Heavy Object Part 1 Review

In the distant future, the nature of combat has changed. Wars are no longer fought with human combatants but instead with Objects, massive spherical tanks, impermeable to standard weaponry and armed to the teeth with the very latest in destructive firepower. However, all of that stands to change when Qwenthur Barbotage, a student studying Object design, and Havia Winchell, a radar analyst, are suddenly plunged into a battle of unwinnable odds when a plan goes awry. With nothing but basic equipment and their wits, the duo scramble to save themselves as well as the lives of their fellow soldiers from certain doom at the hands of an Object, changing the world’s perception of the behemoths forever in the process.

Normally, when you think about the mecha genre in anime, your mind generally jumps to shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, with giant humanoid robots tussling it out with each other with giant laser swords and the like. Honestly, it’s really quite disappointing just how rare it is to find a show that doesn’t fit into those preconceived expectations of what a mecha anime is. Enter Heavy Object, an adaptation based on the novel series from author Kazuma Kamachi, creator of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, which might be the first entry into the mecha genre I’ve seen that I can call fresh in quite a long time.

Although the two series are very, very different in most regards, when it comes to the general premise of each episode, the most obvious comparison that comes to mind is Metal Gear Solid, to the point where I’m certain the first three episodes being set in Alaska had to have been some sort of reference to the first entry in the illustrious game franchise. Each short arc tends to centre around Qwenthur and Havia sneaking around a variety of locations, on stealth missions attempting to take out these nigh indestructible Objects on their own. It’s this general premise that made me really like Heavy Object, because whilst it is still a show all about mecha, the majority of the running time isn’t spent on watching the protagonists’ mecha dispatching Grunt mecha in increasingly similar and trite scenarios, but instead has the two lead characters having to think on their feet in order to save the day. Nothing against the likes of Gundam of course, but it is just really refreshing to see a mecha show that differentiates itself a bit from what everyone else is doing. The whole series also is just generally a lot of fun to watch, which is mostly due to two very likable and energetic leads, as well as a light tone and a genuine sense of adventure that is conjured up via the globetrotting nature of the series, as our protagonists go from the icy tundras of the Antarctic to tropical locales such as the Oceania or even naval battles in the Mediterranean.

One of the only real downsides to Heavy Object is whenever it tries to squeeze in attempts at ecchi comedy because it doesn’t work, as it rarely does. Any and all attempts at jokes of this nature fall flat, offering nothing really new or funny, and just being quite cringe inducing. There’s also this off-putting recurring gag (?) where Qwenthur and Havia’s superior, Frolaytia, seems to reward the duo’s efforts with a peek up her skirt, or the promise to stomp on one of them for sexual gratification. It didn’t really affect me too much, but I could certainly see it making some people uncomfortable.

The only other lacklustre element comes from the characters in general. Although they are fun and likable, as I mentioned, they are painfully lacking in any sort of depth. You can call Qwenthur the ‘Heroic One’ and Havia the ‘Pervy One’ and not be oversimplifying their characters at all. Havia does become a bit less of a coward later on in the series, and he does get one nice moment of character at the tail-end of one of the episodes, but neither of the pair ever receives anything really substantial. The only character who does receive anything of the sort is the Frolaytia, who gets a backstory at the end of this first half, that is surprisingly dark considering the tone of the rest of the series, but does work in fleshing out her character. I can only hope that the other main characters receive the same kind of treatment in the show’s second half.

There is also something of an attempt at a romance between Qwenthur and Milinda, the pilot of an Object in possession of the nation that Qwenthur and Havia fight for, but it’s incredibly half-hearted and barely even worth mentioning. Qwenthur and Milinda rarely have any screen time together, and when they do, the chemistry between the two is incredibly sparse. Again, perhaps this element will gain more focus during the show’s second half, but I’m not holding my breath.

Animation for Heavy Object is a joint effort between JC Staff (A Certain Scientific Railgun, Toradora, Azumanga Daioh) who handle all the 2D animation and SANZIGEN (The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Black Rock Shooter, BBK/BRNK) who focus on the 3D elements. Working together, the pair manage to create a fairly good-looking show, with some very impressive looking CGI that doesn’t look out of place like the majority of CGI in anime tends to.

Funimation UK’s release of Heavy Object contains both the Japanese audio as well as an English dub track, and, overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the dub. Led by Justin Briner (My Hero Academia, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Drifters) and Micah Solusod (Brother’s Conflict, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Soul Eater) as Qwenthur and Havia respectively, I think the two have a lot to do with how instantly likably the characters come across, which helps carry the whole show. The supporting cast also includes some good performances from the likes of Morgan Garrett, Alexis Tipton and John Michael Tatum.  

