Rock-Troll Remake: “Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island”

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island can be described as one of the most elaborate shitposts ever. 

This doesn’t mean the film is bad—quite the opposite, in fact. But it’s precisely because Cucuruz Doan’s Island turns out to be a solid work that makes it even more of a shitpost.

Origins

Cucuruz Doan’s Island was originally Episode 15 of the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, about an AWOL Zeon soldier who is now raising orphans on an island that the protagonist, Amuro Ray, crashes on. It’s infamous for a variety of reasons, not least of which are its abysmally off-model animation quality, and the fact that Director Tomino refuses to let it be included in releases outside of Japan. It’s an early instance of a yashigani crab episode, the kind of thing that seems to embarrass all involved. Well, what if 43 years later, they decided to turn it into a feature-length piece with the budget of a full-fledged animated film? 

It’s about as cheeky a move you can make, especially because the idea of re-animating something from First Gundam like this isn’t really done. Sure, there’s Gundam: The Origin, but while the manga is a retelling of the entire story of the One Year War, the anime version mainly covers events before that conflict, making it a prequel of sorts.

Doing More with More

So how do you stretch a 20-something-minute episode into a full movie? Well, you give it More of Everything. There’s more fights: Doan is shown in his Zaku to be fending off unwelcome island visitors from the start, and even has a tussle with the Gundam early on. There’s more plot: The White Base crew’s visit to the island, as well as Doan’s former role in the Zeon forces are given greater context. There’s greater stakes: The threat of worldwide catastrophe looms in this film in a way it never did as a TV episode. There’s more characters: Doan goes from having four orphans to having about three times as many (including an older boy who’s jealous of Amuro), and a whole new platoon of Zeon soldiers is incorporated into the story. Also, Char Aznable shows up (of course), but only in a literal fever dream.

On top of all that, Doan’s Zaku for the film has been purposely designed to be thinner and with a different head construction compared to the standard. This is actually a reference to it being horribly off-model in the original TV series, which has now become the catalyst that has transformed artistic mistakes into the baseline for a unique mobile suit design. This is perhaps the biggest indicator of the somewhat trolling nature of Cucurzu Doan’s Island.

Hindsight and Evolution

Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, the original character designer from the TV series, is actually the director of this film, and it shows. In many ways, it feels more like an episode of Giant Gorg than Gundam in the way characters interact with and explore their environment. The character designs in the film are very clearly based on Yaz’s more modern work a la Gundam: The Origin, but there’s also something about the way characters move that evokes their personalities more powerfully than even some of the best episodes of First Gundam. When Amuro walks around the island, he does so with an awkwardness that really hammers home the fact that he was originally an introverted tinkerer who got thrust into piloting the most powerful weapon of the time. The ways he walks, runs, and reacts come across as possibly even neurodivergent, and makes him feel that much more out of place in the world where he lives. 

In this way, one of the remarkable things about Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the way it acts simultaneously as a nostalgia piece and a work that reflects on Gundam’s long history. In addition to being an opportunity to see the old White Base crew in action again, there are all sorts of details that convey a kind of homecoming. For example, when you see Zeon soldiers (Doan included) react to the presence of the Gundam with fear and awe, it both makes sense in the context of the story and as a nod to the fact that this is the RX-78-2, the Ur-Gundam. Pretty much all the old characters are there with their original voice actors (provided they’re alive). It’s very clear that Furuya Toru and Furukawa Toshio are four decades older and can’t quite play teen characters as naturally as they used to, but they also bring just as many years of experience and refinement to the roles. 

There’s another aspect of Cucuruz Doan’s Island as a do-over that stands out to me, and perhaps to anyone who cares about Gundam lore: Despite being a remake of a TV episode, the movie places itself more in the original film trilogy’s version of events. In addition to the complete absence of the Core Fighter—the cockpit plane that was used as part of the “docking” sequences used in the TV series to give it more of a “super robot” aesthetic like Gundam’s predecessors—Cucuruz Doan’s Island also features the Core Booster vehicle that was created for the trilogy. And while I can’t remember offhand the exact sequence of events, the flow of the story seems to place it more in the trilogy’s timeline of events as well. This, too, feels like Yaz trying to correct past mistakes.

Beyond the Time

I’m not sure which would be funnier: this movie leading to an international release of First Gundam with the missing episode, or if we actually end up with the movie available to purchase but still no Episode 15. Either choice would add onto the legacy of Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island as arguably the ultimate shitpost, and I have to wonder if other properties might attempt something similar. 

What if “Legendary Defender” Voltron Became a Soul of Chogkin?

On occasion, I like to entertain the notion that the Voltron from the Netflix Legendary Defender series could someday become a Soul of Chogokin figure. 

