Super Robot Wars 30, Shinkalion, and Pioneering DLC

The developers of Super Robot Wars 30 have announced a final expansion pack that brings many surprises, the biggest of which are new DLC units.

  • Scopedog, Scopedog TC LRS (Armored Trooper Votoms)
  • Ultimate Dancouga (Super Beast Machine God Dancouga)
  • Red 5+ (Majestic Prince: Genetic Awakening)
  • Getter 1, Getter 2, Getter 3 (Getter Robo Devolution: The Last 3 Minutes of the Universe)
  • Shinkalion E5 Hayabusa Mk. II, Shinkalion E5 Mk. II Over Cross ALFA-X (Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie)
  • Dygenguar with Aussenseiter (Super Robot Wars Alpha 3)

Gan Gan Zudandan

The big news on this list in my opinion is Shinkalion, not because it’s one of my long-desired franchises for SRW or anything, but because it has ties to a major company like Japan Railway. In hindsight, however, it was ridiculous to think that could be a barrier: Shinkalion did already appear in the mobile game Super Robot Wars X-Ω, and the series itself is crossover central. Seeing the series debut is nice, and I enjoy how the originally-3DCG units in this game have a different look and feel to them (see also ULTRAMAN). I’ll also be hoping for DLC missions where train otaku Hayato gets to geek out with all other mega nerds in the cast. Too bad Evangelion isn’t in SRW30 for some truly fun references.

I’m Seeing Double: Four Ryomas!

The other new main-series debut is Getter Robo Devolution, and I’m surprised at its inclusion. While other SRW have taken references from multiple Getter Robo series at the same time (mostly in terms of how Shin Getter Robo presents itself), this is the first time we’re seeing variations of the same characters crossing over—and no, I’m not counting Sanger and evil Sanger in Alpha Garden. Interestingly, they announced voice actors for these characters (and big ones too!), which makes the decision to omit a lot of the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman mecha all the more mysterious.

Incidentally, the manga is actually out in English from Seven Seas, so I plan on picking it up to see what this one’s all about. It’s also from the creators of Linebarrels of Iron.

30th Anniversary Versions

The Scopedog TC LRS and Ultimate Dancouga stand out because the idea of making special versions of robots specifically for SRW is very rare, with Mazinkaiser being the #1 example. Sometimes there are units taken from unused production materials (like Final Dancouga), but this is a step beyond. Moreover, both anniversary robots are from their original mechanical designers—Ookawara Kunio and Obari Masami, respectively—contributing to the epic feel of this collaboration. I’ll be curious to see what animations the Scopedog has, as I do miss Chirico’s amazing final attack from the SRWZ games.

When Will I Use Them?

I’m in a strange position where I’m pretty much at the final stages of SRW30, and I’m trying to figure out if I should just get all the DLC units before proceeding or if I should focus on them in a possible New Game+. Either way, I can’t wait to try them out.

Epoch Epoxy: Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative

Every so often, I’ll come across a specific type of retcon in a long-running series that essentially says a certain important character or thing was unseen in the background all along, and that the audience just wasn’t aware of this. It’s a kind of shortcut to make new information not feel shoehorned in, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing—just evidence that things weren’t planned from the outset, for better or for worse.

The Gundam franchise has sort of always been this way, whether it’s the Mobile Suit Variations line that talked about all the other aces fighting in the One Year War offscreen or anime such as 08th MS Team showing events from a different perspective. But the film Gundam Narrative takes it to a whole other level, being what is essentially spackle for a specific period in the Universal Century timeline.

Early Gundam series were not made to overly adhere to a finely tuned canon, as they were usually set years apart chronologically to emphasize the idea that “things have changed.” But as the timeline has become more dense with sequels, prequels, sidequels, and spin-offs, there developed a certain unexplained plot element that had no real answers: why did the crowning technology from the film Char’s Counterattack, the Psycho-Frame, stop being used in later UC works like Gundam F-91 and Victory Gundam? It’s the kind of thing that can be explained by simply saying, “Stuff happened,” but the space-opera minutiae fairly present in Gundam potentially makes that an unsatisfying answer.

