The future has shone upon us with its glorious brilliance! The time to seize our destiny and conquer all our fears is now! In ancient times man rubbed sticks together to create fire. Then they slaughtered the whale and battled one another for oil! After that came the atomic age! In every chapter of our history we’ve danced with danger but now it will be different! For the first time in the history of existence we will be delivered from fear! Finally, we will escape the prison of our illusions and the beautiful night will embrace us all!
Franken Von Vogler, from Giant Robo episode 2
The search for plenty and the obviation of resource shortages is a preoccupation of science fiction; the main obstacle in the way of unrestricted progress in reality is the scarcity of materials on which the modern age relies. As a result, the science-fiction utopia must either embrace a post-scarcity world in some fashion, or accept that the future must be a more frugal and responsible one. This former solution can come either through the colonisation of other planets and thus the assumption that new resource stockpiles may be found, such that the current rates of consumption may be maintained indefinitely, or through the assumption that science will provide for society with a method of obviating the current reliance on specific natural resources. Giant Robo, in its optimistic, pulp-esque opening narration filled with atomic-age optimism, describes the “third energy revolution”, predicated on the Shizuma Drive, a miraculous invention which overnight ended mankind’s need for natural resources thanks to the sudden cheap availability of free energy. Even the core conflict laid down in this opening – that between the almost naively titled Experts of Justice and the villainous Big Fire Society – is straightforward. Science has provided humanity with limitless power in the most literal sense, and it is inevitably abused by evildoers.
Throughout Eureka Seven, the emphasis of the story has been on characters reliving past events – both secrets and past vendettas being played out, as with Ray and Charles or Renton’s father and grandfather, and recapitulation of story themes in new settings. Episode 34 begins with this clearly laid out; Renton is now the trusted confidant of Holland, and Moondoggie, previously the mentor figure, is now doing the menial jobs and being troubled by the children aboard ship. In this way, life on the Gekko is clearly seen to move on; although the growing sense of community and the obstacles to it have often been explicity laid out and used as major plot points and arcs prior to the major plot reveal, now the focus is almost entirely on Dewey’s plan, the emphasis of the story moves away from the petty matters and childishness.
Build Fighters, the newest entry in the Gundam franchise marks a significant departure from the series’ roots; it moves away from military science fiction stories in imagined universes where giant robots are weapons of war, and instead imagines a much nearer-future world where previous Gundam series exist as in-setting fiction unchanged from their existence in the real world. The story becomes one about a futuristic hybrid miniatures/video wargame – players build SF analogues of extant scale models and use them as their avatars in-game much like Activision’s recent Skylanders series. Obviously, this is a plain recognition of Gundam as a commercial entity – a story about consumers of actual products and media. The intent is undeniably to raise awareness of the franchise and its physical merchandising – yet the attitudes its characters promote are not quite simple conspicuous consumption. The series promotes physical items which themselves promote past media, some of which is over 30 years old, and the emphasis is as much on appreciating the entire setting and game as simply the physical objects.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon forms a visual mirror to episode 11, beginning with a scene that picks up the pervasive clinical imagery of TERRA supervising Ayato during his disappearance; this time, Quan is apparently dying. The subsequent scene, as she is observed, provides the viewer with private information – she is an “M-Type”, and of great importance. That she is not human, or at the least partially related to the Mu, has been made clear in scenes such as that within the temple previously – what this scene does is reveal that it is no secret to the Federation, and Kisaragi’s suspicious assistant. They play on the idea of surveillance, implying that they have been having sex in the observation room and wondering if Quan was actually watching them. Intimacy has previously been quite distant in Rahxephon and this scene picks up again on the dream-world of episode 11; there, faux-intimacy created a sense of the uncanny as characters usually frosty became incredibly affectionate. Here, the suspicious nature is presented openly; Sayako is told that the Federation are “honest” in their desire to help an unknown “him” yet they remain cagey about what exactly that are doing, or who it will benefit. Making any implications from this is hard; the characters by now have fingers in so many pies that about the only certainty is it is unlikely to be Ayato, who still has no real agency.
The Yuusha franchise of super-robot animé has something of a limited presence outside of Japan; comparatively little of it is subtitled and it remains largely unlocalised. The most well known entry is probably GaoGaiGar, the final series of the franchise and one which has significant popularity among genre fans for its development of classic plot formulas into far grander spectacle than most series. It has all the recognisable elements both of a Yuusha series and of a good super-robot story; a gang of young relatable protagonists, a mysterious hero and a team of fighting robots that challenge ever-greater threats. Yet being the last series in the franchise, it represents a culmination of ideas that were experimented with in prior entries, a kind of distillation of what might be the secret to a series’ popularity. In many ways, its most memorable aspects are those points where it differs from the franchise norms and returns more to wider genre traditions. For starters, the lead robot is piloted by a character who is not really the protagonist, as opposed to being a fully independent machine or one controlled by the character at the centre of the story. Many of the Yuusha series make the interactions between the machines and the humans a key story element – perhaps most clearly in J-Decker, a series whose main aesthetic conceit is robots acting like people in incongruous ways – yet GaoGaiGar relegates this to the sidekick machines, and even then downplays it compared to other series.
