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.
The visual novel Stein’s;Gate, recently released in English translation, is an interesting and in-depth piece of science-fiction, with a believable and interesting take on a time-travel plot. Exploring the idea of being able to send messages to the past to try and convince people to act differently, it both avoids the usual cliches of time paradoxes by limiting the function of its time machine to very recent history and a very small scale, but also creates new questions that it seeks to answer; how can one be sure if a message had its intended effect? Yet aside from this, the real appeal of Stein’s;Gate is its central characters and how they, as people, are key to the plot unfolding as it does. It begins endearing, and rapidly turns dark without these characters particularly changing their behaviour and it is this exposure of the unpleasantness hiding within the protagonist that is more compelling than the conspiracies and science-fiction inventions he is involved with.
Note: This article contains discussion of the plot of Stein’s;Gate as well as discussion of scenes of emotional and physical abuse within the story.
The first part of this review of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar explained in some detail the game’s setup, army composition and terrain rules; this second article will explain the full turn sequence (accounting for two of the four pages of game rules). As a system it aims to be simple, efficient and quick to play; it achieves all of these aims inconsistently, although there are a number of good ideas to be found within it. Conceptually the shift in focus from ranked troops and formation movement to a freer, less regimented system is not unreasonable; a number of good alternative rule sets for blocks of troops in this fashion exist, considered to be of a generally higher quality than Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle eighth edition. However, even when considered as its own thing, not as a follow-up to a previous system it does not aim to emulate, I am unconvinced that Age of Sigmar is a particularly good streamlined fantasy game.
Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is effectively the ninth edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles ruleset by Games Workshop, one of their two flagship products (the other being Warhammer 40,000, released in its seventh edition in 2014. Released in July 2015, it marks a significant change in focus both for the game compared to other editions (dispensing with the hallmark emphasis on ranked formation and unit maneuver in favour of an open formation, skirmish-like system more comparable to GW’s previous Lord of the Rings miniatures game, or Privateer Press’ Warmachine system) and Games Workshop as a company; rather than releasing a premium-priced hardback rulebook and supplementary premium-priced army lists, Age of Sigmar offers a free online rulebook, a full ruleset printed in the weekly White Dwarf magazine and full online army lists for all factions at no cost. The entire focus of army lists has changed from these books to unit cards with vital statistics and special rules listed – a design used to great effect in Warmachine, Malifaux and numerous other games.
Episode 25 of Rahxephon begins with Ayato having “become” the Rahxephon, its true form being a giant version of him with design elements of the machine itself attached. This is, one could argue, the “mid-season upgrade” of the machine, its point where its true power is unlocked for the final battle – and there is definitely a final battle at hand, with the Mu controlling earth, TERRA in ruins, Narai-Kanai destroyed and the moments of love-confession and resolution passed. Rahxephon has toyed with becoming a super-robot anime at times, but never committed; some combination of events has always subverted or prevented action catharsis. In a way this is the ultimate in the robot representing the pilot – Ayato has never been particularly comfortable in his identity or at home in this unusual world, and TERRA has never really understood what it is doing – and so the “message” being pressed home is that there cannot ever be proper catharsis. When he tries to be decisive, he misunderstands the situation. When he vacillates, people die.
This is a story following on from the short series of tropical-set military mecha pieces I wrote a while ago. It is, I suppose, the inevitable next part of the archetypal story progression – the protagonist has a first encounter with the military, ends up alongside them, the super-prototype or charismatic ace is introduced – and then the enemy are humanised and given a perspective character.
This is that character’s story. While talking with a friend recently the subject of conversation turned to Code Geass and the terror in the characters the Lancelot and Guren – both sides’ most powerful weapons – caused in their enemies. I liked that aspect of the series, even if its impact felt lessened by later plot developments – for those early episodes one unit with capabilities most others did not was enough to psychologically turn the tide of the battle even if it offered only a limited material advantage.
I ran with that in this story in a slightly different direction – what if, rather than the effect of a new enemy ace arriving being mad suicidal glory-seeking, it was a more defensive, evasive response? Would there be the usual protagonist-driven carnage against an enemy less interested in attacking than defending? And, what would a putative ace think about this?
Originally posted on Super Fanicom BS-X:
Super Fanicom has a fanzine now! Holy crap!