The result is a movie about three kids—Jona Basta, Michele Luio, and Rita Bernal—whose lives are tied to major events throughout the Universal Century series. They were there when a space colony fell on Australia before the start of First Gundam, but burgeoning Newtype powers resulted in them being able to evacuate their town to safety. They were involved in the Cyber-Newtype experiments that were a major element in Zeta Gundam. And now their story takes them to being directly involved with the aftermath of the events of Gundam Unicorn and the hunt for the third Unicorn-class mobile suit, known as Phenex. 

Gundam Narrative basically tries to act as a bridge between two eras, and while the story is decent on its own, the focus with reconciling that incongruity results in an unusually jargon-heavy work (even by Gundam standards!), and a bit of weakness when it comes to the social and political themes that usually come part and parcel with the franchise as a whole. I’m not sure if it’ll end up being anyone’s favorite Gundam, but it’s also not a hot mess. Gundam Narrative serves a function, and it’s fairly entertaining while doing so, but I tend to prefer something with more meat on its bones.

Power and Truth: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn

The Universal Century’s fight between the forces of the Earth Federation and the space-dwelling Zeon is both the foundation of Gundam and also, at times, the albatross around its neck. After 1988’s Char’s Counterattack closed the book on the central rivalry between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable, future Gundam anime would for decades do everything but provide a direct sequel. Gundam F91 and Victory Gundam set their stories decades after the events of Char’s Counterattack, other works like 0080: War in the Pocket and Gundam: 08th MS Team are side stories adjacent to Amuro’s story, and G Gundam launched the concept of alternative-universe Gundam—titles that take the name and basic aesthetics but are worlds unto themselves. This all changed with 2010’s Gundam Unicorn, also known as Gundam UC.

As a sequel to Char’s Counterattack,  can get pretty deep into the weeds. For example, to understand the power of the Unicorn Gundam and its heavy incorporation of Psycho Frames and its NT-D system (short for Newtype Destroyer) is to be invested in the lore of the Universal Century timeline. Newtypes are people who have gained extrasensory abilities in response to humankind’s expansion into space, and their subsequent weaponization of leads to the development of both aforementioned technologies; the former is a way to fully utilize their mental and emotional power (and which was once the key to saving the Earth), while the latter is a counter to such abilities. However, while these world-building elements can get complicated, they also provide a rich backdrop for Banagher and Audrey’s stories of confronting the crimes of their forefathers.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

Much like the later Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway, Gundam Unicorn is based on a novel, but it’s also the first franchise novel to be adapted into a part of the main canon. Taking place shortly after the Earth narrowly avoided having the Luna II asteroid base dropped on it, Gundam Unicorn tells the story of Banagher Links, a student living in a space colony who gets wrapped up in a strange conspiracy after encountering a girl calling herself Audrey Burne. The head of Banagher’s school and head of the Vist Foundation, Cardeas Vist, is the most powerful man in Banagher’s colony, and his immense influence over the Federation has to do with the latter’s fear of something known as “Laplace’s Box.” When a mobile suit battle breaks out in the colony, Banagher’s psychic desire to protect Audrey leads him directly to Vist and the mysterious Unicorn Gundam, a weapon that serves as the “key” to Laplace’s Box. Why the box has such a hold on the Federation and how characters reconcile with their family histories and ties to the history of the founding of the Universal Century are central to the story of Gundam Unicorn.

By the end of the first episode, Banagher discovers that he’s actually the estranged son of Cardeas Vist, and shortly after sees his dad die before Vist gives him exclusive access to the Unicorn Gundam—and with it, a bridge to a secret that terrifies the Federation top brass. In the next episode, Audrey reveals her true identity: She is Mineva Lao Zabi, the last surviving member of Zeon’s original royal family whose leaders steered a fight for independence into a militaristic fascist regime. These central characters, both with deep roots in the two respective warring sides, are continuously challenged to look long and hard at the privileges they’ve received on the backs of the fallen. Their situations are contrasted with another character, Riddhe Marcenas (the son of a Federation politician), who desperately tries to maintain the status quo in order to avoid disrupting the familiar world he’s known.