Keiji Inai and Maiko Iuchi both provide music for the series, which seems to alternate between a traditional orchestral score, electronic, almost dubstep-like music, and heavy rock, which make for a pretty great and varied soundtrack. The opening for Heavy Object is “One More Chance!!” by ALL OFF, which I was a huge fan of. It manages to combine heavy metal and J-Pop, which you wouldn’t really think would work well, yet it manages to be infectiously catchy. The ending is a softer sounding track, but is still really enjoyable, although I’m not sure exactly how well it fits with such an action heavy show.

Extras included on this release include a clean OP, a clean ED, trailers and commentary tracks.

In Summary

As long as you can put up with a bit of less-than-stellar comedy, the first half of Heavy Object delivers a large dose of unique and incredibly fun mecha action.

Title: Heavy Object Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Mech, Action, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: J.C. Staff, SANZIGEN
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Aldnoah.Zero – Season 2

 

Aldnoah.Zero, the entirely original anime by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass fame, reappears in its second season, but does it make good on the shocking end to Season 1?

Before we get to that, a quick recap: Thanks to an ancient hyper-gate that connects to Mars found on the moon, humanity creates a new Kingdom on the red planet named Vers. Vers gains a new type of power known as Aldnoah and soon decides to attack Earth, but the resulting battle ends in the gate and a good half of the moon exploding. The “Orbital Knights” of the Vers Empire that remain after the attack settle on several large space stations in the debris belt and a ceasefire is agreed on. In Season 1 we saw that peace get broken when an assassination attempt on Princess Asseylum of Vers, set up by the Count Saazbaum of the Orbital Knights so they can have a valid excuse to start attacking Earth, drives the two sides into war. The war ends up including some students, one of whom, Inaho Kaizuka, is a natural at fighting in a Kataphract (this series’ name for mechs), as well as dedicated Asseylum follower and Earth-born member of Vers, Slaine Troyard, who was caught in the middle of the war when he discovers the Princess with the “Terrans” and finds out about the assassination plot by his own master.

This lead to the big cliffhanger at the end of the season where Slaine kills Saazbaum after he shoots the Princess dead, then in turn shoots the injured Inaho at close range in the head. A shocking ending and it makes you wonder who, if any of them, are going to survive as the plot picks up 19 months later…

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Well, sadly, it didn’t really capitalize on the shock value. Inaho survives sans an eye, which is fair enough, he’s the main character. The Princess is still alive though in a coma-like state, which is alright I guess, though seems a bit of a backwards step (and unsurprisingly she wakes up about halfway through the series). Then it turns out Saazbaum is still alive! The lead villain lives and is saved by Slaine, who wishes to climb the ranks of Vers under him, so long as he saves the Princess’s life. Really makes you wonder why create such a great cliffhanger if you’re not going to do anything with it? Especially since Saazbaum ends up being killed a few episodes in anyway.

So we then get a blonde-haired antagonist who starts climbing his way up an off-Earth military with the goal of killing the one who wronged him (once he gains enough power) having a rivalry with the Earthling teen (a naturally gifted pilot) who has ended up in the military due to chance. This rivalry is set in stone after a girl they both loved is (seemingly) killed in front of them, and they blame each other for it. In other words, it’s Amuro vs. Char from Mobile Suit Gundam. I’ll give them credit in that by the last few episodes it’s a bit different, but it hovers far too close to the mark for me. I always take a few similarities to Gundam as being fine, it pretty much created the “real Robot” war type anime so some connections are expected, but the first half of this series felt far too familiar.

The ending too is a bit flat. I won’t tell you everything, but the season overall feel as if it starts going round in circles, refusing to give anyone but Inaho and Slaine something to do, and then it picks up before suddenly – and flatly – ending.

MAJOR SPOILERS END HERE

Storyline aside, the mix of CG and traditional 2D animation is still okay, sometimes jarring, but both, for the most part, are fine. I still love the Orbital Knights’ Kataphract designs. Some in this season have crazy X-Men powers that they try their best to explain with actual science, which is doubly enjoyable. The background soundtrack is largely unchanged from Season 1, including a remix of the great second ending theme from that season, apparently called “MKAlieZ” (the original ending song being called “aLIEz”). The opening is “&Z” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki (bloody hell, can’t they shorten that down a bit?) and the ending is “Genesis” by Eir Aoi (that’s more like it!), although Episode 23 (or S2 E11) is “Harmonious” by Sora Amamiya.

