Despite much complaining and loud whining, robot anime actually persists. Sure, there aren’t any 80’s style 4-cour shows like Armored Trooper VOTOMS or Fang of the Sun Dougram, but then again there aren’t any 4-cour shows left anyway. Yes, FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood finished last year, but even that show was some version of a previously aired work. 2-cour has been the 4-cour pretty much for the past decade. While some shows like Code Geass and the Gundam TV shows enjoyed double 2-cour seasons (and if we count the SEED sub-franchise we have the last stretch of 4-cour mecha shows), the only 50-episode show that aired after the midpoint of the previous decade was Eureka SeveN.
But like I said, robot anime persists. Currently we have Super Robot Wars Original Generation: The Inspector in its second half (2 cours). The problem isn’t that the show isn’t very good (it probably isn’t), but it’s that it’s inaccessible to casual viewers. I have only recently started playing the Super Robot Wars games and begin to understand why SRWOG:TI is the way it is (I had dropped it after 7 eps); and gather that it really isn’t something that will work for viewers who aren’t fans of the games to begin with. This leaves us with Star Driver, also in its 2nd half of its 2 cours – a show that I personally find outstandingly entertaining, but different from how robot anime entertains viewers. From RahXephon, to Eureka SeveN, to Xam’d: Lost Memories to Star Driver, Studio BONES puts out shows that don’t easily fit in the mecha anime mold. RahXephon can be stretched to come across as a super robot show (as RahXephon itself is a super robot), but very much like Evangelion there’s a whole lot more going on in the show for it to be a straightforward robot anime.
In this post I organize my hopes and dreams for my favorite kind of anime.
I would suppose Eureka SeveN is the closest, but upon close scrutiny it’s quite awkward to lump it together with say, Gundam. It’s successfully fruity and colorful in ways 21st century Gundam TV shows fail at being fruity and colorful. Xam’d… I don’t even think you can call that thing a robot. Still for all its fuzziness it’s quite an interesting show that I remember fondly. So Star Driver, a show that delights me as a fan of Revolutionary Girl Utena. What if Utena’s duels didn’t always end the same way? (They mostly did). And… instead of barely animated swordfights, you can have glowing beam swords wielded by giant robots whose pilots shout out attacks? Yeah, but that’s about the only thing that resembles robotic appeal for me from that show (apart from the Nagano Mamoru mechanical designs). All its other awesomeness I get from its other elements.
Still, we’re enjoying 2 ongoing robot TV anime, the Broken Blade series of films are coming out once a month, as well as episodes of the Mazinkaiser SKL OVA. If all goes well, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn 03 will drop soon. Point? We’re not exactly lacking robot anime (like say, for most of 2009).
The question then, is accessibility. It’s one thing to please long-time fans like myself (who ask for the moon when it comes to certain robot shows), but I think it’s very important to engage new fans into the subgenre. I don’t find many affordable, entry-level Japanese robot toy merchandise. This wasn’t the case 2 and 3 decades ago wherein robot toys fueled the production of robot anime. Even the original Mobile Suit Gundam was planned as a half-hour toy commercial (this is true, but not the whole truth so no need to be defensive). But as fans and their tastes matured, the robot toys got more and more complex and expensive, and I think this created a void by which more efficient merchandise advertised and popularized via anime could fill.
I can’t prove this at all, but I think very clever merchandise systems like Pokemon and Yugi-Oh! filled that void. They did more than that, they created new fans and brought in so many people into anime and its related hobbies. The games were very fun, and I think it’s cheaper to produce cards for games and yet one can exact a pretty big markup on them, while making the hobbyists addicted and consuming regularly. I know this from my time playing TCGs like Magic: The Gathering, Battletech, Middle Earth: The Wizards, and DC Vs.
A show like Eureka SeveN or even Mobile Suit Gundam SEED are ill-suited to drive merchandise like this. It’s not like there aren’t any Gundam and robot card games, but in part due to the maturity of the content (ironically, I hazard), they don’t make for wild collecting/consumption binges. There’s nothing in Code Geass or Xam’d that quite says it so elegantly: “Gotta Catch ‘em All!”
