My Mecha Year: The Half-way Point

turn a gundam ep 19e

Mecha.

I keep struggling to write this post as there seems to be no adequate way to go about it – I’ve stopped and started enough that I’ve likely deleted enough words to have been long for a full post, but, well, so it goes.

I should probably explain what this is even all about. I’ve been thinking of this as ‘my mecha year’ since last winter when I was somewhat startled to discover I’d developed a craving for mech shows. I’ve never been much into mecha previously; sure, I’ve seen a ton of Gundam, but given my age and when I became an anime fan, it’s just sort of a given. (I sometimes think of English-speaking anime fandom over the past five to eight years as being ‘post-Gundam’, as the ubiquity of the franchise has plummeted so much versus what it was in the first half of last decade. I’ve long since ceased to expect that younger fans have seen any Gundam, and it doesn’t help that very little of it is available legally in English. A kid at Anime Boston in 2013 asked me what panel I was headed to and expressed a lack of knowledge when I said, “The Sunrise panel.”, and when I said, “They made Gundam.” they continued to give me this placid look of ignorance. Which isn’t to shake my fist angrily and yell at the kids to get out of my dooryard, just that it feels weird to go from endless loops of Gundam TV series on Cartoon Network and a fanfiction output rivaling the yearly output of major publishing houses to what there is now.)

Well, that was a hell of a tangent!

So, yes, sudden desire for mecha, mecha, mecha. I’m tempted to blame Macross 7, the only Macross series I like, and one which I had heard primarily bad things about beforehand, but, wow, everyone was lying! This was great! Not quite G Gundam great, but nothing ever will be. But I can’t really think of Macross 7 as a mech show, quite frankly; maybe it says something about me and my worldview, but when the mecha exist primarily in order to let the lead play a guitar at the bad lot, is it still a mech show? Personally, I say no, even considering that Gamlin and those other guys pilot their own mecha which they use to shoot the space vamps (ineffectively, I might add!). But I’m also inclined to call what they pilot planes in the first place, and, yes, I realize that is blasphemous speak – just blame it on the fact that I’m not a Macross fan, alright?

But if not Macross 7, that leaves the other mech show I was watching at that time, and, really, would Buddy Complex ever make a person want more mecha? I suppose if you were already a fan of the genre it would leave you wanting other mecha as it falls fairly short of satisfaction itself, but that couldn’t’ve been the case for me.

So, TL;DR – no idea what made me suddenly want to indulge in so much giant robot stuff. It just sort of happened.

So, for this year thus far, I’ve watched (asterisks for shows I haven’t finished yet):

  • Gundam Wing (as if anyone could’ve not known this)
  • Turn A Gundam*
  • Escaflowne
  • Brain Powerd
  • Gasaraki*
  • Zambot 3*
  • Gundam 08th MS Team*
  • Star Driver movie
  • Macross 7
  • Macross 7 Dynamite
  • Buddy Complex*
  • Argevollen*
  • Aldnoah.Zero*

Actually, I also tried out M3 as well, but not out of a thirst for mech shows so much as that it was there as a new show, so I prefer to not mention it. Of that list, I watched way more of Buddy Complex than I should’ve before dropping completely, and Gasaraki, while theoretically nifty, was actually fairly lethargy-inducing in practice so it got dropped completely, too.

Gundam Wing was a re-watch. Turn A is a re-watch – and a very well-timed one, as it turned out, since Aldnoah.Zero is basically a more graphically violent, more pretentious Turn A. In fact, the similarities between the two series leaves me convinced that Gen Urobuchi at the very least watched and enjoyed Turn A once. I’m not accusing him, by the way, of ripping off Turn A; he seems to have been inspired by it. It’d be an intriguing turn of events, as Tomino set out to make giant robot Serious as a genre, and Aldnoah.Zero feels like an attempt to make Turn A Quite Serious in an Adult way. One of the things that’s so great about Turn A is that its Tomino’s biggest elements/impulses coming together in a way that works – there’s the serious elements with plenty of comedy throughout as well as some fairly Tomino absurdism (is there anything more Sunrise than naming a character Cancer Kafka?). (I’ll admit that I want to say its like if he took the best bits of Victory and ZZ and blended them together, but that gives a terrible impression for a show that’s very good.)

So – if you’re watching Aldnoah.Zero right now and you’ve never seen Turn A, please adjust accordingly. Thank you.

Speaking of Aldnoah.Zero… well, there are parts I like a lot, but its stalled a fair bit and I’m still irritated with the approach of… well, for example – Slaine managing to gain an audience with the emperor. The odds were totally against it, and he took a huge risk! But he managed to get his audience… only for thirty seconds later it to be totally undermined. A.Z keeps pulling that sort of thing, jerking the rug out almost immediately in a way that makes one skeptical about there being any greater purpose than to stall for time. In terms of execution, I honestly think Argevollen is doing better this season; its a pretty standard mech show on the whole, with some brief flashes of intelligence paired with a lot of the more irritating tropes of the genre, but at least the characters generally behave in ways that are recognizably human and mostly consistent with the personalities as established (and, yeah, even as Tokimune doesn’t get his ass court-martialed for pulling a couple stupid stunts this is true; if you thought he’d ever face punishment, well, you didn’t know what show you had tuned into in the first place, bros). A.Z gives us an emperor who is all suspicious and then twenty minutes of anime later is all, “Yeah, hey, j/k, let’s bomb the shit out of them.”

…which isn’t arguing that Argevollen is good. I’m enjoying it much more than I would’ve expected, but that same thing can be said of A.Z.

