Why Are There So Few Recent Titles in Super Robot Wars T?

When a series gets into a Super Robot Wars game, for the first time, it’s a momentous occasion, especially when the game in question is one of the “mainline” iterations. The mecha (or even spaceships these days!) can be from old and obscure works, cult favorites, and even the new hotness. When playing through the recent Super Robot Wars T, however, I noticed that there’s a significant dearth of recent series, and I’m using that term loosely—out of every anime included, only two are from the past 13 years.

Even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. One of the anime referred to above is 2018’s Mazinger Z: Infinity, a film sequel to the original Mazinger Z anime franchise. While technically “modern,” it’s meant to be a nostalgia work. That leaves only Expelled from Paradise, a 2014 film. The next one after that is Gun x Sword from 2005. It’s not inherently a bad thing, and there are a number of welcome surprises in SRWT like Magic Knight Rayearth, Cowboy Bebop, and Captain Harlock. In a Famitsu interview, the director, Terada Takanobu, mentioned that one of their decisions for including new titles was a desire to have something for every age group. So in the sense of newcomers alone, it’s a pretty even split. However, the heavy lean towards the old is still noticeable, and I think a number of factors go into this.

First, as the years go by, what is considered an “old” title vs. a “new” one widens. Second, mecha anime just isn’t the bustling industry it once was, at least not in the same way. Third, I think that, as much as they tried to pull in fans of all ages, their core demographic seems to be working adults somewhere around 25-39, given both the themes of the game and the title selection itself.

For many younger anime fans, a span of five years might very well cover their entire fandom, let alone the now five decades that have elapsed since the original Mazinger Z anime debuted. For Super Robot Wars, this goes double, as it often takes quite a few years for a hot new mecha title to get the spotlight. Back in the early 2000s, Gaogaigar (1997) and Shin Getter Robo Armageddon (1998) were considered fairly young upstarts when they appeared. Now, in Super Robot Wars T, they’re grizzled old veterans. Outside of Super Robot Wars specifically, it’s always fascinating to see a title like Cowboy Bebop (1997 debut but aired on Adult Swim in 2001) go from being the hot new thing in the US to being a virtually canonized masterpiece that’s sometimes more discussed than viewed.

The relative oldness of the entries in SRWT is in part a consequence of how giant robots are simply not the industry juggernaut that they once were. Long gone are the endless number of children’s mecha shows, and the robot anime that do remain know that their audience will often skew older. Super Robot Wars, given its nature as a crossover celebration of what is increasingly a niche genre, is sort of tailor-made for nostalgia, compounding the sense that its appeal does not lie in attracting newer, younger anime fans, but those with a lot of experience watching and loving mecha anime. There are newer titles to pull in, but will they have the same draw as these assumed childhood/youth favorites?

In that sense, it’s interesting to note just where the nostalgia hits hardest for SRWT. Many of the titles are squarely in the 1990s without being made as sequels or reimaginings—Cowboy Bebop, Magic Knight Rayearth, Nadesico, G Gundam, Gaogaigar, and Might Gaine—while plenty of other titles are late 80s or early 2000s. Director Terada mentioned that international fandom was a consideration for which titles to include, and while not the case with every country, I think that the 90s is an especially strong time for fan nostalgia now—or at least the 90s anime they may have seen years later because anime distribution wasn’t nearly as speedy back in the days of VHS tapes and Real Media Player.

It’s also telling that the gimmick of the main heroes is that they’re salarymen, i.e. full-time working adults around ages 25 to 39, instead of teenagers. In some sense, it works as a gimmick, but when past original characters have been decidedly less mundane in their basic premises, the idea of “loyal company employee” stands out. There’s something to be said about how the notion of the salaryman as the default position for adults in Japan has been shattered for many years now, but I won’t go much into it except to say that while a heroine who just really likes a steady paycheck might have seemed like the most milquetoast thing once upon a time, in our current global economy, that idea almost borders on escapist fantasy.

Or maybe the team just really wanted to do a story with Jupiter as a focal point. Between Shin Getter Robo Armageddon, Nadesico, Crossbone Gundam, Aim for the Top!, Gaogaigar, and Cowboy Bebop, the fifth planet from the sun gets major play.

There’s one last possible reason the series is lacking anime titles from recent years: they’re saving them for a direct sequel. While there’s no news yet of a true follow-up to Super Robot Wars T (as opposed to just another game with a completely different cast and universe), there are enough loose threads in this game that a continuation would not be surprising.

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Iconic Sounds in Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is coming out this week. While a lot of the fun of the franchise is its sharp gameplay and visual nsotalgia, one thing I find fascinating about Smash Bros. as a celebratory game is the fact that many of the sound effects are taken from the original games. When Mega Man shoots his Arm Cannon, it makes that characteristic pew pew noise. When Mario does his Super Jump Punch, he has that classic “boing” effect. If you know the sounds, they’re pretty nostalgic, and if you don’t, they probably seem as if they come from a bygone era.