Banagher is the protagonist, but Mineva is the stand-out character in so many ways. For those already familiar with the history, Mineva is familiar as the innocent baby daughter of Dozle Zabi, who perished fighting the original Gundam in the first anime. The monstrous-looking Dozle was ironically the most righteous and pure-hearted of the Zabis (albeit while still being guilty by association of Zeon’s atrocities), and his selflessness and loyalty are what allowed Mineva to escape with her mother. As the last Zabi, she is revered by the remnant Zeon forces, and she has a regal bearing that speaks to her status. Now on the verge of adulthood, however, Mineva sees her mission as atoning for the sins of the Zabis.

The ultimate direction taken by Banagher, Mineva, and eventually even Riddhe is what I would summarize as “Do good with the advantages you have.” None of the power they possess, whether physical or political, is bloodless, but they decide to reveal the truth that lies behind Laplace’s Box despite the fact that its contents could potentially flip everything upside down. Laplace’s Box turns out to be a monument containing the very first Universal Century charter, previously thought to be lost in a terrorist attack. While something so ceremonial should not be so revelatory, it turns out that this original charter contains a clause surreptitiously removed in later versions: 

“In the future, should the emergence of a new space-adapted human race be confirmed, the Earth Federation shall give priority to involving them in the administration of the government.”

In other words, the Federation government was supposed to have enshrined the equal treatment and political representation of the space-born, but purposely revoked it in secret in order to rule over the Spacenoids. This action is revealed by Mineva to all as a  successful move to consolidate power, its obfuscation of the truth arguably being the first catalyst that would lead to the One Year War and the continued bloodshed between Federation and Zeon. I have to wonder if this is also meant to be the catalyst that leads to the decline of the Federation that we see in later sequels like F91 and Victory.

The series does not absolve Zeon of their crimes through this, and Mineva outright states that her family is guilty of much tragedy, but that this is about spreading the real history of what transpired and to open the path for a better future. I can’t help but think of the current situation in the US and the attempts to ban the teaching of its racist past and present in an attempt to indoctrinate children into a blind patriotism. I understand that both the novel and anime predate this current unfortunate phenomenon, but nevertheless it feels more relevant than ever. Perhaps it ties into Japan’s own ongoing struggle with rewriting its history books to hide the things its wartime government inflated on its own people and those throughout Asia.

There’s a lot of meat I didn’t even touch upon, and all of it has a lot to say about war, peace, society, and justice. While Gundam Unicorn is really dedicated to trying to fit neatly in the canon of Gundam, it’s also a solid and compelling science fiction anime in its own right. Somehow, its lessons feel more relevant than ever.

The Ongoing Dream of a Truly International Super Robot Wars

In recent years, the Super Robot Wars franchise has been looking hard at international fans, and that has been reflected in part by the mecha that show up in it. In interviews for Super Robot Wars T and Super Robot Wars 30, the game’s director mentions that titles like Gun x Sword and J-Decker were, in part, nods to fans outside Japan. It reminds me of how different Japanese giant robot series became the spark of inspiration in different parts of the world, as well as how I once had my own half-formed idea for an American-fandom-centric SRW. Together, all of this makes me want to entertain the notion of a truly international SRW that puts the entire spotlight on those anime and manga that introduced countries to mecha and maintain that enthusiasm.

Shows like Golion, Grendizer, Transformers, Groizer X, etc. Furthermore, I’d like to see the roster be even broader than that. In that respect, limiting it to things that can connect to anime might even be too narrow. Ideally, a game like this would include Robot Taekwon V and The Iron Giant.

One question that arose as I engaged in this thought exercise is whether series that were heavily localized should come in their original Japanese forms or their adaptations. Should Golion and Dairugger be two separate titles, or should they be joined under the Voltron banner? Then it hit me that Super Robot Wars is all about modifying plot details to make crossovers work. Thus, you could split the difference between the Japanese and the American versions, and just find a way to make Golion and Dairugger connected within the new storyline.

There are giant robot fandoms around the world with their own idiosyncrasies, and I’m actually a bit sad that I don’t know them all. I wish I was an experienced polyglot so I could explore these communities and memories in greater depth. I think the real reason I’d love to see an international SRW is because I want something that celebrates these histories.

