Let Me Tell You About My New Favorite Nico Tag

You want to watch a lot of anime but you don’t have a lot of time. And you want it to all be about robots. Well, let me introduce you to or “Robot Anime Scene Compilations.”

Have you ever wanted to check out the awesome fights in a giant robot anime, but didn’t want to wade through 50 billion episodes and endless filler to reach the few fight scenes that might be somehow significant? Well, the Robot Anime Scene Compilation tag is there for you and me.

Want to watch the greatest fights from Getter Robo or God Mars? Well here’s your chance, and rather than killing 100 hours worth of time, all you need is 30 minutes per video.

Are shows like Grendizer and Baldios too high-brow and high-quality for you? Well then you can take a look at some of the not-so-fondly remembered robots, like Gloizer X and Srungle!

It’s thanks to this tag that I found out Michiru takes over for a captured Hayato towards the end of Getter Robo G, and on top of that she’s actually not useless!

So go forth, watch some robots, and come back a more learned anime citizen.

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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.

Sing a New Song, a Song of Generations: Macross Frontier

Note: While I’m not going to make it a requirement to read my previous episodes 1-13 review, I’d still recommend it before reading this one. There’s also minor spoilers for the other Macross series, but that’s kind of inevitable if you’re already watching Frontier.

Macross Frontier is the newest series in the Macross franchise, celebrating the 25th anniversary one of the most fondly remembered anime series ever. While not the first sequel to Macross, it is also the one that, for better or worse, tries the hardest to translate the emotions of the original Macross through the lens of today’s anime.

The original 1982 Super Dimensional Fortress Macross asked its audience many things. What are you willing to do for peace? What potential does humanity have for growth? What role does culture play in understanding one another? Taking place in a time when the world had just recently discovered peace after years of war and turmoil, the people of Earth are confronted by an alien race of giants whose only purpose in life is to wage war. Though these “Zentradi” were superior to the humans in nearly every way, the one area in which they had no knowledge turned out be both their downfall and their redemption: culture. Introducing the Zentradi to concepts such as love and sorrow through the emotional singing of pop idol Lynn Minmay, in time the Zentradi began to co-exist with humans. Thanks to technology that allowed the Zentradi to shrink to human size (a process called miclonization), some even married across species and bore offspring.

Nearly 50 years later, the two races have integrated to the point that it would not surprise a person if most of their friends were at least part-Zentradi. In that time, the people of Earth have begun to actively colonize outer space, discovered the dangers of artificial intelligence, and encountered a species that was more spirit than flesh. The Macross Frontier is the 25th colonial Macross-class ship, entrusted to venture through the galaxy to find a planet with a hospitable environment on which humans could live. Amidst its travels, the Macross Frontier is attacked by a race known as the Vajra. Unlike the Zentradi who battled with the human race nearly five decades earlier, the Vajra are inhuman, insect-like creatures, with an unreadable hive mind. Reasoning with them is not an option.

Three people aboard the Macross Frontier hold special significance. One is Saotome Alto, a student and former actor whose feminine looks allowed him to pass for a female when performing. Due to the attack by the Vajra, he decides to become a pilot of a Valkyrie (the humanoid-into-jet transforming robot symbolic of the Macross franchse) to repel the threat. Another is Sheryl Nome, a famous pop idol originally from the Macross Galaxy colony who happens to be holding a concert when the Vajra invade. Stranded aboard the Frontier, Sheryl uses her talents to try and keep hope alive for the distraught inhabitants. Last is Ranka Lee, a girl with no memories of her childhood. Ranka is a huge fan of Sheryl, and is inspired by her to pursue a singing career of her own, though there may be more to Ranka’s singing than simply talent and enthusiasm. Alto, Sheryl, and Ranka all become friends but as time passes their feelings change, both towards each other and towards the battle against the Vajra.

Ranka’s older brother is a tough, no-nonsense Valkyrie pilot who tries to hide his job from Ranka to keep her from worrying. Alto’s fellow pilots include a mechanical wiz, Luca, and a ladies’ man, Michael, whose playboy tendencies infuriate his childhood friend, the Zentradi pilot Klan Klan. Klan Klan, herself a highly skilled pilot, suffers from the fact that miclonizing her also regresses her physical age, something which Michael pokes fun of her for mercilessly. Grace is Sheryl’s manager who also recognizes talent in Ranka. Nanase is Ranka’s friend and biggest supporter of her career, and also the target of Luca’s affection. These are among the many supporting characters of Macross Frontier. They intertwine with the primary characters and themes of the show while still making their personal stories feel important.

