I came comparatively late, as an anime fan, to watching Full Metal Alchemist; for a long time it had been something I was aware of as being the series about the strange robotic knight and his child companion, and I gathered it had some alternate-history elements from seeing fanworks of imperious caricatures in fancy uniforms. When I finally got around to beginning it a few months ago, choosing the remake, Brotherhood, over the original series, I was incredibly impressed with what it offered as a piece of, ultimately, superhero fiction. The setup is archetypal old-fashioned superhero origin story; two children carry out a dangerous experiment to harness forbidden power, it goes incredibly wrong and they end up changed, with the changes giving them incredible power to do good or evil. The framework may be fantasy rather than super-science, with alchemy and necromancy replacing cosmic radiation or mysterious particles, but at the heart of it the Elric brothers are old-fashioned superheroes.
Although The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an anime I greatly enjoy, its immense scope (110 episodes, detailing the rise and fall of immense superpowers through the lens of two men who emerge as their figureheads) makes it a challenging prospect to write about. It is not just epic in terms of its plot – epic in the sense of scale, with planets and star systems changing hands and yet also in the sense of character, talking about the rise of charismatic leaders of men with ambitions to bring down political entities centuries old – but in terms of ambition as a piece of fiction. It presents two entire ideologies embodied by its warring factions, in a sense – monarchy (and a quasi-respectable monarchy under an “enlightened” ruler at that) versus democracy (a corrupt, self-serving democracy that is no more enlightened than the monarchy it fights againt) with capital – the private sector and corporate interests represented by Phezzan – and religion, via both the spirituality of the Empire and the mysterious, destabilising Earth Cult – as third-parties who play both sides. This scale makes discussion of the series as a whole less fruitful than character studies or discussion of individual plot arcs – but these are still articles I have trouble beginning to write. More accessible is the creator of The Legend‘s, Yoshiki Tanaka’s, more recently adapted work, The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Currently two episodes into its 2015 adaptation, Arslan presents the same thematic intent as Galactic Heroes but within a different context.
Note: This article discusses a quite emotive and moving section of Eureka Seven whose impact mostly comes from the revelations within. It may be best not to read it unless you have already seen the series and know what happens.
Much happens in episode 44 of Eureka Seven to advance the main plot; Renton and Eureka continue to explore the new world they find themselves in as morale begins to drop, Holland learns that he will die should he continue fighting Dewey not because of the enemy, but because his machine is so outdated the drugs he need to pilot it will destroy him, and the scene ends up set for a confrontation between Dominic and Jurgens for the Federation and Holland for the Gekkostate. That the climax of the episode is Eureka beginning a similar metamorphosis to Sakuya – suggesting that Renton will fail as Norb did, unable to properly reach out to the Scub Coral and save the world – is setting up a massive, metaphysical conflict that cannot be easily resolved. Yet more interesting, and the more enduring image of the episode, is how it continues Dominic’s plot. Dominic was established in episode 43 as being, put as simply as possible, the Kamille to Anemone’s Four – a comparison subverted by Anemone’s agency and self-determination, her desire to not simply be “saved” like a damsel in distress but for someone to actually care for her. Episode 44 has him initially uncertain about how to do this, an outsider – and ends with him a man with conviction.
Yatterman Night is a curious series, a reimagining or sequel of an archetypal children’s television program that tries to bring it “up to date” with political themes and an often more “mature” tone. At first sight, read literally, it is effectively a philosophical or thematic “next step” for an audience who perhaps watched Yatterman as children and are now teenagers looking for something more morally in-depth. Yatterman, as Night continually restates, is about two heroes and a mechanical dog fighting a group of thieves who are dumb, violent, avaricious and lewd. Good wins, evil is defeated, and that is that. Yatterman‘s evil archetypes are so iconic in their lack of threat they are the model for countless subsequent sympathetic or comic villains – Pokemon‘s Team Rocket, Nadia‘s Grandis Gang, Wario and Waluigi from the Mario games – any set of villains involving a stylish lady, a fat idiot and a thin scheming man, of which there are many.