I know the audience isn’t quite there. The kinds of fans who flocked to Legendary Defender in the 2010s are not like the fans who were drawn in the 1980s to Voltron: Defender of the Universe or the original Beast King GoLion in Japan. And from what I understand of the Legendary Defender fandom, the show left a really bad taste in the mouths of some of its most ardent supporters that might make any sort of subsequent merchandising futile. I can dream a little, though.

It wouldn’t be the first American work to have the privilege of being rendered into premium collectible format through the Soul of Chogokin line—that honor goes to Gipsy Danger from Pacific Rim. But when I look at the 2016 release of the SoC old-school Lion Voltron and marvel at its presence (as well as the almost-as-cool 2019 Dairugger/Vehicle Voltron release) I think about how great it would be for the new-school Voltron to be standing in display cases and on shelves in people’s homes. While I’m not as big a fan of the more recent design compared to the original, I’d be confident that the Soul of Chogokin line would make it look like a million bucks.

The main barrier, as already mentioned, is that the majority of the Legendary Defender fandom couldn’t care less about how cool the giant robots are. What fueled its popularity was the characters and their relationships (both real and imagined), and there isn’t a strong enough connection between those characters and their mecha for there to be a strong emotional bond between viewers and robots—like with many Gundam series, for example. A 2018 post on the Voltron subreddit meant to drum up votes for an SoC Legendary Defender barely garnered any support. Maybe if the Soul of Chogokin release came with plenty of material based on the characters (perhaps much more detailed human figures than what you’d typically get from SoC releases), it could bridge the gap to an extent.

There are also plenty of past series that garnered unexpected fanbases who cared far less about the giant robots. God Mars built up a significant female audience due to its handsome characters and drama, and it debuted the same year as GoLion in Japan. Granted, God Mars also had impressive toy sales that contributed to its success, and it came out in a different time, place, and culture, so the comparison between it and Legendary Defender is limited at best.

The audience for a Soul of Chogokin Legendary Defender Voltron needs to be there to be justified, and the best hope in that sense might be to play the long, long game. While the main fandom for Legendary Defender skews older, there are probably young kids who have watched it on Netflix and like the robot action. It would probably be decades before they reach adulthood and have the disposable income to afford figures costing hundreds of dollars, but perhaps their nostalgia (not unlike the nostalgia that fuels the SoC line in general) would still be running strong.

So, see you in 2035?

Shattering the Old Baltimore Ceiling: Otakon 2022

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center. A large redstaircase cuts through the middle, with escalators on each side. Blue signs saying "Registration" and "Photosuite" show that this is Otakon.

Out of all fan conventions, I consider Otakon the one can’t-miss event. There’s certainly a sentimental component, as I’ve been attending for about 15 years at this point, but I think their approach to the concept of the anime con is vitally important: a celebration of anime fandom that’s not for profit and also gives respect to both the creators of the works and the fans themselves. This year, Otakon 2022 shattered its attendance record with a whopping 40,000+ (roughly 6,000 more than the previous record), and I’m glad to see it thrive after a combination of a risky move to Washington DC saw an attendance drop and the arrival of a global pandemic threatened its very existence.

COVID-19 Measures

Anyone who follows Ogiue Maniax knows that I do not take COVID-19 lightly. I’m a firm believer in the science that says vaccinations provide significant protection against severe disease and death, and that good-quality masks are an important tool for mitigating spread. I’m also not so naive as to think COVID couldn’t possibly be at the convention. So why did I still decide to attend, especially with the Omicron variants being so infectious? There are multiple reasons.

First, above all else, is that Otakon’s COVID-19 policy reassured me that they take the pandemic seriously. Much of the US has been opening up in rather unsafe ways (if they had ever closed down at all), and some other notable conventions had tried to roll back their masking and vaccination policies despite the prevalence of the Omicron variants. However, Otakon maintained that attendees must either be vaccinated or present a negative PCR test result, and that masks are mandatory. A few more things could have been done, like requiring vaccinations and boosters, period, but it’s understandable that some people still can’t get vaccinated for reasons other than hesitancy. In my view, Otakon cared more about people than attendance numbers.

Second, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is quite spacious and has tall ceilings that can help keep air circulating—it’s being in stagnant air in small, enclosed spaces that is especially high-risk, and I could do what I can to avoid those situations and/or make sure I didn’t take my mask off under any circumstances.

Third, I trusted my own risk management. In situations that are too crowded around me or where the mask usage rate is clearly lacking, I could make the decision to change plans or abandon ship and head back to my hotel. Although it might mean not getting to see something or someone I was looking forward to, it was something I was willing to accept. You can’t do everything at Otakon anyway. I did eat out with friends once, but it was on a Sunday when the majority of attendees had already left DC.

A dish consisting of egg, sea urchin roe, and salmon roe.

