Thursday, February 05, 2004

Finally picked up the last set of Bandai's Brain Powerd, due to their dumping of the old pressings via a stock-liquidation outfit. A friend was putting together a minimum order, so I pitched in. $11 for something that was supposed to retail at $40 isn't something to spit at.

Brain Powerd, on the other hand, probably is something any rational viewer would consider spitting at. As the years go on, I find myself less and less inclined to give Yoshiyuki Tomino the benefit of the doubt. He was hot shit in the late Seventies, when he was taking a juvenile genre - giant robot SF - into more adolescent, if not more adult, areas. I still have a certain fondness for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, even if it is a glorified toy commercial, viewed with today's jaded eyes. I like the fact that it was about an actual war, with equally vile combatants, without being a pacifistic ideological jerkoff. But Tomino tried to live up to his reputation, and tried to get fancy. People used to tell me how wonderful Aura Battler Dunbine was, and how I couldn't be a real mecha fan if I didn't like this fantasy version of giant robot anime. So I started getting the discs when ADV put them out last year. Brain Powerd and Aura Battler Dunbine are painfully similar, in a devolutionary-chart sort of way.

I complained the other day about Tokyo Mew Mew being a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Tomino seems to have done the same with his own work - photocopying his old ideas and letting the producers hang new designs on the old frames, with little thought given to making the elements cohere in any meaningful sense.

Aura Battler Dunbine suffers from old animation, this is true. It isn't a particularly pretty series, and that's a strike against it. But still, this lack of polish isn't what made me drop the show. It's how tedious it all is. We have our Japanese protagonist in a fantasy world - good enough. Cliche, but it works in other shows. We have the war between morally ambiguous opponents. Great! Drama is built from the conflict between goods, not simple good and evil. But the characters are all so joyless, juiceless, dull - even nasty.

It's the sort of show where the plot is driven entirely by fighting - for the sake of fighting. There's no sense of a world outside of the central conflicts. Our protagonist has no real interest in the lives of the people around him, except as markers or chips in a sort of cheap game of combat morality.

At least Aura Battler Dunbine is missing the usual Tomino obsession with infantile Freudian family dynamics. Brain Powerd consists of nothing *but* this petty psychoanalysis. It's said that Brain Powerd was Tomino's attempt to rebut Anno's trespass onto his "Freudian psychodrama mecha" territory with Neon Genesis Evangelion. As a result, Brain Powerd's thematic quality is overwhelmingly Tomino. Every phenomenon, every conflict, and every relationship is rigidly modeled on some sort of oedipal dynamic. It almost works in the case of the mecha themselves, who are presented as pre-verbal infants, fixated on their pilots like so many two-story-tall baby ducks in child-love with the proverbial feather-duster. The notion of giant robot-children squabbling in aerial combat suits the sort of conflict found in your typical Tomino anime better than the usual armored-knight or fighter-jock metaphors. If only some of the characters bore any resemblance to something even vaguely like a real human being.

The characters are prone to giving speeches in the place of dialogue, let alone discussion. Fair enough, Shakespeare got away with it for years without being crucified by his audiences. But the ideas that are offered in these speeches are absolutely nuts. Not in the sense of being improbable - although they are that. No, in the sense that they're incoherent gibberish. A sympathetic, elderly couple suddenly returns, in fascist mufti, to lead the bad guys. They attempt to nuke a ship full of war orphans, knowing that this attempt will rebound on their own super-ship, likewise full of war refugees. They do this *ON PURPOSE*, planning to blame the other side for attacking them. And the old man justifies this after the fact to his old lady. Who accepts his justification. WHICH MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

The show does look nice. Well-animated, interesting backgrounds, good character designs. The music is superlative - Yohko Kanno at her absolute best. To be strictly honest, I'm watching the show through the end mostly because I feel like listening to more of her background music. I'm half-way to treating the series as an inordinately long music-video at this point.

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