Weak Mecha

While at this point we have an understanding of the concept of a “weak” protagonists in giant robot anime thanks to characters like Ikari Shinji from Evangelion, rarely are main robots allowed to exude an image of weakness and vulnerability as well. If we even look at Shinji himself, while he’s known for being passive and lacking in will, the actual EVA-01 looks monstrous and acts even more terrifyingly.

In most cases when there is a “weak mecha,” it ends up being a joke character’s ride, whether that’s Boss Borot from Mazinger Z or Kerot from Combattler V. In terms of actual main-focus giant robots, the closest this concept gets its maybe Dai-Guard the almost-literal “budget robot,” or perhaps the perpetually incomplete Guntsuku-1 from Robotics;Notes. Maybe the Scope Dog from VOTOMS counts because it’s so disposable, but like Dai-Guard it still at least looks strong.

Of course it only makes sense that mecha tend to be on the powerful side; they’re giant mechanical humanoids after all. It’s just something I’m starting to consider a potential limitation of the genre and an interesting space to explore.

Didn’t Quite Go the Distance: Eureka Seven AO

It’s fairly common knowledge that sequels aren’t the easiest thing to successfully pull off in entertainment. Even if the sequel ends up being okay, it may not live up to its predecessor because of how iconic moments and innovations can start to become formula (having to fit “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” into every Die Hard for example), or plot points from the first in the series have to be modified in order to cater to the new version. Whenever I watch a sequel, I’m aware of how daunting this mountain can be, and try to take into account those problems even if they ultimate are my criticisms. This is the approach I took when I heard that Eureka Seven, one of my favorite anime ever, was getting a sequel, but even with an open mind I felt that Eureka Seven AO not only paled in comparison to the original but was in certain ways a regression of what Eureka Seven had done.

Eureka Seven AO is billed as a direct sequel, as opposed to an alternate universe/retelling like the movie or the manga. The story centers around a young boy named Fukai Ao, who lives in the independent nation of Okinawa, and for whom life is difficult because of the way the community tries to ostracize him. In this world, the skub (or scab however they want to spell it this time), are considered a problematic natural disaster, especially because they bring with them mysterious monsters known as “Secrets,” which Ao ends up having to fight. For anyone who’s seen the original, the fact that the world of AO consists of real-world countries and continents is meant to imply that something is very strange or different about its setting, and trying to figure out just what in the world happened becomes part of the initial intrigue of the series.

When I say “regression,” I’m not referring to retcons or weird developments in AO‘s plot which cast a different light on the original’s events, but a regression of what mecha anime is capable of. Eureka Seven took an approach which let viewers explore its world through a cast of engaging, fleshed-out characters and a central love story developed gradually over the course of many episodes, and which anchored the narrative in such a way that the emotional excitement of the series builds up continuously throughout. It’s not altogether unique to Eureka Seven, and you can probably trace this style of show all the way back to Macross.  Eureka Seven AO, on the other hand, feels more like a mediocre 80s mecha anime, more keen to develop its story as a set of vague mysteries and tensions but never entirely delivering on any of them. It’s not just that the plot is worse, but that it ends up resembling the way a staunch non-fan might look at and describe their idea of a Gundam anime.

What Eureka Seven AO does have, at least initially, is a strong cast of characters with plenty of potential as to how they’ll develop, but much of it never comes to fruition (though the brief glimpses at Ivica’s character and past were things I enjoyed in particular), or if there is a development the lack of impact from the rest of the series lessens the overall effect. In particular, AO never manages to have its story properly focused by something like Eureka and Renton’s romance,  and though it didn’t have to necessarily be “another romance” (which might have well turned it into just a rehash of the original), there was nothing that could properly fill that void. It seems like the closest thing was just the mystery of what happened to Eureka and Renton, the intrigue of which the show feeds into fairly well, but the explanation we’re left with at the end is less than satisfying. And there is the potential for romance at the beginning, as the dynamic between Ao and his friend Haru is cute and gives a good sense of their relationship, but it ends up getting pushed aside. In the end, probably the most interesting point brought up in the show has to do with how the Secrets are treated by humanity, and how it reflects in some ways the way the Skub were regarded in the original Eureka Seven.