Sakura Wars, Super Robot Wars 30, and the DLC Hype Train

Sakura Wars is in Super Robot Wars 30. That means, for the second time in history, a Sega giant robot video game series is debuting in Super Robot Wars as a newcomer—16 years after Virtual On broke new ground in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3. I find this to be an important moment in SRW history, and not only because Sakura Wars has been long anticipated by fans. The other big factor is that Sakura Wars is the first new series to come in as DLC, and the concept of continued hype via shocking entries reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite game franchises: Super Smash Bros.

Super Robot Wars as a whole predates Super Smash Bros. by almost a decade, but they’re built from a similar concept in terms of promotion: Show all the varying franchises that are in each game, and have players freak out over the fact that what was thought to be impossible is, in fact, real. Even on Youtube, Super Robot Wars 30 has been getting the reaction videos common to Smash, albeit on a smaller scale. But SRW has long done it in one giant cannon fire, releasing one massive preview video, as opposed to the drip-drop approach that Smash has utilized since the Brawl website days. While there are only two batches of DLC for Super Robot Wars 30, I like the idea that there are still surprises on the table after we thought things were done. I don’t necessarily feel this way about DLC in general, and the difference is that SRW and Smash alike are generally already filled to the gills with content.

It’s also funny to think about how the series that go into SRW are collectively older than what shows up in Smash. The oldest mecha manga dates all the way back to the 1960s (namely Tetsujin 28), while the Duck Hunt light shooter game (before video games even really existed) came out in 1968. While Nintendo and video games in general are bigger business these days, one could argue that the resources that make up Super Robot Wars are bigger and more legacy-defining in their own way.

Super Robot Wars 30 comes out in a couple of weeks, and I already have my Ultimate Edition pre-order. Unlike previous games, this one is officially available in English in an easy-to-obtain way via Steam, which is where I’ve purchased it. I’ll be eager to try out the Sakura Wars units, and everything else the game has to offer. Most importantly, we’re gonna get some sweet-ass Sakura Wars music.

It might be about time for me to work on another Gattai Girls post too…

The Fight Against Oneself: Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

In my earliest days of online Gundam fandom back in the late 1990s, the vast amount of information available was like a treasure trove of juicy morsels about what was out there. Among them was mention of a certain novel—“Did you know there’s a sequel to Char’s Counterattack? It’s called Hathaway’s Flash, and it stars Hathaway Noah [sic], who pilots something called the Xi Gundam!”

Though I don’t recall ever asking questions out loud, chief among them were: “Would I ever get to experience this story myself?” and “Why the hell would they make a sequel about Hathaway?” 

Now, in 2021, we have Gundam Hathaway, a film (presumably the first of a series) that adapts the novel into animation. Story-wise, it follows Hathaway Noa, now in his 20s and a decade-and-change removed from the events of Char’s Counterattack. Leaders of the Earth Federation have been under attack by a mysterious terrorist named Mafty Navue Erin, and Hathaway’s own history leads to him being in the epicenter of this situation. 

The action is impressive and the character animation is gorgeous, though the lack of 2D animation for the robot fights is kind of disappointing even if the 3DCG looks good overall. When the Xi Gundam shows up, you get a real sense of the sheer size of the thing. Compared to even the oversized Nu Gundam and Sazabi from Char’s Counterattack, the long distance from cockpit door to seat sells how much things have scaled up. 

But the story of Hathaway, and his internal struggle, is where this first film shines most.

I don’t know how the young me back in 1998 would have reacted to the characters and narrative of Gundam Hathaway, but I think it would have been quite different. A couple years ago, I watched a theatrical screening of Char’s Counterattack, and coming at it as an adult instead of a teen gave me a whole new perspective. The young side characters, Hathaway and the Newtype prodigy Quess Paraya, weren’t irritating fools but simply kids who are failed by adults at every turn.

