Tag Archives: giant robots

Fall 2014: Sci-Fi & Mecha


Next up we have the Sci-Fi & Mecha genre. Surprisingly, this is a very small list for this season. Granted, there are two new Gundam shows [Gundam Build Fighters Try and Gundam: G no Reconguista] but these are continuations or variations of the original Gundam franchise and as such are ineligible for coverage here. Only one new mech series this season! True there are shows that I’ve listed in different categories, like World Trigger, that COULD be considered sci-fi but their premise, I find, is geared more to that other category than it is to sci-fi; your definition may differ from mine. In any case, let’s take a look at the two candidates.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryu no Rinbu

(Cross Ange: Rondo of Angels and Dragons)

Animation Studio: Sunrise
Origin:  Original Sunrise [Director – Yoshiharu Ashino]
Date of Premiere: October 4th

Summary
Sunrise returns to produce YET ANOTHER giant robot franchise. Enter Cross Ange, a world where magic exists (albeit in a pseudo-technological kind of way). Everyone is able to use this new “Mana” technology; except our main character – Angelize! She’s the heir to the Misurugi Empire but upon the discovery she is “out of mana” she is outcast from the kingdom. She then teams up with a gang of similarly discarded misfits who pilot giant robots fighting against inter-dimensional dragons – woo!

Initial Thoughts
Hmm, the premise is a little harsh, don’t you think? Mind you, why would you want a leader who is ‘inferior’ to the major population? Bold but harsh. What taints my expectations for this show is that the main cast of characters are all exploited in terms of fanservice. I’m all for an all-female team of mech pilots, but I don’t like the fact that their uniforms are pretty revealing; it cheapens their strength and the integrity of the story. I pray that the fanservice is otherwise kept to a minimum, I really do.

Review Priority Rating [RPR]: Medium (Medium Low if the fanservice gets out of hand)

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TERRAFORMARS

Animation Studio: Linden Films
Origin:  Manga [Sasuga/Tachibana]
Date of Premiere: September 26th

Summary
This one is quite straightforward. Mankind is ready to conquer Mars; but Mars isn’t ready for mankind. As such, humanity launches a five-hundred year mission using cockroaches and mould to terraform the Red Planet and make it less red. In 2577, a mission to Mars receives a grim reminder; the cockroaches they sent have evolved into super-roaches! After wiping that initial squad, another mission is sent to fight the roaches now armed with genetically enhanced soldiers. It’s time to take Mars!

Initial Thoughts
Oh man, this premise is pretty bonkers. It’s pure science fiction and something I really respect. The whole idea of science fiction is to excite and go insane; you have no tethers holding you back and do whatever you want and this is what is going on here! It looks like a real thriller with tons of action and violence; just be sure that you don’t mind seven foot tall bugs walking around!

Review Priority Rating [RPR]: Medium-High

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The sci-fi & mecha genre may be small this season but the titles are pretty ambitious in their approach! Tune in next time for comedy!

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Silver Will Argevollen REVIEW


War. Huh. What is it good for? Giant robot anime! Yes we’re back here again with two warring factions fighting over the land in their respective quests for total dominance. Each has their own feeling of entitlement and they both want it bad. The war itself is looking pretty conventional until you throw in a brand new and untested giant robot into the mix…right? No it’s still pretty conventional. Argevollen’s debut into the anime scene feels like a journey that we’ve made before. *coughgundamcough*

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The story focuses around an unnamed continent and two superpowers named Arandas and Ingelmia. The two nations have been sparring with each other for many years in the fight to conquer the land; at the time we join the fray, Ingelmia has begun its push into Arandas home territory and it looks like they have the upper hand. As the Arandas forces begin their retreat from their impenetrable Great Wall[!], one plucky rookie pilot named Tokimune is frustrated with his side’s desire to flee and instead chooses to fight. This all comes to a head when a civilian transport is trapped by Ingelmia forces and the young hothead goes in on his own to help. Jamie, the civilian in the transport, begins to open her cargo and within it is the test mech – Argevollen! It looks nothing like the stock mechs we’ve seen up to now [apart from the jumper mechs that Ingelmia used to breach the Great Wall]. Tokimune, being the only pilot nearby, gets in and manages to hold the enemy off. The rest of the story chronicles how Tokimune gets to grips with his mech, the Arandas army defending itself from the Ingelmia onslaught and the burgeoning relationship between Jamie and Tokimune. Hmm, have we been here before?

