One of the most memorable things in ZZ Gundam is the character of Haman Karn, the series’ ultimate villain and a character who was introduced in its predecessor, Zeta Gundam. As the leader of the enemy forces of Axis, she is the orchestrator of all the conflict that takes place throughout the series, and her character serves as a distinctively threatening “true” villain in a series otherwise filled with minimally threatening comic figures. A key part of her presence on screen is the hugely entertaining energy with which voice actor Yoshiko Sakakibara plays the role – a theatrical, over-the-top performance that suits the often extremely silly action of ZZ as well as being a suitably menacing femme fatale when needed. Yet while Haman is a memorable character, and certainly one of the memories a viewer of ZZ will take away from the series, her role in the series itself is ultimately one of its weaker points.
Transistor, Supergiant Games’ follow-up to the hugely acclaimed Bastion, can be seen as a refinement of its predecessor; it is a similar isometric action-RPG, with similar mechanics, challenge rooms, modular upgrades and difficulty mods. It even has a similar aesthetic/narrative design, with an omnipresent narrator making up for a mute protagonist. Yet calling it a simple science-fiction themed refinement of Bastion’s theme is underselling it significantly; it is a more ambitious, more tactical and much more challenging title.
While the A-plot of Eureka Seven episode 38 continues the story of Dewey’s coup d’etat and how it has put Stoner and Holland on the back foot, the more interesting story is the B-plot of Renton and Eureka trying to reconcile after an argument. In a recent article about Captain Earth I discussed how a real high point of the series was its treatment of the alien child Teppei’s relationship with his biological father, who he had never seen in his life. Teppei was presented as so alien he could not comprehend why it mattered that he met his father, and why this man was so attached to him. It was a strong episode, approaching a stock mecha plotline (of the alien prince, or the half-alien half-human such as Eiji from Layzner – with whom Teppei’s father shared a name) from an interesting, more human perspective. Eureka Seven 38 approaches the same plot with the benefit of almost 40 previous episodes to build up its concept of a relationship between the human and the alien; it is by now the most important theme of the story, and that finally it comes to the foreground in plain terms continues to drive on a steadily-building sense of tension.
Grid Autosport is a racing game which largely eschews the hype and bombast of motor-racing as a sport; it downplays the celebrity and the ostentation and focuses entirely, through a sparseness of design, on the racing itself. Thus arguably it is much more purely simulationist than most games; it has minimal narrative (complete races to challenge more capable opponents), a simple and functional user interface and most importantly minimal downtime between events. Getting from race to race is almost seamless, and this – in an era of complex user interfaces that can be difficult to navigate owing to too many decorative elements – is a virtue of the game.
There are a large number of attempts at light-hearted mecha animé; comedy and the ridiculous, in some form, has generally been a part of the genre from the beginning. Go Nagai and Ken Ishikawa’s mecha manga which would in turn be adapted for animé – Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, two foundations of the genre – are frequently absurd, darkly comic and violent, while their animated forms toned some of the extremes down and added less grotesque humour. While such series were not specifically comedy animé or parodies, they nevertheless accepted that the genre – aimed for younger audiences – could be funny. This continued through series like Daitarn 3, which is filled with absurd scenes and strange villains – and if anything was already acknowledged, in a fashion, by Zambot 3 removing the punchlines from the expected comic violence to make it real.
By episodes 7-8 of Captain Earth, the return of action – the clashes of robots that the opening credits and past episodes have hinted at – is welcome. A more human focus must be balanced with action, and the further the balance tips away from the action the better the human stories must be. While Captain Earth has hinted at interesting, sufficiently developed human aspects to suit a more conceptual science-fiction series – with nods to traditional super-robot aesthetics that serve more as pop-cultural touchstones via Akari and Daichi than a defining concept – episodes such as 6, which spend significant time setting up a core conflict that must, necessarily, be fought with super-robots work strongly against this.
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.