In this light, an adult Hathaway makes for a compelling protagonist. While he’s portrayed as being far more skilled in combat both in and out of mobile suits compared to his child self, he never comes across as inherently exceptional the way previous main characters like Amuro Ray and Kamille Bidan were. What you have in Hathaway is a child traumatized by war, and who’s trying to prevent his past mistakes from reoccurring as an adult, but who doesn’t necessarily know what the right answer is. Within him are the dueling philosophies of Amuro and Char, clashing and contradicting. He wants to be the everyman and the charismatic leader, the hero who saves the people from both corruption at the top and themselves. 

Nowhere is this clearer than his interactions with the female lead, Gigi Andalusia. She’s an eccentric empath who’s probably a Newtype or something similar, Hathaway sees the late Quess in her, and while she can be a thorn in his side, Gigi’s exactly the kind of person Hathaway fights for. If he can prevent more tragic deaths like Quess’s from happening, he’ll do whatever it takes.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Hathaway’s decisions take him, though I know this is Gundam and the chances of tragedy are markedly high—especially because the original novels were written by the original series director Tomino Yoshiyuki during one of his more fiery periods. Whatever the result, Hathaway Noa is a worthy Gundam protagonist.

Super Robot Wars 30 Thoughts, or “I MUST GET THIS GAME”

Super Robot Wars 30, the latest full game in the famed crossover video game franchise, has revealed its full lineup.

  • Super Electromagnetic Robot Combattler V
  • Mobile Suit Gundam (mecha only)
  • Mobile Suit Z Gundam
  • Z-MSV (mecha only)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
  • M-MSV (mecha only)
  • Mobile Suit V Gundam
  • Mobile Suit Gundam NT
  • Heavy Metal L-Gaim
  • The Brave Police J-Decker (New)
  • The King of Braves Gaogaigar Final (mecha only)
  • The King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman (New)
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion III – Glorification (New) (mecha only)
  • Shin Getter Robo Armageddon
  • Mazinger Z: Infinity
  • Mazinkaiser Infinitism (New) (mecha only)
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
  • Gun x Sword
  • Majestic Prince
  • Knight’s & Magic (New)
  • SSSS.GRIDMAN (New)

There are some welcome surprises among the returning veterans such as L-Gaim, but the real shockers are in the newest series.

Hell and Heaven!!!

The entry that sent a bolt of lightning through me is Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, which is the novel-only sequel to Gaogaigar Final that continues and concludes the story that began all the way back in 1997. I’ve been following the story, even having reviewed the first and second novels, but I wonder if fans might be better off not reading the spoilers in them so that they can experience this amazing sequel through the lens of SRW first. This’ll be the first time that Gaogaigo and its allies will be animated, and already it looks incredible. I await the SRW rendition of Gaogaigo’s Hell and Heaven with great anticipation, I hope we get to see and use a certain massive Betterman, and I’m guessing we’ll get the new opening and ending (that currently exist only in audio form) as BGM.

I also want to compliment the English localization team because I think “Hakai-oh” is such a difficult term to translate. Literally, it means “World-Conquering King,” and I think King of Kings captures that feeling nice and succinctly.

Burning Heart to Heart

Speaking of Braves, I honestly didn’t think J-Decker would ever make it in. Out of the entire franchise, I think J-Decker is one of the genuinely best shows, and I’m very happy to see Deckard, Shadowmaru, and the boys get their due. My dream is that there are some combination attacks involving Shadowmaru and Volfogg, but I’ll be content even without that. And If you want to know more of my thoughts on J-Decker as an anime, I appeared on an old podcast review.

Toku Time

Arguably the biggest appearance from out of left field is SSSS.Gridman. While it’ll fit nicely within SRW, the fact that it has its origins as an anime sequel to a tokusatsu series means there are just a lot of odd quirks to consider. In particular, Gridman is basically an Ultraman, and the closest we’ve had to mecha in SRW that move similar to Gridman are the EVAs from Evangelion—a show that is itself inspired by Ultraman. Given how this series ends, I also have to wonder how it’ll fit into the Super Robot Wars 30’s story, but what always comes first is making things look awesome.

