Two and a Half Mecha

Majestic Prince, Gargantia and Valvrave

The Spring 2013 anime season was a rare one.  Not necessarily because it gave us more quality titles than usual, but because it offered audiences three brand new, non-franchise mecha series…well two and a half mecha series.  I’ll explain below.

Sincet two of the three shows have ended, it seems like a good time to take stock of Robot Spring ™.  This post contains my somewhat scattered thoughts on Gargantia, Valvrave and Majestic Prince.  It’s a little more freewheeling and tangent-heavy than usual, bear in mind.

Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Edan ” Funky Voltron”

Valvrave, Gargantia and Majestic Prince

Susei no Gargantia

This one’s the titular “half mecha” because it’s not actually a robot show.  One kiss don’t make a romance, one ninja fight don’t make an actioner, and the presence of one robot don’t make a mecha show.  Though Chamber does feature prominently in a few of the story beats, I’m not sure that his being a giant robot is essential to his character or the overall plot.  It’s true Ledo needs power  for the story to work as it does, but this power does not necessarily have to come in the form of a giant robot.  Chamber could’ve been a computer or even an animal familiar (!).

Well then, why am I discussing Gargantia in this piece?  Robots aren’t pivotal to the show, but I did go into the show thinking it was mecha.  Many people still classify it that way, so it seems somewhat pertinent to talk about here.

I like Gargantia least of the this group of shows, but, rest assured, my opinion doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that it isn’t a mecha show.  The series lacked subtlety and focus, and it could have really used these qualities to effectively tell the story Urobuchi wanted to tell.    Right out of the gate, Gargantia chooses the path of quick revelations through dense exposition over a more natural-feeling and more impactful reveal.  This is especially difficult to ignore when a show in a similar gere exists that executes these same opening moves more artfully.  During the middle episodes, time is split between world-building and characterization of Ledo such that neither element is as interesting as it should be.

I do think that the twist concerning the Hideauze produced some well-executed, emotional acting from Kaito Ishikawa, Ledo’s seiyuu.  Also, the aerial combat between Chamber and Striker was cool.

Kakumeiki Valvrave

The shiny, glossy, big budget summer mecha from Sunrise.  With Highschool!

Like American summer blockbuster films, Valvrave is big, dumb fun.  It’s not here to make a statement (not consciously anyway…I address this shortly), just to entertain you.  And entertain it does.  We get everything we would not-unreasonably expect from the heir apparent to the Geass throne:  a variety of super robots with cool and interesting attacks, high school girls running around in their high school uniforms, and an extremely silly political dimension.  On top of that, the main cast become space vampires who can body swap and who thirst for sex instead of blood.  The first time the audience finds this out is totally nuts.  Always watch through the credits.

OK, so there is a conspicuously non-fun part of the show that I should probably address.  Infamously, the tenth episode has the main character, Haruto, rape a prominent member of the cast, Rukino Saki.  He does this while under the influence of the vampiric part of his nature.  In a turn of events that can only be described as “unfortunate,” a guilt-riddled Haruto asks Rukino to marry him the following episode.  To be clear, I don’t think that Valvrave is consciously promoting this kind of behavior.  It’s not treated nearly as casually as in, say, some of Osamu Tezuka’s manga.  Plus, Rukino does not subsequently fall in love with her rapist–again, I’m looking at you, god of comics.

If certain juxtapositions of scenes seem to indicate that the creators want to endorse some kind of rape justification, I think it is likely just coincidence.  I didn’t pick up on that possibility until I read about it on Tom’s blog, and, frankly, I have grave doubts about Valvrave‘s ability to be even the least bit subtle.  Why do that when they could have Shouko wear a t-shirt with the R-word spelled across her chest in capital letters, instead?  Incompetence seems a much more plausible explanation than the degree of dastardly intentionality suggested by the alternate theory.

Now, should anime studios as a whole take rape more seriously?  Yes; hell, the world should.  It is a terrible, horrible thing.  At the same time, I don’t think Valrave bears such a degree of of social responsibility that it can’t depict its characters doing (a relative term here, since Haruto had no will of his own at the time) despicable things as well as the fallout from these despicable things.  And that’s exactly how Haruto and the show’s creators characterize the thing: despicable.

Incorporating the pilots’ struggle against their animalistic natures, providing more information concerning how the future becomes what we’ve seen in small glimpses and advancing some of the key relationships in interesting ways are some things I look forward to the second season doing.

Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince

MJP is the clear winner among these three shows, in my eyes.  It features far-and-away the most likable cast.  I love watching these quirky, goofy people navigate a world that they simultaneously fit and don’t fit into.  The supporting, non-MJP characters are also a blast.  Each pilot has their own personal mechanic team, packed with personality.  And, we’re not talking about run-of-the-mill grease monkeys here.  Rather, each team has its own theme with which its membership, clothes and accessories coordinate.  It’s like America’s Best Dance Crew: Mecha Edition.

Mecha combat is awesome, both visually and conceptually.  Thought went into the strengths of the robots and their roles in squad-based combat.  So far, each battle has involved at least some degree of tactics beyond “fly in shootin’, kill ’em till they dead.”

Plus, there’s a running gag that is actually funny.   In an anime.

There are indeed a fair few funny moments and situations in MJP.  However, the show does effectively sprinkle in some seriousness.  Many people seem to take issue with anime that attempt to oscillate between the comedic and dramatic, as if that is inherently problematic.  I am not one of those people.  If art can use comedy to disarm its audience before introducing elements of true gravitas, serious moments can become truly poignant.  Of course, to pull this off both the comedy and drama must be done well.  So far MJP is doing fine on both fronts.  I don’t want to suggest that it has been very ambitious in this regard yet, only that I think the show seems competent enough to deftly sucker punch its audience while they are still laughing.  We’ll see.

One could legitimately complain about the unremarkable, fairly standard plot.  The MJP fan has two avenues of recourse here.  High Road: she can extol the virtues of the characters, claiming that each story beat, while not original, is made more fun by the charming cast.  Plus, she might add, there is some possibility for twists concerning the origins of the pilots and/or the motives of the ally aliens.  Low, Tu Quoque Road:  Fuck you.  Anime is the medium of cool characters spicing up derivative plots.  Everybody has a show, or even a genre, with which they are beyond tolerant of that sort of shit.  With casts of characters who are far less enjoyable than MJP‘s, no less.

Go with the high road.  It’s what Tamaki would want.

MJP Majestic Prince, "Why is everyone in my room?"  Funny every time.

Two and a Half Mecha

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