Tag Archives: Mecha

Giant robots do battle, often with a pilot inside.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: The Origin

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – Loum Arc (sequel)

Mobile Suit Gundam (original version)

Similar: Code Geass

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Science Fiction Action

Length: 4 episodes (1 hr. each)

 

Positives:

  • “Char” Aznable.
  • A Gundam protagonist that earns every step of his power.
  • Mix of politics, assassinations, and war.
  • No Gundam vagueness.

Negatives:

  • Ill-suited slapstick.
  • (Where is my next episode?)

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is pitched as a retelling of the series that started it all, Mobile Suit Gundam. Of course I would watch a remake of a classic I enjoyed. I thought we would open on Amuro, the original protagonist, so when it focused on a blond child called Casval and his little sister, I admit to my confusion. Where’s Amuro?

As it turns out, Gundam: The Origin starts before the original, at the inciting incident that led Char Aznable on the path to become such an enigmatic figure in the wars to come. I am hooked. Char is the most interesting character in Universal Century Gundam, so to see him as protagonist, with his backstory explored in depth, is a delight.

After a teaser of adult Char in a space battle, we return to him as a child on a space colony. His family’s high-class life shatters with the sudden death of his father, an advocate for Spacenoid (citizens of space colonies) independence. The father’s supporters smell foul play in this “natural” death and anarchy breaks loose on the streets. Everything is in disarray. Who’s in charge? Who’s allied with whom? What does each player in the game want? Answers are hard to find.

Char, his sister, and his mother are now valuable pieces in either inciting further action or quelling the riots. Life pushes them around. For Char, however, this isn’t a life worth living. He begins to plot a course towards revenge. Will he get revenge though? And on whom? With so many players in the game, his quest won’t be an easy one.

Gundam: The Origin is a good show in all aspects, but Char makes it great. As an anti-hero, we are never quite sure what he will do to achieve his goal. When he’s friendly with someone, we a never sure if he’s actually friends with them or up to something. Up to something – that’s a good way of summing up Char. He’s always up to something

Beyond him, Gundam: The Origin has an extensive cast, each with a purpose in this political maelstrom. Friends, enemies, or somewhere in between, you will meet all sorts. Barring some random slapstick, the cast feels written for an older audience than typical Gundam, which I suspect stems from having an older protagonist in Char. It’s a refreshing change, especially coupled with him earning power and skill through work rather than having it all thrown at him like other Gundam series (Unicorn) that I will not mention here (Unicorn).

The writing as a whole is leaps better than what I expect from a Universal Century series. Vague dialogue is nowhere in sight. No one stands in the open cockpit of a mech preparing to self-destruct while they spout some “cool” line instead of running clear. The conflict and political landscape is coherent (unless intentionally masked for story), free of the vague nonsense that plagues this franchise. There is no rambling on about the ‘dialogues’ to come, the ‘dialogues’ that will solve all, the bloody ‘dialogues’ that will answer the meaning of bloody life! No complaints about the writing from me this time.

And so, we reach my major gripe. Where is my next episode? I want more, damn it! You can’t just start the story, give me all this good writing, an amazing protagonist, political intrigue that makes me lean forward, and then just end it right there. What are you playing at, Sunrise?

If future Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin entries maintain this quality, it could very well earn a ‘Very High’ rating from me.

Art – High

The chaotic action scenes use CG for the mechs and ships, but it works well, as spaceships don’t need much work and the particle effects mask it well. Unlike the recent Berserk that has random camera movements, just because, Gundam: The Origin takes advantage of the CG with a dynamic camera that dives into the action. Everything else is clean.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The script is less wishy-washy than other Universal Century Gundam. When a character needs to say something, they say it.

Story – High

A retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but from before the start with the events that made Char the legend he has become. I expected another Gundam Unicorn; I got something great instead.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is a great place to start for newcomers to the gargantuan franchise, while also giving plenty to veterans.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Aldnoah.Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aldnoah.Zero

 

Related: Aldnoah.Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Code Geass

Mobile Suit Gundam

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A few good music tracks.

Negatives:

  • Possibly anime’s worst protagonist.
  • Everyone is an idiot.
  • Illogical story directions.
  • The CG is distracting.
  • Forced exposition dialogue that never ends!
  • Laughable romance chemistry.

