11 Years before “Hackers” There Was “Video Warrior Laserion”
In the absence of much English-language popularity or information about Video Warrior Laserion I ended up with a wildly inaccurate picture of what sort of a series it would be; it seemed like it was going to be a show about someone going inside a computer to fight computer viruses and so on, because it had a reputation of “a robot programmed in BASIC by a hacker”. And indeed the opening credits strongly suggested it was that, or maybe an Ender’s Game situation where the virtual world was actually something more sinister.
It’s not. It’s actually a weird semi real robot series like Gundam if it had more of a mix of utopianism and concern about modern technology and telecoms. For the benefit of people who haven’t picked up the recent bluray release of it, the premise is as follows: In the future, “Rebels” from space colonies are at war with Earth because they’ve been exiled to space and it’s terrible. They use giant robots and an army of cyborgs made by some kind of sinister factory. Humanity is defended by a massive network of space fortresses, giant robots and starships led by the Secret Force, who are 100% the typical hero squadron from a mech show. In a completely unrelated chain of events, Earth scientists are inventing an experimental teleportation device which uses the internet to teleport things around. In a tragic teleportation accident caused by the hero, Takashi, playing video games over the internet during the test, a plane disappears and is replaced by the super robot from the video game. In order to capitalise on this problem, the Secret Force blackmail our hero into joining up with his super robot to fight the Rebels.
It’s like a neat time capsule of techno thriller plot points and sci-fi wildness of the 1980s, and also feels a lot like it is a predecessor of younger-audience shows like Gundam AGE which lean heavily in on the toyetic nature of the robot genre. It’s a very modern concept really – someone is an ace gamer and finds out that their gaming skills mean they can save the world. Laserion aired in 1984, two years after the release of Tron, one year after War Games and in the same year as The Last Starfighter – I feel the release dates of these proto-internet and gamer movies are definitely signs that this is a series capitalising on a pop culture trend.
But this on its own wouldn’t necessarily make Laserion much more than a curiosity, one of those anime that sits in the “this is an interesting product of its era” bracket – albeit somewhere between the more plain Gundam imitators like Dragonar and the fully fledged super robots. What, then do I like about it enough to talk about it? It’s actually got some fun mileage out of the concept. It may not be the prettiest anime of the era, or the most imaginatively written, but it’s fun. A lot of that comes from the general dynamic of the whole thing which is very much in on the ridiculousness of the concept. I mentioned in my thoughts on Gold Lightan that the fun of that show was the pure youthful energy of it, the fact it was a show about kids being kids without a proper adult power structure around that. Laserion is the opposite; its fun comes from the fact it is a typical family comedy with inept teachers, annoying parents, daft adults and so on just dropped straight into a real robot war story. Takashi is shrewd and genre-savvy, getting in some digs at Gundam when he tries to escape the draft, his friends are the expected mix of rebellious and serious kids, and the show commits hard to his identity as a super hacker (with some added jokes at the expense of the irreverent scientist in charge of the teleportation lab).
I think the way to put it is Laserion feels like a familiar, comfortable kids’ show that has a setup clearly cribbing from a lot of things that were in vogue at the time – there’s a real nostalgia factor to watching it, both in its kind of limited and experimental ideas about what online gaming might look like and what hackers could do on the internet, and in its almost fitting as a precursor to video game isekai; rather than being a series about someone entering the game, it’s a series about the game becoming real.