Smash Bros. is certainly not the only game to do this. In fact it might very well be the Dragon Quest series which does this the most, as the same sounds for spells since the original game are still being used in every sequel. However, what’s interesting is more than just the use of those classic sounds, as there are also clearly decisions to not use those sounds as well.

For example, when Charizard uses its Flamethrower, it’s just the sound of fire spewing forth, and not the original Game Boy games’ crackling noise. Its nostalgia, arguably, is not located in that aspect. In contrast, Duck Hunt’s special moves are loaded with audible NES references, whether it’s the sound of a falling duck or a wild gunman shouting, “FIRE!” while garbled by primitive voice digitization. Here, it’s as if Duck Hunt is there to represent the NES Zapper line as a whole, and because the existence of the Zapper is tied to a specific era in video games, most of its sounds have not been updated, unlike Charizard’s. It’s also notable that the Pokemon have their voices from the anime, as it implies that their cartoon is the primary way by which Pokemon characters are associated aurally.

Of course it doesn’t mean much for gameplay whether the sound effects are modern or retro, but they do give a lot of flavor to the characters and the game as a whole. It’s easy to get the sense that, ah yes, this is the character I remember from my childhood.

Robotech, Voltron, Nostalgia

When the Robotech/Voltron crossover comic was announced a few months ago, my immediate response was, “Why?” Of course the answer is “nostalgia grab,” but there’s something strange about both of these works and their continued presence in the geek public eye (and perhaps even beyond that). Unlike Transformers which not only has a huge variety of toys both old and new, as well as a long history of cartoons both from America and Japan (not to mention the live action films), both Robotech and Voltron do not really renew themselves, aside from the occasional thing like the The Shadow Chronicles or The Third Dimension.

Though this speaks more about the people I associate with, I can’t say I’ve ever talked to anyone, online or offline, who is hardcore into either Robotech or Voltron. I know that there’s a Robotech community of course (they even have an official site for it), though I have little interest in it. With Voltron, I know people who have fond memories of it, myself included, but the foundation that Voltron has in geek culture seems not only deeper than Robotech‘s but to the extent that, when you say cool giant robot with a signature finisher, Lion Voltron is just the default, or it shares that spot with the Megazord from Power Rangers. It’s like Voltron as a source of nostalgia goes so far beyond itself that the vague perception of it exceeds the influence of the actual anime. 

What’s funny about a show like Voltron and its emblematic presence in US geek culture as de facto super robot is that the process of dubbing and adaptation that turned the anime King of Beasts Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger into Voltron: Defender of the Universe happened with different anime in different countries to similar effect. In the Philippines, Voltes V exploded with popularity. In France and Italy, UFO Robo Grendizer captured attention as Goldorak and Goldrake respectively (with success in the Middle East to boot). In Brazil, Gloizer X became O Pirata do Espaço, the country’s first real exposure to giant robots. While it’s possible say that this was all a matter of timing and that they’re all interchangeable in that respect, I do think that the specific properties of each show had a major impact on how each country perceived giant robots from that point forward (I’m less sure about Gloizer X so if any Brazilians want to help, feel free to leave a comment).

One thing that I do believe plays a role in how these series become more specific in their nostalgic output is the level of support the original works have in Japan. I visited France recently, and when I went into the comic stores I would regularly see displays of Grendizer merchandise. Whether it was the Super Robot Chogokin or the Soul of Chogokin or a chibi version, it was all straight from Japan, sitting prominently in the store. Grendizer has enough cultural presence in Japan that it can continue to get these toys and even a fairly stable presence in Super Robot Wars, whereas Golion has had to content itself with just one Nintendo DS appearance. In lieu of support from Japan, Voltron‘s had to carve its own place, and often times it’s not even from the company World Events which holds the Voltron license but from fans conjuring it up in their own minds. And while Robotech is an utter legal mess due to the way it stifles the presence of Macross in the US, if you put that aside part of Robotech‘s prolonged presence comes from the fact that its fans want new Robotech to constantly feel like old Robotech, whereas Macross changes according to the whims of its dark lord Kawamori Shouji.

Actually I wouldn’t mind at all if Voltron got a revival with a solid piece of fiction to support it which doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia. I know we got Voltron Force, but the less said about that the better.

V! V! V!

Puberty is a funny thing when you’re a fan.

In some instances, a female character can enter the mind of a young boy just by virtue of being the most prominent female in his favorite show, and then stay with him as he awakens sexually. Of course it doesn’t happen to every fan, and I’d be remiss to not include female fans who carry the torch for their male childhood crushes (or varying combinations between these two areas), but as a guy who likes girls I want to focus on that area. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts given your own sexuality.