Of course, COVID safety only goes as far as whether people actually follow them. In that regard, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of people wore masks of some kind and wore them over their noses like you’re supposed to. It wasn’t perfect, and there were plenty of ineffective cloth masks still being worn, but I think having the firm requirements come from the con itself might have encouraged attendees to follow their example. I also literally saw security go after someone with no vaccination/COVID-negative wristband in a reassuring sign of vigilance. Score one for mandates. 

Issues

That’s not to say the con ran 100% smoothly, however.

I enjoy getting autographs from creators, and Otakon is often good at inviting a variety of interesting guests from Japan. However, ever since the move from Baltimore, the autograph area has been in the same space as the Dealer’s Room, resulting in a less-than-ideal situation. Attendees wanting to get their stuff signed have to deal with the massive crowd trying to get into the Dealer’s Room to shop, and I thought about giving up on more than one occasion because I was worried about being surrounded by people and increasing the chances of infection.

Exacerbating this was the fact that there was a major pedestrian traffic jam in the underground tunnel connecting the Marriott to the convention center on Saturday. Normally, this is the ideal way to get to the con if you’re staying at the hotel (as I was), but the huge delays meant I couldn’t return to my room and retrieve something I hoped to get autographed until it was too late. However, that was fairly small potatoes compared with the fact that those trying to make their way through the tunnel could be stuck in there an hour or even longer. There were also lines snaking out from the Marriot and at the convention center, and on a hot summer day too. It seems like the culprit is a confluence of factors, including the gigantic boost in attendance numbers, some confusion over COVID-19 protocols, and some mechanical failures that meant inaccessible escalators. Whatever the case may be, I hope Otakon is prepared to deal with this next year

An autographed copy of Bionic Commando for the NES.

Fortunately, I actually did manage to get a couple of things signed in the end: an old family copy of NES Bionic Commando from back in the 1980s, as well as a special edition of a My Youth Romantic Comedy novel from the author and staff (not pictured).

Interviews

After my hiatus from interviewing last year, I managed to speak with some guests for 2022. Check out the following interviews:

Ise Mariya

Gugenka, Inc.

Industry Panels

Furukawa Toshio & Kakinuma Shino

A photo of Kakinuma Shino and Furukawa Toshio at their panel. Next to them is the host and the interpreter.

If you ever want to hear from voice actors who love their craft and want to prepare the next generation, it has to be these two industry veterans. Furukawa is famously the voice of Piccolo, Moroboshi Ataru, and Portgas D. Ace. His wife is probably best known as Naru (Molly) from Sailor Moon. Together, this husband-wife voice team provided insight on how they train talents at their school, the ways they introduce emotion to their roles, and how to sound like you’re moving around without actually doing so (because the mic won’t pick everything up). One insightful thing I learned is that COVID-19 has upended the tradition of having everyone in the same room to record a scene (which made for better recordings, in my opinion), though important dialogues might still result in a two-person session.

I actually interviewed them back in 2017, but forgot to ask them about one of my favorite works: Zambot 3, where Furukawa played Shingo. This time, I got the chance to make up for that omission, and Furukawa answered that Tomino had very meticulous instructions and planning for voice actors, and he’d talk with each voice actor one by one. Furukawa said it was a very theatrical experience compared to other roles, though I don’t know if “theatrical” is a euphemism for something else.

Studio Trigger’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

While it wasn’t my first choice for aTrigger anime screening, I was still curious to see what they had in store for the first episode of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. I’ve never played Cyberpunk in any form, but I was glad to see that the studio’s approach emphasized the dystopian qualities of its, well, cyberpunk setting over the “cool factor.” The stark class differences and crushing hand of capitalism make the hero’s anger all the more poignant. 

After the screening, the staff showed some of their early character design sketches. The two things that stood out to me were the degree to which they had to revise to match the Cyberpunk video game creator’s vision, as well as the fact that they straight-up said the main girl character (who barely shows up in episode 1) was inspired by Motoko from Ghost in the Shell as they explained the big influence that cyberpunk as a genre had on them as artists.

At the end, they teased the SSSS.Gridman + SSSS.Dynazenon movie, which I’m eagerly awaiting.

Bigwest’s Macross Panel

A photo of the Macross Panel showing the introductory slide that says "Welcome to Bigwest's Macross Panel"

When I found out there was going to be an official Macross panel at Otakon, I felt it was my duty to attend. After all, official Macross panels have never really existed in the US prior to 2022, with the closest being whenever Kawamori Shoji is a guest. One of the biggest moments of the panel was when they showed a video of the various Macross anime (narrated by “Maximillian Jenius” Hayami Sho), and a loud cheer erupted around Macross 7. The panelists mentioned that the title would have induced silence not so long ago—a sign of the changing times. Personally, I think that similar to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, anime fandom had to catch up to Nekki Basara instead of the other way around.

