From the start, Majestic Prince has established itself as sitting somewhere between homage and parody; it is a comedy aware of the genre it is mocking but not specifically referential, instead relying on the viewer’s familiarity with how it differs from expectations. Throughout its opening episodes this came from its apparent rejection of combat; the protagonists were set out as being inept but eager to improve, and the emphasis has been on their aim to become competent pilots and be the “heroes” they are framed as.
As a natural part of this development of the characters, the series has moved more towards an expected story in its core conflict between human and alien. The protagonists are no longer quite so comically inept, but instead closer to simply being underdogs – they have mentors, and supporting crews, and essentially embody the mecha-anime protagonist team archetype. The tone of some of the more grounded episodes is not quite the ludicrous silliness of the opening but instead a knowing military humour almost similar to Metal Armour Dragonar. The protagonists remain misfits, but the setting itself has become less silly in line with their desire to take it seriously. Ultimately, this provides the core dramatic conflict for them – that they are still not the heroes that anyone expects, and their heroism itself is questionable. What has enabled this somewhat more complex than perhaps expected shift in the setting is the avoidance of action. The expected set-pieces tend to be anticlimactic affairs, or delayed in order to emphasise the interactions between battles, and if anything this makes the action – when it is the traditional stuff of ace pilots and dogfights – more meaningful.
Episode 8 is, so far, the culmination of this. Episode 7 promised an epic battle and then focused entirely on the protagonists trying to steel themselves for it, serving as an episode-length tonal turning point where the war becomes something other than publicity stunts and small-scale raids and instead a fleet action reliant on a superweapon. Immediately this deployment in quick succession of a series of mecha-anime cliches and staples changes the audience’s expectations; a viewer enters episode 8 of Majestic Prince in the knowledge that the heroes and their supporting fleet will be protecting a giant orbital weapon platform. They have been given upgraded machines to fight in, and the entire preparatory sequence has been the organised, almost orgiastic military stuff of mecha. Indeed, Majestic Prince has turned this into a joke in its own right, with the fire-support mech’s pilot having the fetishistic love of military hardware that perhaps a viewer of mecha-anime might. Yet the episode begins not with the carefully-controlled attack that might be expected but instead a shambolic half-hearted attack; the superweapon is fired in an unready state because its operator is bored, the protagonists are left waiting in a hangar with all their equipment still laid out for inspection.
It is quite a different kind of comic understatement – the joke is not that the equipment is ineffective, but instead that all the planning is simply ignored and so the mission is not a success. It is a subtle kind of change to the cliché as depicted in previous comedy-mecha series such as Daiguard and Nadesico, or even the far earlier Fight! Iczer-1 which make the basis of the humour lampooning the extensive preparation and almost ritualistic attacks of robots, or the bathos inherent in extensive contingencies being rendered useless. It is not the same joke as Iczer-1′s Fuji battleship, which in each episode returns stronger and is destroyed faster and similarly it is not like (althought it seems to be) Daiguard‘s experimental robot Kokubogar which despite its professionalism and apparent power is useless when push comes to shove. Instead, the joke is on the protagonists; they are simply forgotten about as the entire mission is compromised by its idiotic commander. Yet when they launch, and the more competent Doberman Squadron join the fight, the resulting episode is not a comedy; it is a simply-played and vast in scale extended action sequence. The emphasis is not on stringing out jokes about the protagonists’ incompetence because that has been the emphasis of the episodes so far; instead it shows how they are now aspiring to be “serious” pilots in a nonsensical world. The fight is not entirely without humour as the characters are still not perfect, blocking each others’ shots and trying to fight alone, but throughout the battle the progress of the series is mirrored; they realise their faults and work to counteract them.
The result is combat which is exciting and based on the pluck and ingenuity that makes mecha-anime interesting; where Majestic Prince continually defies its genre is in going beyond having its protagonists have defined tactical roles (a common theme since Mobile Suit Gundam) but making these roles useful; there are generalist machines which do the majority of the fighting, but the fire-support units and the ECM units contribute to the battle. Indeed, come the end, when the comedy is almost entirely gone and the focus is entirely on fighting, it is Kei in her communications and command unit who is so integral to the action. What is more, there is a significant emphasis on incidental details of military action; resupplying, use of specialised weapons for different situations, and capitalising on the nature of the enemy. As a result, the part of the action which ordinarily would be the highlight – the “lead” robot engaged in an ongoing duel with an enemy ace pilot – is less interesting than the mass combat the others are involved in because it is so expected of the genre. Although Majestic Prince remains a parody of mecha-anime, it is one which defies expectations for reasons other than humour based on bathos.
This is perhaps shown clearest in the use of the “decisive” superweapon – its first shot is pre-emptive and weak, and the second (coming at the end of an intense fight to defend it) is left ambiguous – everything assumes it has been successful (which if true would be probably the most surprising departure from tradition). It is destroyed, ultimately, in a very genre-traditional way with the enemy punching through its escorts to take it down – but this is after it has fired twice, after the surprise-attack has achieved something. A comedy like Daiguard or Iczer-1 would have the weapon destroyed or neutered before it does anything – the Fuji is annihilated instantly, and Kokubogar achieves nothing. A more serious series would have it shown to be ineffective to raise tension straight away – perhaps the epitome of this is Evangelion where exaggerated displays of force bounce off the encroaching enemies. Majestic Prince instead has it as a part of a wider-scale battle that may or may not have been successful at all, but served its purpose. It is interesting, to conclude, comparing this with the opening episode of another mecha-anime airing at this time, Suisei no Gargantia. That has a similar setup in its opening episode to episode 8 of Majestic Prince, with the protagonist and an immense fleet tasked with protecting a superweapon. That, in traditional tension-building style, has it fire – be proved ineffectual – and then be destroyed. It is a show which in that half-episode revels in the seriousness and mounting bleakness that a desperate, failing attack brings but yet ultimately the failure of the weapon becomes predictable and powerless. Majestic Prince has spent seven episodes building up how anticlimactic and comedic a series it is, where the action is based around luck and silliness – yet when it focuses on action the results defy expectations.