X-TREME RADICAL Mazinkaiser 

As far as I can tell, Mazinkaiser Infinitism appears to have its origins as just an action figure of Mazinkaiser with a Mazinger Z: Infinity aesthetic. What’s funny about this version of Kaiser is that while the Mazinger Z in the Infinity film is a nice retro-modern update to a timeless design, even this Infinitism version of Mazinkaiser feels like it’s perpetually stuck in the 1990s—a Rob Liefeldian super robot that screams hypermasculinity. That was the case for its debut appearance (in a Super Robot Wars game!), the Mazinkaiser OVAs, Mazinkaiser SKL, and now this.

…And the Rest

I haven’t seen the recent Code Geass film, but I have fond memories of the near–train wreck that was Code Geass R2. I don’t know if there’s much for me to say here. As for Knight’s & Magic, I don’t know anything about it other than that it’s a mecha-themed isekai light novel. While it’s not the first SRW series with an isekai light novel origin (that honor goes to Aura Battler Dunbine), it’s still the first to be from a modern, post–Sword Art Online light novel. For that reason, I’m rather curious as to how it’ll be, and I might even be tempted to watch the anime.

See You in October

You damn well better believe I’m reviewing this game. 

Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and More in Super Robot Wars V

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, a new Super Robot Wars game is coming out in 2017. As is tradition, a number of new series are debuting, including Brave Express Might Gaine, Cross Ange, and what looks to be more Full Metal Panic! now based on either the new upcoming anime or its light novel source material. However, the biggest surprise of all has to be the debut of Space Battleship Yamato into the storied giant robot crossover video game series.

The main surprise, of course, is that Space Battleship Yamato 2199 isn’t a giant robot series. While other entries have in the past stretched the definition of giant robots, from Heroman to Juushin Liger, and others have source material in games other other media (notably the Hatsune Miku Fei-Yen), Yamato is the first to just flat out not be a robot series.

While this is the sort of exception that can get fans in a tizzy (“Is nothing sacred?!”), I think Yamato more or less gets a free pass as one of the most influential science fiction anime of all time. Its original staff was comprised of some of the luminaries of mecha anime (Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, Ishiguro Noboru, and more), and the idea of the “space opera” has had a long reach throughout Japanese pop culture history.

With this news, a new hashtag has appeared on Japanese Twitter:

It’s resulted in some iinteresting entries.

The other big surprise is that Super Robot Wars V will come with subtitles in Chinese, Korean, and English. However, due to licensing, the chance of a true English release is kind of slim.

What do you think should be in Super Robot Wars? How far can the definition of mecha be stretched?

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Ogiue Maniax Talking Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans on the Veef Show Podcast

fumitan

I stopped by the Veef Show to discuss the latest Mobile Suit Gundam series, Iron-Blooded Orphans. Have a listen, as we have fairly different perspectives on the show, and I’d love to know what you think of the series as well.

For reference, the post I mentioned about McGillis can be found here, and the series I mention at the end of the podcast that I have begun chapter reviewing is here.

So in conclusion, Fumitan Admoss is the best.

McGillis from Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is More Char than Char

McGillis_Fareed-5_G-Tekketsu-5Ever since Char Aznable became one of anime’s most memorable characters, many Gundam series have included similar rivals for their heroes. In general, they’re enemy pilots of roughly equal power who wear masks or something similar to hide their faces, and who often have their own ulterior, if noble, motives. Most recently joining the likes of Zechs Merquise, Harry Ord, and more is McGillis Fareed from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and his approach to being “a Char” is probably the most well-realized out of all of them.

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans spoilers below.

Throughout the original Gundam, Char Aznable is willing to (and has!) back-stabbed even his closest friends because his true goal, to get vengeance for the death of his father, overrides any sort of sentiment he might possess. McGillis is incredibly similar. He’s willing to sacrificing childhood friends for the sake of accomplishing his motives, but in a way he might also be even more scheming and cut-throat than Char himself. While Char might sabotage some of his own side for personal reasons, he never actively leaked information to the enemy or tried to orchestrate both sides to fall in his favor.

McGillis has gone from being a fairly interesting character to being one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the next season of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Given the overall quality of the show, I really, really hope the series doesn’t suffer from Sunrise “half-way point syndrome” like so many of their mecha anime, where in an attempt to become more successful a show loses what made it special in the first place.

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