Macross Frontier’s character designs may lack the subtlety of Mikimoto’s (the original Macross character designer), but Ebata Risa and Takahashi Yuuichi clearly worked hard to tie visual design with personalit. They make it easy to recognize every character even if you barely remember them. I wouldn’t say they’re better than Mikimoto’s designs, but they at least reflect current concepts and conventions of character design without seeming stale in the process. The animation can go off-model every so often, but the same thing happens with pretty much every other Macross series. Macross Frontier also has some of the best use of CG ever in an anime TV series. Never before have 3-D graphics been so well-integrated into both the every-day environments as well as the epic, space-rending battles which so emphasize the significance and destruction of war.

Romance against the backdrop of war is the driving force behind the Macross franchise, and Macross Frontier is no exception, though it takes particular care to put everyone through periods of happiness followed by periods of duress, both mental and emotional, in order to reveal their true characters. How does humanity handle interacting with a race so unlike anything familiar that it is impossible to humanize them? How far can Alto run away from his past? How different are humans, really, from the Zentradi’s old ways? How does the confident Sheryl handle being shunted out of the public spotlight in favor of Ranka? Where do people stand in the struggle between freedom and security? Why does Ranka sing?

Whereas romance and war are the bones and muscles of Macross, music is the blood and nerves. Music is one of the most important aspects of the Macross franchise, so much so that Macross Frontier saw it fit to have two main characters as singers. Music is power. Music is what brought giants to their knees and peace after war, but Macross Frontier teaches us that even the benevolent power of music can be twisted in unexpected ways. The songs of Sheryl and Ranka perhaps say more about their characters than any lines of dialogue. Sheryl’s songs exude power and confidence with just a hint of vulnerability, while Ranka’s songs reflect the highs and lows of her emotions. Their songs are markedly different from the humble pop of Minmay, or the rocking ballads of Fire Bomber, toeing the line between human and inhuman, between authentic and manufactured, but ultimately leaving one with the sense that this is is new, that this is truly the music of 2047.

Macross Frontier is not just a modern Macross. It is not just a new Macross, nor is it simply the new Macross. From its music to its storytelling to its characters to its questions, Macross Frontier is New Macross. It is a series which carries on the francise’s 25-year-old spirit and accurately invokes this current age of anime and society.

The Stigma of Giant Robots

First, no Kaze no Stigma jokes.

Okay? Okay.

Mecha is one of the main stereotypes of japanese animation, along with martial arts, sci-fi, and not being for kids. But despite being one of the first things many people think of when they see the word “anime” it somehow has gotten a negative reputation among many fans in the United States. People will turn away from a title if giant robots are involved, and the only Gundam series to ever truly be successful is Wing.

I have no issue with people not preferring giant robot anime, but what is bothering me is the idea that robots, be they real or super, are an automatic red flag for a lot of anime viewers.

What happened? I know that the large female otaku population tends not to be fond of titanium titans, but why do so many guys also brush these titles aside? Could it be that giant robots are no longer considered a staple of anime, that in the eyes of this newer generation of anime fandom it is something to be ignored? Are there certain tropes of robot animation, different from say, shounen fighting, which detracts from the viewing experience?

I Can Clearly Hear It, the Galaxy’s Song: Macross Frontier 1-13

If one were to describe a Macross series, there would be many recurring concepts: war, transforming fighter jets, idol singers, love triangles, culture. However, if one were to describe the feelings conveyed by each series, theywould be hard-pressed to find too many similarities. The original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross feels different from Macross Plus, which in turn has little in common with Macross 7 or Macross Zero thematically. They all exist in the same universe, but they could not be further from each other without turning into Gaogaigar and Betterman.

So it can be mighty confusing when I say that Macross Frontier, or at least the first half of it, feels like Macross.

Macross Frontier is the 25th anniversary celebration of Studio Nue’s Macross, and with it comes a return to the original in terms of pacing, characterization, and the specific balance of love and war and the way they intertwine. Nowhere is this more evident than in  the main love triangle of Macross Frontier.

The “love triangle” has been a constant part of Macross since day one with Hikaru, Misa, and Minmay. Still, I have always found the original love triangle to be the best because it truly seemed like a battle for the heart, a battle whose landscape is transformed radically by war and the circumstances surrounding it. Macross Plus is less about developing love and more about resolving an existing one, Macross Zero’s is wrapped in its own lore, and Macross 7’s you can hardly call a love triangle when it involves a guy who likes a girl, a girl who kind of likes both, and a guy who doesn’t care. In every case, the romantic tension is lacking, a tension which I believe factors significantly into the success of the original.

