Friday, November 07, 2003

I have a confession to make. It's not something I'm really proud of, but I've come to realize that it is true, and better to be truthful and lame than dissemble and play at sophistication.

I love mecha anime. I can and do like other genres, depending on the breaks and the whys and the wherefores and little things like writing and style. But mecha gets a pass in the absence of other factors. This is the only explanation as to why mecha shows dominate my list of current "let's watch this next!" anime. People were complaining about the deluge of "galfelch" or "harem" or "cute-girl h-game" shows this summer, and I could sort of see their point. There was a lot of lame out there with big sparkly eyes and a "yamato nadeshiko" attitude. This season, it's "there's too many obscure, excessively serious shows playing", and I can see that, too. Drear is the new "fun" this season, darling!

There are three anime that I look forward too, these days, and they're all mecha in one sense or another. Yes, I know I stretch the definition beyond all sense or recognition, but leave me my theories. They keep me warm at night, in the absence of new translated episodes of Overman King Gainer.

Sumeba Miyako no Cosmos-sou Suttoko Taisen Dokkoida, aka Dokkoida or, more properly, Cosmos-sou, starts out as a slightly doofy recession-economy-part-time-job parody of Ultraman, but quickly turns into a wacky apartment-community comedy. An alien federation decides to use Tokyo as a testing-grounds for its police-equipment mecha trials. Two rival corporations hire locals to pilot the suits against several released intergalactic felons, dumped in Tokyo and told to go cause trouble. The aliens, being intensely cheap and small-minded, house everybody in the same rundown apartment complex, while telling everybody to maintain secret identities. I don't know why I like Cosmos-sou - it's silly, it's dumb, it's as cliched as you can get without spontaneous combustion. I'm guessing it's the mecha.

The first season of Full Metal Panic drove me right up a fucking wall. Over it, across the garden, through the woods, and onto the interstate to play in traffic. It was one of those stories where a sixteen-year-old mecha pilot had enough time in his brief life to fight his way through insurgencies in Afghanistan, Cambodia, get trained as a mecha pilot, and develop a personality like R. Lee Ermey on antipsychotic medication. Essentially unserious, in other words. On the other hand, we're expected to take this world dead seriously, with pseudo-realistic mecha combat in a Special-Forces, detailed, snake-eating sense. Except when we're running around a Japanese high school, following our protagonist following his fixation-object, a girl who's supposed to be protected from the shadowy evil what-the-hell-ever which threatens her. The first season was a eight-car pileup in thick fog the day before Thanksgiving. Bad. Don't watch it. I warned you.

The second season, called for reasons that will eventually become evident, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, is infinitely better. Why? They gave up trying to get us to take all this crap seriously. The international politics and Special Forces heroics have all been dropped, as if they'd never happened. Our hero continues to protect the heroine, but there's no real reason to do so. It's just something he does because he's been told to, and he's a humorless, obsessive, lovable, dutiful nutjob. The big detailed pseudo-realistic military mecha with invisibility-cloaks have gone bye-bye, and have been replaced with a massively modified mascot-suit stolen from a local amusement park. "Bonta-chan" is a paramilitary-grade assault-suit, but it still looks like a seven-foot-tall cartoon rodent. It's become the silliest of fish-out-of-water farces, and thus has improved ten-fold over the previous attempt.

The third series is Shinkon Gattai Godannar, an old-fashioned Go-Nagaiish giant-robots against aliens with the professor running her super-scientific military base in support type of show. None of it is really new or unique - it really does look like the old 70s shows, give or take a few overly-endowed bridge bunnies. The "twist" is that our hero and heroine are getting married at the beginning of the series, and the metastory is essentially a "newlyweds getting to know one another" affair. The hero's mecha is named "Godannar" ("Godhubby"), the heroine's, Okusaer ("Mechawife"). It's less silly than I expected, given the premise. They've been playing it fairly straight so far - there's been no comic-relief characters, no slapstick comedy, no over-the-top villains. The character dynamics remind me of a Georgette Heyer novel - A Civil Contract or Friday's Child.

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