If the movie Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers suffered from having a weak and confusing beginning but then a fairly strong finish as all of its disparate ideas came together, then Eureka Seven AO is the opposite: It starts off strong and with many of the pieces in place to tell something both grand and personal, but its plot and character development are so discombobulated that when the ending finally comes it hits like a drizzle instead of the torrent of emotions that the original provided.

Robotech Pens, Steaks, Etc.

What do you know, just as I think it’s over I have another anime-related dream. For now this is the last one, but who knows how the subconscious works?

So I’m standing there in some kind of nerd hobby store where the most prominent display is a giant banner welcoming fans of Robotech. And there the Robotechfans stood, gathered in the same area, talking about Mospeada or possibly Southern Cross, I don’t remember exactly, and which arc it correlates to.

A nice, roughly middle-aged lady asks if I speak Japanese and I respond in Japanese and we have a good laugh. I look for something to purchase, and I spot some Robotech-themed pens. I don’t know, apparently I really wanted to buy something Robotech-related. But I don’t pick them up quite yet.

I also spot some Nintendo keychains, grabbing a Wario one, and then decide to grab seven Robotech pens, only to realize that if I’m going to the steakhouse(?!) I’d better watch my wallet and not spend so much. I try to pare it down to get a 3 for $5 deal, but then realize I got rid of 1 too many and only have two pens left. But then I remember I have the Wario keychain and it all evens out, because apparently keychains are part of the deal.

The two Robotech pens are very “nice” in two distinctly different ways. One of them features Lisa Hayes and you can hardly tell it’s a Robotech pen. Why, for all we know that could be Misa instead. The other is very clearly a Robotech product, as the character designs look nothing like the show and it’s apparently merchandise for some novel or comic spinoff. It also has some generic tie-in name you’d expect from Robotech, like “Fortress Chronicles” or something equally generic.

I make my purchase, but then for some reason am given a Giratina keychain instead of the Wario one. I ask the clerk if I can exchange it and she says okay, but I have to give the Giratina box back. I think it’s odd, but agree to do this.

Then I realize I was in the store for so long that I cannot make it to the steakhouse. Resigned in defeat, I pass by a new Pokemon movie starring Mewtwo. Actually I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a movie or if I was actually seeing real Pokemon, but the creatures were being sucked into a chamber to fight Mewtwo (though at first I assumed it was Darkrai). The movie is in Japanese. Mewtwo, actually a victim in all of this, flies around and goes to the other side. A Geodude tries to Rock Throw Mewtwo but Mewtwo reflects the rocks back at Geodude and hits two other Pokemon in the process while also saying, “Tsutometa!” In the context of the dream it’s supposed to mean something like, “I see through you,” but in actual Japanese means, “I worked.” The movie is really, really well-animated and a joy to watch. Though I don’t know how it ends because that’s when I wake up.

Giant Robots, Growth, and Evolution (or Lack Thereof)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fan of big ol’ robots (a technical term). I love the genre and nearly all that it entails. That said, I am not without criticisms towards my beloved mecha. When I look back at how giant robot designs in anime and manga have progressed since their inception, I get the feeling that robot designs have grown too much without evolving enough.

There was a time when giant robots in anime were mainly known for having cylinders for limbs and looking more like superheroes than weapons of war. As the years went by, however, the robot designs became more and more detailed, to the point that today when you think “giant robots” or “mecha,” complexity in design is something that comes to mind.