The 12 episodes are once again spread across four Blu-rays, each containing three episodes. That’s still crazy to me, but as I said in the last review, it’s so weird that there must be a technical or other-region disc-authoring reason for it. Also, once again, it’s Japanese with English subs by default, if you want to hear the English voice track (which is fine, though unspectacular) you have to set it in the Set Up menu each disc. The extras are clean openings and endings, plus a few trailers. The usual jazz. You also get a nice artbook along with it.

So, Aldnoah.Zero Season 2. Well, it’s not as good as Season 1. For a start it feels as if the first 6 or so episodes have no clear focus, then the next few pick up, leading to a rather flat and rushed finale. That being said, it’s nice to look at and pleasant to listen to. If you want a flashy mech anime to watch over a few days, all 24 episodes of Aldnoah.Zero will do the trick, though you’ll be in for a roller coaster ride of a plot, with highs and lows, and ending on a flat bit when you get off (which in terms of a roller coaster is good, but a storyline, not so much)

Title: Aldnoah.Zero - Season 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: A-1 Pictures, TROYCA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

The Transformers – The Movie 30th Anniversary Edition

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The classic, and often controversial, theatrical special of the original Transformers cartoon is now 30 years old and Manga have released the restored version on Blu-ray, but does the film still have the touch? Does it still have the poweeerrrrrr? (Sorry, couldn’t help it…)

Before anyone wonders why it’s being reviewed here on Anime UK News, it’s simple: it was written by the American cartoon team, but it was animated by Toei Animation in Japan, which includes the cinematography. Rule of thumb is if it’s animated in Japan, it’s an anime, if it’s animated in the US, it’s a cartoon, but let’s not go down the route, that way lies madness…

So the plot is quite… odd. It’s set a full 20 years after the end of Season 2 of the TV series, and the war on Cybertron isn’t going well for the Autobots. In fact the Decepticons have conquered the planet, leaving Optimus and co. hiding out on the planet’s two moons, as well as their old Earth base. The obnoxious little boy Spike Witwicky is now an adult and working with the Autobots on one of the afore-mentioned moons, but … ahem… luckily, his son is about the same age as he was back in the day and is on Earth, so… thank goodness for that, nearly didn’t have an obnoxious kid in an 80s animated property for a second there!

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Here is where things get unexpectedly dark. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, after over 20 years of constant war (and never-ending retreats where nothing gets accomplished) finally realises that a good way to win a war is to kill your enemy. I’m talking Megatron and co. arriving on an Autobot shuttle, Megatron declaring he’s going to kill them, and then transforming into his gun form followed by four friendly Autobots being gunned down and killed. That’s only the beginning! The Decepticons soon arrive on the Earth base and so begins a would-be-bloody-if-they-weren’t-robots war where several characters on all sides either die or are near death, including a fated showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron, where instead of one standing while one falls, it ends in pretty much a draw, with Optimus dying (spoiler! … for a 30-year-old film…) and Megatron being all but dead. This is all pretty shocking coming off of a “nobody is killed, let’s not even mention the words kill or die” cartoon.

Newly introduced Autobot Hotrod is to blame for Optimus Prime’s death, getting involved with the fated duel and getting Optimus shot several times in his bungled attempt at help. It’s actually quite amazing that beyond having a “cool” flame paintjob, Hotrod is a pretty bad attempt at creating a new lead character, which is what it was all about. Anyway, as if things couldn’t get any worse, a giant sentient transforming planet named Unicron arrives and is disturbed by the “Matrix of Leadership” that Optimus once held, that was then passed to the dull-as-dishwater Ultra Magnus. He sees the object as the one thing that could defeat him, and so regenerates Megatron and a few other near-dead Decepticons that had been thrown into space by their new “brave” leader Starscream, and uses his immense power to force them to hunt down and destroy the Matrix.

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This sets up the rest of the film, where the remaining Autobots are chased around several newly introduced planets by Galvatron (the new Megatron) and eventually have to rally to defeat Unicron before he destroys Cybertron. I could go on for many more paragraphs about some of these characters, planets and a certain universal greeting, but I’ll leave it there on the off-chance you haven’t actually seen the film already (and for the sake of review length!)

