Yawara, a sports animé adapted from a manga by notable writer Naoki Urasawa, is a curious series; it is, first and foremost, incredibly funny and takes sport as being both something one can take very seriously, or not seriously at all. It is full of visual humour, and incongruous references (a timer at the end of each episode saying “X Days to the Barcelona Olympics” evokes more than anything Yamato‘s timer saying “X Days to the Destruction of Earth”), but at the same time often has an affectionate – if light-hearted – message to say about sports culture, or young people. If anything, the intensely silly, dramatised reactions to strange events – far more parodic than many sports or girls-school dramas would be – make the events feel less like the series moralising and more like a chance to laugh at a ridiculous world.
Ann Leckie’s 2013 novel Ancillary Justice is a good piece of science-fiction, a space opera novel that innovates within its subgenre by adapting elements of other science-fiction subgenres. In its more philosophical plot it evokes classic science-fiction in the vein of Pohl or Simak, as interested in presenting an alien, experimental future as telling an all-action story. Most interestingly to me, it is a story about the aftermath of a war of occupation and the ethics of occupation, from the perspective of a protagonist detached from emotional and moral norms in a society whose norms are themselves distant to the reader’s. That one can read the novel and at times wonder if the society being described is human in any understandable sense – or indeed “good” from a modern perspective – without it falling into caricaturish acts of exaggerated cruelty sets it apart from many of its peers.
Episode 6 of Captain Earth was something of a disappointment compared to the others; it was a competently handled exposition episode marking a transition from one plot arc to the next (via the complication of a situation that was beginning to become clear), but at the same time it did not provide the forward impetus that the series needed. In many ways it is interesting because of what is learned from it – thus only to someone invested in the story – rather than how it tells this story. As has occurred previously in the series, it takes the conclusion of an event that seems cut and dried and extends it out – in the first instance it was a long, cathartic wind-down from a frantic robot fight, and in this case it is a more languid look at Teppei’s reaction to the events of the previous episode. This idea – of turning single-episode plots into two-part stories in order to focus on their repercussions – is one of Captain Earth‘s strengths, yet here it does not work as well, perhaps out of familiarity.
Episode 5 of Captain Earth was a good focus episode for Teppei, characterising him a little more than simply being the alien prince figure. At this stage in the story the question of Salty Dog trying to break up the surrogate family unit is more or less addressed, and the emphasis is far more on how the characters’ conflict against invading aliens proceeds. But ultimately, it remains a story about a surrogate family created out of military comradeship and authority, epitomised by Akari the daughter of the space station commander, and displaced children living together. Broken families predominate – Daichi is an orphan, Teppei and Hana have lived under observation as aliens fallen to earth and Akari’s parents are physically separated.
The opening sequence of Gundam F91 is an assault on a space colony much like many other within the franchise; it could be thematically the attack on Heliopolis from Gundam SEED, the initial mayhem of Mobile Suit Gundam or the carnage wreaked by the Kshatriya in Unicorn. Yet what sets it apart is how uncinematic the action is; the focus visually is on showing people trying to avoid the fighting, chasing one group of civilians who are not a part of the conflict and simply want to avoid it. The conflict is foreshadowed from the title card intro, in which a number of enemy machines begin attacking a shipyard with casual ease, but its first appearance to the main cast is sudden as a destroyed defense unit crashes into a building, crushing those within.
That Captain Earth takes the time to begin to explain itself in its fourth episode is refreshing; it does it through an episode with minimal emphasis on the super-robot aspects which finally brings the enemies forward in the flesh. Previously, the series has been interesting in how although the enemy machines are piloted, they have acted in the form of autonomous machines (with their destruction leading to a cube returning to base with the pilot within) – and there has been next to no characterisation via interaction. Thus an episode which has them directly attack GLOBE as infiltrators, and has them interact directly with characters such as Teppei will inherently clarify much of the world’s mysteries. However, as this kind of series typically offers, the details left unclear are equally interesting as those which are revealed.
There is much to like about 2014 animé Rowdy Sumo-Wrestler Matsutaro; its first episode is a frenetically-paced, rude comedy about an immature lout leaving a trail of wreckage behind him as he chases his childish goals, which ends, reassuringly, with the authorities catching up to his procession of crimes. There is not specifically a moral to this beyond “don’t commit crimes” – that he is ultimately held accountable for all his mistakes is punchline enough. The opening recap of the second episode makes this very clear – it calls the protagonist a lout, pathetic and criticises him for “doing what he wants, when he wants.” As a comic setup, this works; the humour is in how the rest of the world, people trying to get by in what is implied to be a fairly poor town, deal with a local bumpkin who causes mayhem because he is, apparently, bored.
After the “invisible” fifteenth episode of Rahxephon, the story returns to its main narrative after some time has passed; Elvy and the Vermilion are conspicuously absent, and the focus is still on the Bahbem children, now adults. Episode 16 is a dense episode, focusing on the delicately collapsing relationships of the main cast and culminating in a series of examinations of how the characters react to arguments and efforts to finally set the past lies aside. There is a constant tension between the expectations of maturity and openness that the younger cast have, and the ease with which adults – being positioned as authority figures – can lie, and need to lie. At its core, the episode’s actual progression of the story is minimal; it does not clarify anything about the conflict with Elvy, and its actual forward motion occurs entirely in the final scene. However, as a more self-contained episode, it shows in great detail the tiny events which all motivate the characters to move the plot on.
The William Baxter episode of Eureka Seven offered an, at the time, different take on religion within a setting which had hitherto presented it in skewed terms. It presented personal faith – a desire to do right – as something linked to self-reliance and isolation, as opposed to a view of organised religion that was intractable, morally apart from society (in the episode in which Renton encounters a conflict surrounding medical treatment going against religious views) and most of all viewed with suspicion. Even as Holland works to help the Voderak and save Norb from Dewey, it is out of a sense of humanitarian duty and the need for information and allies – he is standing up, where it is profitable, for people. Yet episode 37, the first half of which is an extended debate between Norb and the eccentric scientist Greg Egan, sees Holland apparently embracing the Voderak viewpoint.
The second episode of Captain Earth was effectively formed of two parts – an action sequence which built up Daichi (literally, as his robot was constructed) and then tore him down as he was unable to fight when it mattered, and subsequently the fallout from this. Despite there being a significant number of observers to this – the audience joining a crowd of crewmen from GLOBE both on Earth and in space – the fight and its resolution were intensely personal affairs between Daichi and his companion – almost a co-pilot – Code Papillon. This isolation – the distance that being in space, in a one-man cockpit and indeed a one-on-one duel with an unknown enemy – is something that super-robot animé makes a focus across the genre. A robot needs a sizeable ground crew and infrastructure – as the Earth Engine’s combination sequence shows – but is ultimately powerless without the efforts of one person. That this person is rarely the ideal one for the job – and the conflicts that this results in – thus provides a core for the human tension that must counterbalance the action.