The Mathematics of Anime

Wildarmsheero recently linked me to an old interview with Sadamoto Yoshiyuki, character designer of Evangelion, where he describes Eva as being what would happen “if you add “Ideon” and “Devilman” together and divide by two.” A surprisingly accurate description when I actually think about that.

That brought my attention to a Post-Eva mecha show, RahXephon, which can in a similar fashion be described as the average of Evangelion and the old 70s Sunrise anime Reideen (not to be confused with the 2007 version or Chouja Reideen from the 90s).

Going by those statements, we come to the following conclusion:

RahXephon = (Ideon + Devilman + 2Reideen)/4

Anime, ladies and gentlemen.

Four Kings Meet in a Room to Discuss the Meaning of a Punch Made out of Rocket

If you were to ask someone informed what the most influential giant robot series of all time were, they’d probably give the following answer: Mazinger Z, Mobile Suit Gundam, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Isn’t it amazing then, when you realize that all four of these series have had recent revivals, as if the Forces of Anime have deemed this period of time to be the celebration of all things humanoid and mechanical?

Mazinger Z has the new Imagawa-directed Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-Hen, which takes elements of the entirety of Mazinger lore and its remakes (as well as much of Nagai’s works) and incorporates them into a single cohesive story that explores and brings to light the thematic elements which make Mazinger Z itself such a prominent part of anime’s history. As the first Super Robot to be piloted from within, and the first to declare its attacks with passionate yells, and then in 2009 to make such a show feel fresh and original, I think we’re all the better for knowing it exists.

Gundam received a new series set in our timeline (AD) in the form of Gundam 00, as well as a return to the Universal Century timeline that few expected after all these years in the form of Gundam Unicorn and Ring of Gundam. There’s also the massive celebration of its 30th anniversary in real life, which includes life-size Gundams, weddings on life-size Gundams, and musical concerts. Whichevery way you prefer your Gundam, whether you’re an old-school curmudgeon or someone who came in from Wing or SEED, there’s a message for you, and that message is “Gundam is Amazing!”

Macross Frontier meanwhile celebrated the franchise’s 25th anniversary. Unlike Gundam, Macross doesn’t just get animated series updates every year, so to have a full series emerge and capture much of the energy of the original Macross while still being true to its current era of anime made Frontier a joy to follow. The most interesting departures, so to speak, were the extremely current-era character designs (in contrast with the classic 80’s Mikimoto ones), and the ways in which the concept of  the “pop idol” has morphed over the course of two or three decades.

Evangelion is in the process of having its story entirely re-animated and retold in a series of movies which seek to do more than just cash in on an already perpetually marketable franchise, though that’s not to say that they don’t do so at all, and instead also transform the story in dramatic ways, from adding entirely new characters to subtle changes in the characters’ personalities and actions, everything is moving towards the idea that things will Not Be the Same. It’s also the newest series of the bunch, and thus the “freshest” in the public consciousness.

What’s also interesting about this is that when you step back and look, you’ll see that each of these series has influenced the one after it in very powerful ways, whether indirectly or otherwise. Mazinger Z set the stage for the super robot formula, which led to a young Tomino Yoshiyuki working on super robot series, then getting tired of them, eventually leading to Gundam, the first series to really push the idea of giant robots as tools, and to advance the concept of a war with no real winners that existed in series such as Daimos and Zambot 3. Macross is an evolution of this “real robot” concept thanks to a staff that fell in love with Gundam years ago, and now includes real-world vehicles transforming directly into robots, a much greater emphasis on character relationships, and an optimistic spin with the idea that the power of songs can influence two warring cultures and bring them closer to one another. Evangelion’s director Anno Hideaki worked on Macross, and the influence of both it and Gundam and even Mazinger Z permeate throughout its episodes and general design. The “Monster of the Week” formula made popular by Mazinger Z finds its revival in the form of the mysterious “Angels” in Evangelion, but the story and the monsters are merely part of a philosophical backdrop. Characters are entirely the focus of the series, and these children are so intrinsically flawed that some do not enjoy them as characters.

And now it’s like all of these series are sitting in the same room, feeling the weight of their years of fame, and standing shoulder to shoulder, eager to see what happens next in the world of giant robot anime. And then sitting in the same room is Tetsujin 28, which nods its head in approval.

Are giant robots still capable of capturing imagination and transforming world-views after all this time? I think so, and I think it’s happening as you read this.

What if Bokurano were in SRW?

