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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Super Robot Wars T and Gaogaigar’s Unspoken Plot Change?

I’ve been playing the heck out of Super Robot Wars T (available via import in English for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4), and as always, I’m into the loving fanfictional goodness that the franchise always entails. When you have all of these different giant robot heroes in the same universe, the interactions are an endless source of amusement and head-nodding affirmation.

Of the many crossover moments little and big, however, there is what I believe to be an unspoken story element that significantly alters the course of one particular series: King of Braves Gaogaigar. This might be mere fan speculation on my part, but I think it also makes total sense.

In the original 1997 Gaogaigar TV series, the main character Shishioh Guy uses an attack called Hell and Heaven to finish off monsters. A little into the series, however, he discovers that using the attack too much does severe damage to his cyborg body, and that overusing it could lead to death. In response to this, his team (known as GGG) creates a new, alternative finisher called the Goldion Hammer, which becomes his default decisive blow through most of the series. It’s only in desperate times when the Goldion Hammer isn’t available that Guy will resort back to Hell and Heaven.

But in Super Robot Wars T, when you meet Guy, the Goldion Hammer is nowhere in sight, despite the story being well past the point in the anime where he was supposed to get the Goldion Hammer. And yet, Guy shows no signs of excessive use of Hell and Heaven. On one level, this is likely a gameplay pacing decision, to keep Gaogaigar from having its strongest attack early on, but I think there’s also an in-story explanation: he simply didn’t have to use it as much in the SRWT universe.

Whereas Gaogaigar and GGG alone fought against EI-01 and the Zonders in the anime, in the game, they occasionally received help from Watta and Tryder G7 (from Muteki Robo Tryder G7), as well as Maito and Mightgaine (from The Brave Express Mightgaine). In other words, in SRWT, Guy had enough assistance in his many battles that, by the time we meet him in-game, he isn’t anywhere near as overburdened as he is in the anime.

It’s considerations like the above which make Super Robot Wars T (and Super Robot Wars in general) such a treat. I’m looking forward to seeing whatever other crazy moments are in store.

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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Correcting Past Failures Through the Super Robot Wars Games

The Super Robot Wars series, which crosses over various mecha anime across history in the form of turn-based strategy video games, is known for trying to make giant robots look their best. One way in which this is accomplished is through the attack animations, which have become increasingly detailed, dynamic, and beautiful as graphics have improved, such that even the less popular and even less good-looking series of yesteryear appear to have a new lease on life.

However, on a few occasions there will be an attack, even an ultimate attack, that will within the context of the source material be followed by failure or tragedy, and I find it pretty funny to see when the makers of the Super Robot Wars games try to compensate for this in some way. Below are a few examples.

(Spoilers for some series below).

The first comes from King of Braves Gaogaigar Final.

The mighty King J-Der, rival and ally to Gaogaigar, launches its strongest attack, the J-Phoenix. In the OVAs, this attack is unsuccessful in taking down the enemy, but of course you can’t have that happen in the video game. I personally interpret that pause at the end of the attack animation in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 to be a vestige of that past failure.

The second example comes from Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen (also known as Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!).

In the final battle, archetypal hero Kabuto Kouji sends a shower of Rocket Punches at Dr. Hell, ending it off with a final blow with a “Big Bang Punch.” However, in the actual anime, while the attack succeeds, the consequences are revealed immediately after to be arguably worse than if Kouji had not defeated Dr. Hell. It turns out that Dr. Hell, while evil, was also trying to prevent an even more evil force from succeeding. While this is acknowledged in the Super Robot Wars Z games through its story, as the games move along you can just keep using the attack mission after mission. The fact that the background doesn’t just suddenly turn red to signal further horrific developments almost feels as if something is missing.

The third comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

When the Angel Zeruel appears, it’s the toughest enemy that Ikari Shinji and the other Evangelion pilots have ever faced. At one point Asuka, desperate to prove herself, launches a non-stop artillery volley at the Angel, only for it to prove utterly ineffective. In the anime, this is one of the stepping stones to Asuka’s total breakdown at the end of the series, but in the video from Super Robot Wars MX below shows it being used to defeat opponents with few problems.

As I mentioned, most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars don’t really have this issue, and generally it’s all about celebrating their successes and having fun with characters from multiple series working together. Though, if most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars were to come from failures in the original anime, that might say something about where mecha anime as a genre has gone.

