Concrete Revolutio is a series which is complex, holding the cards of its main plot close to its chest; eight episodes in it is hard to see exactly where the endgame will be despite Shin Mazinger-esque flashforwards showing some dystopian, uncertain future where alliances made during the main episodic plots seem inverted and the utopia that the heroes want to fight for has failed. It is clear from these main plots that the hoped-for utopia is based on a faulty premise, but there is the hope that the characters will realise this; each story has their faith in the world shaken a little more, but how this ties into a future where their actions are framed almost villainously is as yet unclear. This is fitting; it is a series about the people who control the image of, and perception of, heroism and justice. It is a series that calls into question the popular perception of justice, and it is perhaps for this reason I find myself comparing it repeatedly to Giant Robo.
The overwhelming theme of episode 46 of Eureka Seven is family and the ability of familial ties to overcome grief and disagreement. It is not limited to traditional familial units, picking up on the series’ emphasis on nontraditional families and family-like entities and exploring how within close-knit social and professional groups like military units a certain kind of familial piety can exist. It would be easy to say that it is examining friendship more than family, but the constant theme throughout the series has been how, for people who lack biological parents, these social groups become a new family. What matters more than blood ties is that there are dependable – even if they are flawed – people to offer advice and support if needed.
As G-Tekketsu proceeds into its seventh episode, it is a conflicting series; it hints at some very interesting ideas it has yet to satisfactorily develop, some other details have turned into a very interesting character study and it sits in an uneasy place between lazy formula and a genuinely interesting take on well-worn ideas. In my initial writing on the series I highlighted its subtlety and willingness to use body language and implicit bits of character development as strengths; it was setting up a contrast between a cynical and pragmatic yet ultimately ignorant hero, and an idealistic yet out-of-touch privileged woman trying to reach out to him. This continues for a while; during the series’ episodes on Mars, the protagonist, Mika, is shown to be illiterate and able to fight only by the muscle memory of his life as a tank driver – in time he admits this and tries to learn to write, but before then it is shown by his refusal to read manuals or instructions. Mika – and his superior officer Orga – remain the most interesting characters even as the series falls into a slump; their dynamic has become a strange inversion of the usual machismo of robot anime.
The opening episode of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (abbreviated henceforth as G-Tekketsu) is particularly strong both as a franchise entry and as a piece of science-fiction television. While I particularly enjoyed the dense, confused mayhem of G-Reco, its predecessor, that series’ shortcomings became obvious in time; in trying to tell a story about characters uncertain of what they were doing, it was unable to tell the audience effectively what was happening. G-Reco was, in the end, about various groups of people unused to war finding their efforts at starting one went awry; in some ways a possible critique of the “chickenhawk,” the politician who talks big about militarism but has no stomach for blood. Yet in the end its concepts – of a number of insular, superstitious nation-states in space ending up embroiled in a pointless inconclusive war that ended up benefiting a small number of loudest-voiced people – were significantly more interesting than its status as a piece of fiction.
From the start, Rose of Versailles has a menace hanging over it – that of the French Revolution, constantly alluded to by the narrator and gradually brought into the main plot by the exposure of its privileged protagonist to the injustice of the world she fights for. The shoujo aspects of it – Marie Antoinette as the privileged adolescent involved in social spats with her rivals at court playing out like schoolgirl bickering – fade away through a move towards genuine threat. It goes from two women arguing about talking to each other to attempted fraud, efforts to undermine the monarchy and even assassination plots before the story as a whole pulls away from Marie herself to the possible downfall of the French nobility as an institution. Oscar is a confidante in this story, the woman in which Marie can put her faith as a friend, and yet this is set against her growing revulsion at the injustice of the system itself.
For several episodes the secondary plot of Eureka Seven, the increasing disharmony among the Federation forces around Dewey’s increasingly extreme plans, has proved more interesting than the main plot of Renton and Eureka as the emissaries to an apparently uncaring alien intelligence. This is perhaps indicative of the series’ wider difficulties; it is a particularly existential story at its heart, an expansive narrative that plays its hand very cautiously. Renton and Eureka’s non-courtship, their development, has played out over the whole series so far and now they are left in limbo, the preparations by definition inadequate. A human story – the mad genius trying to destroy the world to prove a point – is understandable. It offers a conflict that can be comprehended and fought with guns, the sort of thing a mecha anime wants. A story of metaphysical self-discovery, of discussion of the nature of humanity and of the nature of an alien deity, is alien, conceptual science-fiction. That Eureka Seven discusses this, and gives it space to grow and develop at the pace of uneasy first love as an allegory for first contact is its virtue, and yet at the same time difficult to write about on an episode-by-episode basis.
One of the key drivers of dramatic conflict in shoujo anime tends to be the clash between the privileged and underprivileged; in Aim for the Ace you have the school’s “elite” versus the perceived talentless interloper (picked up in Gunbuster and mixed with the macho world of robot piloting), in Dear Brother these themes are further explored with its setting of a very exclusive school with its own student inner circle, membership of which encourages disdain for non-members. Even something like Glass Mask, set in the world of theatre, still builds core conflicts around two things – rebellion against, and then acceptance of, an apparently unreasonable authority figure and the distinction between the right sort and wrong sort of people. The protagonist of such stories is generally one of the out-group for some reason beyond their control – a lack of money, unsupportive parents, etcetera, and the story is about their overcoming adversity to earn the respect of the in-group. It is not always this simple – Dear Brother begins in this fashion and then questions whether the “in-group” should really exist by portraying it as destructive and unpleasant – but I feel it fair to say questions of class and privilege sit centrally within a number of popular shoujo anime.
Any finale for Rahxephon would, after the revelations of the ending arc, be a personal rather than action-filled one. There is no sense of a war any more; humanity is annihilated and forsaken, Ayato has had his chance to embody the machine, to become the saviour of humanity, and turned away from it. It is hard to say this is turning away from a duty, because what duty did he have at this point? He is a Mulian, he has been all but rejected and used by humanity, and so it is almost inevitable he would not seek to be their saviour. So, the conflict that remains is between what remains emotionally of Ayato, what human touch he picked up in his life on Earth, and the insecurities which fuelled his sudden abandonment of Haruka and Megumi. He took action, but it was action with unknown, uncertain consequence – and now almost limitless power is in the hands of someone who does not know where he belongs or what he should do with it.
In my first article about Steins;Gate I talked about how its protagonist, Okabe Rintaro, embodied the toxic, sociopathic social outcast and how the game’s unsympathetic depiction of him – and his ultimate exploitation and emotional (verging on physical) abuse of the woman in his life presented him as a monster of sorts, someone with the latent potential to do real harm and who is blind to how and why. His failings – human ones masked by his lack of social graces – are set against his very real power to influence others’ lives; the time-travel conceit central to the story is a fitting science-fictional one because it lets him be the master manipulator he always wanted to be. He can change lives with a suggestion, fulfilling his fantasies of being in control.
Note: This article discusses the endings of Steins;Gate in detail.
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.