Macross Frontier’s three main characters, Saotome Alto, Sheryl Nome, and Ranka Lee, recapture that tension. Saotome Alto is an amateur fighter pilot and former theatrical actor. Sheryl Nome, the “Galactic Fairy,” is by far the biggest music idol of the day. Ranka Lee is a young girl working at a Chinese restaurant who aspires to be a pop idol. Mankind’s encounter with the Vajra, a violent alien race so powerful it can easily avoid an Itano Circus, brings Alto, Sheryl, and Ranka together and ties their destinies together.

It all sounds very familiar, but I am in no way saying that Macross Frontier is treading old ground, or that it’s some sort of lazy throwback to time immaterial (the 1980s). Already from my small and deliberately basic description, there are some things which are new and refreshing, particularly in this current age of anime. Unlike previous series, the main characters are all involved in performance in very different ways. There’s also the fact that we have not one but two idols with many years of experience of difference between them, with Sheryl being both Ranka’s surrogate mother (Ranka herself losing her parents at an early age), and her conflicted rival for the affections of Alto. Just like in the original Macross, I cannot bring myself to hate either girl or Alto, and also like in the original, I cannot seem to decide who I want to side with at the moment. I like this feeling. It’s one I’ve enjoyed before, and yet it feels so new.

Macross has always used its continuity as merely a backdrop, unlike say, Robotech, which thrives on it. However, whereas the latest incarnation of Robotech is marred by this devotion to continuity, Macross Frontier’s many, many nods to the past, a live performance of My Boyfriend is a Pilot and a car radio playing Planet Dance being just two examples, fit right in without overwhelming the viewer with backstory. History lessons are welcomed, but are not absolutely necessary, so what you end up having is a series which is progress not for the sake of progress but for making something worth watching and worth remembering.

The suspense is so great I may deculture my pants.

Armored Trooper Votoms: Part 2

Armored Trooper Votoms is the story of Chirico Cuvie, a soldier and Armored Tooper (giant robot) pilot who was betrayed by his own military and forced on the run. Previously, Chirico found himself in Uoodo, a city where might makes right and people are very likely not to wake up the next morning. In episodes 14-27 of Armored Trooper Votoms, the AWOL soldier Chirico Cuvie trades the disorder and chaos of Uoodo for the focused destruction in the jungles of Kummen, a country at odds with Melkia. Chirico, a man who lives to fight, finds himself in his natural habitat amidst a civil war.

The aptly titled second part of Votoms, the “Kummen Jungle Wars,” sees Chirico acting as a mercenary for the Kummen government, fighting against a rebellious prince who seeks to prevent his nation from abandoning its traditions and modernizing. As the war progresses, it becomes clear that neither side is “good” or “evil” as is often the case with clashes of ideology as well as real robot anime. New characters are introduced on both sides, some familiar and welcome faces appear, Chirico still uses a Scope Dog, and the Perfect Soldier project which forced Chirico on the run is further along than it’s ever been before. …Or is it?

The fighting in Kummen is different from Uoodo, where it was usually cops vs thugs vs Chirico. Instead, Chirico in his mercenary role frequently acts as part of a mechanized platoon, following orders and occasionally giving them. The enemy, being much weaker than them, relies on guerilla tactics and hiding in plain sight in order to confuse the government’s soldiers and weaken resolve. The battles are intense and gritty without much posturing, lives are easily lost, and Chirico continues to wage war in what is basically the Votoms equivalent of a Zaku, a Leo, or a KLF: a rust bucket without many special features other than the strength and skill of the pilot within it.

The only real fault of Votoms is the way it handles romance, as it does so in a very Tomino-esque hammer-over-the-head manner. The origins of romance in the story of Votoms can make it hard to swallow, but don’t let it distract you.

Though the Kummen Jungle Wars arc ties into the greater plotline of Votoms, it can be considered its own self-contained story of a country at war with itself, where tradition and progress are forced against one another to determine the future of the nation. Watching just these 13 episodes alone can be satisfying enough, and if you’re unable to watch the Uoodo arc, the show was courteous enough to throw in a recap episode. At the end of Kummen, while a lot of questions are answered, far more are brought up, and there’s another 26 episodes to go.