On to some other points. Firstly, the soundtrack. If you like 80s power ballads and rock, it’s great. Hell, even if you don’t I’d like to see you not get a little more excited and invested into the film when “The Touch” or “Dare” comes on in the background. Even the moody (and synth-filled!) music that plays when Unicron is introduced is great, top marks to composer Vince DiCola on that front. There isn’t a mention of whether the audio mix was upgraded along with the picture, but everything was definitely loud and clear on my end. The voicecast is also worth mentioning, the classic cartoon actors return, but are joined by the likes of Leonard Nimoy and… Orson Welles! In his last ever performance… always a weird fact. The animation is often fluid and the art switches between really detailed drawings come to life (particularly the scenes with Unicron devouring planets, so many little lines and bits everywhere) and more simple drawing that’s closer to the TV series. The (4K, although it’s still a standard Blu-ray) restoration is great too, everything is really bright and clear, yet still featuring some film grain for that touch of authenticity.

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It’s worth saying that this is the full, unedited version of the film. That means Spike Witwicky exclaims “Oh shit! Whadda we do now?!” when Unicron eats the second moon of Cybertron unaffected by their attempts to blow it up, and there is no “Optimus Prime will return” message at the end that was quickly added after the supremely negative feedback from their decision to kill the character off. I don’t know if this is the first time the unedited version has been released in this country, but the swear word wasn’t on the VHS or DVD version I’ve seen in the past, though I know there have been a few different DVDs, so I can’t say for sure.

It should be noted that this comes in two discs, one labelled “Full Frame” and the other “Widescreen”. Much like most of the films by Toei at this point, it was created using 4:3 animation with the intention of it being zoomed in to fit the cinema’s widescreen. This also meant that the film could be released on VHS and fill up the 4:3 TV screens without the need for black bars. The “Full Frame” version is the full 4:3 version, meaning it’s not zoomed or stretched, but it is a 4:3 box in the middle of your now standard 16:9 screen, and the “Widescreen” version is the cinematic version and therefore fills your screen, but you lose some of the top and bottom, but that was always taken into account when it was created anyway and is therefore the more authentic way to view it. What’s nice is that the full compliment of extras is on both discs, meaning whichever way you choose to watch you won’t have to switch discs to watch the extras.

As for the extras, they include a well-made and interesting Making Of Documentary titled “Til’ All Are One”, Audio Commentary on the film with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu, a few featurettes, storyboards and trailers (both cinematic and TV). It’s a good chunk of extras, that’s for sure, and again they’re all on both discs.

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So should you buy this? Well… yeah. I mean, if you grew up with the film like myself, or you’ve come to like it, or even if you want to try it out, there is no better version of it out there, picture, audio and extras-wise. Hell, the steelbook box is nice as well, by the looks of it. If you have no intention of watching an 85 minute 80s-fest based on a cartoon that’s being more and more lost due to never-ending Michael Bay-created films, then that’s a shame, because to answer my question from earlier, this film does indeed still have the touch… and the poweeeerrrr

Title: The Transformers - The Movie 30th Anniversary Steelbook
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1986
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 84 minutes

Score: 10/10

Nobunaga the Fool Part 2 Review

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Episodes 14-24  

The warriors of the Western and Eastern Star battle on to determine who will be the Saviour King to rule them all and to bring about the coming of the Holy Grail. Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc, cursed on the Western Star for hearing voices and being a witch, has fled to the Eastern Star with Leonardo da Vinci and allied herself with Oda Nobunaga. But after Jeanne is captured by her onetime Western Star compatriots, Nobunaga sets out to win her back. King Arthur sends the mighty Alexander and his forces to attack the Eastern Star and Nobunaga finds himself on the losing side. Jeanne begins to doubt whether he really can be her Saviour King after all…could he be the King of Destruction instead?

Another (not entirely dissimilar in concept) anime Drifters has just begun streaming, also featuring Oda Nobunaga among other famous warriors taken from history but adopting a more Berserk-influenced, grimdark tone – and playing with its illustrious cast with much more imagination than in this anime.

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The character designs are attractive and the concept of pitting heroes from Western and Eastern history and mythology against each other is, if not very original, intriguing. So why doesn’t Nobunaga the Fool work? The glaring problem is the writing. The characters may look attractive but they are one-note and impossible to relate to (except, possibly, the conflicted Mitsuhide). They spout wooden dialogue. And the US dub is much, much worse than the subtitles; Clint Bickham usually turns in a better script than this. I hoped, as the action shifted to the Western Star, that with the introduction of new characters, such as Alexander, Cesare (Borgia, not to be confused with Caesar) and Machiavelli (female), matters might improve, but they are just Villains. They are Bad.

