Kotobukiya Wants to Know Your Favorite Yuusha/Brave Robots

Good news for fans of 1990s giant robot fans: plastic model and figure maker Kotobukiya is looking into making plastic models from the Yuusha/Brave series, and they’re holding a survey to get customers’ opinions.

The survey is in Japanese, but for those who can’t read the language but still want to participate, I’ve translated the prompts, which you can see below.

  1. Please select your gender. (Choices are male, female, and no answer)
  2. Please select your year of birth.
  3. Among the options below, please select your favorite work in the Brave series. (Options are in order of release date)
  4. Please select the Brave series products you hope to see. (Pick 3)
  5. Please write any opinions you have pertaining to Brave series plastic model kits
  6. Please tell us your favorite plastic model purchase from the last six months.
  7. Please tell us why the answer in #6 is your favorite.
  8. Please choose any of your favorite plastic model lines from Kotobukiya. (Frame Arms series, Frame Arms Girls series, Hexa Gear series, M.S.G. Weapon Unit series, M.S.G. Heavy Weapon Unit series, M.S.G. Gigantic Arms series, M.S.G. Mecha Supply series, M.S.G. miscellaneous, Other)

So happy survey-filling-out (?)! I for one will be voting for Shadowmaru (J-Decker), King J-Der (Gaogaigar), and Gaogaigo (Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novels). Survey ends May 31.

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The Real Captain Planet: Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn

The 1990s Brave franchise—most famously known for its swan song, King of Braves Gaogaigar—is a series of children’s anime centered on boy heroes and their heavily merchandisable giant robots. While the overall quality varies, each show indicates a push and pull between being half-hour toy commercials, displaying impressive mecha animation, telling stories that kids enjoy, and imparting important lessons for young viewers. Over the years, I’ve been told multiple times that one of the turning points is 1992’s Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn: the third entry and first to attempt a more mature and long-form story. Having finally watched it, I can see a more serious yet also a scattershot approach that belies the competing forces dictating the direction of Da Garn.

Takashiro Seiji is a normal ten year old boy whose mother is a news anchor and whose father is a member of Earth’s Global Defense Force. When a mysterious robot attacks the city, he comes across a power lying within the Earth itself that manifests itself as a giant robot guardian known as Da Garn. As the masked commander, Seiji leads Da Garn, and eventually other robot allies who emerge, against ever greater threats—especially the enemy’s ongoing attempt to rob the Earth of its “planet energy.” There’s an ongoing environmentalism and world peace theme underlying everything, exemplified by a line from the opening theme: “This planet is our cherished ship.”

Due to this show’s opening, I once had a very mistaken impression of Seiji. The way he’s drawn and animated in it, there are times when he looks like an adult. It’s almost as if they either hadn’t decided his age, or figured that making him look 6 feet tall and muscular would make for a more exciting intro regardless of how odd it looks. Whatever the case, my expectations had to be modified, though Seiji’s quality voice acting from Matsumoto Rica (best known as Satoshi from Pokemon) helps keep him an endearing if somewhat typical protagonist.

The robots, in typical Brave fashion, are all about combining. Da Garn combines with a plane and a train to become Da Garn X. Later robots combine together and then get additional partners to combine together. However, they’re also kind of a thematic hodgepodge. Da Garn himself is a police car. He gets plane allies and motor vehicle allies. Then they start introducing robots based on animals, even making it seem like one is going take over as the star of the show, as if someone said, “The surveys say kids like lions!!”

There are so many mecha, and they’re given so few opportunities to show their personalities, that only a handful ever get highlighted, leaving many to be less memorable. In contrast, it’s hard to forget any of the robots in Brave Police J-Decker or Gaogaigar. Even compared to a series like Girls und Panzer (which also groups a gigantic cast into “squads” with collective personalities), Da Garn can feel sparse in terms of characterization. The main exception to this glut is an antagonistic robot named Seven Changer, who (of course) has seven different forms, and whose cool arrogance is delivered effectively by Koyasu Takehito (Dio in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

Speaking of villains, I’m not sure if I’d call them particularly strong, but they are definitely memorable, and they’re explored in great detail. Many of their identifies are initially a mystery, and they’re woven into the simultaneous small-town/global atmosphere in interesting ways. As the series progresses, their stories are increasingly a part of the narrative, and it allows Da Garn to touch upon ideas that would make less sense with Seiji or any of his friends. In fact, I’d argue that the anime doesn’t really find its footing until it starts to do more with its villains.

Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn ends up being the kind of work that is best viewed as taking a step beyond its trappings and its immediate predecessors while still somewhat beholden to them. It’s polished in some areas like visual presentation and general momentum of its narrative, but it sometimes succumbs to the weight of all the different expectations placed upon it. But while it may be outdone by later Brave series, it’s still a joy to experience, quirks and all.

Otakon 2015 Interview: Takamatsu Shinji

This is an interview with director Takamatsu Shinji from Otakon 2015. Takamatsu as worked on many anime including Gundam X, the Brave (Yuusha) series

First question. Most Gundam series had romance but didn’t have it as a strong focus. Gundam X is a series that put the romance at the very forefront, and it was in some ways the main focus. Why was this decision made for this series?

It’ll be a long story!

I wanted to make something that was Gundam but not Gundam. One rule of Gundam X was to get out of Gundam and to be meta about Gundam, to do things that were not like “Gundam.

Before that, about a decade prior, you worked on Z Gundam and Gundam ZZ. What was your director Tomino Yoshiyuki, and how would compare his style to yours?

Well, I did grow up watching Gundam myself, and by the time I started to work at Sunrise Mr. Tomino was in the position of being a great director, so it was a scary prospect working with Tomino.

During Z Gundam I was production management, so I reported directly to him, and I was scolded by him every single day. There were days when I was scared about everything.

Romi Park is also at this event, and she gave a similar description of Tomino that is not inaccurate compared to yours.

However, Ms. Park worked with Mr. Tomino much later than I did, and if you look at Mr. Tomino at the time of Z Gundam, he really was off the wall.

You’re also very well known for your work on the Brave series, and you worked on many of them. What was the main reason you returned to the Brave series for so many years?

The first director of the Brave series, Yatabe [Katsuyoshi], brought me onto production for the show, and I worked on a little bit of Gundam in between. So, there was a hiatus for me, but otherwise I started from beginning to end for the entire series. And I got my debut as a director from the Brave series, so I am very much fond of the Brave series.

Might Gaine was my debut as a director, so I am particularly fond of it.

In that case, I have an interesting question to follow up with.

The Brave series is known for being very toy and merchandise-heavy but also having good storytelling, as well as in some cases the staff resisting the merchandising aspects of the Brave series. Two famous examples I know are a hidden cel in Goldran which sarcastically talks about it’s supposed to be a robot that’s easy to make into toys, and how Might Gaine’s ending is a criticism of the toy industry.

What were your and the staff’s feelings at the time, and how did the toy companies such as Takara react?

That’s a very deep and vexing question!

So when I was getting started with Might Gaine, I was told that there’s just supposed to be good and bad, and all I had to do was to have toys that featured good guys and bad guys who would just battle. The staff really felt we need to show some kind of resistance, and that that wouldn’t just be the end of the show. And by staff, I mean myself.

You did not work extensively on Gaogaigar, but I have to ask this question. Do you have any details you can share as to why Project Z never got off the ground?

That I don’t know about!

That’s okay! Moving on, another similar series you worked on was Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, which was based on an arcade game. How would you compare working on Gyrozetter vs. working on the Brave series?

Gyrozetter was based on a video game, so while the look and feel of the show may be similar to a giant robot show, production of the show was otherwise completely different.

Unlike previous shows, the robots came from video games, so it wasn’t really needed as a tangible object, and I thought we could have done more with that.

I did grow up watching toy merchandise-based shows and I did think about what if the robot were a toy, but that wasn’t reflected in the show. That would be my regret. I talked about the resistance to merchandising intent of the toy companies for your earlier question but I actually love toys.

