The Year of Mecha In Review (Thus Far)

Awhile back on my podcast, R5 Central, I called 2007 the “Year of Mecha”.

Mainly because this year, we’re getting a slew of new mecha shows, all of them either ambitious new projects or long-awaited sequels/remakes. However, before you get crazily indecisive about what to watch this year, let me save you the time and file space and give you a heads up on the shows thus far. What you should be watching, what you really need to be watching, and what you should avoid like a group of rabid fangirls foaming at the mouth…

REIDEEN
Fridays on WOWOW

Hyped up to be the remake to end all re-makes, this marks the second attempt to re-hash the 1976 Sunrise anime series helmed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Tadao Nagahama (who would later direct all three titles in the Romantic Robot Trilogy..a must see if you’re a fan of the genre).

The first remake attempt, Chouja Raideen (AKA Reideen the Superior), just sorta cashed in on the pretty boys in anime franchise….See for yourself.

Sadly, the only people I know who even like this series call it a guilty pleasure or just loathe it entirely. Ironically, if there was ever a gateway drug-er mecha anime to get those stubborn fangirls into the genre, this would be it.

The second attempt is what we’ve got now on WOWOW. Here’s the best way to describe it.

FRIEND: Did you see the new Raideen!?
ME: I thought I did but I think I must have gotten the wrong file.
FRIEND: Huh?
ME: Yeah, it said it was Reideen but it was really an episode of Raxephon…

Seriously I’ve only seen two episodes of the aforementioned series that, honestly, should be considered an official Raideen remake because of all the similarities (Hell just play Super Robot Taisen MX, the two of them have a double attack). This new series has all the trademarks of a post-Eva mecha anime, only slightly more drawn out and boring as hell. I’ve never had to fast forward so much during a series opener in my life.

No wait, I have…but I’ll explain that one in a bit.

But there’s one gripe I have with this remake. It isn’t the animation which, I’ll admit, is gorgeous to look at. It isn’t the CG either, it doesn’t lag like most anime out there that try to merge 2D and 3D and end lup lagging or one made to suffer because of the other.

It’s the mecha itself.

Not the fact that our hero has to strip down to use it (the only time I wanna see nudity in a mecha cockpit is if it’s female – Yes I’m a guy, deal with it XD). It’s that the mecha fights are sooooooo freeeeeaaaaaakiiiiing sloooooow.

Example: During a viewing of the first episode, I remember having to run out of the room to answer the phone but I left the episode running. When I came back, Reideen was still trying to swing a punch. He had only moved like 3 inches between the time I left to have a conversation on the phone and the time I got back. I understand you want real-time physics and all that but..goddamn o_O

If you must, check out the first episodes or so but be warned. It apparently does get better but I’ve already tuned out long enough to not even care. Otherwise, just get Raxephon. It’s essentially the same thing…only with an actual pace. That or just watch the original Raideen that is being played right now on WOWOW with four episodes back to back every night.

DANCOUGA NOVA
Sundays on ANIMAX

Remember how excited I was for this back in Episode 23 of R5 Central? Masami Ohbari was directing and doing mecha design, Yao Kazuki was set to come back as Shinobu, what could possibly go wrong?

Let me put it this way; once more, the fast forward button was my best friend.

The series is set after the events of the series and OVA, God Bless Dancougar, and it appears the CBF has been reformed, Shinobu is in charge, under the alias F.S, and they select four new pilots to face off against a new threat. Sounds decent, right? Nope.

Shinobu has suddenly become Shapiro, the threat is just a human army that is never any match for the team (Tanks and Jets VS Dancouga – Who do you think is going to win?), Norio Wakamoto has become KITT (He’s the voice of the AI that doesn’t get revealed until Eps 4 or 5) and even with the amounts of Moe/Ohbari-Hybrid Fanservice, I found myself to really dislike the characters. I was actually hoping the new female lead would become the new Shinobu incarnate and that things would turn around in the first few episodes. Only thing to turn around was the amount of footage of her in the buff. -_-

Now I know that the series is partially conceived as a parody of the Super Robot genre, the director making fun of himself as you will, but I really didn’t catch onto that until say..maybe the third episode. When I finally tuned out.

Sucks to say it but even with a kickarse theme song and interesting mecha designs, Dancouga Nova bored me to tears..literally…as I was expecting so much more from what seemed to be a long awaited project.

KISHIN TAISEN GIGANTIC FORMULA
I’ll properly review this one when I get a chance to watch it subbed by the gimmick of this series is that 14 of the best mecha designers worked on the stuff for this show. Also has the character designers from Kiddy Grade but you couldn’t tell with no clean everything looks.

SUPER ROBOT TAISEN: ORIGINAL GENERATION ~DIVINE WARS~
Finished Run ON TV TOKYO – DVD Exclusive Episode Coming Soon

It’s still got one episode left due to their pulling a Code Geass and holding it back for the summer when the final volumes of the DVD will be released. I’ve voiced my dislike for this show on R5, so great is my dislike in fact that it was named runner up for Biggest Disappointment of 2006. Why?

It was lacking a hook.

Sure JAM PROJECT did the opening themes. Sure they had nice CG. Sure you go “OMG IT’S SUPER ROBOT TAISEN!” but I wasn’t gripped.

