ZZ Gundam is the third part of the trilogy of Gundam television series that form the core of the Universal Century timeline – each follows chronologically on from the next and, through different pervading dramatic tones used in each entry, the trilogy has a strong sense of character progression among those characters which recur. ZZ is sometimes criticised for being too light-hearted and inconsistent with previous works – it marks a significant departure from the often cynical seriousness of Zeta Gundam and at the same time is a very different kind of light-hearted story to the surreal, resolutely 1970s animé, Mobile Suit Gundam. It is at first far more reliant on simple physical humour – clumsiness, visual jokes and general slapstick scenes – than most Gundam animé, far more visually a cartoon in its use of the animation medium to go from exaggerated visuals to detailed sci-fi stills.
Note: The subsequent article will contain some plot details for Zeta Gundam
The emphasis of episode 14 of Rahxephon is – despite its opening with more cryptic conversations between Haruka and Futagami – almost entirely on the arrival of the prototype of a mass-production super robot, bringing together two sets of expectations. In mecha animé the prototype is generally the ace unit, and the new Vermilion unit lives up to this cliché with its red colouration and the fact it is piloted by Elvy, a character shown to be the most capable of the TERRA support pilots. Yet Rahxephon, being a super-robot animé, has its own set of cliches surrounding the arrival of a human-made robot – the viewer will likely expect it to be doomed to fail simply because it is piloted by a side-character.
There is more action in the first half of episode 35 of Eureka Seven than there has been in much of the series previously; it is an episode about acting, about taking responsibility for what must be done and doing it. Holland claims the Gekkostate’s mantra is “do it yourself or you won’t get anything,” while Dewey claims that “the only thing I ever wanted was to win, using my own words as a human being.” So much of the series has been about people trying to avoid action, or refusing to accept what must be done – on all sides – but now there has been a sea-change. Dewey’s actions have motivated all the characters to act, because there is now a quantifiable, known threat. If anything this vindicates Renton; all along his resistance to acting has been whenever he has felt he does not know why he should act, and his impetuous actions have come from what he perceives as a proper understanding of a situation. Dewey’s wanton slaughter, and his realisation of his feelings for Eureka, have given him the reason he needs.
Tonari no Seki-kun, or Master of Killing Time, is a series of short sketches based around a simple joke – an ingenious student devises ridiculous ways of entertaining himself in lessons while managing to avoid ever attracting the attention of the teacher. Five episodes in, it has managed to quite avoid becoming repetitive by making its protagonist unpredictable – it has become an absurd comedy that exaggerates what could be a simple premise not through a simple escalation of scale into parody, but through wrong-footing the viewer and engaging far more with the viewpoint character, Seki’s studious classmate Yokoi.
“Real robot” mecha animé is a sub-genre usually considered the effective opposite of “super-robot” stories. The usual definition is based around a distinction in tone and theme – stories based on superhero traditions and those based more on military fiction – and can provide a guideline for recommending series similar to each other, but beyond that is a limited definition. Nevertheless, when considered as a way of differentiating series by specific aspects – not as an absolute binary scale with the possibility for a series to be entirely one or the other but instead as a more granular thing which shows the variety possible within the wider genre (for mecha is ultimately a subgenre of science-fiction, and although some series may contain robots or powered armour, the focus is on some other aspect of the setting), it has some value.
Don’t Lose Your Way
We Have to Be As One
I gotta find out who killed my dad
I hear the voice of him in my mind…
The lyrics to the chorus of Before My Body is Dry, what is arguably the “action theme” of Kill la Kill, set the song up as a dialogue between the two principal characters, heroine Ryuko and her sentient suit of armour Senketsu. It is an unsubtle restatement of the series’ chaotic plot – for all the mayhem of armed invasions, ridiculous villains and fighting-tournaments, Satsuki Kiryuin and her family remain the series’ villains. Every incidental episode – from the ridiculous deathtrap-filled race to school to Satsuki’s plan to make Ryuko and Mako turn on each other via luxury and fulfilled wishes, is played out as a villain suddenly aware they might lose playing for time and trying to distract or slow down their enemy.
My previous article about Patlabor on Television suggested that – much like its feature film iteration – it was a kind of disguised cyberpunk story, replacing explicit reference to transhumanism and corporate unaccountability with an emphasis as much on unequal access to technology, and the inability of some to benefit from the world of the future that is supposedly being built. Yet it is a story, it is worth remembering, from the perspective of the police. The authorities – governments, police and corporations – of cyberpunk worlds are traditionally better-equipped than the “people”, less accountable, and inherently compromised ethically – a self-serving trifecta, often. Ghost in the Shell, another sizeable franchise within the genre, explored this tension directly by pitting its protagonist police against criminals whose motives were often understandable.
The first feature film in the Mobile Police Patlabor series, released in 1989, is a serious, thought-provoking cyberpunk adventure of a sort that is quite different from the norm. The usual aesthetic cues of the genre as depicted in animé of the time are absent, replaced with a kind of near-future setting that feels very much like an idealised industrial-boom Japan – elements such as the floating city/factory Babel are evocative of the grandiose science-fiction worlds depicted in something like Bubblegum Crisis (1987) or even the space colonies of Zeta Gundam (1985) yet there is an unfinishedness to the world; it is detailing the tensions of the transition between the real and the future, and the mad rush to capitalise on an industralising world. Its cyberpunk future is an industrial revolution, detailing the gaps in society as the wealthy profit from progress while the rest of the world has to catch up.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon concluded with Ayato failing to destroy the Dolem; it retreated, implying that it will return but also crucially showing its intelligence. Exactly how much TERRA and the human forces know about the Dolems is unclear; there is little shown in terms of knowledge about how to fight them for the most common strategy, be it one of complacency on Kunugi’s part or genuine ignorance, is “let the Rahxephon do it” – an interesting comparison to the clinical, scientific approach taken by NERV in Rahxephon‘s inspiration, Evangelion. NERV almost always know exactly how to destroy the enemy; the Angels have highly visible weak points or predictable attacks – but at the same time they have an unreliable robot and pilot, and frequently neither the manpower nor technology to properly exploit the weakness. TERRA is always one step behind in Rahxephon, yet this ineffectuality is counterbalanced by the extreme firepower advangate they have – the Rahxephon itself does not need to identify weaknesses in its enemies, it simply destroys them.
In the fourth article in this series I discussed the hyakunin isshu from a literary-critical perspective, and mentioned how my interest was piqued by the series Chihayafuru. The series focuses primarily on the pastime of karuta, a literary game based around memorising the poems and identifying them as they are read aloud to claim cards with the verse on. In many ways, the story is similar to so many sports and school-club animé; the protagonist discovers a passion for karuta and assembles other like-minded students to try and compete at a niche activity, raising awareness of it. Yet among the usual school misfits and passionate types she encounters, one character’s focus episode particularly stood out as showing that the series was something special.