laureline essentially working by the book as she fulfills her assignments as a soldier/agent. If Jeanne were in Laureline’s position while giving the same exact speech, it would make complete sense. Jeanne is driven by her passion, whether she shirks responsibility or embraces it.

We see Jeanne love. We see her lose. We see her lift friends up and take enemies down. For all the faults of Southern Cross, Jeanne transcends them. In many ways, she is far greater than the series from which she comes, but it’s also thanks to that world that we can see how strong she truly is.

 

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Ogiue Maniax Chats About Zambot 3 on The Cockpit Podcast

I was recently invited on The Cockpit, a mecha-themed podcast, to discuss one of my favorite anime ever: Muteki Choujin Zambot 3. We get into what makes the show interesting and pioneering, and why it still holds up today for the most part.

If you want to read my old review of Zambot 3, you can check it out here.

And if you want to hear my previous Cockpit appearances, I’ve also been on to talk about Brave Police J-Decker, King of Braves Gaogaigarand Pacific Rim.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, Gurren-Lagann, and Human Connection in Robot Cartoons

Voltron: Legendary Defender is huge in a way I think few would have predicted. Previous attempts at reviving Voltron have been iffy at best, and super robots just aren’t an attractive feature to many current anime fans. What gives the series so much presence in the general fandom space is that its characters are charismatic, but more importantly their interactions with each other fuel the burning desire in fans to see relationships form and grow.

The fandom situation with Voltron: Legendary Defender reminds me a lot of when Gurren-Lagann started to hit it big with anime fans of all stripes. In light of its popularity, you could sometimes find more dedicated giant robot enthusiasts wonder what the big deal was with Gurren-Lagann. After all, didn’t works like Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon, Gaogaigar, and Aim for the Top! all exhibit the escalating scale of power and war long before that? The difference, it turned out, was the characters and the way they bounced off of each other. Even those who cared little about fighting robots connected to the friendship and camaraderie shared by the members of the Dai Gurren-dan, and moments like Kamina’s famous speeches (“Believe in the me that believes in you!”) opened up the opportunity for viewers to become fans of these close, emotional bonds.

I hardly find fault in how non-mecha fans connect to mecha series, but I do get the impression that the majority of fans of Voltron: Legendary Defender don’t really care about the robots at all—a far cry from the impact made by the old 1980s series. In that case, if people remembered anything at all, it was Voltron itself. This approach isn’t wrong, but as someone who always holds a soft spot for giant robot appreciation, I sometimes feel as if there’s a crucial part of Voltron fandom missing. In a way, it reminds me of when I first stumbled upon Gundam Wing fanfiction as a kid, hoping that it would be stories of awesome unique Gundams. What I got instead was swathes of stories pairing all of the Wing boys together (as Relena got killed over and over to make room for them).

The fandom that Voltron: Legendary Defender has garnered sometimes feels reflected in the design of the new Voltron itself. This updated version is much rounder, giving it an appearance almost like a human athlete. It comes across as more “organic” in some sense. Yet this makes the robot Voltron itself more like an action hero and less like an imposing mechanical colossus, which is the impression I always get when looking at the classic Voltron/Golion.

Voltron: Legendary Defender might very well be what brings giant robots back into the forefront of fandoms, but it might be something less recognizable to those who have dwelled in the caverns of Planet Mecha. I have to wonder, then, if the robots themselves can ever hold great appeal to those viewers who prioritize the passionate interactions between characters. Perhaps the more the robot lions and Voltron itself are given hints of personalities, the more even non-mecha fans can come to appreciate them and their aesthetic.

Ogiue Maniax Talking Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2 on the Veef Show Podcast

It’s another go at Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans on the Veef Show! Following our season 1 podcast, we discuss the finale to this newest series. I’m warmer on the series while Veef is colder, but it’s interesting discussion overall.