But speaking of characters not behaving consistently or like human beings, Brain Powerd! Wow, what a crappy show! Brain Powerd at least allowed me to do my nails while watching anime since I could throw the dub on, so there’s a plus. It also helped me appreciate anime that are merely mediocre at depicting people as Brain Powerd couldn’t’ve done a more awful job of this if it had tried. Outside of ultra-violent 80’s OAVs, I genuinely struggle to think of an example of poorer characterization than Brain Powerd offered, and its a struggle where I come up blank after. Even Dragonaut does a better job! (Dragonaut was Guilty Crown before Guilty Crown was Guilty Crown, bros.) I’m glad that I watched it, as it was one of Tomino’s efforts between Victory Gundam and Turn A, but I would never tell another person to bother with it unless they’re into being a Tomino completist. There are elements of both Victory and Turn A in it, which is fascinating in a way since those two shows are so different, but its such a terrible show, and its marinating in a fair amount of racism and sexism.

Oh, and America has fifty-two states in it.

If I’m talking completism, might as well mention the Star Driver movie now. I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in how little new material was presented, although it wasn’t surprising that it was the case. Not a place for a beginner to start off with since a lot of the finer details are absent (then again, I started with the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie first before bothering with the TV series and I didn’t find that too bewildering, so maybe you could watch this first). Its made me mildly interested in re-watching the TV series, but I found the first eight or ten episodes mostly repellent, so I’m not sure that’ll ever happen. Star Driver TV does get a lot better, but you have to slog through a good bit first before getting to entirely watch-worthy episodes.

For my next mech movie, I’d like to watch Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea despite being lukewarm about the TV series. This is one of those cases, too, where I feel a bit guilty for not pissing myself over it as I know several folks who loved it and whose opinions I typically trust. Like with Le Chevalier D’Eon, though, I felt a nagging sense of emptiness at the core. I couldn’t picture the primary cast having lives off-screen for the most part, which was especially irritating in the case of Hitomi since we’re privy to her thoughts and are also given a decent base for her: she’s in track and she’s a fairly good athlete, and she enjoys and is good at doing tarot readings, something her grandmother taught her. She also isn’t satisfied to sit quietly and wait for things to happen. Nevertheless, Hitomi’s thoughts 90% of the time can be summed up with, “Uguu, Allen. Uguu, Van.” Girl in Gaea, based on the description, sounds like it features a moodier, more otherworldly Hitomi, so I think it might work better.

Finally, 08th MS Team I want to mention because I looooove it, and I loooove it for the reason that I probably haven’t historically done well with mech shows – 08th MS Team really is a war anime and most mech shows aren’t. Yeah, sure, they’ve often got wars in them, but 08th MS Team is about a team of soldiers who are nobodies in the grand scheme of things. No one’s shouting, “OH MY GOD, A GUNDAM!”*, there’s no Char, there’s barely any politics… I wish there were more mech shows like this, even as I recognize that it flies in the face of the mecha ethos, i.e. mecha exist in order to make an individual soldiers important in the grand scheme.

Looking at the list of what I’ve watched/am watching, it is mostly Sunrise. With knowledge of other Sunrise efforts of the 90’s which I’ve watched before and what I’ve seen this year, I would argue that Sunrise used to be a fundamentally more interesting studio in the 90’s than it is now. Brain Powerd is bad, but it was an attempt to dig into questions about modern society, its ideal/beliefs, and the affect on families and nations, as well as a move of mech from being cold machinery to sentient mechanical creatures. Gasaraki is punishingly slow, but its also unlike any other mech show before or since, as it marries Noh to the mech genre. And while Escaflowne wasn’t the first of its kind by any means (Rayearth, anyone?), its setting and approach is on the unusual side for mecha. And this is to say nothing of the likes of Big O or Infinite Ryvius… or Cowboy Bebop (although I’ll confess to preferring the far closer to the mean Outlaw Star… which, intriguingly, was produced at the same time as the original thirteen episodes of Cowboy Bebop; you can even see that a few of the background designs are the same – the shows shared some staff). Even Gundam mixed it up a bit in the 90’s post-Victory, with some efforts more intriguing than others, and some more successful than others.

In addition to the mech shows I’m currently working my way through (Turn A, 08th MS Team, Argevollen, Zambot 3, Aldnoah.Zero), I want to finish off the remainder of Macross 7 I haven’t seen (OAVs and shorts), and also want to at least try the following:

  • Infinite Ryvius
  • Daitarn 3
  • Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross
  • Soukou no Strain
  • Gin-iro no Olynsis
  • Gundam ZZ
  • After War Gundam X
  • Gundam: Reconguista in G
  • Gundam Unicorn (I HAVE THE DVD’S)
  • Macross II (I OWN THE DVD… AND IT’S SIGNED… AND THAT’S BECAUSE OF A REAL, TRUE BRO)
  • Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam

I know not all of these have great reputations, but that’s fine. Gundam X would be a re-watch, and I predict it’ll prove painful, sadly enough. There’s no rhyme or reason to what I want to be watching, ultimately, although I have wanted to watch a few older mech shows to give greater depth to my experience of the genre. I also expect this list to grow, and I’m sure it’ll go past the end of this calendar year – I just tend to think of this as My Mech Year, because it started in January and represented a new trend for my tastes. I’ll check back in when December rolls around, bros, an let you know how it all went.

* To be fair, Turn A doesn’t really have this, either, but that’s mostly since the Earthlings have never heard the term before and its even obscure among the Moonrace.

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3 Responses to My Mecha Year: The Half-way Point

  1. Bonesy! says:

    gonna give my friend turn a to watch, inb4 he never watches it and i cry

  2. Nasch II says:

    Ummmmm……
    YOU FORGOT CAPTAIN EARTH

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