Illustration kindly drawn from my request by Daniel Olsen
This is the first part of at least a two-part story. It began, as an awful lot do, with a chat online in which I asked the question “wouldn’t it be cool if?”
In this case, it was “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a story a bit like The Iron Giant and War in the Pocket, but with the relentlessly cheery child protagonists of the Braves franchise?” That and “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a robot story with a female AI as its lead robot?”
I began, probably approaching this backwards, with the robot. Lovely Chaser (intentionally a riff on Lonely Chaser, the opening theme to Galvion) was going to be the inexperienced but ambitious superhero, someone sent out to do good in the world with a very – initially – straightforward sense of justice. She would meet the usual kid archetypes, and from there things would go somewhere interesting. One thing I have been considering a lot is the urge to “deconstruct” or subvert traditionally child-friendly media with “dark” or controversial readings – infamous examples include reading Spirited Away as a film about the sex trade, for example. How do stories like Madoka, or War in the Pocket, fit into this? Why do I happily read Madoka as a relentlessly sociopathic tale that can’t let media for girls be innocent, and yet have no qualms with War in the Pocket taking the gungho world of Gundam into dark places? And how should this be applied to something as (generally) cheery as the Braves stories?
The answer I think came from approaching the matter from the other direction; looking at, specifically, the differences between the 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 and the OVA finale to the Braves franchise, GaoGaiGar FINAL. Both are, in their way, “dark” spins on beloved children’s robot shows. Tetsujin unsympathetically, unheroically, paints a post-war world where there’s little place for a straightforward hero. GaoGaiGar FINAL takes the colourful aesthetic unchanged and just adds a high body count.
So with all of this in mind I thought about what I needed to do to stop Lovely Chaser just being a “what if this happy robot show was actually dark?” affair. The answer seemed to be – to suit the tone of the inspiration materials – make it an improving story, not one setting out to vindictively punish its cast – and indeed in this story and probably not the sequels I want to avoid being mean-spirited. But there’s no shortage of implied emotional heaviness in children’s shows. The ending of Brave Police J-Decker is good precisely because it’s being sad in a traditionally funny show. It’s adversity that the heroes emerge from. Much like, in a way, how Pixar’s films reduce you to tears and then leave you feeling a bit better at the end. I don’t profess to say this is going to be as adept as Up or the Toy Story films (although those latter are themselves worth considering in how they let adults approach media about childhood in an emotional way) but I want to try and get that same sense across – Lovely, Daichi, Yuuya and Keiko are not going to have an easy time any more than Woody and Buzz, or Al and Bernie, do. But rather than this being a story of their being crushed, I want to try and make it about how they come out stronger.
That’s a lot of high-minded words, ultimately, for a story about a schoolgirl super robot. But for some reason this story – about, and inspired by, an awful lot of things I really like – needed a lot of thought to work out how to approach.
After extensive research I feel I am ready to begin my mission. Based on considerable investigation of this planet’s people, culture and general environment I have discovered a small island cluster off the coast of its largest landmass is most in need of my protection, on account of its preoccupation with invasion by aliens.
Based on these parameters I have defined a list of key mission goals. Firstly, the protection of justice, peace and the blue Earth. Secondly, the acquisition of several contacts among the local people who may serve as intermediaries. Thirdly, the continued absorption of new information regarding this society in order to better carry out the first two goals.
Prior to the commencement of my mission I must adopt a name. This part is proving more difficult than I anticipated.
“And next time, remember if you do your homework as asked you don’t have to clean the classroom after school.”
“Yes, class president.”
It was some time after most students had gone home, and the school’s corridors – grey-walled, wooden-floored and lined with discoloured windows that filtered the afternoon sunlight – echoed with footsteps as the last few children hurried back to the shoe-lockers. In the staff office a few teachers remained, and the thin engine-noise of a lawnmower suggested someone was mowing the sports-field, but to look down past Classroom 1-A towards the fire escape was to see a bland, geometric void.
The double-doors opened, and the friendship that could have been intimated by the three children leaving together was dissolved as one hung back to make a call on a heavily-decorated cellphone a few models old, and the others ran off, bags trailing unfastened straps, towards the road down to the town centre.
Midway down the road was a sandy expanse that was signed off as a building-site, awaiting the arrival of the workers and machines. Piles of materials were all ready to go, but for now it was – to children who knew about the gap in the fence – the best playground in the town. Provided one hid from the police, if they ever decided to make a patrol of the area, the potential of piles of beams and concrete pipes and all the other accoutrements of an unfinished building was irresistable to a child.
As the two boys chased each other around the building-site, they did not hear at first the buzzing of a cellphone. In time it became more insistent, and was eventually answered.
“Where are you? Are you at the yard again? Are you with Yuuya? Your dinner is on the table!”
“Sorry mom, Yuuya and I were playing and we lost track of time.”
“…You were kept behind at school again, weren’t you?”