The first examples I can think of are Sayaka from Mazinger Z and Chizuru from Combattler V. While they are obviously not applicable to me seeing as I did not grow up with either show, in Japan and Italy and other parts of the world where these shows found popularity you have a lot of devoted male fans who will sexualize them and possibly draw fanart of them, to the extent that someone unfamiliar with these series might scratch their heads, or perhaps get the wrong impression of them when they see fanart of Chizuru in an outfit that’s quite a bit tighter than canon suggests. This is not a knock on either Sayaka or Chizuru. I can easily see guys liking them for legitimate reasons, and they’re even portrayed as attractive within the contexts of their shows (e.g. shower scenes), but I think there’s more to it than that.

An even better example might be video game characters. I’m not talking about your RPG characters who get loads of development, or games that have come out more recently and have the benefit of powerful graphics to improve character design and rendering, but those old, let’s say pre-90’s video games which barely had stories to go with them. While Samus Aran has had a lot of development over the years, guys were finding her hot since the NES era. Obviously her stripping to her skivvies in the ending sequence plays a role in this, but I think what pushes that over the edge is that you play as her for so long that you get attached to her. Again, familiarity.

Of course this doesn’t happen with every fan, but being a fan makes this more likely, I think. To preserve the memories of their favorite “stories” from childhood and bring those memories with them through to their teenage years and possibly their adult life, isn’t that the kind of thing a fan does?

And then my thoughts lead towards “moe.” Modern moe shows of course don’t have that advantage of familiarity, but when I think about it, liking a video game character because of the two or three things you know about them and liking a moe girl who is a collection of moe traits aren’t that far off. So I wonder if moe in the marketing sense of the word is trying to tap into that same nostalgia reservoir, only through more “efficient” means.

I’m not here to judge what characters you like for whatever reason, but to simply put down my thoughts on the way the fan mind works, particularly for when you start thinking girls (or guys) are awfully nice-looking.

On another note, I realize my past three post titles have all been song lyrics. Yeah I don’t know either.

TSUZUKU

I don’t know if it’s just from the media I’ve watched, but over the past four years or so I feel like there’s been this steady increase in a certain kind of nostalgic sequel/remake. These are different from your A-Teams and your Transformers movies and such, where the works are designed to tap into fond childhood memories and bring them screaming into the modern age; they’re more about addressing the previous work more directly, whether as a sequel or as a remake or in some hybrid form.

The first example that pops into my mind is Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the classic series about an underdog boxer, while more recently Toy Story 3 gives off a similar vibe. Anime is no exception, either. The Rebuild of Evangelion movies, while acting as a story reboot, also feel like direct responses to what came before them.

In all of these cases, it is as if there was some unfinished business left by the previous work which the original creators felt needed addressing, something simply beyond “the last thing made some mistakes.” For Rocky Balboa, it was a combination of Rocky V being a terrible way to end the saga of the Italian Stallion and Stallone himself realizing how old he was getting. With Toy Story 3, it seems like Pixar realized just how many years it’s been since the original Toy Story came out and wanted to bring it back one more time and use it to address both the people who grew up on those movies and Pixar itself and talk about growth and change and passing things on to a new generation. And the new Evangelion movies take the raw material of the original series, puts it through the lens of a decade and a half of anime post-Evangelion, and uses it to try to more deeply explore  the relationships between the characters, to talk about all of the new concerns that have cropped up in Japanese society since then.

Again, I don’t know if it’s just that I’m at the age to really notice this sort of thing, or if it’s that this generation of adults is especially keen on discussing the topic of change and resolution, but I can’t help but feel that it could be a defining feature of this time period in creative entertainment.

The Light Pathos Club

The second season of K-On! begins with the girls of the light music club heading to their clubroom. Already there, Yui plays a quiet tune on her guitar evoking  a feeling of renewal and change tinged with nostalgia. The subdued nature of this first scene then carries over into the rest of the episode and beyond. As K-On!! has progressed, there has been a distinct overarching focus on the the idea that high school is almost over for the founders of Houkago Tea Time and that things will never be the same.

While present to a certain extent in the manga, Kyoto Animation’s adaptation seems to be focused on showing the subtle magic of the senior year of high school, before the girls become adults and get that much closer to the real world. A semi-running gag in the manga about the ex-student council president turning out to be Mio Fan #1 now features that same character as a mature college student looking fondly on her high school memories. An entire episode is devoted to Sawako, the club supervisor and closet former metalhead guitarist, and her recapturing some of the passion of her youth. In general, the lighting in K-On!! is very soft, again hinting at a strong feeling towards the ephemeral. The message from Kyoto Animation is loud and clear.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, as I think it’s an attempt to add a bit of depth to K-On!, but I’m not sure how much K-On! needs or even wants it. I understand that high school is a big deal and all. My memories of high school are among my most cherished, and it’s because I had very close friends with whom I could be myself, which is also the case in K-On!! However, because it was only somewhat there in the source material, some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and the end result is that it kind of feels forced in.