To me, if you’re going to do an adaptation of a game or manga or whatever, you need to have a hook. That one thing that makes you want to sit through the story all over again. Divine Wars was severely lacking this from the get go and was relying heavily on their flashy CG effects and fan service for the fans of the games.

I know, I’m mentioning fan service again. But in this case, it’s not in the “You favorite female characters in a skimpy outfit” sense but rather in favorite characters showing up and being overly hyped. This is nice every once in awhile but it started to become something of a second crutch for the writers. Best example is an episode in the home stretch of the series. Nothing happens for that entire show save for showing off of the character pairings, only to have a 2 minute fight between Cybuster and the Valsione mecha. It’s like sitting through the original Star Wars movie, with all the tension in the movie building up to the Death Star trench run but instead, it ends up in a short 2 minute anti-climax.

Throw in fluctuating animation quality and episodes where the fast forward button was king (because, seriously, NOTHING would happen), and you have yet another wasted show. Great concept but poor execution. I honestly think they could have split up the story into 13 episode installments, at least then the quality would be better.

Sure the appearance of the DiSRX in the finale was interesting to see in action but…again…fan service. And in the end, at least in my book, that is all this show will be remembered for.

And then when all hope looks bleak, here comes the following;

KOUTETSUSHIN JEEG
Fridays on WOWOW

Now why the hell can’t all of the remakes be more like this?!

Seriously! It had everything! A hooking first episode, all the references back to the original series you could want (minus all the mysterious pussyfooting around that everybody does nowadays), great animation, and a JAM PROJECT theme featuring the return of Ichiro Mizuki!

Set 50 years after the end of the series, an ominous cloud surrounds the area around Kyushu, apparently created by Jeeg himself in a final battle with the Haniwa Genjin in an attempt to seal their powers from within. Now the cloud dissipates and a new Genjin is on the loose. It’s up to Kenji Kusanagi, complete with new Jeeg mecha, and the team from Shin Build Base to stop them.

Now the reason I sound so excited when writing this is because, literally, this is the Super Robot show fans like me have been waiting for. It truly does feel like a Nagai series and in this Post-Eva age of Mecha where everything is so bleak, it’s nice to see shows like this come around every so often (i.e GaoGaiGar, Godannar, Gaiking: Legend of Daiku Maryu) that really bring the fun back.

I do believe I now have a new series to be addicted to. Well this and the following..

TENGEN TOPPA GURREN-LAGAAN
Sundays on TV TOKYO

It’s from GAINAX, namely the team behind the infamous mecha episode of Abenobashi, and with one episode, all the internet is abuzz with its awesomeness.

You’ve got a bunch of humans living in underground cities who dig deeper and deeper day in and out in order to expand their cities…when not cowering in fear over earthquakes that is.

Enter Shimon, one of the city’s youngest and best “Hole Diggers”. By chance, he meets Kamina, head of the Gurren-dan and determined to break through the ceiling of the city to the surface world where he claims he went to once as a child with his father (who disappeared shortly afterwards…). The village elder stops Kamina’s every attempt, even getting two of his’s fellow members to ditch the group in exchange for food but not before making an impact on Shimon who later helps him escape prison, telling him that he’s found something, a “Big Face”.

..but not before A GIANT FREAKING MECHA crashes through the ceiling, along with a beautiful female hunter named Yoko. Together, the three of them find the “Big Face” that Shimon discovered, a small mecha that is later dubbed “Lagann” by Kamina. With our three protagonists crammed inside the cockput, Lagaan manages to defeat the enemy mecha via a crazy-go-nuts drill attack and in the process burrows their way up to the surface…but that’s just the beginning of the chaos.

The show may be dismissed as “FLCL Again” in the words of a fellow podcaster but the crazy animation style actually fits the show style-wise. The mecha designs are really different and there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve felt the urge to facepalm myself to say “WHAT THE F*CK IS THIS?!” The original advertising pitch of the show was to bring back a sort of old school mecha feel..GAINAX has done that and more. Let’s just hope it keeps delivering during its 26 episode run.

And the ones we have yet to see…

GR: GIANT ROBO

I missed the first episode when it was being offered for free online but I managed to see the teaser trailer. Really kickass animation and the CG looks to match the awesomeness. Sure I’ll still have a soft spot in my heart for Yasuhiro Imagawa’s legendary GR OVA series (that we all wish he’d make a conclusion to – PLEEEEEAAASE?!) but hopefully this one doesn’t fail to live up to the hype.

ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS: PERUZEN FILES

Yep. That’s right. New freaking Votoms series. And from the sound of the title (which may or may not be tentative still..the first title we got being VOTOMS: Scopedog 21C), we’re either getting a prequel about the man who commanded the infamous Red Shoulders or Chirico’s going to find something about him (Again) and kick some serious ass. With the original director, Ryusuke Takahashi, back at the helm after doing a great job on FLAG, I have a gut feeling pertaining to this project’s potential for sheer awesomeness.

So there you have it, my feelings about the Year of Mecha thus far. I know I should mention Code Geass and that if I’m not going to cover that then I shouldn’t have included SRT but I figure I should use this to finally let my feelings about the series be known. Never waste a genuine opportunity, right?

Here’s hoping we get more shows like Jeeg and Gurren Lagann and less shows like REIDEEN. And Dancouga Nova. Okay so maybe ALOT more shows like Jeeg and Gurren Lagaan…

Take care all.

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