“…yeah. It was all Keiko’s fault, she told on us.”
“Come home and eat your dinner and we’ll talk about it later.”
The two boys parted ways and headed, heads low with dejection, down the sloping streets of plain townhouses in a plain, grey town toward their homes, and an evening of homework and inevitable talkings-to.
Shimada is a town some distance from the main population centres of this island. It will provide an excellent base of operations for completing my secondary and tertiary goals, and is close enough to locations of strategic importance to make the primary goal achievable.
I have selected a name.
It seemed as if it had been planned. The two boys were both walking to school with parent in tow, far earlier than usual. Long before the bell would ring.
Early enough to meet a tall, long-haired girl in an impeccable uniform.
“You’re up early today Yuuya! And Daichi, too!” Her enthusiasm, her blind joy at the adherence of other students to rules, made Keiko Adachi one of the least popular students in Class 1-A. “I hope you’ve done your homework!”
The dullness in the two boys’ eyes, and the beaming faces of their parents, made it clear that they had for once. As they walked up the hill, with Keiko talking incessantly, Daichi couldn’t help but notice the hole in the fence that was his way into the building-site was once again boarded up. With that circling his mind in close orbit of plans of revenge against Keiko, he began a new day at school.
Day Two – Secondary Memo
I do not think I have thought this plan all the way through.
Morning classes were the worst part of a Tuesday. A solid block of History and Mathematics, the sun shining awkwardly through the window in a way that made looking up an unpredictable dicing with blindness, and-
A sudden tremor, sending pencils falling from desks and overturning the teacher’s coffee-cup all over her pile of neatly-arranged exercise-books. Momentary silence, then pandemonium, then Keiko’s voice shouting at everyone to remain calm and get under a table. Outside, there was the faint sound of police-sirens, and the classroom held its breath in anticipation of another tremor. Silence broken, after ten confused and frightened minutes, by the teacher (a dull, soft-spoken women known to the class as Ms. Sanegawa.)
“That was very good everyone. Now it looks like we’re safe for now so let’s get back to our seats and continue the lesson. Thank you, Keiko. Everyone thank Keiko.”
Mumbled thanks faded into general chatter, what little enthusiasm the class had had for quadratic equations lost in the excitement of an actual earthquake. By the time lunchtime arrived, Sanegawa had all but given up trying to make herself heard and had simply handed out worksheets to be filled in. As soon as the bell rang, the children began phoning parents, crowding the windows and generally trying to see if there really had been an earthquake, if they could see a police car, and wondering if they would be sent home. Everything seemed centred on something having happened near the hillside, possibly even the building-site that the two boys knew very well.
It was surprisingly easy in the confusion to just walk out by the back gate near the rubbish-bins and find out oneself.
It was also incredibly obvious.
“Don’t tell anyone about this Keiko.” That wasn’t going to work, it was clear.
“So what’s it worth?” Keiko liked the rules but, it was pretty well known, she liked cakes and other nice things a lot more.
“We’ll let you come to the park with us and play with the new Great Arcadron toy I got for my birthday.” Yuuya thought fast, saving Daichi a moment. “And we’ll let you talk about Fuwa-Fuwa Princess even though it’s for girls and doesn’t even have robots in.”
“Robots suck.” Keiko stuck her tongue out at Daichi. “And I don’t see what’s so cool about Polygoner anyway.” This was the sticking-point that it was likely would never see peace between the two boys and their class president. “You’ll have to do better.” They had been walking as they talked, headed towards what seemed to have been the source of the tremor – the building-site. The streets were not as busy as one might have expected, testament to how sleepy a town Shimada was. It had such a small police presence (related to its utter lack of crime, for the most part) that the “cordon” around the building-site was one car – in which sat Officers Kobayashi and Moroka busy eating their lunch – and one man with a motorbike, the senior policeman, Andou. It was still enough, for sure, to stop people getting in; the hole in the fence had been spotted quickly and blocked off with some boards and the car and bike were positioned to cover the main roads in.
By the time they found this out, Yuuya had almost signed his entire school term away to Keiko to keep her quiet about the whole affair. Daichi had a horrible feeling they were going to be enjoying a Fuwa-Fuwa Princess marathon and tea party next weekend.
And now they couldn’t even see what was clearly the most interesting thing to happen to Shimada for years. Yuuya kicked at a stone, clearly thinking hard about how to address this situation.
“I told you you’d never get anywhere.” And with those words of wisdom from Keiko, they made their way back to school before the bell rang.
I am unsure how to proceed. The people here have identified my landing-point, but at this point I do not know how they will be able to comprehend me. I am a complex person, and at the moment I am still in the process of adapting to this new home.
“I was talking to Mrs. Adachi in the playground while I was waiting to pick you up and she said Keiko was all excited about you and Yuuya coming to play, have you put your differences aside?”
Yesterday’s events had definitely happened. Daichi was walking, with his mother, to the Adachi house.
