The Tension Between Fantasy and SF in Panzer World Galient

The 1984-5 animated series Panzer World Galient is an interesting experiment; in what would become a hallmark of creator Ryosuke Takahashi’s style, it combines the trend in the 1980s for military-SF anime of the mecha subgenre (stories where piloted fighting suits are the main method of warfare) with a nod to a kind of golden-age SF mysticism and blurring of subgenres. Its opening episodes, where it establishes itself as clearly inspired by one genre and then subverts this, do a good job of encouraging a viewer to continue and see how the mystery resolves.

The premise of Galient is set up as a traditional fantasy narrative in a mysterious world of fantastical creatures, where a dark lord usurps the throne and begins a reign of terror. An exiled prince sets off with a wise retainer to track down a lost prophecy etcetera etcetera…

However, while the setup for Galient is stock high-fantasy, complete with, in time, a plucky kid sidekick in the irritating Chururu, a dashing rogue and a buxom Amazon who joins the “party”, almost immediately it is called into question; the villains look like they are futuristic. They use giant mechanical centaurs as siege engines, and have firearms while the people they oppress have only bows and swords. The war is thus established as one of a technologically superior coloniser against a primitive people, with the “old order” both antiquated in its power structure of a typical feudal monarchy, and in its technology. The “new order” is heavily associated visually with industry and technological progress set against a kind of rustic tradition – the villain’s castle is as much a factory as it is a fortress, much like Saruman’s Isengard in Lord of the Rings. What Galient thus does is combine two archetypes of genre fiction; the alien invasion story (where mankind’s inferior technology is no proof against an advanced aggressor) and the fantasy quest, with industrialisation and the gun being used as the marks of evil. This is made particularly clear by how the enemy engage in battle; they use an immense machine in an early episode to physically crush all before them in a clear visual representation of the overwhelming force of progress.

In the same way, Galient’s hero’s journey is not a straightforward one; the search for the legendary weapon “Galient” is resolved within a couple of episodes as the object of the prophecy is the titular giant robot; this is not a simple plot device which will give an easy resolution to the quest (as, say, throwing the ring into Mount Doom may be) but the start of a new quest; Jordy, the hero, has found Galient, now he must learn how to use it and all the while learn the nature of the enemy. Thus within the first plot arc of Galient its nature as a typical quest narrative is completely subverted; it is not a matter of Jordy fulfilling the prophecy of finding Galient and getting an easy victory and regaining his title, but instead the prophecy marks only the midway point; Galient is just a tool to help him complete his ultimate quest. The idea of weapons as tools, evoking the industrialised enemy Jordy fights, is where the influence of the “real robot” subgenre of mecha anime enters the picture; Jordy is alone versus an army but wields the weapon that can fight them.

Furthermore, there are yet more unknowns introduced in this introductory arc; a mysterious light which turns out to be a flying saucer, Jordy’s mysterious female companion who is better-versed in the technology of the enemy than he is, and the nature of the villains themselves. Getting the initial quest segment of the story out of the way quickly, and setting up Jordy as effectively a cipher to be fleshed out by his time spent piloting Galient is a complete change of direction from the series’ fantastical theming. That the technology of the villains is set clearly as something alien to the setting makes this journey more compelling; while traditional fantasy quests often use industry and mechanised weapons as shorthands for evil (setting them against nobility, chivalry and traditional fighting styles used by the heroes, as in the use of explosives at Helm’s Deep), Galient’s use of this device makes it seem like Jordy’s people are the alien ones; that their world is actually backward and the technology of the villains is normal. In turn, this mastery of technology and the capabilities of a futuristic society are used as weapons against Jordy; a sequence where he encounters zero-gravity for the first time is presented in the fashion of a trap within a dungeon in the fantasy genre. Since the protagonists of Galient inhabit a fantasy world into which modernity is encroaching, features of this modernity are framed within the narrative in the terms of the fantasy genre; the villains’ base resembles a castle despite being an automated factory with laser gun-armed guards, and Jordy’s infiltration of it with the help of his rogue and warrior comrades is depicted as a sort of quest into a dungeon. Similarly, an attack on an enemy tank is done as a siege on and storming of a castle.

To conclude, from its opening arcs, Galient is an interesting mix of science-fiction and fantasy; by establishing a fantasy world and then having it be brought into the future by advanced invaders, it shows a traditional tension between industry and the agricultural, feudal ideal. Furthermore, by presenting each aspect of the science-fiction as a challenge in the narrative framework of a fantasy hero’s journey, the alienating nature of the invasion and the tension between invader and invaded becomes clearer.

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