It was really an inevitability. Even as far back as the mid 70’s, we could see that Daitarn 3 looked a little more detailed and structured than Combattler V, and Combattler featured more complex design features than Mazinger Z. And it’s not a bad thing either; in many ways it shows how far along mecha design has come since Tetsujin 28. At the same time though I can’t help but lament that the giant robot fandom seems unable to reverse gears and bring itself back to those simpler times.

“But giant robot fans love Mazinger!” you might say. Yes, they might, and they might even refer to its design as “classic” or even “enormously influential,” but as the mecha fanbase has grown older and more concentrated, their heyday of being the go-to shows for marketing to kids having passed, the idea of presenting an old-fashioned robot design as a modern one is something that I think simply would not fly. All recent attempts to create super robot series, remakes aside, still do not match the level of simplicity in robot design that once existed.

So what I mean by mecha designs growing without evolving is that the giant robots of today aren’t that different from those of yesterday in basic design, and that the major developments in mecha design that have persisted over the years have mainly had to do with how to make robots look sleeker and more detailed, whether it’s with the more angular robots of the 80s or the muscle-like excess of the 90s. Compare this with character design development, which people can criticize as being worse today than it was previously, but it still feels like character design trends moved a certain direction.

I can’t entirely fault giant robots for the direction they took over time. Like I said earlier, it was practically inevitable, as one show tries to top another, which then inspires another. It’s just that I think a lot more people might get into designing robots if “robot design” wasn’t the massive undertaking it’s perceived to be because of expectation as to what a giant robot is “supposed” to be.

Check Out the Veef Show

As far as podcasts go, the relatively new “Veef Show” is one of the best I’ve found.

Formerly of Destroy All Podcasts DX, Andrew, aka VF5SS, has taken to recording his own one-man show where he lays down his thoughts on specific topics of interest to him, from the Super/Real Robot dichotomy to Star Wars Extended Universe novels. What’s most appealing about the Veef Show though is Andrew’s balanced view of anime, mecha, and other topics, that takes a broad view of the subject at hand and really gets you to understand it, all without feeling in any way elitist or that he’s more about lambasting anime than enjoying it.

I think there are a number of similarities with the way I approach writing about anime, so I think if you enjoy Ogiue Maniax and my blogging style, then I think there is a very good chance you will enjoy the Veef Show.

Hey Sunrise, You Know What Would Be an EXCELLENT Way to Celebrate 20 Years of Yuusha?


For those who aren’t aware of Project Z, it was the proposed sequel to Gaogaigar Final that was included with the DVDs of Gaogaigar Final: Grand Glorious Gathering, which was a re-editing of the OVAs to fit the time slots of a TV broadcast. What was really cool about Project Z though is that not only was it to be a direct continuation of the GGG story, but it also was to incorporate elements from Betterman, which was this weird sci-fi horror series which took place in the GGG universe but hardly included any actual crossover with the main series.

It also gave off a very different mood. If Gaogaigar is CSI: Miami, then Betterman is CSI: New York.

So when last we saw our heroes in Gaogaigar Final, well, we didn’t, and the only ones able to return were Mamoru and Ikumi, the two children of alien origin whose abilities allowed them to purify the enemy. Once the kid sidekicks of the robot-piloting ultra heroes, as of Project Z they were to be teenagers who were now themselves the heroic super robot pilots. It had the potential to be this real coming-of-age story akin to Gurren-Lagann.

An interesting aspect of the whole Project Z concept from a mecha perspective was that the main robot of Project Z was supposed to be an amalgam of the robots from Betterman with the technology of Gaogaigar into a single cohesive design. The robots in Gaogaigar are sentient beings created based on alien technology called “Super Mechanoids,” whereas the robots in Betterman are purely human creations devoid of thought called “Neuronoids.” Joined together, they would create GAOGAIGO, a “Neuromechanoid” whose co-pilots would have been Mamoru and Ikumi.

They actually got pretty far with this idea, even creating an action figure based on the design.

