Category Archives: Mecha Marathon

Mecha Marathon – Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

Several years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam, Char Anzable is the leader of Neo-Zeon and still wants to drop a colony on the Earth. His long-time rival and fellow Newtype Amuro Ray is out to stop Char. Between them is Quess Prayana, a rebellious Newtype teenager in need of a mentor. She finds one in Char who convinces her to fight against her Earth-born family, a move that only ends in tragedy.

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screenshot via trailer

This film (movie? OVA?) has some good things going for it. It passes the Bechdel test in the first fifteen minutes. There are small moments of characters having difficulty navigating microgravity. The narrative doesn’t stretch itself to get everyone of importance on the same battlefield. Unfortunately, none of these are enough to redeem it.

Dear God, this director did not believe in establishing shots. Establishing shots, for lack of a better term, establish the scene. Oftentimes in anime, it’s the shot of the school building before cutting to the students’ antics. In a GUNDAM show, it’s usually a shot of the space ship before cutting to the drama on the bridge. For Char’s Counterattack, the narrative jumps from Earth to space to spaceship to mecha battle without first establishing these things that it took all my concentration just to keep up, which only added to my general confusion. I debated on pausing the film after every scene just so I can write down what the hell just happened and see if there was a connection. Then I decided that any enjoyment I would have gotten from this would have decreased by putting in that extra work. Besides, I kinda wanted to finish up as quickly as possible.

Char’s Counterattack is not accessible to newbies. Newtypes, maybe, since they can probably sense what’s happening, complete with the little noise effect. People new to the Gundam franchise, though? Absolutely not. The narrative relies on the audience already knowing the characters and their backstory–no one gets an explanation on what they did to get to where they are or anything.

I have problems with the character Quess, since her mentorship is entirely based on whoever she happens to love in that moment. She first encounters Amuro, who rejects her advances. Char, however, is more willing to indulge despite not reciprocating her feelings. First of all, girl, not every dude you encounter is romancing material. Why you gotta fall in love so easily? Female characters are always, always, always there for  the romance; even when they’re not, there is always a romance around a female character. I hoped Quess would step aside from that trope, but Quess did not agree. Minus points for feminism.

Quess’s constant romancing also sets up both Amuro and Char to be bad guys. Amuro rejects her advances, which is a good thing! You’re not supposed to romance your mentor, you’re supposed to treat them like a teacher. So Amuro does a good thing but is punished by the narrative for it because Quess then finds solace in Zeon where she fights against her family and wants to send the Earth into nuclear winter (more on that later). Meanwhile, Char indulges her romancing by having her sit on his lap and saying sweet nothings to her. But Char is clearly taking advantage of her, making him the skeevy one of all the characters. Everything about that was uncomfortable.

Finally, can I just say that I do not understand Zeon’s obsession with sending a colony on Earth? Why does everyone want to destroy the Earth? Are the Sides self-sufficient that they can grow everything they could possibly need? Do they make their own textiles for clothing? Are there factory Sides devoted to processing metal and plastic and glass? Wouldn’t having a habitable Earth help with the production of these resources? Odd questions, but still relevant.

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screenshot via trailer

As you can probably surmise, I did not enjoy Char’s Counterattack. It was too fast-paced for a clear understanding of the narrative and it relied on the viewer’s already having a history with the characters therein. I recommend it to die-hard GUNDAM fans, but no one else.

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Mecha Marathon [Surplus] – Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Why hello. Sorry I’ve been AWOL. I’ve been busy with life things–moving, new jobs, moving again, family drama. You know the drill. Things are calmer now, calm enough to watch an old favorite of mine. It’s not an official part of the Mecha Marathon, but have a write up about it anyway. 

One year after the Bloody Valentine tragedy, where a nuclear missile destroyed a civilian colony, a covert ZAFT special forces team infiltrates a colony of the neutral nation of Orb and steals four of the five top secret weapons called Gundams. The fifth is piloted by Kira Yamato, a student-cum-soldier who escapes on the United Earth Alliance’s warship Archangel with his friends and a small pod of civilians. Understaffed, under-supplied, and unprepared, Archangel must somehow get to UEA headquarters on Earth before they are destroyed by the ZAFT team pursuing them. But Kira is reluctant to fight, especially when his best friend Athrun Zala is one of his pursuers.