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Why didn’t I listen? I don’t know why, but whenever I hear of genre plus premise combination I love, I underestimate the warnings. “How bad can it be?”

Humanity spread to space and settled on Mars, where they discovered a machine called ‘Aldnoah’ that gave them immense technological power. Not wanting to share this technology, the Vers Empire of Mars declared war on Earth. This war shattered the Moon’s hypergate that facilitated quick travel to Mars, leading to a ceasefire. Fifteen years later, the war restarts when the Martians assassinate their own Princess Asseylum, peace ambassador to Earth. The war sweeps up high schooler Inaho and his friends into the fight.

If you’ve seen Gundam SEED, Aldnoah.Zero’s story should sound familiar. It’s a shame they didn’t take anything else from SEED, like good characters…or strong conflict…or romantic chemistry…or anything.

Aldnoah.Zero’s problems start with its writing, exposition dialogue in particular, which introduces itself to us a few minutes in as Inaho and the gang ride a bus past a construction site repairing damage from the war. Each character takes their turn to dump exposition on us, all but talking into the camera. They are telling each other things they already know, for the audience’s sake. Could the exposition be any clumsier?

Yes, yes it can. Almost every scene in episode one has someone exposit in this manner. One villain tells another villain about the super secret plan to attack Earth. “We have been setting this plan for 15 years!” “Yes, I know, dumbass, I’m part of the plan.” (If only he had said that.) Even when in the middle of resuscitating someone, Inaho has to exposit about how and when he learnt CPR. (I wish I were the one dying.) Bloody hell, the writer needs to find a different line of work.

Next, let’s talk characters.

I’ve done it. I have found the worst protagonist in anime. I have found the One, the protagonist with no redeeming quality. Let me introduce you to Inaho. He has no personality and no emotion. Oh, they tell us he has personality and emotion, but they lie! One scene has the protagonist witness a missile flying through the air towards the princess’s convoy and he just stares at it. “Oh hey, it’s a missile. Quite interesting. Maybe we should move, I guess…whatever.” I assume he’s supposed to be the stoic type, but he comes across as dead. Delete him from the story and you wouldn’t notice the difference. He also knows how to pilot a mech better than trained veterans can because…reasons.

The chemistry between him and the princess is laughable (surprise, she didn’t die in the assassination – there are no twists in Aldnoah.Zero). You know how when a relationship reaches its emotional peak, series will often flashback to a compilation of ‘best bits’ in their relationship? Well, the most romantic moment Aldnoah.Zero could find in Princess and the Dude’s relationship was him giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. What was supposed to be a dramatic, emotional scene had me laughing into pain. Pro tip: If that’s the most romantic scene you have, then you must rethink your main couple.

As for the rest of the cast, we have a bunch of idiots. An eight-year-old girl is the bodyguard/assistant to the royal princess? Genius! The admiral on the front line to defend your planet is more concerned about the dating lives of her crew than training them for combat? We’re so going to win this war! Every military expert in this anime sounds as though they know nothing about war. Only idiots survived the first war, it seems.

Oh yes, there is a third major character, some Terran servant with the Martians. He has military training and the Martians allow him to pilot, for some inconceivable reason, and give him a promotion in season two, for another inconceivable reason. One would imagine that a Terran among the Martian creates interesting conflict, but no, he’s just there to make a love triangle with the princess. It takes no effort to have more complexity and depth than what Aldnoah.Zero offers. I care for none of these characters. They never develop a character. All they do is state the plot or exposition.

One element that shows promise, at first, is the Martian technology. Where the Terrans use the generic mech seen on the cover, Mars’s Orbital Knights each have a unique mech with some special power granted by Aldnoah. The first such mech has an energy shield that disintegrates any matter it touches. It literally walks through buildings when chasing the heroes, which is rather cool. Yet even this goes bad. You see, Aldnoah.Zero’s plot devolves into a mech-of-the-arc affair. A unique mech appears with some unbeatable power, it blows everything, and all seems lost until Inaho snaps his fingers and finds the weak point. Each mech has a few episodes to shine before the story discards it for the latest model. These mechs have no character. The author had a bunch of ideas for mechs with unique powers, but rather than choose a few to build up for us to invest in, he threw them all at the heroes to die one after the other. Think of the Death Star, just about any main Gundam, or even an iconic sword in anime. Think of the story, the mythos that builds around these devices and the impact it leaves on the audience during those major encounters. “Oh shit, he’s drawing the big sword! You dead!” Aldnoah.Zero’s mechs have the same impact as cannon fodder.