This panel has since garnered a bit of controversy due to the fact that Otakon announced that there would be something special. To Macross fans, that can mean all sorts of things because of its unusual history when it comes to licensing and the legal issues with Harmony Gold/Robotech. Speculation ran rampant: Could it be Do You Remember Love? A new Macross? Something completely out of left field?

It turned out to be the very first US screening of Macross Frontier Short Film: The Labyrinth of Time, which was originally shown before the Macross Delta Zettai Live film. It was a treat to see and it was downright gorgeous, though not quite the first thing to come to mind as a special surprise.

Discotek Media

If ever there was a US anime company with a catalog made for me, it would be Discotek. Even when they’re not licensing titles off my wishlist, they’re giving others similar dreams. While Machine Robo: Battle Hackers is not everyone’s first choice for long-sought-after anime, their willingness to put out such obscure works is appreciated.

By far, the two big titles announced here are Space Sheriff Gavan and the complete Urusei Yatsura TV series. Neither hit me on that deep level, but the audience went bananas for both. I’m well aware of the significance both shows have to tokusatsu and anime fandom, and I’m looking forward to checking both out. 

At a dinner with friends, I learned that Gavan is such a big deal in Malaysia that it’s become a part of the language itself. Using the word “Gaban” there means to describe something as epic or to evoke an image of bravery. I have to wonder how many works of television and film can make similar claims to fame.

My Panels

I’ve done plenty of panels at Otakons past, but this year is the first time I’ve had to do two back-to-back. I had considered asking for one of them to be moved, but the prospect of getting them both out of the way in one fell swoop was appealing as well. Thankfully, the vast majority of the panel rooms were in close proximity to one another this year, making the transition a relative breeze.

The first panel was “Hong Kong in Anime and Manga.” The idea was to explore different ways in which Hong Kong’s people, culture, and environment are portrayed in anime and manga. There was a technical hiccup at the beginning that delayed the start by five minutes, there were no real issues otherwise. I was surprised that there were very few Cantonese speakers in the audience, but that just meant I had underestimated the need to explain the language aspect of Hong Kong, and could adjust on the fly. I also noticed how big a reaction a clip of Cantonese-speaking VTuber Selen Tatsuki received, which gave me an idea of her extensive reach.

I hope people enjoyed the panel. I managed to briefly talk to a couple of folks who enjoyed the panel (including a longtime reader!) before I had to hoof it out of there. I was also informed that I might have made more than a few people interested in checking out G Gundammission accomplished.

The second panel was “Mahjong Club: RIICHI! Ten Years Later.” It was the revival of a panel I last presented in 2012 alongside Kawaiikochans creator Dave, adjusted to take into account the many opportunities English-speaking anime fans have to play Japanese mahjong compared to a decade ago. One big adjustment we made was to deemphasize some of the nitty-gritty of the rules and to better convey the excitement and tension of a game of mahjong. For the most part, the audience was new to the panel (but not necessarily new to mahjong), so I hope we were able to give something for everyone who watched us.

There was an issue with text on our slides getting cut off; it’s something we can fix when we do this again in another 10 years (?).

Fan Panels

A History of Isekai

Isekai is the elephant in the room when it comes to modern anime, and a panel about its history could easily strike a shallow cord. Luckily, this one focused primarily on the works leading up to Sword Art Online, mentioning the mecha isekai of the 1980s, the shoujo isekai of the 1990s, and the outsized influence of The Familiar of Zero. It’s debatable whether something like Urashima Tarou can count, though if it does, then it’d be amusing to show the anime Urashiman. Of course, not every title can be mentioned in an hour, even if it means missing out on the fantastic opening to Mashin Hero Wataru.

Digital Anime Fansubs: 2000 to Now

This panel was about the rise of digital subs around the turn of the millennium, and it focused mainly on the changing formats+file sizes, the brand-new frontier of getting anime straight from Japan within days (as opposed to months or even years), as well as the ways that fansubbers tried to establish their identities through practices like fancy karaoke effects. It was probably a fun introduction to this era for people unfamiliar with it, though I wonder if there would be a way to establish a more detailed history. It wouldn’t be easy by any means, due to the fact that this sort of subject isn’t really recorded, but maybe collecting anecdotes from fellow fans (or fansubbers themselves, if possible) could be cool.

A Sophisticatedly Unsophisticated Look at Fanservice

This was a panel by Gerald from the Anime World Order podcast, and I actually saw a fledgling incarnation of it ten years ago at Otakon. It was interesting to see him tackle the topic again, and there were definitely shows I remembered—namely the infamous Manyuu Hikenchou. This time, the panel had a more concrete idea of what it wanted to show, which is fanservice in terms of being things that are gratuitously superfluous. In that regard, the panel did take things to the next level, though I thought it still didn’t quite hit the mark on what would be considered traditionally “fanservice for girls,” which I think is more rooted in context and relationship dynamics than jiggling bits and crotch shots. 