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screenshot via third opening; I added this image to my Mecha Aesthetic board on Pinterest

Gundam SEED starts off really good. The drama is simple and engaging with a focus on a struggling, top secret warship with a reluctant pilot. There is even something I can only call racism which, despite what you may think, adds an extra layer of intrigue. ZAFT is entirely populated by Coordinators, genetically-modified humans who are capable of much more than unmodified Naturals. There’s jealousy on both sides–Naturals feel inferior and Coordinators crave equality. Kira Yamato is a Coordinator working for “the enemy,” and this conundrum underlines his reluctance to fight with the Archangel despite growing up in a neutral colony.

It does not escape me that Gundam SEED is basically the original Mobile Suit Gundam with a couple extras. The warships Archangel and White Base have similar missions with similar characters: Captain Ramius is the new Lieutenant Bright, Kira Yamato is the new Amuro Ray, and Commander Rau Le Cruset is the new Char Anzable. Despite this, Gundam SEED stands on its own; viewers need not know or understand previous Gundam properties to enjoy SEED.

What’s there to like? On a personal level, I am down with the main leadership of the Archangel, which consists of Captain Ramius, Lieutenant Badgiruel, and Commander Mu La Flaga. I interpret each a representing a part of the body: Ramius is the heart (idealism), Badgiruel is the brain (rationalism), and La Flaga the arms (realism). The heart rules the ship and ultimately makes the final decision, but she is greatly influenced by the brain and supported by the arms. At least at the beginning. When Archangel finally arrives in Alaska, Badgiruel is transferred to another posting, leaving Ramius and La Flaga on the ship to feel the betrayal of the United Earth Alliance on their own. (La Flaga was also transferred, but he returned right before shit goes down.)

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screenshot via third opening; I really want to meet the parent that looks at a baby and decides to name them Mu.

I give the show some points for feminism too. Ramius and Badgiruel ensure the Bechdel Test is passed almost every episode until they’re separated. There is an equal split in genders of the main four characters (Kira and Athrun with Cagalli and Lacus). Erika Simmons is the head engineer for Morgenroete, an engineering company in Orb that built the Gundams. The three pilots for the Gundam Astray models are all female. And every named female character that crosses the screen is a badass in her own right. My heart goes out to Lacus, the pink-haired, childish songstress of ZAFT who does crazy things like order a military commander to stop an opportunistic pursuit of the enemy vessel and eventually leads an entire fraction of soldiers to commit treason.

There is still a little work to be done. Cagalli and Lacus are both of the main four but they barely speak to each other the entire show, even when they’re working together in the final episodes. Miriallia is the only woman in the combined posses of Kira and Athrun. Though ZAFT shows some female representation in their leadership, there is no female presence on the leadership of the United Earth Alliance. Yeah, they’re supposed to be the most evil of the evil organizations, but showing a little equal opportunity oppression goes a long way.

The animation and music is amazing. More than ten years after its initial release, the first ending theme song, Anna ni Issho Datta no ni by See-Saw, still plucks the heartstrings with equal parts nostalgia and energy. Then again, See-Saw’s main composer is anime legend Yuki Kajiura, so of course the music is amazing. Kajjiura did not contribute to the overall score of Gundam SEED, but her hand is seen in the insert songs at least two op/ed songs. The character designs are dynamic. Coordinators may have a brighter color palette (i.e. Lacus Clyne’s pink hair and purple dresses) but the Naturals of the Archangel are still distinguishable in appearance despite the same grey uniform. Throw this together with fluid animation and you have a very pretty show. Pretty in appearance and pretty in sound (until Kira starts to cry, which is awkward enough to hear, but his animated sobs don’t match with his screams and it’s jarring).