So, even the one good idea dies within a few episodes. Do I have anything nice to say about Aldnoah.Zero? I like some of the music… And that is all. Aldnoah.Zero is the worst mecha anime I have seen and one of the worst anime to air.

Art – Low

The CG mechs are mediocre at best, which isn’t good enough as it’s a constant eyesore. It either needs to be great or not there at all. Anime a decade ago had better CG. Stiff animation in dialogue scenes with only mouth movements.

Sound – Very Low

This on the nose, in your face script is painful. The decent music offers little redemption, like trying to plug a sinking ship with your dingaling.

Story – Very Low

Earth defends against Martian separatists looking to claim the bountiful planet for their own. Aldnoah.Zero boasts an atrocious protagonist swathed in a plot run by idiots to execute the worst of mecha anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Aldnoah.Zero, you have reached the bottom. Any mecha anime has to be better than this.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

Moonlight Mile – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Moonlight Mile: Lift Off

 

Similar: Space Brothers

Planetes

Armageddon (Hollywood movie)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Drama

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Science and engineering detail.
  • Some tense dilemmas.

Negatives:

  • Disjointed storytelling.
  • Characters don’t have time to develop amidst the dilemmas.
  • Junk animation and CG.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What made me curious to watch this anime? Was it a) space, b) the engineering, c) premise, or d) sex? The answer is a), of course – I love space! Alright, I admit, it was the sex, okay. Happy? But no, in all seriousness, when I was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, they had an exhibition spotlighting civil engineering in manga – infrastructure, architecture, development, etc. – as the Japanese take great pride in their civil engineers (when you watch them build a house in a day, you can see why [turn on captions for subtitles]). I picked up Moonlight Mile because it had an astronaut on the cover (I am serious about the loving space part), but was struck by how sexually graphic the opening scene was. If I hadn’t seen the cover first, I would have assumed this belonged in the section you wouldn’t mention to your parents. This scene is so graphic that I was curious if they got away with it in the anime adaptation. Spoiler: they don’t.

But first, the story. Two climbing buddies, Gorou from Japan and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge from the US, make a pact atop Mount Everest to see each other in space as they look to the sky above. They soon part and set about achieving this goal in their own manner. Gorou takes the path of an engineer, while Lostman goes the air force route (two-thirds of US astronauts come from the military). Becoming an astronaut is no easy journey and each will face trials and setbacks, even more so than real astronauts, for Moonlight Mile loves to throw one disaster after another at the protagonists.

Now, you know me, I love conflict – it’s the engine of fiction – but there comes a point where you need to allow characters to grow. In fiction, scenes follow the rough pattern of action and reaction. Something happens in a scene (action) and the characters react/reflect on this action in the next scene (reaction). Moonlight Mile rarely stops for the reaction. All space movies have those disasters – oxygen leak, broken thruster, power failure, etc. – for the astronauts to solve. These moments are exciting edge-of-your-seat tense, yet if you have nothing but this, as Moonlight Mile does, the tension wanes. The characters, while decent, feel like mere nuts and bolts to this story, rather than driving agents.

The first episode is nothing but a disastrous climb up Everest to establish the characters. This should have taken a few minutes. Well, there is Gorou’s butt as well.

As for my initial curiosity, while most episodes have a sex scene, it isn’t graphic. Still certainly not for kids, though is a far cry from the manga. It also doesn’t add to character, for Gorou falls in love with a new girl faster than a shooting star. This wouldn’t be an issue if he grew from each relationship. Alas, a new girl means a clean slate of development, so what’s the point?

In regards to the engineering, Moonlight Mile succeeds in taking care to do the math and science in a disaster. I’m not a rocket scientist, so someone more qualified may find great flaws here, but Moonlight Mile doesn’t try to convince us that training oil drillers to become astronauts is easier than training astronauts to operate a drill.

Art – Low

The 2D animation is junk, whereas the 3D sees overuse for vehicles and sweeping shots. Even the ground is CG in these scenes – so distracting.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese script is a bit dry, so go with the English, which added more banter and a natural flow to the dialogue.