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The writers also seem to have it in for Jeanne d’Arc who is subjected to some unnecessarily gratuitous torture scenes (hence, I guess the 15 rating). Jeanne could have been an interesting, multi-layered, proactive warrior, but here she’s just the voluptuous poor victim girl, whose main role seems to be needing to be rescued. (The project that this was a part of also spawned a play and – apparently – an online novel in Japan. You have to hope that more care was lavished on the writing, especially the dialogue, for these than on the anime.)

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So, if the characters are mostly unlikable cyphers, what about the famous mecha? Again, the CGI (used for the mecha battles) combines uneasily with the 2D backgrounds and character designs. And it’s hard to care about the outcomes of the mecha duels when the characters inside the machines come across as little better than machines themselves. If only as much care had been lavished on the script as on the colourful artwork for stills and landscapes.

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New Opening Theme “Breakthrough” by JAM Project sounds too bland for a series about warriors battling inside giant mecha with a deeply inappropriate tinkly intro which also features on the menu and sounds more suited to a romantic comedy. (Check out the brilliant OP for Drifters “Gospel of the Throttle (Kyouhon REMIX ver.)” by Minutes Til Midnight to see how it should be done.) New Ending Theme: “RAN” (蘭; Orchid) by ASUKA is quite inoffensive but, again, just not right.

Extras comprise textless Opening and Closing songs and four trailers.

In Summary

I had hopes – given the involvement of Original Creator Shoji Kawamori (Vision of Escaflowne, Aquarion) – that this series might improve in the later episodes, but this is not the case. Perhaps if I had been unaware of his involvement, the expectations might not have been so high and the resulting disappointment less great.

Title: Nobunaga the Fool Part 2
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 4/10

Gundam Reconguista in G Review

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“About time!” screamed Gundam fans when Gundam Reconguista in G was announced. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the man behind the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam series, was returning to write and direct a Gundam series for the first time since 1999’s Turn A Gundam. In a world where recent Gundam series had been either heavily kiddie-focussed (Gundam Build Fighters) or just plain bad (Gundam AGE), the return of “Kill ‘em all Tomino” as director was pre-emptively heralded as a revival of Gundam’s glory days. The fans hyped themselves up, eagerly anticipating new and interesting worlds, philosophical musings on war, and major characters getting suddenly killed off.

Then Gundam Reconguista in G finally arrived, and reaction was… mixed. Some claimed it was a masterpiece, labelling it Tomino’s most impressive work yet; others dismissed it as a confusing mess. After the series had finished airing, Tomino himself famously said of his work that “I’d only get 15 points out of 100… Frankly, I didn’t think it would be this horrible.” However, he did go on to imply, in his trademark way, that people today weren’t clever enough to fully appreciate it, and that he would be vindicated in 50 years’ time. Now that Gundam Reconguista in G, G-Reco for short, has reached British shores in the form of Anime Limited’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release, we must ask the question: is G-Reco the magnum opus of a genius, or the confused ramblings of a disgruntled OAP? The answer is somewhere in the middle…

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For decades the nations of Ameria and Gondwan have been at war, with the Capital Territory caught between the two as the owner of the Earth’s space elevator, Capital Tower, and ostensibly a neutral party. In this future world, certain technology is forbidden and humanity is forced to rely on Photon Batteries for energy, which are sent down to Earth via the Capital Tower by mysterious space entities. Ameria wants to reverse engineer these batteries so that the Earth may gain independence from relying on the space people, but the teachings of the Capital Territory’s religion forbids it. Ameria, Gondwan and the Capital Army are all drawn into an arms race as they break the taboo on producing space weaponry, using the threat from the other parties as justification. This draws the ire of the spacenoids who, it turns out, have been producing their own weaponry, and have their own plans for Earth’s future… Into this situation falls, quite literally, the G-Self, a mysterious mobile suit which seems poised to turn the tides of war in favour of whoever gets their hands on it. Bellri Zenam, a young recruit of the Capital Guard, manages to retrieve the G-Self from the pirates who first grabbed it, but takes a romantic interest in its beautiful pilot, Aida. When Aida escapes from the custody of the Capital Army, Bellri goes with her to the pirate ship Megafauna, and unwittingly gets dragged into a war which he cares little about.