Showings

Otakon 1994 AMVs

One of the pleasant surprises this year was that the con decided to screen the original Anime Music Video Contest from the very first Otakon 28 years ago. It was a window into the past, particularly in terms of the shows that were being used (Riding Bean, Bubblegum Crisis, Detonator Orgun, and so on), and it’s even more impressive when you realize that digital video editing was still in its infancy back then. 

There was a particular video that was considered “non-competing” that seemed to grossly revel in detailed depictions of violence against women. While I could see the argument against showing it at all, I do think having it available as a sign of what the fandom was like, warts and all, has at least historical merit. I would say I hope this isn’t a thing anymore, but I don’t typically watch AMVs anyway.

Wada Kaoru and Hayashi Yuki Sunday Concert

A photo of a concert from far away.

Despite the prominence of K-pop at Otakon this year (enough to have Hangul on the front cover of the physical guidebook for the first (?) time!), the only concert I attended was for the music of composers Wada Kaoru (Inuyasha, Yashahime) and Hayashi Yuki (Haikyu!, My Hero Academia). I wasn’t familiar with a good chunk of the songs, but the contrasting styles between the two made for an interesting experience you usually don’t get when the focus is on a single act. The real treat was during the encore, when they played along with the combination orchestra+rock band.

Cosplay

Conclusion

So that was Otakon 2022! It had some hiccups that made me remember that attending a convention is a conscious choice that requires risk assessment, but I definitely had a great time overall. I’ll leave off with a gallery of cosplay photos I took throughout the event. Cheers to another fine year, and I hope all my fellow attendees made it out healthy in the end.

PS: If you want to hear me talk more about Otakon 2022 (even after this massive review), I was a guest on the Otakon 2022 episode of Anime World Order!

Keep Chugging Along: Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z

I never got the chance to watch all of the first Shinkalion anime. I discovered it a little late, and the way episodes would be up on Youtube for only a week meant that a busy schedule could derail my hopes of keeping up with it. And let’s face it: The series is pretty generic in a lot of ways. Still, I wished I could have kept pace with it better.

In 2021, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z debuted, and I saw this as my opportunity to do what I couldn’t before. I decided to keep up with the series week to week, not expecting my world to be rocked or anything. 

The basic story is that years after the events of the original Shinkalion, a new boy named Arata Shin becomes the driver of the new Shinkalion Z E5 Hayabusa. Unlike the original main character, Hayasugi Hayato, Shin is not a train otaku but rather a cryptid enthusiast. Alongside him is a new friend, Usui Abuto (named after the Apt trains), who is the train fan but can’t drive Shinkalions for some reason. Together, along with other allies, they have to fight against the forces of the extraterrestrial Teoti.

Shinkalion Z doesn’t dazzle, but it’s fun and it has a few twists and turns that add some welcome tension and drama. Also, it has a grade schooler version of Maetel from Galaxy Express 999. In a way, part of watching Shinkalion is seeing their argument for being the most ambitious crossover, as the meme goes.

One of the issues with Shinkalion in general is that the characters and the mecha themselves both feel kind of bland. I know I’m not the target audience, and I’m not saying they need to look amazing, but there’s something decidedly milquetoast about the aesthetic. In particular, the fact that all the Shinkalions have basically the same design with minor differences and even transform virtually the same way makes it less exciting than it could be—imagine if they had unique transformation sequences a la Precure or Sailor Moon. I’m sure it makes for convenient toys, though.

Shinkalion Z makes some improvements in both regards, though nothing mind-blowing. Abuto has some depth to him, while a Shinkalion driver named Taiji is hard to forget because he’s this weirdly muscular little boy from a family of lumberjacks or something. The inclusion of a big-bodied lady as a side character that doesn’t fall into fatphobia is also worth noting. As for the robots, there’s one that can turn into a centaur, which is the most eye-catching thing to come out of this franchise so far.

The show winds up being 41 episodes long, a bit unusual of a number, and it makes me wonder if the show got cut short. Of course, that means it’s in the company of many classic robot anime—First Gundam, most famously. Between this and its toyetic, “for kids” feel, perhaps Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion is the purest mecha series of all.

A Deluge of Riches: Super Robot Wars 30

When I first began playing Super Robot Wars 30, I wanted to write a review immediately, but I decided against it because I wanted to complete one run of the game to get a fuller impression. Now, nearly 200 hours of playtime later, I have the opposite problem. There’s so much in here that I feel like I have more I’ve forgotten than I’ve remembered. I’ve already given my thoughts on certain specific elements of the series, including DLC packs 1 and 2, the way the game handles the Gaogaigar storyline, and the attack aesthetics of the Ultimate Dancouga unit, but here, I just want to lay out my broader impressions.

