Are You Okay? Spice and Wolf!!

At first I had a few hang ups about the new show, Spice and Wolf. It looked decent enough, but when people advertised its story and writing, all I saw for the first two episodes was “check out how awesome this wolf girl is, look at how awesome she is!”. While I thought the show was good, I wasn’t all that compelled to follow it.

After episodes 3 and 4 though, I feel the show has finally hit its stride. It has reached what I was hoping the show would be about: the down and dirty world of economics, like if Light, L, Lelouch, and CC were traveling salesmen.

I feel for your loneliness, Horo, I really do, but I hope to see a little less of that and more of the exciting and deceptive world of mink fur trading.

Fighting Because it’s Right, Not Because it’s Easy: Muteki Choujin Zambot 3

Before Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino created Muteki Choujin Zambot 3. Zambot 3 is very appropriately the predecessor to Gundam, and to watch it is to see how Gundam eventually developed into an idea in its own right. At the same time, the show stands very well on its own.

Zambot 3 is about a group of refugees from a distant planet named Beal which was destroyed by the evil entity known as Gaizok. The survivors of Beal, known as the Jin Family and numbering only a handful, migrated to Earth where they have been preparing for Gaizok’s inevitable invasion. The only thing that can stop Gaizok is the mighty robot, Zambot 3 and its three young pilots, Jin Kappei, Kamie Uchuuta, and Kamikita Keiko. Fighting Gaizok’s “Mecha Boost” monsters, however, is not the biggest problem that the Beal-seijin face.

There is no way to mistake Zambot 3 for a real robot. The weapons have no explainable technology, its combination sequence is unnecessarily long, and attack names are shouted out with fervor. However, while the robot itself is extravagant fantasy, that doesn’t hold true for the setting in which it’s placed. Zambot 3 may be the only thing standing between the Earth and annihilation by Gaizok, but the people of Japan don’t see it that way. Cities are destroyed, and many are left homeless. Of course, they’re the lucky ones, as the collateral damage resulting from the battles between Zambot 3 and the Mecha Boosts claim many lives. All of this results in an overall hatred of the Jin Family by the very people they protect. “If you weren’t here, Gaizok wouldn’t attack the Earth, and none of this would have ever happened!” The people’s hysteria stemming from this view is very real, and while a little disturbing, it’s easy to see why their panic and fear would lead them to try and stone a 12 year old boy to death. While the pilots are able to endure most of the intolerance towards them, it becomes especially painful when the pilots’ own friends also begin to view the Jin Family in a negative light. Kappei, for instance, has little doubt that what he does is right, but when confronted about it is unable to find the right words to defend himself, and because of this becomes angry and frustrated. They may be the pilots of Zambot 3, but the show doesn’t fail to remind you that in the end, they’re still just kids.

The age of the pilots is one of the more frequent criticisms thrown at Zambot 3, but if the show has any weaknesses, it’s not that the pilots are kids. While I think their “immaturity” is frequently exaggerated (15 is the age Amuro Ray first got onto the Gundam), all three pilots are dedicated to the fight against Gaizok, and all three have the skill to back it up. The show tastefully portrays the fact that all three pilots are at a transitional age. They’re surprisingly mature in some ways, expectedly immature in others, and often forced into situations which they can’t win, even if they destroy the Mecha Boost that’s attacking the city. As to WHY they pilot it instead of their very much alive parents or older siblings, it’s because they’ve been trained to pilot it. As to why they had their kids being trained to pilot it, I’ll cop out and say, “It’s just anime.” By making the pilots relatively young, it eliminates the need for comic sidekicks. If you’re going to give kids characters to relate to, why not have them relate to characters who can actually do something?

That’s not to say the show doesn’t have any problems; there are two in particular which stand out. First, is that the show suffers from inconsistent animation. The show actually looks like it has a lower budget than ones from years before it, like Reideen the Brave. Mouths sometimes stay in place while the rest of the head moves. Colors and features change at random. While this may hold true for most shows from this era, it can be particularly jarring in Zambot 3. If I hadn’t seen the line art, I would think that the animators of Zambot 3 had no base character designs to work from. That said, the artwork picks up towards the end of the series.