argevollen_6I feel like we’ve been here before. Argevollen doesn’t excite me for some reason and I think I know what it is. The show looks alright for the most part in terms of animation and there are some moments in the narrative where the unexpected does occur; but these moments are few, far between and fleeting. The whole notion of two large nations fighting using giant robots felt to me like it took some snippets from shows like Code Geass and a whole heap from the Gundam universe; Gundam 0080 in particular. It’s almost that the writers of this show sat down in a room for a few days and wrote down all the best stuff from more military-based giant robot series and carved out their iteration of the concept. There’s no problem with taking inspiration for an idea from past shows, but if you’re going to do that come up with something different to throw into the mix like a rarely seen plot twist or a critical flaw. That being said, I will say that Tokimune isn’t a natural at piloting; he acts like a normal rookie instead of being an unexplained prodigy. He gets sick, acts petulantly and doesn’t take orders well at the beginning. Adding that humanity to the main character is enough to keep me from switching off entirely but I was struggling to stay focused whilst watching this series. It’s not that I have a problem with repetition in anime; it’s just that there are so many familiar tropes in this show and they are played out in a very apathetic manner. The audience has to figure out who the characters are based on past archetypes instead of from the characters in the here and now and that’s lazy!

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The show looks OK though. There are some awkward compositions with the CGI robots and the cel-drawn backdrops and people, especially with frame rate [the robots glide too smoothly to mesh well with the rest of the scene]. The designs are derived from old Gundam shows plus Xebec’s back catalogue of mecha productions but they are pieced together decently with the exception of Arandas’ general robots which look boxes on legs; not exactly inspiring or battle-worthy. Xebec doesn’t push the boat out when it comes to general animation and character design, it usually does the bare minimum to get by but even here it feels cheap. Xebec had three productions this year [Maken-ki Tsu, Tokyo ESP and this] and it’s sort of obvious which show came off worst in terms of budget allocation. There are far too many scenes where characters are standing around and talking to each other for my liking. I understand that there’s a lot of back-room dealing and underhandedness being whispered by characters, but it doesn’t hide the fact that money was tight and it’s cheaper to have motionless conversation most of the time especially when you’re using CGI robots too! Still though, it’s not offensively bad but it is, again, lazy! This level of apathy is concerning. True, there are times when some characters get to shine and do something different for once, but it’s far too rare to be OK with. The only thing I feel they weren’t slacking over was the design of Argevollen. It’s a very cool looking mech and feels like it shouldn’t be in this universe; it’s far too sleek for this time period. It’s also a little too perfect; it seems to be a prototype but there are no instant flaws or abrupt slowdowns in performance, it works right out of the box. Hmmmm. At least the show got its pin-up right mostly.

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To me, Argevollen feels like it could’ve been a good show if it were given more attention by the production team. It doesn’t feel complete or unique; it’s like Xebec and Tatsuo Sato [the show’s director] were going by the numbers and pitching the notion – “What would 1970s robot shows look like today?” and made an effective carbon copy. It’s a remake essentially of the tried and tested model of more realistic mecha series. I’m disappointed in Sato, especially since he directed my favourite anime! This is the guy who headed Bodacious Space Pirates and Nadesico! I don’t feel much for this series, I’m pretty bored just by looking at it really. Let’s move along, shall we?

Silver WIll Argevollen is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CANCEL [A derivative show which fails to engage save for a few glimmers of design.]

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Knights of Sidonia [Sidonia no Kishi] [UPDATED]


http://blip.tv/masakox/anifile-knights-of-sidonia-6899149

Above is the FULL video review for Knights of Sidonia. Enjoy! You can still see the audio review below as well as its written review.


Japan arguably produces some of the best giant robot series out there. The genre is engrained in the DNA of anime enthusiasts, writers, production companies and visionaries everywhere. Countless series have been made in the last half century, so where do you go from there? How do you make your series stand out from the crowd? It’s hard, but the team at Polygon Pictures have tried with their production of Sidonia no Kishi or Knights of Sidonia by pushing the anime medium into the third dimension entirely; not just backgrounds or props, everything. It’s a bold move but it’s a thoroughly respectable one.