 

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screenshot via third opening; those boys are Lacus’s bitches. The narrative may not phrase it that way, but it’s the true.

SEED is prone to melodrama, and there are some specific events that prove how off-the-rails it can get. The final battle between Kira and Athrun is the turning point of their friendship and the show. After that, there is a lot more melodrama in the show. Events like Miriallia’s assault on Dearka in the Archangel’s infirmary become commonplace. Kira, despite nearly dying on Earth, wakes up in space under the care of Lacus (who just so happens to be friends with the dude who found Kira). Yet some of this melodrama makes the show fun to watch. The episode where Athrun and Cagari are stranded on an island is a fun time. And I do have a soft spot for the burgeoning romance between Miriallia and Dearka, which is borne of empathy and sorrow.

As a side note, my main ship is AthrunxLacus, because I am super super into aristocratic pairings like that. Also, they were really sweet together. AthrunxCagalli is sweet once you live through their respective arcs, but I need a bit more convincing. Lacus, meanwhile, can choose anyone she damn well chooses and it will always be the right choice.

SEED Believe 7

screenshot via third opening; oh yeah, this show has giant robots too

If you’re looking for a serious mecha show a la Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket or Aldnoah.Zero, you have it in the opening arcs when the Star-Crossed Bros arc is the main chorus. Gundam SEED likes to place characters where they shouldn’t be for drama, especially after the halfway point. I recommend Gundam SEED to casual mecha fans and people who easily emote over beautiful people.

Mecha Marathon – Broken Blade

Rygart Arrow is the only non-magic user in a population capable of magic. One day, he is called away from his farm because his old friend Queen Sigyn of Krishna discovered an ancient golem (mecha) that cannot be controlled with magic. Rygart activates it in time to dispel a covert scouting squad of military golems paving the way for a larger invasion force from the bordering nation of Athens. While Krishna’s King Hodr battles with himself over the correct course of action in the face of invasion, Rygart joins the Krishna military with the ancient golem. Meanwhile, his old friend Zess leads the invasion’s scouting squad.

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screenshot via opening sequence

There are maybe three good things that I can say about Broken Blade:

  1. Queen Sigyn, a woman of authority, is an engineer. Is the HEAD engineer. I like seeing ladies in science-based roles.
  2. Golems are visibly and easily damaged by the enemy, even if the golem is piloted by a main character with plot armor. This is good. This adds intrigue to the people watching for the first time.
  3. The opening sequence features a beautiful song and pretty animation.

Unfortunately, that’s all the good things I can say.

Broken Blade suffers from a mishmash of unexplored tropes called characters that have no business taking a role secondary to our main character. None of these characters are truly memorable, and their respective stories are not coherently connected to their fellows in a way that benefits the narrative. There is no foreshadowing of a character’s Dark Past, and if there is, it is only contained to the episode in which the foreshadowing is introduced. There are no endearing traits that advance the plot in any way. In fact, the characters seem fairly stagnant despite any micro-developments that might occur within a single episode.

That same disconnect is felt in the narrative. The first episode introduces some interesting ideas regarding the ancients that built the magicless golem and potentially the source of everyone’s magic, but further episodes fail to illuminate these ideas. In fact, each episode will introduce some intriguing fact about a character’s backstory or historical event but, like the technology of the ancients, will fail to explore this in future episodes. The idea introduced won’t be fully formed by the episode’s end, then cast away forgotten for the next; this contributes to the disjointed feeling I got while watching it.

A fantastic example of this is Rygart Arrow, our main character. His endearment comes from his disability (lacking magic). His disability is framed as a narrative device that would potentially be a source of frustration, self-hate, and eventually acceptance. This arc never happens. As soon as Rygart becomes the pilot of the ancient golem, any intrigue he garnered through his introduction disappears. Poof. There it went as soon as the end credits appeared on the screen. The next time you see Rygart in the next episode, he is somehow okay with everything going on in his life.

And then there’s the ending. Beautifully animated, yes. Fantastic color scheme, yes. Adequate denouement? No. Like the other five episodes, the final episode ends at a point where the political background could take any direction and the narrative doesn’t specify how that goes. It was sudden and it didn’t seem to resolve anything.

