Considered as an entire series, Overman King Gainer works to an extent as a distillation of the coming-of-age story into its basest form; its protagonist begins his journey the epitome of apathy and unwillingness to engage with the world around him and has to be forcibly dragged into action. What follows is his awakening into not a warrior, as would be expected of many series in King Gainer‘s vein, but simply a better person.
This rejection of the staples of the genre – the placing in the background of the military aspect and the utterly incidental conflicts that make most of the series – is particularly relevant when considered in light of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s other series. A recurring theme in his series is that communication can prevent conflict and maturation comes with acceptance of the value of life and its associated frailty. This plays out in arcs such as the Four Murasame episodes of Zeta Gundam – the protagonist meets an enemy soldier and falls in love with them, and then ultimately ends up being responsible for their death in combat. This cliché method of humanising the enemy is a defining part of the coming-of-age military SF story since it provides a clear way of showing how the protagonist is forced to mature. King Gainer sets itself up as doing something similar with the character of Cynthia Lane – a hyperactive enemy pilot who irritates her superiors and latches on to Gainer as a companion – yet immediately undermines this in the execution. The first joke made at the cliche’s expense is that Gainer already knows her as a regular gaming opponent – she is one of the few people who can actually challenge him at his favourite video game.
The second point where the expected story goes astray is when the two set out to meet on a date; ordinarily this would mark the point where the two characters form a deep bond and begin to question why they fight. Instead, Cynthia sends Gainer a series of tasks to complete before he is deemed worthy to see her, and he ultimately is unable to finish them as the other villains launch an attack. Their relationship thus never really progresses beyond a gaming rivalry and the ridiculous challenges (and the associated mayhem that ensues as the rest of the cast try to find out what Gainer is all dressed up to the nines for) and so before there is even really the chance for the tragic spiral to begin it ends and the plot carries on regardless. This in turn makes Cynthia’s redemption if anything more effective; Gainer’s decision to save her from the ultimate enemy of the series is a sign that he is more selfless than he was before. On its own, the episode where Gainer tries to solve Cynthia’s riddles would be a solid comedy one; considered in light of how it touches on and subsequently rejects cliches of Tomino’s anime the references are more charming.
The episode, however, which most clearly acts as a rejection via parody of Tomino’s philosophies as expressed in his fiction is A World Without Lies. Central to the Gundam franchise, Tomino’s most well-known work, is the concept of Newtypes – Jedi- or Bene Gesserit-like psychics whose more highly evolved brains and inherently superior philosophies are the way to peace via perfect communication. The recurring theme in these stories is that humanity realises too late the value of Newtypes and through a failure to clearly communicate their intentions causes unnecessary loss; this ties in to the trope addressed above as the most common “tragic lover” characters in Tomino’s series (Four Murasame, Elpeo Puru, Lalah Sune et al) are all Newtypes – and it is at the point of their death that true harmony is found. King Gainer turns this entire idea on its head in a way that on the surface is a predictable yet amusing one-off episode – the villains invent a device which gives people psychic powers and use it to turn everyone on each other as no-one can keep secrets any more. This episode, however, acts as an effective parody and subversion of Tomino’s continued emphasis in fiction on how communication and unity can avoid conflict. Whereas usually it is keeping secrets and failing to communicate that creates conflict in his series, King Gainer shows how hellish it is if there is no potential to lie.
In this way, King Gainer continues to be an exploration in its own gently comic way of Tomino’s other series; it takes recognisable ideas from his other series and turns them on their head for comic effect. It is arguably thus a very cynical series despite its outward zaniness and whimsy; while each episode has madcap goings-on like plagues of hallucinatory frogs, Russian ninjas and more, it uses this insanity to sugar-coat a rather world-weary approach to a genre that may well be getting stale. In carrying well-known cliches to their exaggerated conclusion, it questions their appeal and emphasises that the fictions they come from are idealised and impractical. All of the source material is far from realism and the messages the series cover are ultimately unworkable – and so the best way to challenge them is with stories like A World Without Lies which present the obvious counter-argument in a relatable way.
It would not be fair to say King Gainer is an explicitly didactic work, or one which actively sets out to do much more than entertain for the most part; however, it can be seen quite fruitfully as a kind of rejection of expected cliché which may get a viewer to reconsider other works. It still reflects the philosophies expressed in other Tomino works (communication and maturation are good, that war is bad, and so on) but the method in which it does so is through showing the limitations of such simplistic viewpoints. Ultimately, this is shown most clearly in its choice of protagonist; Gainer is an expert gamer, who refuses to accept that war is not a game and actively seeks to make it so. He does this via fighting in such a way that he never has to learn the frailty of life through taking it – because he may be apathetic and unengaged, but he is not ignorant of the value of life. It is this which makes the series so interesting; it works on the surface as a flawed but often highly amusing comedy series about wising up about the world, but to someone familiar with other works by the same director is represents a skewed and more cynical approach to those philosophies and tropes that so frequently appear in his other series. There is little of the melodrama that is common in such shows, and it is replaced by manic action highlighting how ridiculous and simplistic those philosophies are.