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Let’s make one thing clear, 3D animation has been used in anime for a long time in some shape or form. Most of the time it has been used for layering 2D content on top of one another in 3D space; a sort of 2.5D hybrid you could say. Sidonia no Kishi takes the ambitious step of taking the character models into the third plain of space. I shall go into detail about that later but for now, let’s focus on the story. If you’ve seen Attack on Titan, you’ll get it immediately and feel right at home. Sidonia is [as far as we know] the last haven for mankind after a biological terror known as the Gauna destroyed not just the Earth but the ENTIRE SOLAR SYSTEM. It makes Eren’s struggle with the Titans look like a picnic in comparison. The Gauna have rarely been defeated, all humanity can do is poke it in the eye with some blades known as Kabizashi and run away. In a little over a thousand years, humans have had to adapt to interstellar habitation and constant threats from the Gauna. These adaptations include the ability to absorb energy from light akin to photosynthesis thus reducing the need to eat food and preserving supplies as well as a whole new gender that can procreate with either men or women depending on the neutral gender’s preference. Every human on Sidonia can do this except our main character Nagate Tanikaze. He has been living in the depths of the colony with his now dead grandfather living off scraps and playing video games [virtual reality simulations of the Guardian battle robots that protect Sidonia] and as such missed out on the genetic enhancements. He is a natural at piloting giant robots. However one day, on a foray for some rice, he is spotted by guards and taken into custody. His name though saves his bacon and he is recruited to pilot the Guardians alongside the majority of the main cast including the androgynous Izana who becomes Nagate’s best friend, Shizuka [Nagate’s crush] and Norio [the pretty boy rival to Nagate who feels immense amounts of jealousy.]. All this character introduction leads to the end point of the initial exposition; the return of the Gauna after one hundred years of ‘peace’. Sound familiar?

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Let’s get one thing straight; Sidonia no Kishi’s manga was developed and released five months prior to Attack on Titan in 2009. Therefore it is wrong to assume that this show is copying the other. It’s more along the lines that television networks are now more likely to commission a similar production; the whole “If you liked that, you’ll love this!” philosophy. In my opinion, I feel that Nagate’s story is like the sci-fi genre having a go at the apocalyptic beast angle of storytelling and coming up with something grander, more threatening and far more bleak. Attack on Titan is epic but its universe is a lot more eccentric and fantastical; Sidonia no Kishi is more grounded surprisingly. Granted it’s set in space and way in the future, but it’s more familiar to those who enjoy sci-fi. It’s safer, quieter and yet just as epic as the story about Titans. Sidonia’s story in some places got really dark and really introspective, pushing my emotions to the limit and leaving me feeling really shaken; there’s one place in the early episodes that resonated with me the most but I’ll leave that for you to find out and trust me, you’ll understand why I found it disturbing. Nagate is a good main character because he is more flawed and primitive than those around him and yet he’s better than all of them in the pilot’s seat. It just goes to show that it’s best to not judge people on their biology. Izana is interesting too. He is more male at the start of the show and explains his gender immediately in a mature and sensical fashion; humans have fashioned genetically a new breed of human to reproduce with whatever gender it grows affection towards or has most contact with. It makes sense and doesn’t feel shoehorned in; it also adds the dilemma of whether Izana is a love interest or simply being Nagate’s foil.

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I think it’s a wonderfully put together show. If you take out the 3D character models and look at everything else, it’s as polished as a new car that’s been polished to within an inch of its life. It’s a show that Polygon Pictures is proud to present after testing its animation techniques with the American series Tron: Uprising using a similar style. Its epic detail and finish is a site for sore eyes and something you simply have to watch in HD so as to fully appreciate the time and effort that the animators put into creating such intricate models and shots. When we get to the character models though, it’s less rosy. I will applaud Polygon for taking such a big risk in making everything three dimensional, it’s a more integrated workflow where everything is one place and can be manipulated together. Movements are easier to make and tweak and the models themselves can be swapped out at any time meaning that if a character goes under a massive overhaul, it’s less time consuming to replace potentially. My problem with the opening episodes is that the framerate is so patchy. In some sequences, the movement is as smooth as butter and much like a film and then in some places, particularly the more comedic actions, it’s like I’m watching an internet video from 1998 or something. It’s so jittery and unnatural that it ruins the illusion for me. My hope is that this is something that will be fixed for the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD releases as time must have been against the team to produce the TV version in time. 3D animation takes a fair bit longer to render than most anime so it’s understandable to a degree. The models themselves though are well made and in some places shots looked like a regular 2D anime, the lighting and camera position working perfectly with one another. I approve of this style ultimately, I just hope that the framerate issues are reduced in later episodes.