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screenshot via opening sequence

Broken Blade is, in a word, convoluted. There are too many characters with narratives that don’t organically intersect. That disconnect is felt the entire run of the show and it only adds frustration and boredom to the viewing experience. I don’t recommend Broken Blade to anybody but it somehow got good reviews on Crunchyroll.

 

Mecha Marathon – The Vision of Escaflowne

On the evening Hitomi Kanzaki confesses her love to the captain of the track team, a bright light transports her to Gaea, a world where the Earth and Moon hang in the sky. There she meets Van Fanel, newly crowned king of Fanelia and the only person capable of controlling the ancient guymelef Escaflowne. After the destruction of Fanelia by the evil Zaibach Empire, Hitomi and Van set out to overthrow the empire and prevent the end of the world. Major spoilers ahead.

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screenshot from the opening sequence

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Mecha Marathon – Gargantia on the Verduous Planet

In the retreat of a failed battle campaign against an alien enemy, Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance is separated from his company and sent through a wormhole. He wakes up six months later on Gargantia, a city on Earth made from a series of interlocking ships. Cut off from everything he’s ever known, Ledo starts a life on Gargantia but assimilation proves difficult when you can barely speak the language. Spoilers onward.

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screenshot from the opening sequence

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Mecha Marathon – Aldnoah.Zero

Fifteen years after Heaven’s Fall, a cataclysm that destroyed the Moon, relations between the Vers Empire on Mars and the United Earth are almost nonexistent. Princess Asseylum of Vers descends to Earth as a gesture of goodwill but is assassinated shortly after landing. Caught in the crossfires of the battle that ensues are Inaho Kaizuka and his classmates who must use their limited resources to help with the civilian evacuation. Meanwhile, among the Orbital Knights of Vers, Earth-born Slaine Troyard uncovers the conspiracy behind the princess’s assassination only to find her alive and in a very unlikely place. Some Spoilers Ahead.

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screenshot via opening 1 sequence

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Morike’s Mecha Marathon

Hello and welcome to the world of geekery that is The Potted Lid. We’re reviving the site and how we do things here, which means a few of us are embarking on projects that may or may not prove to be a little too ambitious for the amount of free time we have in our daily lives. I’m talking, of course, about my own project: the Mecha Marathon!

The Mecha Marathon is an in-depth look at the mecha anime genre and its evolution as seen through fifty of the most popular mecha shows in the past thirty years. I’m going to be honest, most of these are shows I’ve had on my To Watch list for a long time. But now I have an excuse to watch them and an even bigger excuse to analyze them like an English Professor a little too excited about Shakespeare.

Am I excited? Hell yeah I’m excited! Fifty shows, five subtopics, and a mini-series of wrap up essays, this is one mecha analysis long enough to give the Gundam franchise a run for its money. In this post, I’ll break down the different subtopics and what I intend to explore with each one.

I did play with the idea of not telling everyone my plans for the show, but I did make a whole spreadsheet and put real work into curating everything on this list. Also, you the readers can hold me accountable if ever I drop the ball on this.

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The MegaBots Mark II which was eventually scrapped due to lack of pilot safety features during melee combat.

Contemporary

This subtopic will feature some of the most recommended/highest rated mecha shows to be released since 2010. Of the myriad of mecha shows released in the last seven years, I had the pleasure of watching four to completion. These four will serve as a warm-up to the rest of the project. Whether the show is new to me or not, I will take closer looks at archetypes, creativity, and influences from other shows (mecha or otherwise). Since I want a bigger foundation under my belt to draw out influences, most of these shows, especially the ones new to me, will be watched toward the end of the project.

The editorial wrap-up of this section will compare the similarities of these shows, the biggest influence on the contemporary shows in general, and analyze the creativity expressed in the narrative and world-building.

