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learns that he will die should he continue fighting Dewey not because of the enemy, but because his machine is so outdated the drugs he need to pilot it will destroy him, and the scene ends up set for a confrontation between Dominic and Jurgens for the Federation and Holland for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.
I really liked the setting I created in The Usual, For Two – the dusty, well-worn, questionably corrupt city of Cana Luz which sat on a mountainside overlooked by the grotesque governor’s residence. So, I decided to revisit it some time after the change of government the previous story depicted. Much like The Usual, this was a very easy and fun story to write – the basic conceit was not particularly complicated and the challenge and joy for me as a writer came from trying to get an appropriately satirical tone. The picture above is an illustration of the now-named Governor from The Usual, for Two, by an artist who remains sadly anonymous.
This was a difficult story to begin writing, because I had so many ideas for it and it was so difficult to condense them into a piece of short fiction. Initially there were going to be a whole squadron of pilots and it was going to be a fun caper about some soldiers trying to throw a surprise party for their captain – elements of Full Metal Panic and Patlabor perhaps. The protagonist was going to be a slightly too serious bridge officer called Hitomi, and it was going to be a farce. The problem was I couldn’t write a caper story as funny as Butch Minds the Baby and I couldn’t hit a suitably easygoing tone without it seeming smug.
Then I decided I quite liked some of the supporting cast more, and there was going to be a Super Robot Wars-esque story about the pilots alone, with the brash, Excellen Browning-like character constantly annoying her wingman. That didn’t go anywhere either.
Then I hit on the characters I really liked from the original idea – a well-meaning but slightly intimidating ace pilot, and a very nervous copilot. I downplayed the initial plan for heartwarming cuteness and focused more on a genre parody drawing on Godannar, Gunbuster and similar super-robot stories. The narrative voice ended up more akin to The Stainless Steel Rat, and this was the result. Also included is a picture, drawn by a sadly anonymous artist, of the two main characters of the story – its style, very muscular and pin-up like, somewhat informed the tone.
Photos and terrain courtesy of Adam Isherwood at Iron Forest Games, models my own.
The much-delayed Kickstarter-funded wargame Robotech RPG Tactics has finally begun to be delivered within Europe, and as my copy has arrived I have had the opportunity to play two limited-scale games of it. These are sufficient to form general opinions about the rules design – although more detailed examination of unit selection and faction play-style is currently impossible as many of the more interesting and different units are not currently available. Overall, as a wargame attempting to recreate the combat style of Robotech/SDF Macross – a translation of theme into mechanics – it works well. Using a system of named pilots adding thematic abilities to stock units like X-Wing forces can be given more flavour, while the weapon system rules emphasising mass missile attacks and divided, inaccurate fire versus enemies concentrating to bring one hero down creates a strong aesthetic element to mechanical design.
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.
Today, at Iron Forest Games in Benfleet, I played a game using the playtest rules of Beyond the Gates of Antares by Warlord games, using two starter forces (Algoryn and C3) against each other.
Antares is based on the Bolt Action rules, with a number of changes to reflect its science-fiction theme.
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.
I am not quite sure where this story came from. My other short stories have been clear responses to things that have had some impact on me as a writer – my fantasy writing evoking Shonagon and Pliny, my robot-stories drawing on Infinity and Aim for the Top and more.
This aesthetically, I suppose, most evokes Michiko and Hatchin and Black Lagoon, set as it is in some unreal, loosely-defined setting somewhere between South America and Asia. I know I wanted to try and, in descriptive terms, evoke the fantastic opening to Under the Volcano by Lowry even if there is nothing of Lowry’s novel specifically in it save a description of a possibly South American tourist town.
I do know it was easy to write. Once I began describing Cana Luz filling out this image of a fictional settlement between a town and a city, somewhere in the midst of postwar reconstruction, it was very easy to visualise. The decadent, narcissistic Governor was a similarly easy character to visualise. At one point she – and her conversation-partner – were going to have defined names. They didn’t make it into the final writing.