While that may seem excessive as a plot summary, believe me, it’s barely scratching the surface of G-Reco’s story. That is, in fact, the series’ primary weakness: it attempts to cram far too much content into a 26-episode run, meaning that there is always a whole lot happening, but no time to explain it. As such, Tomino makes liberal use of the oft-ignored, particularly in anime, storytelling mantra of “show, don’t tell”. While many anime feel the need to explain every detail of the show’s history and setting through excessive exposition, G-Reco just drops the audience right in. It gets straight into the plot and then describes the world in pieces along the way, so there’s a lot of time spent wondering what the hell is going on: why are these people fighting; where do these spaceships come from; what’s this taboo thing; why does the Megafauna’s captain have a woman wearing a bikini painted on his chair? (Okay, the last of those may be slightly less integral to the plot).

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G-Reco is therefore difficult to follow, and this is the main gripe that people seem to have with it. Toshio Okada, co-founder of anime studio Gainax and now an ‘anime scholar’, said of the series, “Gundam Reconguista is really bad!… I watch a fair amount of anime, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. Ordinary people watch this and don’t know what’s happening, but Tomino thinks it has to be like this.”  I take issue with this view. While things do move at a breakneck pace, and it is sometimes necessary to make use of the rewind button to fully grasp the meaning of what’s just been said, with a little effort it does (mostly) make sense. Honestly, I found this understanding process to be part of the appeal – it made watching G-Reco more of an active experience, akin to, as silly as it sounds, reading a mystery novel and trying to work out the culprit. But all the effort I put into following G-Reco was more than paid off by the depth of the world on offer.

In fairness, it doesn’t help matters that every other word out of the characters’ mouths is one that Tomino has dreamt up: for example, when a character says, “Klim, I’ll position the Hecate behind the Salamandra and take on the Garanden,” you better have picked up the meanings of those four proper nouns or you won’t have a clue what’s going on. This is nothing new for Gundam, which thrives on its made-up names, but when there is so little exposition it makes these things more difficult to follow than usual.

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There are other symptoms of the story being rushed. One is that while characters’ motivations can be interpreted, they are rarely properly shown. In an early battle Bellri chooses to fight against the Capital Army on behalf of the pirates, despite himself being from Capital Territory. While we can infer from his single glance towards Aida that he’s probably doing it for her sake, we aren’t shown any of the inner turmoil that a character must presumably experience when betraying his friends and family in such a way. Rather than this being poor writing, I believe it’s simply that Tomino and co. didn’t have the running time spare to dwell on the emotional side, and needed to plough onwards with the battle. This isn’t a one-time thing; characters often become either allies or mortal enemies at the drop of a hat, and then flit back and forth between the two with little justification. Tomino has always been one for characters changing allegiances, but in the past he’s handled it better than he does here.

It is worth noting that the tone of G-Reco is mostly quite light-hearted, at least by Gundam standards. Despite engaging in many battles, it is rare that the characters feel as though they are in any real danger, and for the first half of the series it seems as if Tomino has outgrown his “Kill ‘em all” moniker somewhat. However, once the action moves to space and mobile suit pilots can no longer hop out of their cockpits once things go wrong, the death toll does increase quite drastically; even so, there is relatively time spent bemoaning the horrors of war, something which is typically a staple in Gundam.

Humour is more of a focus than any moral preaching, and G-Reco’s comedic edge really adds to the series. We are treated to some classic toilet humour when Bellri is forced to use the G-Self’s ‘facilities’ to go number 2, while awkwardly sharing the cockpit with three girls. Another highlight is when a ship’s captain is asked to pull up data on an attractive enemy commander, but inadvertently opens a load of her bikini pics alongside her battle statistics. Not all jokes are so bawdy; my favourite is the Amerian Lieutenant Klim Nick, who insists on calling himself “Genius” Klim. The rest of the cast consider him to be a bit of a hot-headed idiot, but make use of his nickname in a sardonic way – a subtlety that the genius himself never picks up on.

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The setting of G-Reco is no doubt an interesting one, with Earth being caught in a stand-off in which all parties both fear the mysterious spacenoids and their superior technology, and yet also want to use them to further their own schemes. A nice twist is that even within this new setting, much of the core of G-Reco is borrowed from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It has a ragtag crew roaming around on a spaceship which relies mainly on a single mobile suit, it has cool mechs, a diverse cast of characters, and space politics. There is a more literal link to the old series, too: G-Reco is set around 1,000 years after the Universal Century era, meaning that while it technically takes place in the timeline of previous series, this has little material impact on the plot. It does allow for a few cool mobile suit cameos though, either as statues in museums or as ruins scattered around old battlefields.