Second, is the villains. While Gaizock may be a powerful threat, it’s not a terribly interesting one until the second half of the series. Much time is spent per episode showing the antics of Butcher as he schemes and plots. By schemes and plots, I mean tries on jewelry, gets his mustache shaved, and at one point holds a rock concert in the Bandock which no one (save the viewer) will ever see. I suspect that these scenes are similar to the comic relief that kid sidekicks and zany best friends usually provide, but I’m not sure how much kids even back in 1977 could enjoy a big, fat purple alien with a mustache and goatee playing pool or getting a tan. By the second half of the series, though, things get more serious as Butcher reveals his ultimate plan. I dont want to spoil it, but let’s just say it DOESN’T involve building bigger monsters, doomsday lasers or anything of that sort.

At 23 episodes, Zambot 3 is surprisingly short for a giant robot series from the 70’s. Combined with Tomino’s ability to facilitate an ongoing plot where one would least expect it, results in a very good pacing, ESPECIALLY for a giant robot series from the 70’s. The first episode introduces Kappei, Zambo Ace, and the basic premise. The second episode introduces Uchuuta and Keiko. The third episode debuts Zambot itself. After that, all of the episodes, while containing an obvious Monster of the Week battle, advance the overall story, mostly through the emotions and tensions of the characters involved. To restate, things really pick up in the second half. If you already know the reputations of Zambot 3 and Tomino, nothing more needs to be said. If you don’t know, well, just watch if you can. While Zambot 3 is not as revolutionary as Gundam, the concepts that Zambot present as a robot anime act as a very strong bridge between the “real robot” sub-genre that Gundam would create, and the “super robot” shows that preceded it.

Gundam 00, Season 1, Episodes 1-13

I have finally gotten around to watching Gundam 00, and now at the end of part 1 of season 1 (episodes 1-13), I find myself with a series which manages to be culturally relevant and captures the spirit of Gundam without actually trying.

I am aware of the fact that the director of Gundam 00, Mizushima Seiji, has said that he’s never seen a Gundam series before, and that this was an intentional decision by the staff to get some fresh ideas into Gundam. I know there are some disagreements among fans about this, but you know who else never saw any Gundam before directing his first Gundam series? Tomino Yoshiyuki, that’s who.

A technicality yes, but the point is that Tomino, like Mizushima, did not approach his directorial role from the position of a mecha fan or a fan of the conventions of giant robot series. The result is a pleasing series which tries its best to show that even in this fictional world of hot girls and suave (mentally damaged) men, that world peace is not so easy to achieve.

When viewing Gundam 00, I feel as if I’m looking at a very elaborate jigsaw puzzle. There are many parts to it, and eventually it will form a greater whole, but I can’t see where exactly everything will fit into place. It’s pretty interesting slowly watching the plot and world unfold. Everything and every character is given prominence in the series, and to continue my jigsaw puzzle analogy, the main gundam pilots, the Gundam Meisters, are like the corner pieces. They are only more important in their role of being a helpful start, but the true main characters are everyone else, from the politicians to the other pilots to the civilians. Gundam 00 is a series which asks the viewer to see a bigger picture.

Now, Celestial Being’s goal of eliminating warfare is something we’ve seen before in Gundam series, especially when this goal is being carried out by a series of bishounen. One main difference from its predecessors though is that their idealism is not the reality of the show. Celestial Being acknowledges the sheer logistical difficulty of trying to prevent war via giant mobile death platforms, and sees that an ideal is just an ideal no matter how hard they fight towards it. Sacrifices must be taken, concessions must be made, it isn’t all rainbows and flowers and they know it. Even the “Relena” of this series, Marina Ismail, acknowledges this from the very start.

As I said in my Votoms part 1 review, I am at the point where the plot will truly begin. Congratulations Gundam 00, I am proud to call you a Gundam series.

PS: I laughed my ass off when I saw the sudden arrival of Future Kato.

Armored Trooper Votoms: Part 1

This is a review of episodes 1-13 (or was that 14?) of Armored Trooper Votoms.