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Super Robot Wars BX: How ‘Bout Those Obscure Titles

A new Super Robot Wars game is coming to the Nintendo 3DS, and at this point people know the drill. A bunch of old favorites come back, a few new series make their debut, and because it’s not on a “main” system they can be a little more daring with their choices in terms of which new anime to bring along.

Returning Series

-Aura Battler Dunbine
-Story of Aura Battler Dunbine
-Zettai Muteki Raijin-Oh
-King of Braves Gaogaigar
-Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
-Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie
-Macross Frontier Movies
-Shin Mazinger (Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!)
-Mazinkaiser SKL
-Martian Successor Nadesico

New Series

-Panzer World Galient
-SD Gundam Gaiden
-Mobile Suit Gundam AGE
-Giant Gorg
-Macross 30

While the new series at a glance might not seem that unusual, I think a second look actually brings home how bizarre the newcomers are. In some cases, it’s because they lend themselves well to the crossover nature of Super Robot Wars. Panzer World Galient and Giant Gorg are two series fans probably thought would never join SRW, yet it’s odd that this would be the case because both of their settings involve disparate levels of technology and a greater dedication to an almost more philosophical sense of science fiction that potentially lets them connect various generations together. Gundam AGE is at this point one of the black sheep of the Gundam franchise, yet its generational story can be the glue that holds similar yet different series together (Shin Mazinger and Mazinkaiser SKL, for example).

On a personal note, I’m looking forward to hearing the instrumental version of the Galient opening.

sdgundamgaiden-card

Then you have SD Gundam Gaiden, and I think to appreciate its inclusion we have to go back to the beginnings of Super Robot Wars.

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In the early iterations of SRW, the Gundam units took their designs and aesthetics from the popular SD Gundam franchise. This meant mobile suits looked extra cutesy, with large expressive eyes that future pupils. As SRW progressed this changed: pupils disappeared, robots became not quite as squat, and the old-fashioned SD look became a relic of the past. By having a series that actively celebrates that more cartoonish look, it’s almost like a piece of SRW history is returning. It’s all the more notable then that the Unicorn Gundam from Gundam UC is probably the least chibi-looking Gundam in SRW history; its proportions are practically realistic.

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 11.00.20 PM

As for Macross, that franchise is fairly common in Super Robot Wars, but Macross 30 is actually a Playstation 3 game devoted to celebrating the Macross metaseries as a whole. So, in a game dedicated to bringing together multiple giant robot anime, one of their inclusions is a video game all about celebrating decades of one series in particular. Does this mean that all of the Macross characters across history will show up, or is the intention more to focus on the original characters of Macross 30?

So, while it’s not as wild as throwing in Jushin Liger or Iron Leaguer, Super Robot Wars BX might have just enough twists to the formula to make things interesting.

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Gamification of Drama

There’s a scene in the old Nintendo Power comic based on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where Link and Zelda are finally facing off against Ganon himself, the primary antagonist of the Zelda series. As Ganon has Link and Zelda nearly beaten, Zelda says a prayer and desperately fires a seemingly plain wooden arrow at Ganon, only for the arrow to transform into the legendary Silver Arrow mid-flight and slay the pig demon. The whole notion of the Silver Arrow as Ganon’s one weakness is taken from the video games, but as anyone who has played Link to the Past knows, you don’t need one Silver Arrow to defeat Ganon, but four. Essentially, while there are a number of approaches that could have been taken, in this case the comic dramatizes the impact of the Silver Arrow by having its singular appearance act as the climax of the story in order for it to function better as a narrative.

If the Link to the Past comic is a case of taking a gameplay element and transforming it into a plot point, then the Super Robot Wars games, especially the recent ones, are a strong example of the opposite. Based on the idea of taking robots from actual anime and having them fight together, the SRW franchise is all about the conversion of story elements into gameplay, but the early games were limited by an emphasis on statistics. The result was that certain characters and robots became less useful because they lacked effectiveness in the game itself. There have been attempts to mitigate it, such as creating an original upgrade for one of the robots, such as the relatively weak Mazinger Z into the mighty Mazinkaiser, but recent SRW games, particular the series, have sought to remedy this discrepancy by completely prioritizing dramatic impact over a sense of logic. Thus, not only are the most powerful weapons transformed into attack options, but the most powerful moments in the original anime are given a gameplay function.

Thus, what you see is not simply the robot Godmars’ strongest technique, but a recreation of the moment when Godmars and its pilot Takeru draw upon the last of their energy to deliver a final blow to the main antagonist of their story. The “Super Final Godmars” technique is meant to carry the same weight as Zelda’s Silver Arrow in the comic, only it’s made repeatable throughout the game so it also functions as the Silver Arrow from the video game.