Fight for Survival, Dream for the Future – Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Gundam is a massive and unwieldy franchise. With a history spanning over four decades of anime, sequels, spin-offs, alternate universes, and more, after a while the distinctions between each Gundam series starts to blur. Each time there’s supposed to be a “unique” take on Gundam, they will often carry enough of the common tropes to be familiar, or will slowly jettison the new elements in favor of going with the tried and true. This is the perpetual challenge that Gundam faces, so it is to my surprise that not only did I enjoy the recent Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans TV series (which is not the shocking part; I love Gundam in general), but that I felt it maintained its identity and its high quality despite it being just the kind of series set up to derail itself.

Iron-Blooded Orphan (IBO) takes place in a futuristic world where battles are waged using giant robots called mobile suits. The story centers around the characters Mikazuki Augus and Orga Itsuka, two boys who belong to the bottom-most rung of society, uncharitably called “human debris,” and who at the start of the series are essentially indentured child soldiers for a mercenary group. Early on, they and their fellow human debris rebel against their masters, create their own mercenary group called “Tekkadan,” and fight to try and find a place in a world that literally calls them garbage. Along the way, they meet a number of allies, notably Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a young aristocrat from Mars with lofty ideals of justice and equality, an encounter which changes their lives.

On the surface, Mikazuki as the pilot of the Gundam Barbatos appears to be cut from a certain cloth of Gundam protagonist. As a highly skilled pilot who has fought from a very young age and whose lack of expressiveness makes him appear emotionless, Mikazuki is descended from previous characters such as Heero Yuy from Gundam W and Setsuna F. Seiei from Gundam 00. Where Mikazuki differs from the other two is how IBO highlights his connections with Orga.

Mikazuki is cold and merciless to his enemies, but within his friendship with Orga (it’s perhaps better to call them “brothers”), there’s a very unique connection. Mikazuki is not an empty shell, but he sees in Orga a strong ambition, and he essentially acts as a right arm for the sake of his long-time companion. Similar relationships exist between Mikazuki and Kudelia, as well as between Mikazuki and a long-time female friend named Atra Mixta. Other notable characters are Naze Turbine, a man who literally has a harem of women as his ship’s crew but is actually more about empowering women by giving them skills and educations, and McGillis Fareed, a high-ranking officer who shows what happens when friendship and ambition collide. These characters and relationships are among the many that collectively create a narrative where camaraderie and family persist in the face of harsh odds. IBO never abandons that sense of family, and it is crucial to understanding the role of Tekkadan in all of the conflicts that occur as the series moves towards its conclusions.

One notable aspect of IBO relative to past Gundam series is that, in spite of the series being subjected to the dreaded “split-season” approach, it remains remarkably consistent. One of the major pitfalls of many mecha anime from Studio Sunrise over the past 10 years or so is a tendency to try and improve aspects of the series based on marketing and merchandising feedback. Often times, the series end up losing much of what made them special in the process, but this never really happens with IBO.

In terms of emphasizing toy sales over story, IBO actually shows a great deal of restraint. According to series lore, Gundam Barbatos is just one of 72 different Gundams used in a previous conflict known as the “Calamity War.” In another series, especially one more focused on profits from merchandise, it’s likely we would have seen all 72 show up onscreen. However, even at the conclusion of IBO, only a handful appear. The Barbatos itself is also supposed to have a feature that allows it to integrate the weapons and abilities of other mobile suits, but the anime never really puts this front and center. Changes that occur in the Barbatos more reflect the changes and traumas that Mikazuki goes through as the series progresses.

Because IBO keeps its feet firmly planted and doesn’t fly off-track in a desperate attempt to cater to market research, Tekkadan never stops feeling like Tekkadan. No matter how powerful Mikazuki becomes, and no matter how much Tekkadan’s forces are bolstered, they never stop feeling like an underdog. The steps they take to get further are microscopic compared to the vastness of what surrounds them, especially when it comes to the realm of human society. One of the recurring aspects of IBO highlights this well. While Tekkadan gains military power, their approach to life, which is to treat themselves as a family first and a mercenary group second, often leaves them lacking and inexperienced in terms of diplomacy. On multiple occasions, success on the battlefield is contrasted with failure politically.

The story told in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans feels like just a small slice of a vast world and history. Whether this is the end of the IBO universe or the start of something more, I come away immensely satisfied.