Gattai Girls 3: Rinne no Lagrange – Flower Declaration of Your Heart and Kyouno Madoka

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.

Rinne no Lagrange – Flower Declaration of Your Heart (2012) is one of the most recent titles to qualify for the Gattai Girls series. Comprised of a galaxy-spanning war affected by the portrayal of the everyday lives of a select few characters, the approach that Rinne no Lagrange takes is fairly indicative of contemporary non-franchise giant robot anime and the tendency for plot to revolve primarily around individuals and their emotions.

The main heroine is Kyouno Madoka, an endlessly energetic teenager living in the city of Kamogawa. Always seen helping around the city while clad in a track jersey, Madoka inadvertently becomes the pilot of the ancient robot Vox Aura, spoken of in legends of destruction, she also becomes involved in a war between the two faraway planets Le Garite and De Metrio.  Madoka manages to befriend a girl her age on each side of the conflict, Fin E Ld Si Laffinty (aka Lan), princess of Le Garite, and De Metrio representative Muginami, inspiring change in both alien girls to move towards peace for their peoples.

When I say that the daily lives of the characters affect the overarching story, what I mean is that Rinne no Lagrange literally spends episode after episode primarily focused on the three girls’ deepening bonds to the point that its pacing can come across as slow and uneven when one can argue that there’s development of the universe to be had. The show does make an effort to establish the science fictional aspects of the story and the origin of the conflict between the two planets, and the robots themselves have an interesting aesthetic that approaches to a small degree the same sense as the Motorheads from Five Star Stories, but a more prominent and fundamental theme of the anime is how Madoka the simple local girl can literally change the universe through a never-say-never attitude.

Madoka’s incredibly infectious spirit and a willingness to work hard for herself and others is probably the biggest draw of Rinne no Lagrange. Fueled by energy drinks, her philosophy in life is something along the lines of “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, and if you teach to fish, he’ll eat forever, but if you do both then it’s perfect.” Madoka is perpetually strong, the sort of character who is not entirely without flaw, but who is practically designed to be a walking, talking inspiration generator. Madoka’s strength both physically and mentally are not because she’s a girl or in spite of being a girl, but more having to do with her love for her city, a topic removed from debates about the role of women. Also, in the first episode she uses her robot to German suplex the enemy into submission.

In looking at the other girls, Lan and Muginami (who are both pilots of legendary machines themselves), their place in the story is clearly an active and important one, though they’re also designed strongly along popular character stereotypes. Lan is a mostly stoic blue-haired noble girl clad in a skintight suit who’s clumsy and easily embarrassed, while Muginami is clearly the ditzy big-boobed blonde type. The two manage to flip some of these conventions to a certain degree, such as the fact that Muginami’s airhead personality is clearly just an act, but they also show a great deal of loyalty to their “big brothers” while their friendship with Madoka provides a prominent yuri subtext for the series. While the show isn’t absolutely about yuri, it’s also obvious that Rinne no Lagrange encourages the viewer to read into it that way if they should so choose, provided plenty of reasons to do so. This isn’t an indictment of any of the elements discussed, but rather a reminder that this show is indeed about the closeness of its main heroines before it’s about giant robots.

I know it sounds a little strange to be saying this about an anime that came out just last year, but Rinne no Lagrange really feels like a product of its time. The way it de-emphasizes some of the more traditional elements of a giant robot anime of favor of “possibly yuri friendship adventure” is also suggestive of the heavy character-as-icon and moe styles of anime that have been a big trend for the last ten years or so. However, while its female characters cater to the viewers a good deal, the three heroines also establish themselves strongly, with Madoka herself and her boundless attitude creating the strongest impression.

(Last note: the show has a fantastically addictive opening .)

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Gattai Girls 2: Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo Z-Mind and Ayame

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.

When you look at the full title of the 1990s OVA Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo Z-Mind: The Battling Days of the “Shitamachi” Virgins, which is a mouthful to say the least, you get a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the 6-episode OVA. Shishunki Bishoujo Gattai Robo” literally means “Beautiful Girls in Puberty Combining Robot,” so in other words, expect pretty teenage girls piloting a big beefy robot, that peanut butter-and-chocolate combination which is at this point something of a staple in anime. And if it isn’t clear that this OVA is targeting robot fans, then note that 1) the vast majority of the robot attacks reference other anime (“Z-Boomerang” and “Z-Tomahawk” for instance), and 2) they even managed to insert a small Reideen cameo of sorts, as shown below.

Z-Mind centers around three Japanese sisters, Ayame, Renge, and Sumire, who pilot a giant robot named Z-Mind created through collaboration between the Japanese and American militaries. Together, they fight the Orgapiens, aliens with advanced technology who all look like creepy oversized babies. As the main heroine and leader, Ayame differentiates herself from her younger sisters by having a yamato nadeshiko-esque quality to her in contrast to her sisters’ more Western looks and fashion sense, making Ayame a character somewhere in the vein of Shinguuji Sakura from Sakura Wars.

