Tag Archives: Anime

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.

 

Classic vs. Cult-Classic: Defining Cowboy Bebop’s Pop Culture Status

A space opera, a noir, and a western walk into a bar. There is no punchline for this joke, but it’s the best way I can describe Cowboy Bebop. Episodic, as whimsical as it is serious, and surprisingly diverse in the background, Cowboy Bebop premiered in North America on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block and went on to inspire a generation. I hear it mentioned in the background radiation of my life and it makes me wonder, is Cowboy Bebop a classic or a cult-classic?

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screenshot via opening sequence

Defining A Classic

There is no official governing body that attaches the “classic” moniker to archived media. Reviewers may refer to titles as a classic. Media companies will slap the label on the most popular or oldest titles in their archives. This system seems to encourage interpretation and debate, which is fine. I am up for a good debate (as long as I get to speak in essay format). But investors and consumers and retailers want solid numbers. They want to know where a title should be sorted. In the instance of Cowboy Bebop, it fits under three: Science Fiction, Anime, and Animation. But its age also puts it where other old titles are shelved: Classics.

Classic does not always mean old. There are plenty of old television shows I have never heard of before or know very little about. There are also a plethora of shows that have permeated pop culture to the point of universal recognition: Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, and Friends are a few I can name off the top of my head. Looking for shows that are more than sitcoms? Star Trek: Original, Dragnet, and Baywatch are a few others.

Cowboy Bebop has also permeated pop culture in its own way. The question is whether people unfamiliar with Toonami or anime know what Cowboy Bebop is about.

Cult-Classic vs. Classic

The definition of a cult-classic is another term that lacks an official designation. The Oxford Dictionary and Urban Dictionary say the same thing, but is the size of an audience the only criterion separating a classic from a cult-classic? The Rocky Horror Picture Show is perhaps the most famous cult-classic on the market, but wouldn’t its notoriety slide it into the “classic” category? Or is there something missing from the equation?

Marriam-Webster’s first definition of classic is “serving as a standard of excellence.” So an “official” classic should be quality work. Right? The problem is that quality in art is subjective. My favorite movie is Speed Racer but, according to a couple friends of mine, Speed Racer is an unfortunate waste of money. (Somehow, this is not a major strain on our friendship).

The defining trait of a cult-classic is how many people know of it and how much they love it. They tend to be movies that had a short time in the limelight but have since fallen into obscurity: Brave New WorldFirefly, and Pacific Rim are a handful I can name off the top of my head. Anything that attracts a niche audience and requiring a specific cerebral mindset to understand can also be criterion for identifying a cult-classic.

Anime is a medium with a niche audience in North America. I hate to admit this, but I am now one of those older fans. I came of age when Toonami was an after-school television block and LiveJournal was the place for online fandoms. The business model behind Crunchyroll became lucrative when I was in university. Which is to say, there is a generation of anime-watchers younger than myself and I have no idea if they know what Cowboy Bebop even is. Do they know Toonami’s contribution to the anime industry outside of Japan? Did they also have a five-year gap in their anime-watching habits, only to be reintroduced to the genre with the premiere of Attack on Titan?

 

I believe Cowboy Bebop had its space in the limelight and now sits nestled in nostalgia-land for a lot of its fans, which makes its audience smaller than anticipated. For me, this labels it as a cult-classic.

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screenshot via opening sequence

The Real Folk Blues

I asked fellow Potted Lid writers Basil and Dame Uta their opinion on Cowboy Bebop’s status as a classic or a cult-classic. Both labeled Bebop as a classic. Despite our differing views, they are opinions formed from anecdotal evidence. And it’s hard to draw serious conclusions from anecdotes, which is why I need some solid evidence about the reputation Cowboy Bebop has among the masses.

If you have a minute to spare, please take this survey I created to help me out. I’ll post the results once I acquire 100 responses. Please share to everyone you know because I want to know how far-reaching this little show is to the rest of the world.

Thanks!

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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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!

FMA: 2003 — A Defense

Every once in a while on the “FMA” tag on Tumblr, you’ll see someone with a strong opinion for or against either FMA animes. The most common ones I see (or, more accurately, hear about) are against the Fullmetal Alchemist series made in 2003 (hereafter FMA:2003), mostly because it largely deviates from the manga and becomes its own thing. I can go on here about Tales of Production and how the manga wasn’t completed when the original series was made, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to dive into the text in question and give you several reasons why FMA:2003 is worth watching.

Be Thou for the People

The FMA manga touches on alchemists being a force for the average citizen, but it doesn’t really go into detail about Edward’s reputation among the common folk. FMA: 2003 takes this a step further, showing the audience more people that dislike State Alchemists and, conversely, showing how many people hear of Edward Elric the Fullmetal Achemist and his actions for the common citizen. But what I love is we get to see how it all started in my favorite adventure in the backwater mining town formerly owned by Lieutenant Yoki.