What are your thoughts on the direction K-On!! has taken?

The Divide of Time, Space, and Imagination: A Look At the Concept of Nostalgic Merchandise

A few days ago, when I wrote about the direction giant robot designs have taken over the years, I received a comment pointing out to me the “Master Grade RX-78-2 Gundam 2.0,” which was a new model kit version of the iconic original Gundam, only designed to more closely resemble the mobile suit as it appeared in anime. When compared to previous RX-78-2 model kits, this means less details, different proportions, and a more “cartoonish” look overall.

Interested in how hobbyists took to this version of the classic Gundam, I looked at reviews of the kit. Any time its aesthetics were criticized, it was largely because the model was not as detailed as they liked. Being “anime accurate” was not a positive trait, and they would point out other kits, notably the “One Year War” version with a higher level of grittiness and detail, as a preferred alternative. In response to all this, I made my own comment, which was to point out that these fans appeared to be saying, “I don’t want the RX-78-2 to resemble the robot in the show, I want it to resemble the robot in my imagination!”

Then today, I saw the Toy Fair 2010 GI Joe toys. These action figures were designed based on the 80s version of GI Joe, the 3 inch figures instead of the giant doll-like ones. The only thing is, they are much more detailed and gritty than the 80s toys they were based on! It was also made clear that these toys are there partially for GI Joe collectors, adult men who look back fondly on their childhood toys, and I think it is all the more apparent that, like the One Year War RX-78-2, these GI Joes are trying to fill the gap between the actual toy and the collectors’ memories of what the toys were like as children, memories fueled by the power of childhood imagination. And there, in the attempts to make up for the loss of childhood creativity and thinking with skilled craftsmanship, lies the foundation of the nostalgic toy.

That is not to say of course that adults are incapable of having strong imaginations. Fiction as a whole would be incredibly boring if that were the case. Nor am I lumping everyone in as wanting more “realism” in their toys, as the original commenter I referred to above was all in favor of more toys like the MG RX-78-2 2.0. Instead, the issue is simply that the mind of an adult is simply different from the mind of a child. I am reminded of this fact whenever I look at drawings from my childhood and compare them to what I have done as an adult or even as a teenager.

When I previously touched on the subject of childhood imagination as it applies to animation, I talked about how children tend to ignore significant errors in animation and make up for these deficiencies through their imagination. But now when looking at a similar topic, that of toys and model kits, I realize that it’s not just a matter of childhood imagination “filling in the gaps,” but that childhood imagination, unlike adult imagination, cares little about “structure.”

If you look at the Soul of Chogokin series of toys, you will find everything I’ve been talking about, with its more solid and realistic redesigns of classic mecha targeted towards adult buyers, but if you want to really see what I mean by adults caring about structure, take a look not at the Soul of Chogokin line, but the original-style Chogokin toys, or rather, reviews of them by collectors. You will find that the way the reviewers talk about the features of the toy, about what is good and what is bad, is almost inevitably a very “adult-minded” way of looking at the toy, giving words to topics such as “points of articulation” and what-not. Even when referring to the nostalgia factor this happens, whether the topic is Chogokin, Jumbo Machinders, or Generation 1 Transformers.

It’s common knowledge among collectors, but the first generation of Mobile Suit Gundam toys, resembling the “neat gadgets”-style Chogokin toys that preceded it, were a marketing failure, as the toys did not really match up with what was on the screen. It really wasn’t until the concept of the giant robot “model kit” revolutionized giant robot figures that Gundam merchandise became the monster that it still is today, and people claim that this has to do with the fact that the audience for Gundam was skewing older than giant robot shows had in the past. I may be jumping the gun here, but what it looks like to me is that the older audience of younger and older teens were looking for more structure and accuracy in their toys, and that is what they got. As soon as Gundam hit that older demographic, I believe the Chogokin-style toys were dealt a serious blow, even putting aside the shoddy designs and inaccuracies of the original toyline. I think that the attitudes towards the 2.0 MG RX-78-2 are actually an extension of this over time and international waters.

Actually, more than even Chogokin reviews, if you really, really want to see the difference between child and adult mindsets and creativity, take a look at the webcomic Axe Cop. Promoted as being written by a 5 year old and drawn by his 29 year old brother, the artist admits to the story not being truly written by his significantly younger sibling, but that he asks the young child questions about the setting and events that occur, and then builds a story around it. The adult adds structure to the boundless imagination of the child, structure that is necessary to keep it all together, even if it doesn’t make sense entirely.

The child’s imagination says, “This is what happens.”

The adult’s imagination asks, “Why?”

But when it comes to reality, the child and adult’s responses reverse.