Story – Medium

Two friends and rivals vow to meet each other as astronauts in space. This is their journeys to meet that goal. Moonlight Mile suffocates its characters in disaster after disaster for them to resolve, giving little room to develop. At least the disasters are tense.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For space fans. Did you like Armageddon? If yes, then Moonlight Mile is the anime version. If you thought that movie needed better science, Moonlight Mile will also satisfy in that regard.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Mobile Police Patlabor TV – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mobile Police Patlabor: On Television

 

Related: Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie (sequel)

Mobile Police Patlabor: Early Days (shorter alternative version)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Full Metal Panic!

Dai-Guard

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Mecha Science Fiction Comedy

Length: 47 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Well aged visually.
  • Mech designs.

Negatives:

  • Out done in every way by contemporaries.
  • Protagonist’s immaturity.
  • Flat dub.
  • Not particularly interesting nor funny enough.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I’m not sure if I am disappointed with Mobile Police Patlabor TV. On one hand, I was looking forward to it. On the other, it wasn’t bad nor did it have anything of particular annoyance. I don’t know how to describe how much nothing there is to this cult classic anime.

Mobile Police Patlabor TV focuses on Izumi and her motley police crew, who use mechs called Patlabors to fight crime and protect the people. Labors – heavy mechanised robots – are everywhere in society from construction to military, so it’s important for law enforcement to know how to handle them.

Izumi is the feisty new girl assigned to piloting the latest ‘patrol labor’ under the mentorship of a veteran from the LAPD. Izumi is also the first and main reason for Patlabor’s nothingness. She is too immature to be believable as such an important member of the police. Her immaturity isn’t the kind to make you beg for a merciful death within a few episodes – it’s simply results in a whole lot of nothing in terms of conflict, development, or anything really.

It’s common to have the protagonist of a comedy be a goofy character, even when in a demanding job. The key, however, to sell us on the goofiness plus the professionalism is to have a professional quality that makes us believe they can do the job. An example that leaps to mind is Jake Peralta, protagonist from TV comedy Brooklyn-Nine-Nine, who puts Izumi’s goofiness to shame. No matter the hijinks he gets up to, the one thing he is good at is being an officer. Yes, Izumi gets the job done (because the author wrote it that way). I still never bought that she was the right choice or even qualified to be a part of the mobile unit. She doesn’t have a professional quality to compensate. As a result, the conflict doesn’t feel serious because the writer didn’t send a serious character to face it.

Most episodes feel like daily life at the police station, goofing around with little conflict and mostly training. For the comedy, Patlabor has its fair share of good jokes, reminiscent of the Police Academy movies, though none had me in pain from laughter. Most jokes tend to be amusing but not ‘lough out loud’ funny, and yet not eye-gougingly bad either. Again, mostly nothing. Full Metal Panic executes all this comedy better.

For an alternative take, Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie has Izumi as a mature character and the conflict has more weight, both at the expense of humour, which does remove much of Patlabor TV’s identity. Even so, I found the movie more engaging (the shorter length didn’t hurt either). I almost feel bad for not recommending Mobile Police Patlabor TV due to its friendly nature.

Art – Medium

Patlabor looks good for its age thanks to a remaster. I like the mech designs.

Sound – Medium

The dub is flat (“Why you!” – listen to Izumi’s delivery on that line), owed in part to the middling script, but the Japanese actors worked much better with the given material.

Story – Medium

A mobile police unit uses mechs to fight crime and try to live a normal life. A bit too ‘normal’ to excite much interest, yet not exactly disagreeable either.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Skip it. Mobile Police Patlabor TV is remarkably unmemorable, which is in itself quite memorable. Watch Full Metal Panic if you want the better comedy side or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the serious side.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Eureka Seven – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Eureka Seven

 

Related: Eureka Seven AO (sequel)

Eureka Seven – Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (alternative version)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Xam’d: Lost Memories

Gurren Lagann

Guilty Crown

Neon Genesis Evangelion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Action Adventure Drama

Length: 50 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Art is quite nice.
  • Some cool mechs.

Negatives:

  • Keeps changing its identity.
  • A chore to finish.
  • “Eh-oo-wreck-ah”
  • Romance lacks believability.
  • Crying!

(Request an anime for review here.)

Eureka Seven, what a ch— Sorry, Ehoowrecka Seven, what a chore to sit through. How can an anime about air surfing mechs be this tedious?