Last question. In regards to Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, people have talked a lot over the years about the idea of a magical boy series. Whenever anyone brings up magical girls, someone asks, what about magical girls? What was the motivation behind finally putting that into reality?

The producer pitched it to me, and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to work on something no one’s ever done before? And it turned out to be fun. (laughs)

Thank you!

Thank you.

Taking Small Steps and Huddling Over Scraps

When I originally wrote about Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, a video series which plans to explore the treatment of women in the medium, I expressed my concern that the creator Anita Sarkeesian might potentially cast aside more subtly positive portrayals of women in video games because they might still be significantly flawed. “If a medium is sexist in certain ways,” I thought, “then progress has to come in not only big steps but also small ones.” However, after reading this article about the Pixar movie Brave (warning: spoilers, though I do recommend reading it) in which the author Lili Loufbourow describes growing up with film and essentially forcing herself to deeply cherish even the most remotely positive portrayals of women in a medium which often forces them into a very limited number of character types, I find myself somewhat re-evaluating my thoughts on these matters.

Critical theorist Theodor Adorno writes about how mass culture, that is to say popular culture created by modern industry and capitalism, has a tendency to take any sort of radical idea or value and simply transform it into something palatable for the masses until its progressive value is swallowed up. I deeply disagree with Adorno in this regard for a number of reasons, namely his disregard for small steps within the area of mass culture. I still believe that it is important to look at examples of mixed results, cases where movement forward might come with a couple of steps back, and to just pay attention to places where progress is not measured solely by overall success. This is the reason why, when I write about the portrayal of women in anime and manga, I think it’s important to not just label things as “sexist” and call it a day.

His view brings some important questions to mind, however. Enlarging the sphere of discussion from sexism/feminism to the greater topic of progress itself, I have to ask myself, what is the difference between “taking a small step forward”and “huddling over scraps?” Is there a difference? Does one turn into the other when filtered through the lens of personal imagination and the changing values of a society?

My immediate feeling is that there must be a difference between taking a small step and huddling over scraps, and that the boundaries between the two are not so rigidly defined given history and context, but just the idea that the two can be conflated makes it somewhat dangerous. For that reason I now recognize that Sarkeesian and Loufbourow are essentially fighting against the same opponent, the “good enoughs” of female portrayal that pay only lipservice at best and are actually subtly regressive at worst, and that for Sarkeesian this dictates her tendency towards hard, powerful language in her videos. When subtlety is utilized, there is always the risk that it will be overlooked to such an extent that any messages given will be overwhelmed by the greater whole, or at least be perceived as such. While I prefer to try and work with the nuances myself, I have to recognize the potential pitfalls of that approach as well.

Sometimes It’s Translated as “Hero” Too

As I mentioned previously, Heroman seems to take a lot from Tetsujin 28, particularly with the idea of a kid remote-controlling a robot and using it to fight evil. However, I think there’s another series which draws a number of parallels to Stan Lee and Bones’ collaboration.

The series, or rather franchise I’m talking about is the “Yuusha” or “Brave” series. In  the 1990s, Sunrise and toy company Takara created a series of super robot cartoons emphasizing the combining robot (and in turn, sales of toys based on combining robots). There was a new show every year from 1990-1997, with The King of Braves Gaogaigar being the biggest name. The two I want to concentrate on in particular are the first two, Brave Exkaiser and, particularly, The Brave Fighter of the Sun Fighbird.

In both shows, alien space police possess Earth vehicles in order to fend off evil menaces, which is at this point the most likely origin for Heroman in my opinion, particularly with the way the scientist in the first episode of  Heroman sends his signal out to find extraterrestrial life. Similarly, in Fighbird a kooky scientist makes contact with alien life forms, including the aforementioned ghost alien cops, but also space criminals who escaped from a space prison (in space).

I know the similarities are pretty shallow, especially because Heroman is barely out at this point and hasn’t even established that much of its own story, but it really reminded me of those early Brave shows.