Cool, no? Another interesting to point out is that the Gao machines used in the transformation are the ones remaining on Earth. That’s why you have Gaofighgar’s Liner Gao II as the shoulder armor, but also Stealth Gao II from the second half of the TV series.

In addition, because the robots in Betterman were anything but super, Gaogaigo’s design ends up being a mix of real robot and super robot technology. It’d be like if you took a Scope Dog from Votoms and cross-bred it with Gurren-Lagann.

And here’s what would have been really amazing. The base robot of Gaogaigo, called “Kakuseijin Gaigo,” incorporates the Neuronoid ability to change modes and appearance depending on who is the co-pilot. So if Mamoru was in control of Gaigo when it turned into Gaogaigo, then surely when Ikumi was in control we’d get a robot based off of King J-Der. If you look at the Gaigo mode that has Ikumi in control, it even kind of looks like J-Der!

Ikumi’s Accept Mode Gaigo (top), Mamoru’s Active Mode Gaigo (bottom)

So that’s what could have been, or what perhaps could still be. I’m holding out hope that some day our heroes will return to us.

The Personal Side of Giant Robot Fighting: Shinkon Gattai Godannar

When it comes to Shinkon Gattai Godannar, everyone’s first impression is this:

Exhibit A

Followed by this:

Exhibit B

And they’re definitely right in that Godannar contains both, but unfortunately those are the only things they notice, and will often-times write the series off as trash. I’m here to tell you, however, that while those two elements featured above are ever-present, to the point that you’ll be seeing them invariably in every episode, what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. I want to try and set the record straight, even though I’m well aware that it is in many ways a futile effort and that Godannar is just about the most difficult show to convince people to watch who aren’t enticed by Exhibits A and B.

If it sounds like I’m being defensive, it’s because I am. It’s just that I know how difficult its shell can be to penetrate, and I’m tired of people writing the show off as some vapid exercise in fanservice. Don’t get me wrong, the girls in this show are hot, with character designs by Kimura Takahiro of Gaogaigar, Betterman, and Code Geass fame, but they only scratch the surface of what’s really there.

Aoi Anna is a 17 year old girl who is the target of affection of every guy at her school. She’s beautiful, buxom, has a great personality, and is a match for anyone when it comes to physical competition. But while many girls her age are dating, Anna already has a fiancee. And while many teenagers are only beginning to consider their future, Annas already has a goal: to become a giant robot pilot. Her husband meanwhile is Saruwatari Gou, a man widely respected as the greatest robot pilot ever known.

Gou, however, is not a hot-blooded, gung-ho, never-say-die teenager, but rather a 30+ battle-scarred veteran able to temper his ferocious passion in battle with experience and foresight. He once lost the love of his life, a casualty of his life’s duty as the world’s greatest pilot, and has sworn to never let it happen again. With the aid of giant robot teams from all over the world, Anna and Gou must defend humanity by piloting the mighty robot “Godannar” while also living together as a newlywed couple.

Godannar is a very atypical giant robot anime, something which becomes more and more apparent as the show goes on. For example, the enemy in Godannar is a race of grotesque creatures of unknown origins known as the “Mimetic Beasts,” and that is all you ever learn about them. They are not Dr. Hell or Zeon or the Vajra, they do not have a mysterious past to delve into or personalities to hate. Instead, the real function of the Mimetic Beasts is to act as a backdrop for the characters to develop their relationships and grow.

While the show features robots prominently, its real focus is on characters and romance and on the relationships and bonds that develop between comrades-in-arms, instead of the conflict, politics, and the character development through antagonism that you usually see in giant robot shows, real or super. It is a more personal look at the men and women who defend the planet by jumping in steel golems and punching aliens.

Yes, if you watch Godannar you’ll be getting a faceful of cameltoe on a regular basis, but if you think the show is going to be about a guy who walks into girls changing and then gets punched through the roof, then I am glad to correct your mistake. Unlike what you might expect out of a typical fanservice anime, the men and women of Godannar barely bat an eyelash at the skintight suits and giant breasts which populate every scene, as if such scenery is merely commonplace in the world of the future. Instead, the only female characters to whom the men of Godannar react to are the ones they care for the most, which only reinforces the true theme of the series: love.