Our arduous journey starts when a mech known as Nirvash typeZERO crashes in 14-year-old Renton’s small town of Bellforest. A girl called Ehoowrecka Eureka pilots Nirvash, a unique mech capable of controlling Trapar waves like no other machine, and being the first girl he has probably ever seen, Renton falls in love with her. Infatuated and desperate to escape his small town life, he joins her in Gekkostate against the military.

Gekkostate? Trapar? Nirvash typeZERO? Ehoowrecka? Lore is the first of Eureka Seven’s problems. As is evident, it bombards the viewer with specialist terms (nouns often made up for lore) within the first episode, never giving a chance to let them sink in. All these terms featured in the official blurb – a bad sign (Tip: the best blurbs mention no names). On top of half the characters having made up names, every sci-fi object has an unintuitive sci-fi name that if looked at on paper, you wouldn’t guess its purpose. This world didn’t have questions I wanted to explore further – I just wanted to get out.

Sci-fi/fantasy often invents specialist terms, but it is crucial to introduce these elements with memorable impact. If you call a fire spell ‘Schinezarcher’ and don’t introduce (and repeat) it in the right way, the viewer will simply say, ‘what’s it called? You know, that big fire spell.’

Think of Star Wars and how not confused you are in that film. It doesn’t throw Jedi, Midi-chlorians (shudder), Ewoks, Endor, Lando, and the like at you within five minutes. Star Wars uses a mix of intuitive terms (Lightsaber, Death Star) and unintuitive terms with proper introduction. When they threaten to destroy Alderaan, we see the planet Alderaan on the screen. You don’t want Alderaan confused for a battleship. They don’t have to point and say, “That’s Alderaan!” We get it through context. Eureka Seven will have two characters talking as a new term enters the lexicon – no visual aids, no context assist. Not all words need immediate explanation, of course, but there should be a point soon after that cements the meaning. The more unintuitive a term the more emphasis required. Gekkostate is the name of the mercenary/terrorist group they are a part of, by the way. At least the anime ingrains Eureka’s name by kicking you out of the experience each time someone uses it. Elements that are supposed to be cool or significant leave no impact because we don’t have groundwork to stand on first.

Why is this hater rambling on and on about bloody lore, you ask? Well, dear reader, this problem with the lore applies to everything in Eureka Seven. The sudden romance between…Renton (took a moment to remember his name) and Eureka has no establishment. Sudden infatuation from a teen boy towards a teen girl? Happens more than you know. A lasting romance we are told is profound? That requires foundations and work to build up. Why are these two kids so into each other? They have nothing to love about each other. If he wanted to bang that receding hairline, biology suffices as explanation, but life changing love? Sure thing, mate.

Renton spends most of the series crying while Eureka looks after a batch of kids. These kids! Bloody hell, I have never hoped more for child characters to die off each episode (not even Carl from The Walking Dead demands such loathing). And it almost happened too. Eureka’s backstory is that she was a mindless soldier and killed the parents of these kids before she snapped out of it, which raises yet another poorly established point. These kids love the woman that killed their parents without any story selling us on the idea. Maybe it’s just me, but loving my parents’ murderer would take more than ‘just because’. Show us this backstory instead of a recap in episode fourteen (!).

Eureka Seven just throws stuff into the story and hopes you care on instinct rather than merit. Dislike an element anyway? Don’t worry, the show veers off in a random direction every dozen episodes to haphazardly grab your interest again. The final villain’s plan when the whole shebang comes out is a good idea, but that don’t matta’ cause Renton gotta get his bone on.

Eureka Seven does not respect your time as a viewer. It’s like that person we all know who asks for a lift, is late to the pickup, and then expects you to have known they would be late. Screw that guy.

Art – High

Good art and animation – I like the mechs. Why does every character have a receding hairline?

Sound – Medium

The acting is good, but the music is forgettable and the script leaves a lot to be desired. Renton’s every line seems to be in question form. Also, the naming scheme is arse.

Story – Low

The sudden appearance of a girl and her mech sweeps a boy on board a mercenary group’s adventure. With an empty romance, a whiny protagonist, annoying kids, and an identity that changes every arc, Eureka Seven takes iron concentration to finish.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Fifty episodes is a lot to ask of your time for such an unremarkable series. The likes of Gundam SEED and Gurren Lagann use your time better than Eureka Seven does.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

DissapointingUseless Side Cast