It has taken quite some time for me to properly work out why I dislike Gundam Build Fighters Try in comparison to the original first series; for much of the series’ run time I was unsure if the weaknesses I was identifying within it were based on misremembering the merits of the original. After all, both series embodied similar tropes – that of a naturally talented character helping out technically proficient but less skilful teammates in pursuit of the grand prize of a wargaming tournament. Both protagonists fielded powerful units with over-the-top weapons to face dramatic opponents, so complaining about the way in which fights were resolved by means of a finishing-move judiciously deployed seemed inaccurate. Eventually though I realised the problems with Try were as much with its ethos – its whole attitude behind the game-selling message front and centre – and its characterisation as anything else.
Episode 43 of Eureka Seven significantly advances the main, alien-contact plot in its scenes of Renton and Eureka on an unusual beach. They have travelled to the Promised Land, as expected, and face new challenges even with Norb’s clues about its identity. The viewer learns, in time, about Earth’s role in this setting (and the difference in perspective from which the characters view it) – yet what is more interesting by far, beyond the actual main plot, is the subtle building up to a subplot for Dominic and Anemone and how the revelations this offers about Dewey and Holland reflect on what Renton and Eureka are seeing. It is one of the points in Eureka Seven, much like the Ray and Charles subplot, where it deftly redefines and arguably surpasses its roots in Gundam. Eureka Seven is indebted to the Gundam franchise, yet – much like the similarly referential and reverential Rahxephon has its uneasy relationship with Evangelion – it is at its most fascinating when it diverges from it.
Episode 23 of Rahxephon is a very, in many ways, typical episode of mecha anime and yet as a result, for this point in the series, a very atypical episode of Rahxephon. As a result, it is disarming, and poignant, and a very strange counterpoint to the crushing anticlimax of the previous two-part story about Makoto’s failure to implement his plan. It closes off a character’s arc in truly heroic style, yet constantly undermines the aesthetic expectations of the audience to make it less simplistically hot-blooded. Furthermore, it hints at tragic ironies but never makes them clear, not spelling out how one character’s doubt and inaction could have prevented another’s tragedy and leaving the doubt in the viewer’s mind of whether or not what happened could have – or should have – been prevented.
Episodes 21 and 22 of Rahxephon form an elegaic two-part story which drives the story forward significantly; through conversation, the characters make their peace with each other and through action, the different factions – Mu, TERRA and Bahbem Foundation – each begin their master plans. The protagonists – Ayato and Quan – are almost sidelined in all of this, diminished to “actors” in their respective “directors’” plans. Quan, previously the powerful yet enigmatic figure who has driven Ayato forward, is reduced in the opening scenes of episode 21 to a sexualised object, felt around by Bahbem and told to “play” for him. The change in outfit here – to a formal black dress and lingerie as she is paraded before an old man who “inspects” her – is obviously exploitative and puts someone who has previously been not so much vulnerable and distant as clearly a victim. Ayato is outplayed by the manipulative Mamoru, the Mu infiltrator who waltzes across Nirai-Kanai mocking all he meets and taking advantage of Megumi.
Over time, and several viewings, I have reconsidered my attitude to the classic 1988 OVA Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. It is a well-constructed, entertaining and aesthetically spectacular piece of television, but precisely what it represents – to me, anyway – has changed as my knowledge of anime of its time has increased. Most viewers realise from the major genre shifts throughout that Gunbuster is a wide-reaching pastiche of numerous anime genres rich in visual homage, metatextual humour and made with a dear love of animation as a medium. It is a bildungsroman of sorts which uses genre and narrative scale as a way of depicting the maturation of someone who is almost a neoteny – a series that goes through the ages of anime history while its protagonist remains an eternal child.
Were Eureka Seven’s 42nd episode to be the beginning of its immediate end, the setup to a resolution of the whole plot in episode 43, it would be a fitting and powerful ending. As the introduction to a longer final arc it is just as powerful, and definitely the point where for all its superficial resemblances, the series moves far away from Gundam via a damning exploration of the same themes. It is – in a series built on build-and-release moments of emotional intensity – a long-deferred moment of emotional power for every character, not simply a barometer of Renton’s maturity or Holland’s coming to terms with his past, but absolute closure for plot threads which have been running for 41 prior episodes. Emotional release – the climaxes of past arcs, the moments of revelation and resolution that have preceded this point, implies a build back up, a temporary moment of clarity from which lessons are learned and the next conflict will build on. The whole focus of episode 42 is on moving on in the most physical sense, driving forward and looking to definitively close the past off.