Franchises

Though I will be watching a total of four mecha anime franchises, I regulated the Gundam franchise into its own category. The remaining franchises are Fafner of the Azure, Macross, and Aquarion. Unless otherwise stated, I will focus on the television shows of the franchises and not any OVA/movie remakes (looking at you, Macross). For these shows, I will take a look at why they are franchises (i.e. why is the public attracted to this show?) and what archetypes or storytelling devices are required in order for a show to work within its franchise.

The editorial wrap-up of this section will compare the similarities of the franchises and look at the quality of work produced as time went on. I may even explore why quality supposedly decreases with each new installment (looking at you, Aquarion) and whether that is related to the Live Long Enough to Suck curse of modern American television.

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The Kuratas created by Suidobashi Heavy Industries of Japan. I do not follow them on social media so cannot comment about their current condition regarding their upcoming fight with MegaBots Inc.

GUNDAM

Can only be written in all caps all the time because it’s one of the biggest franchises to come out of Japan. I will not be reviewing every single property in the Gundam franchise, but the shows on the list include a pretty good mix of Universal Century (8 items) and Alternate Universe (5 items). While I have already seen some of the stuff on the list, I have not seen most of it. Needless to say, I am the most excited for this part. For these shows, I will endeavor to watch them in order from release date and look at the evolution of Gundam since its original release in 1979.

In the editorial wrap-up, I will look at what makes a Gundam show part of the franchise (especially for the Alternate Universe properties) and whether Gundam can lay claim to revolutionizing the mecha genre.

Classics/Retro

This subtopic includes approximately nine of the biggest shows from the 1990s to early 2000s starting with Neon Genesis Evangelion and ending with Gurran Lagan. These shows will be tackled similar to their Contemporary compatriots with me looking at archetypes presented in the narrative, creativity of storytelling/world-building, and influences from other shows.

Since these episodes span the decade typically referred to as the Golden Age of Anime, the editorial wrap-up will look at the evolution of the mecha genre during this time: the fading of some archetypes, the emergence of others, and the general quality of anime during this time.

American Made

With mecha one of the more influential and distinctly Japanese genres of the world, it’s no surprise America took a stab at recreating the magic. In this subtopic, I’ll look at four American Made works–two television shows, a movie, and a novel–and compare the American version to its Japanese counterparts. How did the Americans fare in their attempt? You’ll have to wait and see.

Since this subtopic requires the strongest foundation for a full analysis, I will be watching these shows last. The editorial wrap-up will review the overall success of America’s attempts at mecha and whether America can be trusted with a mecha property in the future.

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This model from Mobile Suit Gundam stands as a beacon of hope to all mecha fans.

*Bonus Subtopics: Reader Recommendations and Additional Titles

I anticipate this project attracting attention from anime fans in general and mecha fans specifically, and I anticipate future readers and fellow mecha fans will throw recommendations at me left and right during the project. While I won’t incorporate these recommendations into my already tight watching schedule during the main portion of the project, I don’t want to ignore them either. Which is why, after the main parts of this project are done and dusted, I’ll keep my mecha writing alive by reviewing recommendations made by readers during the project.

I also started a list of Additional Titles to consume after the bulk of the project is completed. Titles in this list include manga that accompany the main property (such as the shojo and shonen manga from The Vision of Escaflowne), movie remakes of longer television shows (i.e. Macross: Do You Remember Love?), and other shows that I didn’t add to the main list for one reason or another (Gundam SEED, etc).

Neither the Reader Recommendations nor Additional Titles will have an editorial wrap-up as these are meant to be an ongoing thing to keep me writing about giant robots. Additionally, articles under this subtopic won’t be published until I am finished with the editorial articles wrapping up the Mecha Marathon proper.

In conclusion, I may be in over my head, but at least I am writing about something I will always love from the deepest engine pistons powering my heart: giant robots. If you are interested, you can also check out my Pinterest board of giant robot artwork affectionately called Mecha Aesthetic.

Questions about when I am planning on watching what? Comments about which fight scenes I should look forward to? Concerns over which non-canon ship will become my OTP? Just looking for someone to geek out about giant robots with? Leave a comment below!