Now, I probably won’t survive watching an entry-level kids’ shows that have robots in them. As young as I am in spirit, those things have little hope of fulfilling me. I do think they are necessary (or, a version of that kind of show) that’ll bring new fans into the hobby. What’s happening I think is a cannibalizing of fandoms, under the aegis of expanding others’ tastes (the way I discovered I like other kinds of anime like “cute girls being cute” and “Iyashi-kei|Kyuu-kei” kinds of shows). I don’t think people have enough money to actively pursue multiple fandoms, which is what all the merchandise is made for: active and recurring consumption.
As versatile and multi-faceted a show like Star Driver is, it won’t make fans of FABULOUS (shojo, BL) into mecha fans (and likewise). Moé fans who somehow ended up liking Macross or Gundam won’t change their “allegiance” or the hierarchy of their tastes, just the same way I didn’t really change mine despite how K-On!! rocked my world.
So the first kind of robot anime I wish for in the future is an amazingly popular kids’ show that sells a lot of toys, video games, and the like. I want this to be the kind of show that will create the taste in kids for giant robots smashing each other. Not everyone will grow up into a robot fan, and probably most won’t even become anime and manga fans; but some of them will and that’s the important role of a show like this. This kind of show is overdue. Fund it Japan.
Having taken care of growing the future fandom, I now want to indulge my own tastes. I will proceed to list down things I want to see in the show (whoever does it, whichever franchise it ends up being an installment of; whether it’s an outright new thing or not). I will also list down things I want to see less of, but are otherwise tolerable elements of robot anime; things that are already going on but I want more of; and finally, things that I don’t think belong in the next big robot anime show.
Definitely Want to See:
- Piloted mecha (similar to Macross in that the experience of piloting is a big payoff for the characters; this is important)
- Gut-level intensity in the fighting (see: Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Broken Blade; also a great reference is Banner of the Stars I)
- Intelligent strategy, tactics, and ideological scope (more like Legend of the Galactic Heroes and less like Gundam 00)
- Superb battle-choreography (again, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Broken Blade, FLAG, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)
- Detached, even if humorous “radio chatter” prior to, or in-between spells of intense fighting
- Realistic accounting for combat casualties and material losses (important!)
- Physical and emotional fatigue due to extended battle conditions (Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Banner of the Stars I)
- Tactical commanders enjoying “stardom” as much as, if not more than “ace” pilots
- Terrain-based tactical gimmicks (Great in The Battle of Narita, overdone in Code Geass R2)
- Super beam weapons (can’t entirely remove LASERS and PARTICLE weapons in violent SF, but please no more Gundam 00)
- Singular “ace” pilot hero determining the course of the conflict (no more Setsuna F. Jesuseiei please, no more; he wasn’t even annoying to me, they just made him do way too much)
- Supernatural silver bullets (TRANS-AM BURST, QUANTA-WHATEVERS; FOLD-WAVES OF PEACE, MUSIC, & AIMOCRAP)
- Technological arms race determining conflict (especially if arms race only results in robot upgrades which only mean god-mode powers plus giant lasers e.g. Code Geass R2, Gundam 00)
- Combatants debating ideology and morals DURING combat (JUST STOP, PLEASE, STOP)
- Non-combatants influencing the results of a firefight while in the firefight (children stealing mobile suits, improbably hostages of opportunity, etc)
It’s probably not a complete list, but a show that works with the above will most probably turn me into a raving fanboy (the way I am for Gundam Unicorn but probably not the way I am for anything Macross). Note that I didn’t rule out moé or make it into some kind of polar opposite of robot anime. I don’t mind such elements in robot shows, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the core “services” of the show. There will be some militant oldfags out there who treat the presence of these moé elements with hostility, but I’m not one of them. These elements don’t make the robot shows automatic failures as much as any of the things I listed as definite must-sees make the shows automatic winners.
I wish for two kinds of shows to exist and become successful in the robot anime subgenre, even though I’ll probably really enjoy watching one of them. To both fans of robot anime and casual viewers out there, what would you want to see? What would you add or remove from my lists? Are there other kinds of robot anime shows you clearly want to see?