The girls all exhibit strength and courage, and are also responsible for beating back the monsters at the end of the day, but the overall flat characterization in the series means that there isn’t much to discuss about them, other than that the desire to make Ayame more of a traditional beauty than her feistier sisters may say something about the kind of face the series wanted. Ayame is pretty inoffensive in any direction, but she suffers from the same lack of depth as the anime she’s in. Even Ayame’s love interest, a mysterious man from the future in a stylish red jacket named Kouji, is just kind of there until their relationship decides to grow abruptly, so it’s hard to say how much it affects her character.

When I finished each episode of Z-Mind, I would find myself regarding it as decent, but when I asked myself if I wanted to keep watching immediately after, the answer was definitely “no.” While this may have something to do with the fact that each episode exists somewhat independent of the others, in the end there was nothing so thrilling or compelling that I had to see the girls of Z-Mind again as soon as possible.

If I were being a little harsher, I would call the series mediocre, and if I were being a little kinder, I would say that it had potential, but I think the best way to describe Z-Mind is that if it had been properly released back in the 1990s in the US, I think it would have been a big hit. It’s short, it’s pretty, and while it’s sparse on characterization and development, it has enough in those categories to spark the imaginations of fans hungry to explore a fantastic world, one which sparks their imaginations and makes them thirsty for possible areas to elaborate. In this sense, I feel it would have garnered a reputation similar to Bubblegum Crisis, though one advantage it has over Bubblegum Crisis is that it actually has a conclusion instead of ending abruptly on a self-contained episode.

For Z-Mind, the character types, art style, and and overall feel of the series all come across as very much a product of their time, and Ayame too is a naturally both a part and a result of that combination. As such, Ayame winds up being a girl full of admirable qualities, but hard to categorize as anything more than a basic outline of a strong, ideal girl. Her character, and her anime, exist as one stop along the path of female heroines in robot shows.

Gattai Girls 1: Gowapper 5 Godam and Misaki Youko

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.

Between its generic Monster of the Week stories, basic “defend the world from evil” plot, and its overtly toy-oriented design, the 1976 anime Gowapper 5 Godam by Tatsunoko Pro is a largely bland and mediocre giant robot series. Following the “Gowapper 5,” a team of five kids whose purpose is to “go on adventures” (really) and who discover a giant robot, even the normal saving grace of such a show, the giant robot itself, is lacking.

Though one can ignore the Rudolph nose, the titular robot is so blocky and aesthetically awkward that even the animators for the show who are otherwise skilled at producing action scenes cannot make Godam look impressive. Despite a handful of fairly impressive episodes which manage some good bits of characterization or interesting moral dilemmas, overall Gowapper 5 Godam would be even more forgotten than it already is if not for two reasons.

First, the character designs were by Amano Yoshitaka of Final Fantasy fame, who worked on many other Tatsunoko anime as well.

Second, it is the first ever giant robot anime to feature a prominent female character in a leadership position.

Misaki Youko transcends the “token female character” position in a number of ways. In addition to being the unmistakable leader of the Gowapper 5 (she wears the red uniform and her teammates consistently refer to her as such), she is clever, courageous, cool under pressure, a highly-skilled fighter (possibly the most skilled of the five), always dresses sensibly, and, perhaps most amazingly of all, never actually gets kidnapped or put in damsel-in-distress situations. She shows strong leadership even in moments of weakness, at one point willing to relinquish her position for what she feels is her own error in judgment, and is able to pilot Godam effectively and deal the finishing blow on multiple occasions to the enemy. Even today, such a character is a rare exception in the mecha genre (especially when you exclude those shows where all of the pilots are female), let alone in 1976.

However, while Youko as a character remains extremely capable, she is hurt by the fact that the show itself can never actually decide if Youko is its main character or not. Even the opening flip flops between emphasizing her as the most important character and focusing on the blue second-in-command, Gou.

Looking at who is most prominent when piloting Godam itself, a method which would work with just about any other giant robot show, doesn’t really apply here. While Godam is the centerpiece of the series, usually the Gowapper 5 go out and fight hand to hand or in their personal vehicles, leaving whoever is left behind to pilot the robot, whether that’s Youko or Gou or one of their three comically misshapen teammates. Much later in the series when they start to regularly pilot it all at once, Gou sits in the center chair, but then other times Youko acts like the main character, even being the one to directly defeat a major villain.

Because of the way that Youko receives fewer and fewer episodes devoted to her as the show goes on, I get the feeling that the makers of Gowapper 5 Godam originally wanted her to be the undisputed protagonist (with Gou as deuteragonist), but something had to make them backpedal, possibly as early as when they were making the opening. The fact that Gou, the character who has more of the look you’d expect from a giant robot hero, overall gets the most episodes dedicated to him (followed by the youngest character, Norisuke) makes me think that they determined that a female as the central character of the show was hurting their sales and that they had to do something about it. Moreover, the odd 36-episode length of Gowapper 5 Godam and the number of sudden introductions of new merchandise into the series in the last 1/3 of the show hints at a possibly troubled production or low toy sales which they would have to try and overturn. At the same time, the fact that Youko continues to be prominent even at the very end might imply that this was an on-going conflict throughout the show’s production.

As the first true female leader in a giant robot anime, Misaki Youko is in many ways a pioneering character. She is well ahead of her time to the extent that she may have been too much for the very anime she comes from. In that respect, she perhaps not only the patron saint of female protagonists in mecha, but also the patron saint of characters who transcend the quality of their own anime.