Industry veteran Kenichi Yoshida, who previously worked with Tomino on Overman King Gainer, outdid himself with G-Reco’s unique and brightly coloured character designs. His achievement becomes even more impressive when one considers the size of the cast; the only downside of this large cast is that it sometimes feels like a waste that an interesting character can end up getting only two and a half minutes’ screentime before they explode in a fiery death.

It wouldn’t be a Gundam series without an adolescent mobile suit prodigy as the main character, and Bellri fills that role pretty well. He initially doesn’t take much interest in the world around him and tends to go with the flow, but he does eventually develop more of a personality and his own reasons to fight. We also have that other Gundam staple, the protagonist’s masked rival – this time named, hilariously, Captain Mask. Mask’s motivations are less amusing than his codename: he is from a race of people called Kuntala, a group that were once cannibalised during food shortages in ancient times, and are still racially discriminated against. Mask’s goal is to succeed in battle so that he may bring pride to Kuntala people, and change the rest of humanity’s perception of them – however, this noble motivation becomes corrupted as Mask fights, until he grows less concerned with improving the status of his own people than with tearing down those from more privileged backgrounds.

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There are a lot of appealing secondary characters – one of my favourites was Happa, the Megafauna’s disgruntled mobile suit engineer, who openly tells Bellri that he’s only working on improving the G-Self so that it will be able to better protect him. While most of the Megafauna’s crew are great, the other particularly notable character is the Megafauna’s attractive helmsman, the appropriately named Steer, who always seems to be in a terrible mood unless she’s piloting the ship into an exciting situation. It’s characters like this that make the world of G-Reco come alive – while fairly minor, their idiosyncrasies make it feel real, rather than just a means to telling a story.

This release contains Japanese audio with English subtitles only, as no English dub has been produced. Fortunately, the voice acting on offer here is superb. The brilliantly varied characters each have unique voices to match, and they are all so competently done that it is difficult to name any stand-outs. Takuya Satou is perhaps worthy of a special mention for his cool portrayal of Captain Mask, giving a performance which echoes all the strengths of Shuichi Ikeda’s famous Char Aznable, the original masked antagonist.

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A primary concern to anyone watching a Gundam series is the quality of the mecha designs, and G-Reco certainly delivers in this regard. While the main mobile suit this time around, Bellri’s G-Self, is rather run-of-the mill (aside from its eyes and antennae making it look like a giant mechanical bunny), the other suits can be great. The Capital Guard’s Recten and Recksnow have wonderfully retrofuture designs, with heads shaped like old computer monitors and adorably clunky frames. As we get introduced to more mobile suits, particularly those in space, we see more sleek and futuristic designs, with all sorts of ridiculous weaponry. The rate at which these get introduced can be a little overwhelming, but any serious mech-head will struggle to complain once they’re all in space shooting, slashing and smashing the crap out of one another.

Another great feature is the thought that has been put into the peripherals of mobile suit operation. G-Reco often shows pilots making toilet while in their mobile suits, a need which makes perfect sense but has typically been skimmed over in the past (just as Jack Bauer apparently never takes a dump), and we see mobile suit airbags activating as pilots get smashed around their cockpits. Toilets and air bags are hardly the most exciting of mecha innovations, but it all goes towards developing the world of G-Reco.

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G-Reco’s animation is one of its strongest attributes; it is consistently stunning in its fluidity, whether that be the expressive body language of the characters, or the wild battles of the mobile suits. While the space-based battles tend to be more exciting, Episode 10 sees one of the best Earth-based battles: it contains some awesome animation of mobile suits brawling, with the G-Self punching and kicking an enemy unit as pieces fly off it – interestingly, this episode was storyboarded and directed by Attack on Titan’s Tetsuro Araki, who is no stranger to intense fight scenes between giant entities.

The scenery all looks excellent, and in every shot there are tons of minor background details which add great depth to the setting. Characters can be talking in the mess hall of the Megafauna, and through the window in the background one can see the deck chief shouting at his men – it’s a small detail, but helps make the ship seem real and alive. Also of note is the series’ CG: G-Reco contains what is possibly the best blend of CG and 2D animation in any anime series I have seen. The CG is used sparingly, mostly for complex space equipment like Capital Tower and space colonies, and its sleekness highlights the detailed designs, without ever seeming at odds with the traditional animation alongside it.