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So does Sidonia no Kishi impress? You bet it does! It stands out as a great show on its own back and is to be regarded as one of the best examples of anime moving into the fully three dimensional animation workflow. Anime has been embracing 3D design for the past decade and it’s now ready to make the leap full-time. I feel bad comparing this show to Attack on Titan, but the similarities cannot be ignored. One thing to remember though is that apocalyptic anime are not new, there will be shows similar to the two I have mentioned produced in the years to come and people will becomes fans of them. Mankind is always curious to bring its existence to its knees in narrative form and that’s not going to go away. These two shows are paragons of that genre and should both be respected and not vilified because they just so happen to have common traits. Love anime! Love Sidonia no Kishi.

Sidonia no Kishi is available to stream on Netflix.

RATING: CONTINUE [A candidate for the top 5 anime of this season. A turning point in anime production.]

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Nobunaga The Fool


Most people found history in school boring. Talking about things that happened centuries ago and is considered by most young people to be irrelevant. So how do you bring a bit of excitement to some historical and cultural figures? Add some celestial mystery, giant robots, fantastical sceneries and some revealing costumes and you get Nobunaga: The Fool. Note, if you’re a history expert or enthusiast, be prepared to have your beliefs thrown out the window.

Nobunaga_4The world we’re presented with is set around a binary planetary system divided into East and West by dragons. Already that sounds like an awesome prospect if dragons are involved. Specifically it’s the “Dragon Pulse” [a move from Pokemon controls the heavens? Huh.] of both worlds that ties them together and as of late the energies have become flustered and disaster is set to befall both worlds. Enter Joan of Arc and Leonard da Vinci to save the day by mounting an expedition to the Eastern Planet with a massive care package – a giant robot. Already you’re left confused as to why these two historical figures are not only alive but working together but that is explained away with that this world is set in a parallel universe where things are the same but different if you get what I mean. It’s a simple explanation but it still confuses me. Once on the Eastern Planet, Joan finds Nobunaga, the boisterous and rebellious son of Nobuhide who is the leader of their clan. War is imminent with their faction and Nobunaga is destined to be at the centre of it. He stumbles upon Joan and Da Vinci, is perfectly compatible with the giant robot [whom he christens “The Fool”] and thought by Joan to be the Savior-King, the one to bring peace to both realms. That’s the basic premise and boy is it bonkers.

Nobunaga_2The East and West planets are clear representations of our own planet’s eastern and western divisions. The Eastern world is mostly Asian in setting and based around Japanese history whereas the Western world is a mix of our own historical figures based around European time periods. That’s where the realism ends and the madness begins. The East is seen as quite dark and set in a middle age period with the traditional and established ambience which is prevalent in Japanese culture; the West is pure insanity. The likes of Magellan, Caesar, King Arthur, Hannibal, the Borgias and Charlemange are represented very tenuously as the characters look nothing like their real-life inspirations. Da Vinci is quite close to his original in that he’s an inventor and has an eccentric aura and is clearly meant to be the fan favourite as designated by the writers as he is pure enthusiasm and fun. Joan is a fighter like her real-life version but is conveniently more feminine in appearance; but her divine persuasion is maintained at least. It’s these little things that keep this show from trashing European history by subtly weaving the personalities of these historical figures into the shells of these character models which is a novel approach albeit potentially stoking the fires of historians everywhere. Check your history brain at the door, you won’t need it.

Nobunaga_3But back to Nobunaga himself, he is the main character here and the destined Savior-King, as according to Joan. His personality is that of a rebel and someone who wants to fight rather than sit around and act ceremonial which is the destiny of his younger brother whose coming of age ceremony Nobunaga chooses to bail on [for good reason though]. He finds out that opposing factions are revolting and heading their way. His ego needs tending to and the arrival of Joan and Da Vinci gives him an outlet in which to wield his drive for battle. He takes to the idea like a duck to water and feels like he has found his calling at last after years of playing the fool. His character is meant to be a leader, he even has two loyal minions to aid him in his quest who are also his closest friends. He has his own posse which is always good for helping break up the drama and having some time for comic relief or calm analysis.

In all, Nobunaga: The Fool is an interesting bag. Satelight [the makers of the show] have a strong pedigree in eccentric anime having helmed the likes of Aquarion, Macross Zero, Escaflowne and even Bodacious Space Pirates. This show subscribes to that formula completely in the use of outlandish backdrops, props, characters and things that generally please the eye and prevent boredom from encroaching. However, it’s a little safe in the overarching story. Simply put, the story is about a historical icon being granted legendary status for some ancient reason and only he can do it with giant robots thrown because why not? It’s basic but the thing that keeps me interested is everything else in between. It’s beautiful to look at, the character designs are elaborate and artistically handled and you get lost in its beauty just like with most creations helmed by Satelight and the show’s writer Shoji Kawamori. If you want something serious and to the point, you won’t find it here; but maybe that’s a good thing. Most people can do with some bonkers every once in a while and Nobunaga: The Fool succeeds in captivating whilst not being too heavy.