And through it all, particularly with the sexual aspect of the character designs, what may be most surprising of all is how strong the female characters are in Godannar. Not only are they on equal terms with their male counterparts, being every bit as capable on the battlefield as the guys, but they are also full of confidence, intelligence, and compassion, and never are they forced into the role of the damsel. There are no Aphrodai A’s to rescue, and for that matter no Boss Borots to bumble along to reinforce the idea of how strong Mazinger Z is. Each character and each robot pulls their weight in the heat of battle, and every relationship is equal, even if they may at first appear otherwise.

Godannar can be a difficult show to approach and to get past that initial impression of boobs and metal, but if you want to see a show with very good characterization and relationship development which also plays with the common tropes of anime to create a stronger story overall, then I think you should check it out. I know that the series is not for everyone, and for those who are not as familiar with super robots the clever subversion of the genre which occurs in Godannar may be lost or a non-issue, but I think many more people would enjoy the series than are willing to give it a chance.

Conceptual Gattai: Mecha and Slice of Life

I’ve been talking a good deal about both giant robots and slice of life anime as of late, and in doing so it was perhaps inevitable that the notion of combining both would start to percolate in my head.

At first, mecha and slice of life would appear to contradict each other. Mecha is generally about some kind of story and conflict, be it good vs evil, big vs small, one team vs another, whereas slice of life has its focus in the non-events of life. Is it possible to reconcile the two? I say yes, and all you have to do is start with Patlabor.

Now for those unfamiliar with Patlabor, the basic premise is that in the near future giant robots are used in labor jobs such as construction and demolition, and have essentially become a part of everyday life. Some unscrupulous people get the bright idea to start using these mecha to commit crimes, and so a robot-based police force called “Patlabor” is formed.

So envision the Patlabor scenario in your mind. Now, get rid of the robot crime and by extension get rid of the robot police force. There’s your slice of life mecha show. Instead of focusing on capturing criminals, the story becomes about the daily hijinks of working a normal job as a robot pilot. If you want, have the characters younger and center the story around the training process, like Gunbuster‘s early episodes minus the competitiveness. On that note, make the characters all cute girls if you want, though honestly speaking I don’t think such a thing is necessary for slice of life.

So basically, giant robots without the fighting. I know, pretty exciting, right?

The Uncompromising Mecha Melancholy

Whether I was consciously aware of what  anime “was” or not, for about as long as I’ve liked Japanese cartoons I’ve been a fan of giant robots. On a more intellectual level they can be used to represent so many things and tell so many stories, but on a simpler level they’re just big and awesome and I am never against that. But when I look at giant robot fans as a whole, my perception of the fandom is this uncompromising group which laments the fact that the shows today are not the shows of yesterday. Of course not all robot fans are like this, and it could very well just be a loud minority, but there is this persistent message that for them, mecha will never satisfy them again unless it does a complete 180 and goes back to the 80s or the 90s or whenever they think mecha shows achieved their pinnacle.

Out of those loud, complaint-prone fans, I feel that the prime example is hardcore fans of the Universal Century timeline from the Gundam series, i.e. the timeline that comprises the original Amuro Ray vs Char Aznable series from 1979 and all of its true sequels. If you’ve ever attended a “History of Gundam” panel at an anime convention or gone on mecha forums or even /m/ on 4chan you’re bound to see these guys, who will express their strong opinion that Gundam Wing or Gundam SEED as inferior to their beloved UC shows. And it’s perfectly okay to like UC more than alternate timelines, but the point at which it gets unreasonable, and the point where I start to get annoyed by the hardcore UC contingency is when they start to villainize the non-UC series and assign traits to them that they don’t really have, or that are so unfair that not even their preferred series could hold up under that kind of scrutiny. One of my favorites is the idea that Gundam was ruined when it began to pander to fangirls, but Gundam has always held a certain appeal for females, just not in the way mecha fans might prefer.