Super Robot Wars 30 is named as such not because it’s the 30th game but because it’s to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise. To that end, there are a number of callbacks to its roots, from the fact that you can use the original RX-78-2 Gundam to specific guest characters making appearances. The roster is no mere nostalgia dive, though, as it consists of plenty of series old and new—both in terms of the release date of the source material from which these mecha come from and when they first appeared in SRW in general. L-Gaim and Victory Gundam are two franchise veterans making long awaited reappearances, while J-Decker, SSSS.Gridman, and Knights & Magic make their mainline debuts here.

Having lots of series is always an overall good thing for SRW, but I got decision paralysis when thinking about which units to deploy on multiple occasions. I’d want to bring out anyone who might be plot-relevant for a stage or at least have interesting dialogue with boss characters, but that didn’t always narrow it down. I’d waffle between doing what’s beneficial strategically and what’s cool thematically, and this might have made an already long game take even longer. It’s to some degree a curse that I accept with the blessing of a robust roster.

There is so much content in SRW30 that it can be overwhelming. While many missions are optional and a lot can be played out of order, I was struck by a sense of FOMO many times. What funny stories are on this stage? How did these characters get together? As someone who wants to revel in that fanfiction-esque lore, skipping felt wrong. 

One problem with that, however, is that every so often, I’d trigger a compulsory mission, whereby the intermission screen flashed red and locked me into a specific next plot-relevant stage. I don’t mind their presence so much as that the game itself never really explains what trips them off. I specifically remember playing some EXP-farming missions (called “Fronts” in the menu), not realizing that doing so meant I didn’t get to see how the sixth member of Team Rabbits from Majestic Prince joins. 

The game feels like it was designed to be fairly lenient, as if it was assuming that SRW30 would be a lot of people’s first Super Robot Wars. This wouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s the first officially translated SRW game to show up internationally on Steam. Even at the hardest difficulty (at least originally), it was possible to upgrade and improve your units to brute force your way through. They would later add a “super expert” mode that put it closer in line to a classic SRW experience, but having a really tough game isn’t necessarily what I want or expect, and the initial absence of a hardcore mode isn’t really an issue to me. 

Rather, if there’s any major criticism I have of the gameplay, it’s the lack of stage variety. There are a number of levels that have specific win conditions, but they felt too few and far between, and even they felt like they came from a general template. On top of that, for whatever reason, SRW30 refuses to take advantage of a classic system that is literally built into the game: terrain differences. In many SRW entries, there are stages with bases or areas where units can recover HP while on top of them (usually 30%). They usually exist in missions where you have to defend an area, or perhaps they’re being used by a stubborn boss that you have to dislodge. However, not a single stage I played had any such spots, even when it would make sense both gameplay- and story-wise.

A Final Dynamic Special—usually a combination attack with Mazinger and Getter robots, would have been nice too. Given the anniversary theme of the game, I’m surprised it didn’t include one.

I think this review may come across as more negative than I actually feel about the game. I think that’s simply because the game is so long that it took me months and months to complete, and my view is tinged by a patina of fatigue. SRW30 has a lot to offer, especially from a mecha fanservice perspective, and it feels satisfying to successfully utilize your units’ strengths and mitigate their weaknesses through smart play. I just wish there were more opportunities to do that.

Ultimate Dancouga in Super Robot Wars 30 is Quintessential Obari Masami

One of the highlights of any Super Robot Wars game is seeing how awesome mecha look in their attack animations. So when Ultimate Dancouga first performed its ultimate attack in Super Robot Wars 30, I expected the kind of spectacle associated with its designer, Obari Masami. After all, he personally designed this exclusive version of Dancouga for the game, and his penchant for flashy action poses is unmistakable. When I first saw Ultimate Dancouga strike the characteristic warped-perspective sword pose seen above during its Dancou Shinken technique, I could only think “Yep, there it is!”

But then a few other thoughts immediately followed. “Why didn’t I associate this Obari Pose with Dancouga’s finishing moves in SRW?” “Did it even strike the Obari Pose in older titles?” “Did it ever Obari Pose in the original anime?!”

That’s when I remembered: The 1980s anime Super Beast Machine God Dancouga predates the Obari Pose, which emerged in the 1990s with the Brave franchise! In fact it’s sometimes more commonly known as the Brave Perspective and Sunrise Stance, among other things.

Sure, recent toy releases make reference to the Pose, but it’s not the same as having it in the show itself. And while there’s been plenty of creative license with attacks throughout SRW, their desire to capture the flavor of the source material is likely why the Pose never made it in. On top of that, the Dancouga TV anime was Obari’s first credit as mecha designer, so the series holds a special place in his massive body of work.