“That’s really good of you, I’m proud of you.”
The day after the tremor had been boring and ordinary. The news had reported some kind of a small gas explosion on the building-site (and so there had been Serious Talks about not playing there any more), the police had decided nothing else of interest was likely to happen, and everyone had gone home. To young boys raised on the belief that strange events always prefigured the revival of ancient power, the truth of living in an earthquake-prone country was quite underwhelming.
Keiko’s room was much larger than Daichi’s, and had a great expanse of cream-carpeted floor which would have been a great place to set up a toy race-track, or legions of robots, or in fact quite a lot of things more appealing to the two boys than a plush, pink-upholstered kotatsu set with a very pleasant tea-set in modern, geometric white porcelain. Even the toy-chests around its edge were neatly-filled, everything immaculate – and her desk, with a laptop computer and small pile of textbooks – was unbelievable in its emptiness.
There was awkward stillness for some minutes – Keiko clearly wondering what on earth to do next, and Daichi and Yuuya unwilling to actively suggest anything. Then her eyes fell on the clock, and she got up.
“Let’s go downstairs, mother will make us a snack and we can watch television.” That sounded a good idea.
The evening got distinctly better when Keiko was asked if she would mind walking down the road to the supermarket to buy some more biscuits. Of course her guests would happily go with her.
“So, on the way back, shall we go and check the building-site? Now the cops are gone we can-”
“It was your insistence on going there that had you coming to play. Of course, if you wanted to, say, do this again next week, I’d think it was a good idea.”
Careful consideration followed, and in the end they headed off in that direction. Some additional persuasion had been needed once Keiko realised she was likely to miss the latest episode of Aicards, but the possibility of seeing the remains of a real explosion overruled all objections Daichi might have had as Yuuya fast-talked his way there. Something had happened, and they had finally managed to get a chance to see it. Not quite on board still, Keiko reluctantly phoned her parents to say that rather than watching television they were going to go for a walk (unwilling to go as far as Yuuya initially suggested and lie that they would do some fieldwork for a science project) but be back in time for dinner. And with that, they were free.
The gap in the fence had been boarded up, but it was not difficult to find another place where the force of the explosion had bent it out of shape, and Daichi held it up so Keiko didn’t catch her clothes on it.
“Can you hear something?” Yuuya was looking around as if trying to swat a fly. “Like… like a kind of-”
“Humming?” Keiko looked at him. “Yes. Like when the electricity is on. It’s probably because there’s a generator somewhere.” For all her objections she was distinctly more enthusiastic now they had arrived.
Day Three – Secondary Memo
Three people are approaching. Previously the people here have remained at a distance. I might try talking to them.
“There’s a crater here. Perhaps that was caused by the explosion.” Yuuya was extraordinarily excited at the thought, but at the same time was keeping his voice down as if it would deter eavesdroppers.”
“Be careful! There might be gas!” Keiko was happy to stay at a distance.
“Something’s inside!” Yuuya dropped to the floor and reached in. “Someone’s dropped something inside, probably Moroka or someone.”
“Can you all hear me?”
The humming had stopped.
“Please, do not be-”
“Are you an alien? Is that your UFO?” Yuuya was holding something as he ran back to the cover of the pallets and boxes. “Is this something of yours?”
“You are familiar on this planet with the idea of alien life? That will make introductions easier. I am from the Machine Empire. My name is Lovely Chaser.”
“Machine… Empire? Like in Absolutely Invincible Flame Leoger?” Daichi wasn’t going to let Yuuya do all the talking, and grabbed the thing off Yuuya. “You mean you’re… a robot?”
“How do you know about me?”
“Every kid loves robots.” Daichi pointedly looked at Keiko. “You’re a real life robot? Can we see your transformation?”
“Daichi! Lovely is a woman, you don’t ask a woman to change her clothes!” Keiko glared at him back.
“Not change clothes Keiko, transform! Like…” Keiko didn’t understand how robots worked.
“I do not think now is a good time. Please… Daichi Shijou… Take this Machine Stone and look after it. It is my disguise. Should a time come when you wish to see me-”
“Do I hold it up and say something? Rise, Lovely Chaser or something?”
“That will do. Daichi’s friend, Yuuya Takahashi?”
“And you, Keiko Adachi. You are also… my friends. If any of you need my help, do the same.”
The crystalline thing Yuuya had found glowed briefly and then divided into three badge-like items. Realising how exposed they still were, they hurried out of the site before any more was said.
“Did that really just happen? Did we really…”
“You boys are the worst people to make first contact with aliens.” Keiko looked smug. “I’ll be telling Lovely all about you.”
They had headed to a convenience store to buy the biscuits as ordered, and while Keiko queued to pay, Daichi once again took out the Machine Stone.
“Yes?” What was happening was so unbelievable it was hard to get adequately excited.
“Do you think she’s got a rocket punch?”