I love that adventure. In the FMA: 2003 anime, it’s the adventure that starts Edward’s reputation among the people. By the end of the episode, you see Edward basking in this glory by talking with a taxi driver unaware of Ed’s identity. And I love that Edward is almost a symbol for the people of Amestris. He gives them hope that State Alchemists are not all “dogs of the military” and do horrible things on behalf of the country. And I like how that is brought out in FMA: 2003 more than the other versions, which only seem to touch on the subject or state the way of things without backing itself with solid evidence.

Roy Mustang: Manipulative Little Bastard

He is. Do not let anything else fool you. Roy Mustang is sneaky and ambitious and we see it more clearly in FMA: 2003. He’s more concerned about his image in the military, especially among the highers up. Edward really hates him because Roy is aware of Edward’s goings-on without Edward’s report. And Roy seems more sneaky, more aware of what it will take to become Fuhrer, and very willing to do it to make his ambition/dream come true.

Whereas in the other two versions, Roy is not as open about his sneakiness. He doesn’t seem to have as broad of visible emotions as we see in FMA: 2003 (remember when Marcoh was telling the Elric brothers about the Ishbalan Massacre? We see Roy with wild eyes more often in FMA: 2003 than either FMA: Brotherhood or the manga). Also, FMA: 2003!Roy is more of a creeper. I just love his sly creepiness. (Tiny mini-skirts anyone?)

Philosopher’s Stone Runes

About halfway through the series, Edward is given the Grand Opportunity to create a philosopher’s stone, the thing he and his brother have been seeking! What I really like about it is the amount of work it takes to really create a stone. First you have to synthesize a red liquid that amplifies alchemical power. Then you have to add the human souls to the mix. It’s an entire scientific process. The stone is more of a legend in FMA: 2003 than it is in FMA: Brotherhood, where it is remarkably easy to create a stone. All you need is a few people and some basic runes in FMA: Brotherhood. The only thing making the stone a legend in FMA: Brotherhood is a person’s limits on what they are willing to do to get the stone. (That is, if they know how to create a stone in the first place).

I also liked how Edward had to analyze the transmutation circle and “beef it up a bit” during his preparations. To me, it reinforces the idea that the runes are an important conduit that guides the use of energy during the transmutation, making the process seem less like magic and more like science. So I also like how alchemy is presented more as a science than a thing of magic in FMA: 2003.

Darker, Non-Secular Tone

In FMA: Brotherhood especially, there is a pseudo-obvious religious undertone to the entire series. I can write an entire essay about that in which the main point would be “Believe in yourself because God is in everyone.” The point I want to discuss now is that the religious undertone is removed in FMA: 2003 and the story seems darker because of it.

For my example, I will look at the Ishbalan Massacre. In the manga and FMA: Brotherhood, the Ishbalan uprising came about because Amestris wanted to expand to complete the Ultimate Transmutation Circle and, ulitmately, so Father the Homonculus could get his Godlike powers and leave his flask. In FMA: 2003, the explanation for the Ishbalan uprising is a result of cultural differences and imperialism that go remarkably wrong. The reader is unable to sugarcoat the Ishbalan Massacre as something that resulted from severe, political manipulation, removing agency from the Amestris soldiers ordered to fight during that time. Nope. In FMA: 2003 everything that was done was done because humans did it and no one else. Frankly, it’s quite terrifying when you realize the lack of limits in humanity.

You can jump in here and remind me that Dante was a force pushing the military in one direction or the other. My point against this is Dante didn’t strive for nor achieve the God-like powers Father strives for. I also feel she was less involved with military affairs what with the secluded cabin in the woods whereas Father was known by many higher officials of the military and often attended meetings with them. Dante was also less of a god in that she lacked the power to control the nation’s alchemy, which Father had and demonstrated when the Elric Brothers and co. manage to get into Father’s lair for the first time. Dante’s goal was to be immortal, which is a lesser goal when compared to “I want to be God.”

My Opinion Actual

My final opinion on FMA: 2003 is that the first half (until right after the Lab 5 incident, approximately 26 episodes) is one of the best things I have seen on television. The pacing is smooth, there’s foreshadowing various plot twists (which end up missing their mark, but it’s the potential that counts here), and, best of all, we see more Maes Hughes. Everyone can use more Maes Hughes in their life.

Beyond the first half, the second half misses its mark on some counts. There’s some cool stuff, like Dante’s theme (music-wise) and that Warehouse 13 adventure where Havoc spends the entire episode with a goofy face (courtesy of Mustang, of course). I also like how humonculi have agency beyond being minions. Is anyone else fascinated by that? I LOVE that about this series. However, I find the idea of the Gate of Truth leading into our world off-putting and Hohenheim of Light was kind of a disappointment. And then there’s Wrath. That kid needs some discipline.

Barring my issues, go watch the first half of FMA: 2003 and come back to tell me how awesome it is. Because it is.