So Ultimate Dancouga ends up being a kind of “combination” of two aspects of Obari’s legacy: It’s his first professional mecha design striking his signature pose. It’s not technically going full circle, but there’s a wholeness to Dancou Shinken that makes it satisfying.

Shinkalion Z, Ooishi Misaki, and Fat Positivity

Attractive portrayals of fat girls are a real rarity in anime and manga, and when they do exist, they tend to have something of a fetish quality (see: Real Drive or Pochamani). It’s less common to see a character with a less conventional appearance featured in a romantic way that doesn’t draw specific attention to her size. But we have one in, of all series, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z.

Ooishi Misaki is an operator for the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute Yokokawa Branch, and is one of a handful of characters who fulfill the role of moving levers and hitting triggers to provide upgrades to the Shinkalion robots. In other words, she fulfills a role akin to Mikoto in Gaogaigar, and receives similar cool moments while working in the command center.

Partway into the series, a female character reveals that she’s actually a member of the enemy forces, and a guy in love with her named Hosokawa Atsuto feels betrayed and upset. Just as he tosses a souvenir he received from the spy into the water, Misaki happens to show up, and the Atsuto sees her in a dazzling new light, and finds himself smitten by her beauty in that moment.

Misaki does not exhibit negative fat stereotypes. She’s not comically eating all the time. She’s not constantly trying to diet. No one draws attention to her size versus other characters in the series. She’s different without any particular focus on that difference, and even Atsuto’s attraction looks like any other in anime and manga. That unremarkable quality is itself noteworthy, and I feel like it goes a step in the right direction.

Super Robot Wars 30, Shinkalion, and Pioneering DLC

The developers of Super Robot Wars 30 have announced a final expansion pack that brings many surprises, the biggest of which are new DLC units.

  • Scopedog, Scopedog TC LRS (Armored Trooper Votoms)
  • Ultimate Dancouga (Super Beast Machine God Dancouga)
  • Red 5+ (Majestic Prince: Genetic Awakening)
  • Getter 1, Getter 2, Getter 3 (Getter Robo Devolution: The Last 3 Minutes of the Universe)
  • Shinkalion E5 Hayabusa Mk. II, Shinkalion E5 Mk. II Over Cross ALFA-X (Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie)
  • Dygenguar with Aussenseiter (Super Robot Wars Alpha 3)

Gan Gan Zudandan

The big news on this list in my opinion is Shinkalion, not because it’s one of my long-desired franchises for SRW or anything, but because it has ties to a major company like Japan Railway. In hindsight, however, it was ridiculous to think that could be a barrier: Shinkalion did already appear in the mobile game Super Robot Wars X-Ω, and the series itself is crossover central. Seeing the series debut is nice, and I enjoy how the originally-3DCG units in this game have a different look and feel to them (see also ULTRAMAN). I’ll also be hoping for DLC missions where train otaku Hayato gets to geek out with all other mega nerds in the cast. Too bad Evangelion isn’t in SRW30 for some truly fun references.

I’m Seeing Double: Four Ryomas!

The other new main-series debut is Getter Robo Devolution, and I’m surprised at its inclusion. While other SRW have taken references from multiple Getter Robo series at the same time (mostly in terms of how Shin Getter Robo presents itself), this is the first time we’re seeing variations of the same characters crossing over—and no, I’m not counting Sanger and evil Sanger in Alpha Garden. Interestingly, they announced voice actors for these characters (and big ones too!), which makes the decision to omit a lot of the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman mecha all the more mysterious.

Incidentally, the manga is actually out in English from Seven Seas, so I plan on picking it up to see what this one’s all about. It’s also from the creators of Linebarrels of Iron.

30th Anniversary Versions

The Scopedog TC LRS and Ultimate Dancouga stand out because the idea of making special versions of robots specifically for SRW is very rare, with Mazinkaiser being the #1 example. Sometimes there are units taken from unused production materials (like Final Dancouga), but this is a step beyond. Moreover, both anniversary robots are from their original mechanical designers—Ookawara Kunio and Obari Masami, respectively—contributing to the epic feel of this collaboration. I’ll be curious to see what animations the Scopedog has, as I do miss Chirico’s amazing final attack from the SRWZ games.

When Will I Use Them?

I’m in a strange position where I’m pretty much at the final stages of SRW30, and I’m trying to figure out if I should just get all the DLC units before proceeding or if I should focus on them in a possible New Game+. Either way, I can’t wait to try them out.