I was trying to think of a hot summer jam to get this party started, but realized there’s nothing better for the occasion than the Gatchaman CROWDS OP:
Now let that run while you party with us. Imagine balloons or swimming pools filled with champaigne and lonely people — whatever gets your party brain to throbbing.
Here’s the whole story. Back in 2013 Cuchlann had the opportunity to work on old, early 20th century fanzines (sf/f stuff). It was fascinating because they’re basically exactly the same as what we’re doing here online. Between blog posts and comment threads, all the content was there, duplicated in letters pages and articles and editorials. Pontifus, meanwhile, was considering ways to write online without, you know, writing online — that is, without the baggage that blog posts have. These two threads of thought came together delightfully.
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This story came from an idea that was initially something else. I was trying to write a super-robot story that had a professional woman pilot, someone in the mold of Cima Garahau or Haman Karn (both, notably, villains – but both good examples of the mature, skilled and powerful woman I meant – maybe the hero equivalent is Miria Jenius), in the lead. Someone who would pilot in “sensible” clothes rather than whatever the hell the woman pilots of Godannar or Gravion wear. Someone ultimately a bit like Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, a super robot pilot who is a woman rather than the archetypal “woman robot pilot” of anime.
The initial plan was for this story to have a good chunk of robot action in it – I even sketched a robot, with a suitably silly name – 月騎士ダイルーナ (Moon Knight Dailuna) full of stock Masami Obari-inspired robot ideas like shoulder-cannons, a huge sword, missile launchers on its ankles and so on. My hero would be basically the female counterpoint to Klein Sandman, the super-cool operator and pilot from Gravion. She would be on the run from the evil empire, the equivalent to Duke Fleed from Grendizer.
When I began writing, I found it was far more interesting to explore the hero’s backstory; Achelois (pictured above) turned out to be a character who “lost” the political games that define the scheming super-robot villain hierarchy and changes sides – but whether or not this is a wholly humanitarian, Soldier of Justice style move or simply a pragmatic survival move is left vague. I have plans for writing more in this setting; on Earth, Achelois would assume a secret identity to fight her former comrades – that of a professional, competent businesswoman and socialite, someone phenomenally rich, empowered and independent. This almost felt like a satirical move; the scheming alien general who proved not quite good enough to scheme her way to the top of the evil empire instead excels in the world of corporate capitalism. Whether or not this angle remains, should I write more, is up in the air.
The idea of making a “family-friendly” arena shooting game in the mold of Unreal Tournament or Quake 3 seems counterintuitive; the draw of such games is fast-paced, “elite” gaming experiences, over-the-top explosive gore and a very macho, tournament-minded attitude. The genre itself embodies the popular perception of e-sports – spectacle, competition and a self-conscious striving for “maturity”, a world of announcers shouting “HEAD SHOT” and “KILLING SPREE” and lightning-reactions to score sniper kills while flying across the map jumping constantly. That, anyway, is the perception of the competitive arena shooter, and a perception that really clouds the wider genre. Nintendo’s Splatoon is, nevertheless, an arena shooter, which has a thriving ranked playlist, and is resolutely family-friendly and positive in its entire presentation. It is, in itself, an excellent game; on a technical level its basic shooting mechanics and movement gimmicks are superbly executed, it has a continually-updated armoury and map list (which is provided via free patches, rather than paid DLC – ensuring no fragmentation of the player base) and a solidly-made single-player campaign.
This is, I guess, the conclusion to the “first two episodes of a mecha anime” story that these pieces – The Circus in the Sky, Time to Get Up and Get It By Your Hands – tell. The stories began with a young boy witnessing a mecha battle above his hometown, helping the downed pilot – written intentionally to evoke Ledo from Suisei no Gargantia and Bernie from War in the Pocket – and joining the military to help defend his hometown. Now, as this introductory-feeling story concludes and some greater plot begins, the phony war that has preoccupied the Pillar of Heaven Army comes to an end and the enemy’s main forces are revealed. This is the part where some catalyst for the development of the story – something like Renton’s fateful dive off a cliff to help the Nirvash in the opening episodes of Eureka Seven – marks the protagonist’s journey beginning for real.
I feel like I want to write more in this setting. The drawing above is the work of an artist I encountered on the online mecha anime community /m/, intended to be a design for the Armours that this story skirts about. It absolutely nails the aesthetic I was hoping for here – a mixture of Eureka Seven, Dragonar and Reconguista in G.