While I don’t think it’s wrong to have standards or even extremely high standards, I feel like it gets to a point where these really hardcore giant robot fans will never be satisfied, first because the industry will never be at the point it was when it produced these shows that mecha fans loved, and second because even it it did, a lot of fans don’t actually know what they like or why, and will try to find these scapegoats. Or if a mecha show manages to do well, it won’t be for the reasons they’d like.

Does anyone else feel this way about giant robot fans? Is this merely an image I’ve built up because I focus on mecha a lot and see these fans a lot more? Please tell me if you disagree, or at least what your view of the giant robot fandom is like.

What Do Nancy and Kira Yamato Have in Common?

No, the title is not a lead-in to a bad humor post.

Like many anime fans out there, I have issues with Gundam SEED Destiny and how it effectively sabotaged the SEED plot with nonsense and a complete and utter lack of direction. Think Code Geass R2 and Gundam 00 Second Season ruined their respective prequels? While I might disagree with you there, I can see easily how you can hold that opinion with the big thematic shifts that happened between seasons. Even then, they’re nothing compared to what Destiny “achieved.”

I have a whole laundry list of complaints about Destiny, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on, and that’s the show’s treatment of Shinn Asuka. Shinn from the start of Destiny was meant to be the main character, with returning character Athrun Zala in the role of older and wiser mentor of sorts. However, as the series progressed Shinn slowly slipped out of the spotlight, replaced gradually by Athrun himself and then eventually Kira Yamato, the hero of the original SEED. Now Shinn is a very abrasive character. I know I’ve used that word a number of times before, but Shinn is the real deal. He’s pig-headed, ignorant, fueled by equal parts petty vindictiveness, trauma, and some sense of justice, and is overall the kind of guy who, if you told him the war he was fighting was wrong, would yell back at you, “OH YEAH?! WELL MY FAMILY’S DEAD.” It’s easy to see why people would prefer Kira or Athrun over him, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that it was a crime to shift main character focus to that extent. It felt disappointing because they could have done so much more with him. It felt wrong.

As much as I dislike the idea of switching up main characters mid-series though, I realize that it is not all that uncommon in animation and comics, let alone anime and manga. Before Tezuka created Tetsuwan Atom, he created Captain (Ambassador) Atom, a story where Atom was more of a side character than anything else. Similarly, the newspaper comic Nancy was originally known as Fritzi Ritz before the introduction of Fritzi’s niece, who would eventually take over the entire comic (as well as the title) and relegate Fritzi to that of a side-character-as-parental-figure.

Both Tezuka and Nancy creator Ernie Bushmiller saw the writing on the wall and realized just how much better and more popular their works would be when they pushed aside the old protagonist, and while I can accept that, I can’t quite accept what happened to Shinn. The fact that it used a character who was already a main character in a previous series made it seem like they were taking two steps backwards, and just trying to turn SEED Destiny into a retread of the original, instead of actually making a sequel.

In the end, it really all just comes down to doing whatever might get you a better or more successful work, but changing up your heroes has just as much, if not more of a chance of making a story worse than it does of making it better. One outcome as we saw with Destiny was that the constant shift in focus detracted to the story as a whole,  which resulted in both the plot and the characters sputtering about. On top of that, it happened within a TV series that had a set amount of episodes and probably a decent amount of story written beforehand, and while 52 episodes seems like a lot, it doesn’t compare to the long, long serial run of something like Nancy, and it doesn’t make a sharp division between stories like that of Captain Atom and Tetsuwan Atom. In better hands or in  a looser storytelling environment, the Shinn->Athrun->Kira shift may have been enjoyable, but sadly that was not to be.

Oh, and don’t get me started on what they did to Cagalli.