Super Robot Wars UX is Full of Whippersnappers

A new Super Robot Wars game was announced yesterday, Super Robot Wars UX for the Nintendo 3DS, and the amount of new and unexpected entries makes me want to talk about it, as well as some other SRW-related thoughts.

I think you can roughly categorize Super Robot Wars into two types of games: the flagship titles, and the experimental ones. The former consists of the titles with the best animation and the most-anticipated anime entries into the franchise. The latter can go in a number of directions, from aesthetics (3D models instead of 2D sprites in Super Robot Wars GC) to gameplay (a switch from turn-based to real-time strategy as with Super Robot Wars Scramble Commander), but often times “experimental” simply ends up referring to the titles chosen for that game.

That’s pretty much where UX is. Just look at the debut works for this version.

  • Kishin Houkou Demonbane
  • Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth
  • Wings of Rean
  • Cyber Troopers Virtual On’s Fei-Yen HD
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A wakening of the Trailblazer
  • SD Gundam Three Kingdoms Legend: Brave Battle Warriors
  • Mazinkaiser SKL
  • Heroman

When you include the other titles that are in this game, the first thing that jumps out is just how new most of the anime are. Not only is the Mazinger franchise represented by its latest one-off OVA series, but the actual oldest anime in the entire game (and the only two from the 1980s) are Aura Battler Dunbine, and then Ninja Senshi Tobikage of all things. If it were a flagship title, there would have to be certain staples, but with a “lesser” SRW like this, it’s possible to inject a ton of new blood into it and not offend anyone.

Not only that, but when you look at some of the recent titles chosen for UX, they seem to be among the least likely candidates even among non-flagship SRW games. Brave Battle Warriors is actually an already-super deformed Gundam anime done entirely in 3DCG and based on classical chinese literature, the sort of title one would least expect to represent Gundam even with the fact that SEED Destiny and 00 are there. Though I’m sure it’s based on the anime version, Demonbane‘s inclusion may be the first instance (and correct me if I’m wrong) of a visual novel appearing in SRW, which opens the gate for things like Muvluv Alternative.

Heroman I wasn’t even sure counted as a giant robot anime, though I guess if you think about it, it’s basically a combination of Tetsujin 28/Giant Robo with Gold Lightan (though Gold Lightan has yet to make its debut). Possibly craziest of all is the inclusion of Virtual On in the form of a Fei-Yen dressed like Hatsune Miku. Virtual On in SRW Alpha 3 paved the way for non-anime/manga to appear in Super Robot Wars games, and this takes it to another level, as I’m pretty sure Miku Fei-Yen is nothing more than a model kit!

It might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I actually love it when SRW games go a little wild like this, though one complaint I do have is that the DS SRW games have never been the most impressive when it comes to animation. My issue isn’t even with the quality of the sprites or an unfair comparison to the exquisitely animated Z series of SRW, but that a lot of the shortcuts taken to try to make the games look better actually end up making them look worse. In particular, I’m referring to the way the DS games including UX incorporate cut-ins, and detail shots. Instead of creating the images to better match the sprites and the visuals of the rest of the game, the DS SRWs basically take screenshots directly from the original anime, and while this means things look accurate, it also sticks out in an odd way and messes with the way the attack animations end up looking in a manner which didn’t quite affect previous games with worse sprite animation.

But it might just be that with a game with this daring of a series list, some things have to give. In that case, I’ll take it, but will still hope for better the next time around.

We Still Fight

Mazinkaiser SKL and Madoka Magica embody the spirit of 1990s anime and anime fandom.

That I included Mazinkaiser SKL in that statement is not much of a surprise, I imagine. It’s the robot whose name stands for “Skull” because it’s covered in skulls, and its plot, characters, and levels of ultra-violence are taken straight of the worst best OVAs of the era. Mazinkaiser SKL has what thrilled anime fans of the 90s, and it would not have looked out of place next to the likes of MD Geist and Bubblegum Crisis.

My choice of Madoka Magica might be more puzzling, but I insist that in some ways it houses the 90s anime (and anime fan) spirit even more than Mazinkaiser SKL. When you look at how the series has been captivating fans, you see recurring comments in regards to how dark it is, or how it subverts the genre. Even if people don’t necessarily have a good understanding of the original genre being addressed, when it comes down to it Madoka Magica is attracting fans because it feels “different” and worth discussing and thinking about at length. The way people talk about it reminds more of the way people discuss Akira, Ghost in the Shell, or Evangelion than the way conversations about Suzumiya Haruhi or Code Geass go. Madoka Magica has that certain something that thrills people into dividing anime into Madoka Magica and everything else. While the difference is that Akira drew in non-fans and Madoka Magica isn’t really going beyond the existing fandom, it seems to be hitting fans with the same shock that Goku’s death gave to me as I realized cartoon character’s could die after all.

So while Mazinkaiser SKL is aesthetically an anime ripped straight out of the 90s, a time traveler from a different era whose ways may seem at odds with the current day, Madoka Magica takes the effect anime had on anime fans in the 90s and translates that emotional impact across time onto the current fandom. Whether or not these shows will be remembered in another ten years is unknown, but at the very least in the here and now they connect the decades together.