Bokurano is a manga by Kitoh Mohiro, creator of Shadow Star: Narutaru. The centerpiece of Bokurano is a large robot called Zearth, and so one technically is able to call it a giant robot manga, though as you might expect from the man who created Narutaru there are some serious twists. When it was adapted into an anime by GONZO these twists were less severe, but still most of them were present.

As with any giant robot series though, there’s always the potential to have it included in the Super Robot Wars series of crossover video games. Only thing is that Bokurano’s plot makes it an EXTREMELY difficult series to fit into the general framework of SRW games, particularly because SRW games tend to have an overall uplifting message, which Bokurano only arguably does half the time.

But that’s where the following challenge lies: How do you fit Bokurano into SRW without detracting too much from either?

I think it should be obvious, but I’m going to warn you here and now that everything below this line is going to be MAJOR spoilers for MULTIPLE series. You have been warned. Check the tags to see if there’s a show you don’t want ruined for you.

There are two main issues to deal with in regards to Bokurano. First, is that the idea of one pilot dying per battle until all of them are gone. Second, is the fact that when the Zearth wins, another Earth in another dimension gets destroyed. I think you might already be able to see how this clashes with some of the themes common to SRW.

Let’s address the one-pilot-per-battle thing first. One possibility is that the Zearth will not be deployable against anything but Bokurano enemies, and that every time you use it the pilot changes (and the spell list and stats of the pilot accordingly) until you reach the last pilot. Another possibility is to have the Zearth ALWAYS deployable except whenever you reach a stage that’s Bokurano plot-based you lose the current pilot.

Of course, you don’t want to just lose all the pilots and then have the Zearth unusable, so there has to be a way to revive the pilots and in a way where they never die again and then you can use all of them. A few possibilities spring to mind.

There’s Steel Jeeg, which stars the IMMORTAL Cyborg, Shiba Hiroshi. Somehow getting the Bokurano kids to make their bodies not entirely natural may be a way of circumventing it.

Another possibility is having Shinji from Evangelion somehow find the lost souls of the Bokurano pilots and return them to their bodies and then maybe do some magic with AT Fields.

There’s also Murasame Kenji from the Giant Robo OVA who is revived whenever he dies. Granted Giant Robo is off-limits due to the death of Yokoyama and the subsequent licensing cost hike, but let’s ignore that.

The ending of Ideon meanwhile involves civilizations dying and the humans and Buff clan members having their souls “reborn.” If this could be localized into the Zearth then that’s also a potential revival method. Also keep in mind the parallels between Ideon and Zearth, in that both are extremely powerful robots that have destroyed entire planets,  are absolutely frightening monsters when you realize their true identities, and wipe out all life if either of them lose.

Now what about the whole killing billions of innocent lives per battle? How can this cycle end once and for all? In this regard, we need to deal with series that address the concept of alternate and parallel universes.

The main one I can think of is Change! Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. In a scene from this OVA, Shin Getter Robo and Shin Dragon perform a Shine Spark, during which they discover that there are alternate Getter Robos in alternate dimensions all fighting the good fight. Well what if all of the Getters work together to simultaneously stop the horrible contest of Bokurano?

Those are more or less the more well-thought-out possibilities I’ve considered. Of course, there’s lots of potential for other crossover plot points. Here’s a couple.

The act of destroying the cockpit of an enemy robot in Bokurano bears some resemblance to when Gaogaigar was about to crush the Zonder core until Mamoru stops it and shows that it’s actually a transformed human being. Perhaps the healing power of Mamoru could do something about the other cockpits.

God Mars
In God Mars, the main character Takeru’s robot Gaia has a bomb inside of it where if the main character dies the bomb is detonated and the Earth is destroyed. So with this, even though you don’t have a sure solution on how to keep the Earth from disappearing in the even that Zearth loses, it will at least allow the Bokurano kids to have someone older to relate to. Also, a robot named GAIA and a robot named ZEARTH? Eh? Eh?

So what can you think of? Let me know!

Living Light 2.0: The Angels of Rebuild of Evangelion

I have always considered the Angels of Evangelion to be at the pinnacle of monster design in anime and the giant robot genre. More than the Mecha Beasts of Dr. Hell, the Mechasauruses of Emperor Gore, the Dolems of Mu and so many others, the Angels inspire fear and discontent with their unorthodox, downright eerie designs that make you question the facts of their existence. With the Rebuild of Evangelion, it turns out that the Intelligent Designer decided to get another PhD, as we are now treated to highly improved revisions of the Angels we know and love.

