The Christmas Blog Series (X) – Aquarion

The original Genesis of Aquarion was a largely unremarkable science-fiction anime with a middle section comprising some thoroughly bizarre and highly entertaining single episodes. It was these – in which the characters went on bizarre training missions, cross-dressed, ended up in parallel worlds, went on diets and got withdrawal symptoms from piloting the craft they were training to fly – that really came to define the series in its audience’s mind. The news that a sequel had been announced – named Aquarion EVOL – was thus met with mixed responses from fans well aware that the original had not been anything particularly great.

Aquarion EVOL came to defy all expectations; it was a sequel that had no regard for what came before it, culminating in one of the returning characters turning to the audience and breaking the fourth wall to say everything they thought they had gathered from watching Genesis of Aquarion was firstly wrong and secondly part of his plan in the first place. The whole thing was a larger-than-life, colourful and often crude journey through an essentially nonsensical plot which set out to, for the most part, simply be bigger, sillier and more spectacular than what had come before it. Yet for all the over-the-top characters, innuendos and awful puns Aquarion EVOL managed to find time to have some interesting pieces of storytelling in it which meant when it did become serious – for the climax – viewers genuinely hated the villain for what he did. Generally, such a stark shift in tone would count against a series – I found Code Geass’ continual shifting between silliness and grim sincerity to feel disjointed and weaken both aspects of it – but Aquarion EVOL had the benefit of making its change a single dramatic point which made returning to the silly status quo the focus of the remainder of the series.

This would not have worked as well as it did without the series beginning with the silliness that was the most popular aspect of Genesis of Aquarion and ramping it up. Actual comedy science-fiction is generally hit or miss, relying on niche in-jokes referring to other works in a reliance on parody and pastiche, or failing to make the most of either its comedy or SF aspects. Aquarion EVOL set out from the beginning to make its humour accessible and simplistic; it mostly relies on puns, joke names and farcical physical comedy involving a cast of inept students with superpowers in a gender-segregated school. Characters like Andy W Hol, the boy whose superpower is digging, and the sub-plot of his unrequited love for the aloof Mix (whose superpower is summoning matter and who has a phobia of holes) begin as straightforward comedy acts but by the end of the series the daft relationship between them comes to be a key part of the climactic fight against the villain. Many of the minor side-characters like the lewd matchmaker Sazanka end up either having some role to play come the end of the series or are simply included to build up to some spectacular punchline later. A fight sequence where Sazanka finally sees action reveals her signature attack to be the Rotten Rust Hurricane, a double pun first on classic super-robot Mazinger Z‘s “Rust hurricane” attack and on the Japanese slang term fujoshi or “rotten woman,” used to describe introverted or immature women obsessed with matchmaking and romance fiction, clearly defines the sort of simplistic and stupid plays on words that are the draw of Aquarion EVOL.

Indeed, a defining concept of both series of Aquarion was simply to pack innuendos into a comedic super-robot anime; the traditional “combination” of the parts of the main machine becomes “union” as the pilots experience sexual climax during it; EVOL is obsessed with holes and filling them. As a result, what was touched on in Genesis of Aquarion – the idea of a silly super-robot that takes the idea of three people “coming together” to its literal conclusion – and what proved the most popular aspect of it is now the main focus. Yet what made EVOL significantly stronger as a series than Genesis was that its story – once all the silliness, puns and sex jokes were removed – was a much stronger example of the super-robot genre. Rather than being a simple parody it was a genre comedy and it was that that made the shift towards seriousness when the ultimate villain, Mikage, put his master-plan into action all the more effective. Genesis of Aquarion felt disjointed in having its silly protagonists bumbling around and bickering while its villains ultimately were staid examples of genre stereotypes; EVOL keeps the humorous tone throughout and so when this tone is broken the drive is all the stronger to see the status quo restored.

A real highlight of this final, more serious arc, was how it handled Andy and Mix’s reconciliation; after their comedic bickering came to a head when a lovestruck Andy declared he’d like to “fill Mix’s holes” instead of “fixing the hole in her heart” they had separated and she had ended up captured by the enemy. This story carried on in apparently silly fashion with the enemy’s influence turning Mix into a man (after much of the humour previously had been about her attractiveness) – but then what ultimately resolved it was a scene where Andy admitted he loved her no matter what. The comedy of lust that had led up to that plot arc ended with a rapid maturation of the characters involved, a sincere love-declaration in a series full of silliness and youthful sex drive and arguably a very light touch on gender identity and sexuality. At its heart it remained a useful plot device and an amusing love-confession scene that fitted the romantic comedy elements of the series – the effects of the enemy planet’s sex-changing effects manifested in other characters as the younger, demure Yunoha suddenly swearing and talking like a stereotypical gangster – but the amount of focus it was given – especially on how Andy came to terms with how he still felt something for Mix even after he could not lust after her any more – showed very clearly what set Aquarion EVOL apart as something interesting.

Aquarion EVOL is thus a very interesting kind of sequel; it actively rejects continuity in rewriting and altering the plot of the original series but yet it builds very strongly on the most interesting ideas of the original. Because of this, it works very well even for viewers who have not seen Genesis of Aquarion since, in the end, that series is shown not to matter. What matters in EVOL are the characters and the humour; it is definitely one of the better examples of a science-fiction comedy that can be entertaining pulp SF when needed and very funny throughout.

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5 comments

  1. megaroad1

    As a fan of Kawamori-san I saw Genesis of Aquarion when it came out and was sorely dissapointed. Therefore, I did not pick up the sequel. After reading your take on it, I might just give it a try.

  2. Ommadon

    ” The whole thing was a larger-than-life, colourful and often crude journey through an essentially nonsensical plot which set out to, for the most part, simply be bigger, sillier and more spectacular than what had come before it. (…) Generally, such a stark shift in tone would count against a series – I found Code Geass’ continual shifting between silliness and grim sincerity to feel disjointed and weaken both aspects of it – but Aquarion EVOL had the benefit of making its change a single dramatic point which made returning to the silly status quo the focus of the remainder of the series”

    Unfortunately, I guess the fact that my preferences/feelings about this are roughly the opposite explains why I never finished watching EVOL myself. The initial jokes were entertaining for a while, though not particularly laugh-out-loud hilarious (Japanese anime comedies rarely make me burst out laughing), but once the “dramatic point” and the increased seriousness came around I felt there hadn’t been much of a built-in reason for me to care, precisely because the surrounding context was mostly bland and bordering on nonsensical.

    I suppose those who were greatly enjoying the comedy could just roll along with it, but I didn’t have any real attachment to it. Granted, I never attempted to watch the original Aquarion to begin with either, so I couldn’t really make any favorable comparisons.

  3. Turambar

    My memories of my experience with Genesis is foggy at best, so I’ll take your word it in describing all the ways it failed. (The fact that it left such a weak impression gives support for your points). EVOL however was great in all the ways you described, as well as simply having quite enjoyable mecha action. A wide cast with unique powers, and their ability to mix and match such powers made every fight unique in some fashion, and almost always enjoyable to watch.

    Also the reveal of Pollon made everything far more enjoyable to me than it probably should have.

    • r042

      Genesis was just a very incoherently mystical super robot show with a small number of hugely entertaining episodes. It was at its best with the monster of the week / Fudo’s crazy scheme episodes and at its worst when it tried to do other things with Touma / the Celianne plot etc

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