Nobunaga: The Fool is available to stream on Crunchyroll. 

RATING: CONTINUE [Bonkers, beautiful and definitely worth your consideration.]

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Buddy Complex


In recent seasons, there has been an increase in the amount of series that revolve around the necessity of having two people who have some kind of innate compatibility with one another which was mirrored in the Hollywood movie Pacific Rim. Two souls who are connected somehow and in some as of now undiscovered way. MAGIC! Or simply because why not? Mecha are once again represented here with the show Buddy Complex where being buddies can be pretty complex!

BComplex_4The story begins with a robot pilot falling through a gateway through time to the year 2014 and on the hunt for Aoba Watase, a [yes, you guessed it] normal highschool student. He is sat next to a girl by the name Hina and over the course of the first outing, his world is completely changed. She is from the future and has been sent back to protect Aoba from harm and she does so with style and a stylish looking robot hidden away [she too travelled back in time]. There’s a lot of fighting and both Aoba and Hina are sent back through the gateway and into the future but Hina doesn’t join Aoba and instead he wakes up inside a giant robot in a future time with no clue what’s going on. From that point on you can guess what’s going to happen but at first, you’re left as confused as poor Aoba. Why is he in the future? What’s he doing inside a mech? Well, maybe not that second part because you need to take a look at who made this production – Sunrise.

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Yes, Sunrise. The makers of Code Geass, Big O and Outlaw Star to name a few. Sunrise breathes giant robots. They have made some of the most iconic shows of the past twenty-odd years. If you want a good mecha show, Sunrise is your best port of call. With Buddy Complex, it does a fair job at living to its aesthetic heritage. The robots look as they should do but they seem a little bit same-y. Like it’s following a blueprint of how to design a giant robot. Don’t get me wrong, the designs are cool and they make a good job at leaving their mark in the annals of robot history, but neither do they scream out at you and leave an impression. You could almost say that it’s simply…alright. In the mecha genre, it is imperative to stand out. Be loud, be mad, be awesome. Gurren Lagann and Gundam do both of those with flair and poise which has ensured both series that they will be remembered for years to come. Buddy Complex follows the formula but doesn’t add a pinch of anything so it doesn’t excel at anything. It’s OK. Is that bad? Not really but if you want to get behind something, you need to be wowed and inspired; not just satisfied.

BComplex_3The story though is a little better. There are some good twists and turns to save you from being disappointed with the design of the robots. The whole “Nice Coupling” gimmick is kind of cute and enough for a bit of a giggle considering that Aoba and “Dio” initially can’t stand each other. Aoba himself is a little dim; there are times in the fights that he just stands in place and shouts questions at people hoping that someone will shout some exposition back but he gets there in the end. The rest of the cast are decent enough with a nice mix of chirpy, strict and tired generals or soldiers. It’s enough to keep you interested especially since you want to see what Dio has to do with Aoba. That’s one thing I’ll give the show kudos for; it keeps you curious. You want to know what’s going on because it’s gnawing away at your mind and leaving you clamouring for your itch to be scratched, so to speak.

BComplex_2When it comes to the overall animation package, this is Sunrise we’re talking about here and it’s going to be good; and it is. The shading, artwork, animation and detailing are all high-tier stuff. In my opinion, I am constantly reminded of Code Geass when I look at the eyes of nearly every single character. It shares the same shape and shading and so I expect some elaborate and over-the-top gesture to occur at any second; but I don’t get any of that. Buddy Complex is a little more middle-of-the-road in that regard. It’s not a cookie-cutter series, it has enough intrigue to keep people interested [at least in the medium-term] but you can see some plot points from a mile away and you can guess how said points will be resolved. Also, I get the impression that Sunrise has to make at least one giant robot series a year in order to keep itself from going stale and that this show is simply there to be fill in a creative hole and satisfy its audience and board members. It does have a strong creative team behind it and here’s hoping that the show can make a name for itself in the long run.

Buddy Complex is available to stream at Funimation.com

RATING: CONTINUE [It’s worth checking out and seeing if it floats your boat]

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