Whereas the Angel’s core in the TV Series was akin to a glimmering gem, this vital organ has been re-imagined as a fleshy, amorphous, organic substance that has been tempered and forged into an object that resembles solidified blood. The bodies of the Angels themselves have been given similar treatment. When alive, they resemble sculptures molded by a divine hand, but upon death their natures as living beings are revealed as they collapse into a pile of undefinable viscera.

The relatively static Shamshel, the second Angel that Shinji must face and the namesake of my online alias, is given new life. Shamshel’s relative immobility is contrasted by the undulation of its many ribs, evidence of a Perfect Design where the living and un-living blend together. Its partially translucent torso also reveals an unknown liquid bubbling inside, giving further evidence of it being alive.

The most drastic change comes from Ramiel. I was a fan of the simple diamond design of its TV incarnation, but Ramiel has been re-imagined into a being who also toes the line between the organic and the artificial but in an entirely different way. Ramiel is not limited by how we perceive space, and as it transforms into various geometric structures it does so with a surprising amount of life and personality.

One unusual thing about the Angels in Rebuild of Evangelion is that their numbering system has been bumped up by one. Whereas Sachiel was once the 3rd Angel, it is now the 4th and so on. The movie also hints at the fact that there will be fewer Angels than in the TV series, so we’ll be seeing a few of the lesser ones getting the cut.

Zeruel and Bardiel are shoe-ins, but sorry Matarael, no one likes you.

You’ve won this round, Kanokon

It’s the kind of show which won’t last long in the memories of anime viewers, the kind of show that will have come and gone. Certainly not the kind of show that would result in a long post from me explaining how it relates to other anime.

And yet, Nozomu’s little stunt, where she consciously tries to achieve the “toast-in-mouth-late-for-school” look is endearing. The last time I saw such conscious pandering with this very specific method was episode 26 of a certain show.

I don’t think it’s at all a mistake that this girl with the seemingly emotionless voice would be trying to imitate the most famous emotionless girl of all.

Nanoha Cannot Be the Best Magical Girl Anime

I take issue with people who declare Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha (or one of its sequels) to be the best Magical Girl series ever. The magical girl genre is understandably focused primarily on relationships, the pursuit of love, and other similar themes. Nanoha, meanwhile, is noted for its magical girls engaging in earth-shattering battles with devastating laser barrages and bone-shattering impacts. The general impression I get from people who make the claim is that Nanoha is great because it’s a magical girl show without all the fluff and romance.

In other words, it’s the best magical girl show for being nothing like a magical girl show.

I don’t think this is a case of breaking genre conventions, though the thought occurred to me. It’s different from a show like Evangelion which turned the mecha genre on its ear because Evangelion did not go against what defines the mecha genre in the first place. The characters may have been emotional wrecks, but the common theme of humanity and its relationship with war and suffering is a long-running concept since even before First Gundam, and it’s present in Evangelion with a twist. Princess Tutu, as an example closer to the topic of Nanoha at hand, approaches the issue of meta-stories and the very nature of “story” itself, but it maintains itself as a magical girl series with, again, its emphasis on relationships.

I like the Nanoha series, but the appeal of it is more like a Sunrise mecha show than it is a magical girl series, and I think to judge it from that perspective is a little unusual. It would be like saying that a plate of spaghetti you just ate is the best yakisoba ever, despite tasting nothing like how a yakisoba should. The key word in mahou shoujo is shoujo, and personally I think the fact that Nanoha is basically only a magical girl show on the surface automatically disqualifies it.

PS: If you’re wondering what I consider to be the best magical girl series, Cardcaptor Sakura, of course.

Why hasn’t there been another Evangelion?

Evangelion is an anime which resonated with the Japanese population because it accurately captured what they were feeling at the time of its broadcast. Probably for similar reasons, this is also why it resonated with fans around the world. It materialized feelings.

Now, I think the reasons why there has not been another Evangelion, in the sense of a title which transcends the normal/otaku divide and causes a lasting emotional influence on the public at large are many. I feel that the otaku community may have gotten more insular. I feel that the animators respond to this by trying to cash in easily on things like moe. When the shows DO try to resonate with their audience, there is resistance and backlash. Perhaps a show has the power to reach fans far and wide and affirm their feelings has been shown, but it was put in a bad time slot. I do not fault anyone for doing any of these things, and it may be a sign that there is simply too big a diversity of opinion among people now for a show to hit on the level Evangelion did. Blame everyone and blame no one.

So what’s the answer to my question? Perhaps that for an anime to affect people on such a large scale again, there has to be large scale events affecting Japan in the real world that the normal person and the reclusive otaku can feel in their daily lives.