Action comedy – in which conflicts play out in an inherently absurd or amusing world – is a genre which must balance its threat to the characters with its general tone. This is not to say a moment of seriousness within an amusing story cannot work, but that finding a balance of tone and keeping this consistent is crucial to a cohesive and credible story. A series like The Irresponsible Captain Tylor or Dominion Tank Police lays out its slapstick nature plainly from the start; even if the setting is a high-stakes one there is little actual risk to anyone because the tone is defined by physical, farcical humour. Neither shies away from reminding the viewer that weapons hurt but at the same time their characters mess around and in the process avoid fights with consequences – or properly taking responsibility for them. A good example is the first battle Tylor fights in the former series; a series of slapstick mishaps result in a bomb exploding on a warship’s bridge, causing a weapon malfunction which destroys a number of other ships in formation. It is a military victory – many enemy personnel are assumed to have died as the ships explode – yet it is portrayed as the punchline to a visual joke telegraphed much earlier in the episode.
Eureka Seven continually marries action to personal stories, both in straightforward ways with cause-and-effect conflicts (showing how careless actions can have unexpected consequences) and with longer, satisfying plot arcs such as that of Axel Thurston brought to a climax in episode 32. It also works in cycles, using more relaxed episodes to provide a relief of tension after its infrequent action peaks. What this structure does is mask, to an extent, the traditional point-to-point journey narrative that the series it draws inspiration from (perhaps most notably Mobile Suit Gundam) rely on. In those stories, action sequences come as punctuation to an always-forward progression – as part of their roots in the more episodic super-robot tradition, the emphasis is on a steady stream of enemies and problems interrupting a journey. It is a subtle difference, for it is quite possible to argue that Eureka Seven punctuates its forward progress with a series of problems that need resolving in a similar fashion, but consider an arc such as the mine where the Gekko is repaired; there, the protagonists spend significant time without the urgency of combat, recovering from a battle. The emphasis of such sequences is on showing the consequences of action on the primary characters without needing to tie this always back to an ongoing conflict.
Episode 10 of Rahxephon focused on undermining its characters’ search for answers to their own questions, while informing the audience; each of the groups who moved around on the periphery of Kunugi’s personal life thought they knew the truth of his actions but were all subtly wrong. Not knowing the truth – or knowing only part of the truth – is central to the status quo on Nirai-Kanai (the “official” spelling of the island where TERRA is based’s name, according to the 2001 series companion Rahxephon Bible (Kadokawa)) and seeing the usually prophetic and uncannily knowledgeable Futagami himself undermined and proved wrong was a refreshing climax to his storyline so far. Indeed, that he can fail calls into question the apparent omniscience that has defined him so far.
Urban fantasy – those stories where the supernatural interacts with the mundane, modern-day takes on the intersection of myth and reality – has a tendency towards emphasising the relationships between specific humans and supernatural entities; romances between human and vampire, the role of the vampire hunter in a modern city, etcetera. To have a series which largely sidelines humans – seeing them as an annoyance and threat but not focusing on some ancient war – is thus a very interesting perspective. 2013′s animé Eccentric Family has a human central to its story – Benten, a woman who touched the life of the elderly tengu, or bird-spirit, Akadema – but its perspective is strictly a mythic one. It focuses on the rivalries not only between tanuki (raccoon-spirits) and tengu (crow-spirits) but between subfactions and families within the two species – they are presented not as allegorical or representative monocultures but as fully-fledged societies living their lives on the fringes of human society.
The recurring philosophy espoused by Gatchaman Crowds‘ protagonist Hajime, as events gradually worsen, is that “switching off” – taking time out from social media – is often the best response to problems. It sounds a reasonable perspective, and its virtues are shown in how characters who do just turn away get peace of mind and breathing space from responsibility. Yet the crucial term here is turn away; respite can only come in times of crisis by divorcing oneself of responsibility. It is set against the fact Hajime and her companions are supposed to be superheroes – an empowered (and in the eyes of social media entrepreneur Rui Ninomiya unaccountable) elite whose powers permit them to do the unbelievable and thus, surely, must be held to a higher standard of conduct.