This approach even transcends specific moments in a series, as is shown when looking at how the characters in those robot series are themselves given unique properties to show off their individuality. Lelouch, protagonist of Code Geass, is meant to be a strategic mastermind in his story, and so the game gives him the ability to boost allied units in specific ways which make him best suited for staying out of the front lines and for issuing commands.

What I find interesting about this transformation of plot point into gameplay elements is that the actual end goal of such a function is to invoke intangible qualities by way of tangible mechanics of intangible moments. In other words, in order to give players the feeling of re-enacting those climaxes from anime, the SRW games look at those dramatic moments, figure out how it should impact the game in terms of requirements/damage/etc., but then has to arrange those numbers to best replicate the feelings created by those original scenes. This is probably what makes the original robots which appear in SRW games to have such over-the-top animations compared to the robots with actual source material; they have to add another step to try and convince players that they should be just as into their (at the time) ahistorical designs as they are the robots straight from anime.

Super Robot Wars UX is Full of Whippersnappers

A new Super Robot Wars game was announced yesterday, Super Robot Wars UX for the Nintendo 3DS, and the amount of new and unexpected entries makes me want to talk about it, as well as some other SRW-related thoughts.

I think you can roughly categorize Super Robot Wars into two types of games: the flagship titles, and the experimental ones. The former consists of the titles with the best animation and the most-anticipated anime entries into the franchise. The latter can go in a number of directions, from aesthetics (3D models instead of 2D sprites in Super Robot Wars GC) to gameplay (a switch from turn-based to real-time strategy as with Super Robot Wars Scramble Commander), but often times “experimental” simply ends up referring to the titles chosen for that game.

That’s pretty much where UX is. Just look at the debut works for this version.

  • Kishin Houkou Demonbane
  • Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth
  • Wings of Rean
  • Cyber Troopers Virtual On’s Fei-Yen HD
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A wakening of the Trailblazer
  • SD Gundam Three Kingdoms Legend: Brave Battle Warriors
  • Mazinkaiser SKL
  • Heroman

When you include the other titles that are in this game, the first thing that jumps out is just how new most of the anime are. Not only is the Mazinger franchise represented by its latest one-off OVA series, but the actual oldest anime in the entire game (and the only two from the 1980s) are Aura Battler Dunbine, and then Ninja Senshi Tobikage of all things. If it were a flagship title, there would have to be certain staples, but with a “lesser” SRW like this, it’s possible to inject a ton of new blood into it and not offend anyone.

Not only that, but when you look at some of the recent titles chosen for UX, they seem to be among the least likely candidates even among non-flagship SRW games. Brave Battle Warriors is actually an already-super deformed Gundam anime done entirely in 3DCG and based on classical chinese literature, the sort of title one would least expect to represent Gundam even with the fact that SEED Destiny and 00 are there. Though I’m sure it’s based on the anime version, Demonbane‘s inclusion may be the first instance (and correct me if I’m wrong) of a visual novel appearing in SRW, which opens the gate for things like Muvluv Alternative.

Heroman I wasn’t even sure counted as a giant robot anime, though I guess if you think about it, it’s basically a combination of Tetsujin 28/Giant Robo with Gold Lightan (though Gold Lightan has yet to make its debut). Possibly craziest of all is the inclusion of Virtual On in the form of a Fei-Yen dressed like Hatsune Miku. Virtual On in SRW Alpha 3 paved the way for non-anime/manga to appear in Super Robot Wars games, and this takes it to another level, as I’m pretty sure Miku Fei-Yen is nothing more than a model kit!

It might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I actually love it when SRW games go a little wild like this, though one complaint I do have is that the DS SRW games have never been the most impressive when it comes to animation. My issue isn’t even with the quality of the sprites or an unfair comparison to the exquisitely animated Z series of SRW, but that a lot of the shortcuts taken to try to make the games look better actually end up making them look worse. In particular, I’m referring to the way the DS games including UX incorporate cut-ins, and detail shots. Instead of creating the images to better match the sprites and the visuals of the rest of the game, the DS SRWs basically take screenshots directly from the original anime, and while this means things look accurate, it also sticks out in an odd way and messes with the way the attack animations end up looking in a manner which didn’t quite affect previous games with worse sprite animation.

But it might just be that with a game with this daring of a series list, some things have to give. In that case, I’ll take it, but will still hope for better the next time around.