Episode 6 of Macross Delta is one of the “difficult episodes” of robot anime in many ways, one of the points where a series must make its moral compass plain and present its heroes and villains (not simply the antagonist army to be fought but the relatable and repellant characters on both sides.) It is an episode, ostensibly, about the crisis of confidence of the soldier’s first kill. This is, obviously, a vast and challenging topic explored in more depth and nuance in fiction not intended to present an exciting adventure about idols and robots – for a more serious discussion of the morality of war and the crises of moral confidence faced by soldiers go anywhere but a Macross series (or indeed robot anime in general).
Episode 48 of Eureka Seven is arguably an episode-long opening to a final battle, the final clash between Nirvash and theEND, Holland and Talho and Jurgens’ last charge against Dewey’s fleet. All the ingredients, and all the visual language, of a truly epic battle are set forward. An immense enemy armada protecting a superweapon, heroic ace pilots going on against impossible odds, and the final showdown between the two experimental units – the two mecha that have fought each other to a standstill every time they have clashed. Yet as it progresses it is very clearly not an action climax in any traditional sense. The episode is the culmination of Anemone’s plot, of Dominic’s journey of moral awakening, and an intensely personal thing within an epic framework.
Both the greatest strength and potentially greatest weakness of G-Tekketsu is its laser-focus on masculinity and the “expectations” placed on men and women in a fiercely macho, dog-eat-dog society. It has failed to go anywhere fast so far with its story of Kudelia’s move from naivete to competence as an activist or political figure, with her still – some distance into the series now – bemoaning her lack of competence. Indeed, it has perhaps become even more reductive in how it presents its women. There is a narrative justification for this – this is a ship of sex-obsessed children in thrall to a salacious polygamist’s apparent living the manly dream, and the story is ostensibly about the demolition of their masculine ideals. Yet this inevitable demolition – and the foreshadowing does still suggest it is inevitable – has yet to come in any concrete way.
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.
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.
The side story OVAs to the main Universal Century timeline of Gundam are, perhaps by virtue of a shorter running time, more focused in their approach to using the setting; each tells a single story seated within the world created that tries to be different in some way to other stories in the same world. The 08th MS Team makes aesthetic efforts at a kind of military-SF realism by attention to mechanical detail and at the same time is basically a love story about soldiers from opposing factions. War in the Pocket is even more personal and anti-action in its close focus on Al and Bernie, a soldier and the civilian who helps him try and carry out his mission against all odds – and its child’s viewpoint is specifically used to play with expectations of what this kind of story entails.
Choice of Games offer a wide selection of choose-your-own-adventure stories in a variety of genres, and were among the first to embrace the genre’s popularity on mobile. While the package on offer in their titles is significantly less polished than a title like Eighty Days or the Fighting Fantasy titles available, the variety of topics covered is refreshing. Mecha Ace represents a foray into animé pastiche, and arguably succeeds.
The opening sequence of Gundam F91 is an assault on a space colony much like many other within the franchise; it could be thematically the attack on Heliopolis from Gundam SEED, the initial mayhem of Mobile Suit Gundam or the carnage wreaked by the Kshatriya in Unicorn. Yet what sets it apart is how uncinematic the action is; the focus visually is on showing people trying to avoid the fighting, chasing one group of civilians who are not a part of the conflict and simply want to avoid it. The conflict is foreshadowed from the title card intro, in which a number of enemy machines begin attacking a shipyard with casual ease, but its first appearance to the main cast is sudden as a destroyed defense unit crashes into a building, crushing those within.
Playing Strike Suit Zero is an education in the physics and motion of giant robot combat; it teaches the player that, unlike something like Zone of the Enders where the humanoid machines can coast around like aircraft, in space the virtue of transforming from fighter to mech is being able to stop and line up shots methodically. If anything, this shows the main limitation of humanoid robots – they are slow, less capable of rapid evasion while remaining accurate than a fighter and have a huge target profile that leaves them easily attacked by capital ships. Yet even so, Strike Suit Zero makes its mech combat a viable strategy, and indeed a very enjoyable one – setting it quite apart from its natural points of comparison in Project Sylpheed or Freespace 2.
Episode 36 of Eureka Seven is arguably archetypal in its structure – a slow-paced chapter of the ongoing story that clarifies, in a fashion, both past and current mysteries. It follows the formula of many episodes in this way – presenting a series of character portraits that modify the viewer’s preconceptions and opinions both via dialogue and unspoken action. Its first half offers, in sequence, insights into Dewey, Norb, Eureka and Holland – all of which are focused on cutting through mystique or mystery to explore a unified theme for the episode of identity and honesty. In some ways Eureka Seven uses character development as its “enemy of the week” – a series like Rahxephon uses each physical enemy, in the form of the alien rock-monster Dolems – to explore a character flaw or interaction. Eureka Seven, by contrast, presents the characters’ crises and failings as its conflict points, eschewing the actual robot conflict that might be used by other mecha animé to hash out disagreements for physical, in-person, confrontation or action.