Illustration kindly drawn from my request by Daniel Olsen
This is the first part of at least a two-part story. It began, as an awful lot do, with a chat online in which I asked the question “wouldn’t it be cool if?”
In this case, it was “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a story a bit like The Iron Giant and War in the Pocket, but with the relentlessly cheery child protagonists of the Braves franchise?” That and “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a robot story with a female AI as its lead robot?”
I began, probably approaching this backwards, with the robot. Lovely Chaser (intentionally a riff on Lonely Chaser, the opening theme to Galvion) was going to be the inexperienced but ambitious superhero, someone sent out to do good in the world with a very – initially – straightforward sense of justice. She would meet the usual kid archetypes, and from there things would go somewhere interesting. One thing I have been considering a lot is the urge to “deconstruct” or subvert traditionally child-friendly media with “dark” or controversial readings – infamous examples include reading Spirited Away as a film about the sex trade, for example. How do stories like Madoka, or War in the Pocket, fit into this? Why do I happily read Madoka as a relentlessly sociopathic tale that can’t let media for girls be innocent, and yet have no qualms with War in the Pocket taking the gungho world of Gundam into dark places? And how should this be applied to something as (generally) cheery as the Braves stories?
The answer I think came from approaching the matter from the other direction; looking at, specifically, the differences between the 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 and the OVA finale to the Braves franchise, GaoGaiGar FINAL. Both are, in their way, “dark” spins on beloved children’s robot shows. Tetsujin unsympathetically, unheroically, paints a post-war world where there’s little place for a straightforward hero. GaoGaiGar FINAL takes the colourful aesthetic unchanged and just adds a high body count.
So with all of this in mind I thought about what I needed to do to stop Lovely Chaser just being a “what if this happy robot show was actually dark?” affair. The answer seemed to be – to suit the tone of the inspiration materials – make it an improving story, not one setting out to vindictively punish its cast – and indeed in this story and probably not the sequels I want to avoid being mean-spirited. But there’s no shortage of implied emotional heaviness in children’s shows. The ending of Brave Police J-Decker is good precisely because it’s being sad in a traditionally funny show. It’s adversity that the heroes emerge from. Much like, in a way, how Pixar’s films reduce you to tears and then leave you feeling a bit better at the end. I don’t profess to say this is going to be as adept as Up or the Toy Story films (although those latter are themselves worth considering in how they let adults approach media about childhood in an emotional way) but I want to try and get that same sense across – Lovely, Daichi, Yuuya and Keiko are not going to have an easy time any more than Woody and Buzz, or Al and Bernie, do. But rather than this being a story of their being crushed, I want to try and make it about how they come out stronger.
That’s a lot of high-minded words, ultimately, for a story about a schoolgirl super robot. But for some reason this story – about, and inspired by, an awful lot of things I really like – needed a lot of thought to work out how to approach.