Super Robot Wars 30, Gaogaigar, and J-Decker: The Compromises of a Composite Narrative

Brave Police J-Decker has made its debut appearance in Super Robot Wars, joining its fellow Brave franchise series King of Braves Gaogaigar. However, J-Decker effectively replaces in Super Robot Wars 30 a huge portion of the Gaogaigar cast of characters—specifically the Brave Robots introduced in the novel sequel King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman—and in doing so merges their two plotlines together in a way that defies SRW precedent. It’s something I can appreciate, but I also feel that it comes at the expense of the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach the game franchise is famous for.

While J-Decker precedes Gaogaigar in terms of their air dates (1994 vs. 1997), Super Robot Wars 30 flips things around. The story specifically has the events of the latter take place first, and makes the Brave Police the first Brave Robots since the events of Gaogaigar Final. I find this to be a pretty clever way to tie the two plots together, especially in order to reconcile having an adult Mamoru (the kid character in Gaogaigar) with a young Yuuta from J-Decker

However, the idea that the Brave Police are the latest generation of units doesn’t square with what takes place in the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novels where a new Brave Robot Corps is formed with the likes of NichiRyu, GetsuRyu, ShoRyu, and Porc-Auto. Those robots aren’t even included in Super Robot Wars 30, meaning that their role in the story has been supplanted by the robots of J-Decker. This is highly unusual, if only because SRW games are often about “more is better.” While the franchise over the past decade-and-change has been trying to streamline a lot of the bloat inherent to it (so no excessively redundant attacks, for example), it’s rare to have them omit entire groups of potentially playable units that are an important factor in the source material.

I suspect that there are a number of extenuating circumstances that resulted in this compromise. It wasn’t that long after the conclusion of Gaogaigar vs. Betterman that SRW30 was announced. There are elements of the story, regardless of the mecha, that are skipped over. In addition, most of the new robots introduced in the novels don’t already have voice actors, so it’s not like calling up Hiyama Nobuyuki and telling him to reprise his role as Guy. While there have been cases of SRW assigning voices where there weren’t any before (see the Virtual On units in Alpha 3), that was also over 15 years ago. 

Incidentally, that’s also a case where only a handful of reps are included (as opposed to every Virtuaroid).

So while having Gaogaigar vs. Betterman is one of my favorite parts of SRW30, the changes made mean we still don’t have the might of the full cast of characters from it. Maybe we’ll see it happen in the future. 

And maybe what could make it easier is having an actual anime version…

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights March 2022

This month was the release of the 8th and final volume o f Hashikko Ensemble!

Kio saw the anime film Goodbye, Don Glees! and enjoyed it. He’s particularly fond of the last scene, which he likens to a large mosaic.

The man can’t find his copic markers, but eventually does.

Kio made his first trip to Akihabara, but took a different route this time. The last visit, he went to Melon Books, ZIN, K Books, etc. This time, it was Yodobashi, Volks, Yellow Submarine.

When asked if his interests are going from books to 3-dimensional things, Kio says that his interest in ero is growing weaker, while his desire to build gunpla is growing stronger.

Another reply shows Kio that the old Genshiken capsule figures still exist, to which he expresses surprise. He’s also amazed at how the swimsuit figures of Saki and Ohno managed to happen. The original replier says he likes this Ohno figure, but likes the bouncing boobs Ohno bust that came with an issue of Monthly Afternoon.

(Ogiue Manaix note: I have this one too, but I never managed to get the Ogiue counterpart because it was Japanese mail-order only…)

Countdown to the release of Hashikko Ensemble, Volume 8—the finale!

Kio mentions that the Hashikko Ensemble characters feel like they could keep going. (I agree.)

Kio was exhausted, so he ended up just drinking beer and falling asleep.

Kio’s pet tortoise isn’t going to have the garden space it used to, so Kio is trying to set up a habitat for it on his balcony. 

The Kimura Jin super fan known as “b” talks about how pure and innocent Jin looks, and asks Kio if Jin is saying “ni” (two) in the countdown image above. Kio gives an affirmative.

A close-up of the back cover from Volume 8.

I had to ask if there’d be any limited store exclusives for Volume 8. Kio answered “no,” which helps me a lot because it determines how I order the book.


Kio thanks b for giving him courage.

Technically not Kio tweets, but manga artist Shigisawa Kaya drew some Hashikko Ensemble fanart! In the first image, they mention loving Kozue’s fat fingers.

More drinking.

Artist Ikuhana Niro mentions wanting to get a new back and shoulders sometimes, and Kio agrees with the sentiment.

The artificial rendition of “Kanade” by Sukima Switch, as performed by the main characters of Hashikko Ensemble, goes away April 25th, 2022! Make sure to listen.

Kio wonders who the heck “Nagayama Koharu-chan” is. (Note: It’s actually a weird troll account by the author of Chainsaw Man where he pretends to be a third grader into Chainsaw Man).