It is too early in the third series of Aquarion, Aquarion LOGOS, to say if it will capitalise on its potential; the recurring issue with past seasons is that ambitious and entertaining concepts are unevenly explored. Genesis of Aquarion ran with the inherent absurdity of super-robot anime’s strangest attacks and gimmick episodes but was generally somewhat underwhelming in its execution; there are very funny and inventive episodes, yet the main plot is quite uninspired. Aquarion EVOL never quite hit the absurd heights of Genesis but was overall more consistent, its through-plot engaging and its oddities and strange gimmicks more closely tied to that story. It was an often absurd take on the super robot story as a coming-of-age story by tying it (through Genesis’ sexual redefinition of the term 合体, combine) to an obviously sexual metaphor. Mastering robot-piloting involved being able to combine with your friends without embarrassment (and the opening theme, Your Legend, made this obviously clear with its opening lines “I’ll keep embracing you again and again and again”, reminiscent of Brain Powerd‘s opening, with its chorus about a sexual dream mirroring – in a strange way – the almost romantic bonds pilot and machine form). The third series, Aquarion LOGOS, has taken a completely different approach yet one which is undeniably Aquarion in its grandiose, yet bizarre ambition.
LOGOS retains the orgasmic moment of combination that is the Aquarion staple, but makes its implications all the clearer by reducing the number of machines from three to two. There is a physical, visual intimacy to what it means to combine now as the weapons of the machine are formed from the names of the pilots (tying into the linguistic main plot); each pilot’s name provides kanji radicals to form a weapon name. Thus a partnership has members change their names to show their unity; in other words, marriage. EVOL was, if one takes the sexual angle to its logical conclusion insofar as a story about three teens combining in pleasure can be, about coming to terms with the idea of sex. It was “won” by the redefinition of EVOL as LOVE – reinforced by the epilogue OVA playing on かえる (written both as 蛙and 帰るmeaning “frog” and “to return home” respectively) as a frog-shaped machine piloted by the tragic parted lovers of EVOL brought those stranded in a hostile world home. Love, in any form, won out; in the series, it was Andy’s coming to terms with the fact his girlfriend Mix had been (by a strange set of events) turned into a man by the enemy that helped him save her as he admitted he loved her anyway.
So sex becomes love, and, as the third machine is removed, love becomes a strange pseudo-marriage of changed names and physical closeness; the new Aquarions have a shared cockpit after combination, the closest physically the pilots have ever been. At this early stage there is little more to say about this relationship story except that, in the first fight, there is a double “violation” of the intimacy of being an Aquarion pilot. The hero of the story, so convinced of his protagonist status he calls himself the Saviour, steals a Vector fighter and then, rather than combining with any of the other heroes, forces an enemy Aquarion to decombine and combines with the woman piloting one of the enemy Vectors. It is a total betrayal of expectations; the bringing in of a villain to the Vector is the catharsis that ended past series, or drove characters onwards; Jin joining the team in EVOL, for example. Where the series runs with this – for what EVOL did with Mykage trying to break the team led to some great episodes – is yet to be seen.
The other main thread introduced in the first two episodes of LOGOS is the villain’s plan, to “destroy” words by abusing and devaluing their meanings. This is the ambitious, exciting part that at the same time has the potential to fail interestingly. Enemies in super-robot and hero series based on exaggerations of concepts or personal flaws are nothing new; GaoGaiGar did it with machine-operators fused with machines that suited their aggressive urges, Sailor Moon did it with its monsters formed to draw on current trends and insecurities, and there are many more examples. Where LOGOS is interesting is that the villain’s plan is not simply to capitalise on this but use a word to its utter limit of meaning and then remove it – and everything it represents and “means” – from collective consciousness. The first such word is twist, which turns into tornadoes and garrotes and the simple destruction of things by tension and shearing. The risk is not just that the monster formed from the accumulation of the meanings and connotations of twist will cause carnage but that in time it will simply remove those meanings and connotations from existence. This is the first time, one could argue, a super-robot series has weaponised Saussure’s theories of signifier, referent and signified. The monsters in LOGOS are formed from signifiers, the kanji that represent a word in written form; visually, Sougon, the enemy, takes a word from a selection and pierces it with a needle. The creature forms and draws its powers from the signifieds – the mental associations of a word – that that kanji invites. In turn this gives it power over the referents – the physical entities described by the signifieds. This has immense potential for creativity in action sequences, to put it bluntly. The signifieds any given signifier might evoke are, to continue with Saussure’s theory, arbitrary. There is no reason why cat, chat, 猫 and any of the other similar-meaning signifiers that refer to cats should do this except societal consensus.
Thus to a viewer of LOGOS aware of this distinction Saussure makes between parole, the personal speech act which permits linguistic evolution and langue, the socially-constructed language that exists in some standard form, Sougon’s plan is cast into doubt. The referents which any given Word Beast controls are as much based on parole as langue – the first examples provided by the series are fairly undeniably straightforward connotations. But Sougon, as the series presents him, is the head of a social media empire, someone whose business is regulating and controlling communication. Will there be a point – speculating wildly, yet not exactly far-fetchedly given the logical leaps Genesis and EVOL made in pursuit of their stories – where Sougon‘s signifieds for a given signifier are unexpected ones? Language is ambiguous and – to quote Saussure – arbitrary. Seeking to control and destroy it can be a hugely ideological thing. From the other direction the dichotomy between hero and villain is also immensely interesting; the hero of LOGOS calls himself Saviour, assigning himself a name based on a simple signifier. One that, it would not be unreasonable to guess, could be easily “destroyed” by Sougon. Names – as LOGOS plays with their component letters – are formed of kanji. Titles are concepts depicted by them.
There is a chance that all this extrapolation based on linguistic theories will be for nothing, and LOGOS will simply provide a succession of concept-based enemies as interesting as GaoGaiGar‘s Zonders. However, having seen EVOL and Genesis‘ love of puns, double entendres and quite clever linguistic tricks in a series not even thematically about linguistics, LOGOS seems increasingly like a redoubling of themes that were secondary in past series. EVOL was built on a fundamental wordplay – that it is LOVE backwards – and in the process played with the language of sex via hole puns, Mix becoming a man and her name becoming Mixy (a pun on the male sex chromosome, most likely) and so on. Wordplay and strange association is the bread and butter of Aquarion, and LOGOS makes it its core gimmick.