Armored Trooper Votoms is the story of a soldier gone AWOL named Chirico Cuvie. Chirico is the pilot of an “Armored Trooper,” essentially a giant robot used for military purposes, but without any of the flash or style of a Gundam or a Valkyrie. Having found himself an unwitting accomplice in a conspiracy to attack a friendly space station, Chirico is betrayed by his fellow soldiers, but not before discovering their most important secret: A mysterious, expressionless woman inside a capsule and the target of capture by his former allies. Barely escaping with his own life, Chirico runs into a higher-up in the military, a man named Rocchina, who believes Chirico’s accidental treason to be anything but. Chirico is tortured mercilessly, but manages to escape and ends up in a city of scoundrels and gangs not unlike the entire planet in Hokuto no Ken. That city is named Uoodo.

In Uoodo, Chirico manages to make some friends, though none of them are by any means innocent, given the nature of Uoodo. Chirico must deal with a corrupt police force while still running from the military who believes him to know more than he actually does. As Chirico tries to survive, he begins to learn the secrets of the mysterious woman he met at the space station, referred to as the “Prototype,” and the viewer is shown that the conspiracy that got Chirico running for his life in the first place runs much deeper than anybody ever suspected.

Armored Trooper Votoms, as I mentioned, has giant robots, and not fancy ones at that. The result is that, while the action is not exactly completely realistic, it has a very gritty feel to it. An Armored Trooper is not made of super alloys, it does not have any fancy weapons or serious technological edge. It is basically a tank with legs. In fact, Chirico frequently switches Armored Troopers because the previous one got wrecked beyond repair in battle, though he prefers a specific type called the Scope Dog. In one battle, his Scope Dog was taken down by heavy fire from people on foot and in cars and helicopters. They are far from invincible, and this is the basis of the combat in the show.

As for the plot, this is what is meant whenever someone says that you have to give a Sunrise mecha series chance to set up, that they generally have a 13-episode test. This entire first part, aptly entitled the “Uoodo” arc, is ALL setup for what’s to come. I can feel it, I think anyone watching can feel it, the whole point of this first part is to set up the characters and the basic setting, and to establish what is “normal” for the show so that the show can then be turned on its head. These first 13 episodes for the most part feel fairly episodic. They sometimes revolve around Chirico’s friends trying to strike it rich, or Chirico escaping from danger, or a combination of the two, but along the way hints are dropped and characterization is expanded. My only complaint is that the show has a very Tomino-esque way of introducing relationships, which is to say unrealistic and rushed in order to make a plot point. Other than that, the show is on its way to success.

I have been set up. Now it’s time for the show to begin knocking me down.

PS: One amusing aspect of Votoms I should mention is the next episode previews, which are usually serious expositions of what will happen to Chirico. Best of all is that they all end on some extremely dramatic and cryptic message of what’s to come. The one that stands out in my mind is “NEXT TIME, CHIRICO DRINKS HIS COFFEE BLACK, AND IT IS BITTER INDEED.” It kind of makes the show hard to take seriously sometimes, but that’s okay.

Metaphors Strike Like Lightning: Kino’s Journey

Kino

As stated a while back, I finished watching Kino’s Journey, so I thought I’d lay down a few thoughts about it.

Kino’s Journey is the story of a girl named Kino, whose occupation is “Traveler.”  Being a Traveler entails going from country to country, exploring the world as a whole.  Kino is accompanied by her sentient motorcycle, a “Motorrad” named Hermes.

Kino’s Journey is loved by many, and after having watched it, I must agree that it is a wonderful series.  Each episode is more or less a self-contained story, one stop on Kino’s never-ending on-the-road life.  Each story has some basic metaphors for human thought, behavior, and philosophy, and are meant to show that there are many sides to any one situation.  It has a very slice-of-life feel to it, but unlike so many slice-of-life shows Kino’s Journey is not innocent.  No one is innocent in this world, and nowhere does this contrast stand out more than in the fact that Kino herself carries multiple firearms with which to defend herself.  And she’s a skilled marksman too.

The necessity of her guns alone goes a long way in explaining the central theme of the show: People are not beautiful, therefore they are.