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G-Reco’s music is by Yugo Kanno, and he provides a high quality orchestral score, well suiting the tone of a sweeping space opera with exciting battles. There’s an occasional issue with it being used poorly, though: some battle scenes use music that’s a little too cheery, which kind of kills the tension, and also seems inappropriate given that the pilots can (and do) die at any moment. Both of G-Reco’s openings are fairly bland J-Pop fare, but the ending theme, G no Senkou by Daisuke Hasegawa, is a pleasantly upbeat song which repeats the show’s title a bunch. It is well suited to the ending animation which displays all the characters, friend and foe alike, arm in arm doing the cancan – an odd choice, sure, but an amusing one that highlights G-Reco’s slightly brighter tone compared to previous Gundam series.

While it clearly has its flaws, for those viewers willing to put in the effort Gundam Reconguista in G delivers some great entertainment. Its mecha designs are weird and wonderful, its battles exciting (particularly once the action moves to space), and its massive cast are varied and largely likeable. Somewhere deep within the series there even lies a philosophical message: a message about moving forward as humanity despite historical divides, about not judging other peoples without first judging yourself, and about the dangers of relying on weapons to maintain peace. However, when most of one’s effort is taken up on simply trying to understand what’s going on with the story, it’s easy to see how these messages remain buried. Still, by the end of G-Reco­ it really does feel like you’ve been on a journey. And while that journey was confusing, and at times even nonsensical, it was bright, exciting, occasionally thought-provoking, and always a lot of fun.

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On-disc extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and a promotional video. The release does come, however, in a very nice box, complete with art cards and a ‘Gundam Collection’ spine which will ensure it fits well on the shelf next to Anime Limited’s other Gundam releases.


 

 

Title: Gundam Reconguista in G
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: Sunrise
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: PG
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 8/10

Nobunaga the Fool Part 1 (Episodes 1-13)

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“Will you find your own way or will you be pulled by the winds of the Dragon Vein Vortexes?” Leonardo da Vinci to Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc

Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (the one who hears voices) is whisked away on a space ship by Leonardo da Vinci and Admiral Magellan from their home, the Western Star, to the Star of the East. There she sees in the carefree young warlord Oda Nobunaga (nicknamed ‘the Fool’) the potential to be her long dreamed-of Saviour King, the one who has haunted her dreams. But as if Nobunaga doesn’t have enough troubles dealing with the other warlords vying to take control, back on the Star of the West (ruled over by King Arthur) one Julius Caesar has also set out to conquer the Eastern Star and to gather the Sacred Treasures that will enable King Arthur to find the Holy Grail. Or something.

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‘Samurai warriors battle giant robots in a war of epic proportions.’

So proclaims the poster for this release – and that’s exactly what it is. No more, no less. Famous Japanese warriors (mostly) from the Warring States Era line up against famous historical figures from a far wider time period representing the West: King Arthur, Leonardo da Vinci (who plays a leading but ambiguously manipulative role) Julius Caesar, Brutus, Magellan, Hannibal… and Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (Kaguya, one assumes, after Princess Kaguya who travelled from the moon to earth in the Japanese legend). Leonardo da Vinci crosses to the Eastern Star, bringing Jeanne, technological wizardry and a set of Tarot cards which he makes Jeanne draw from time to time and which seem to influence the events (and the episode titles as well): ‘The Fool’, ‘The Lovers’, ‘The Wands’ etc.) rather as, in Vision of Escaflowne, a ‘fate alteration machine’ and heroine Hitomi’s pendant influence what happens to the protagonists. Although forced to dress as a young male retainer, Ranmaru, Jeanne shows little of the feisty warrior nature you’d expect from ‘the Maid of Orleans’, blushing like a love-smitten schoolgirl around her crush, Nobunaga. Eventually, Nobunaga finds himself facing a formidable rival: Julius Caesar, who has allied himself with some of Nobunaga’s enemies and also has designs on Nobunaga’s sweet-natured sister: Princess Ichi. 

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Original Creator Shoji Kawamori has a truly formidable and amazing CV: having created The Vision of Escaflowne and Aquarion, not to mention many of the Macross outings and designed mecha for innumerable other anime series, including Transformers and the Nirvash for Eureka Seven. It was difficult, therefore, given his impressive creative background, not to expect great things from Nobunaga the Fool – and he certainly delivers mecha in plenty. But in spite of all the energetic battles, with and without mecha, something is missing. The whole premise (famous historical figures from East and West battle for supremacy) must have seemed a blast at the time but somehow the people fail to come to life, remaining two-dimensional in the least complimentary sense of the word. A whole bundle of ingredients are thrown into the mix: fan service; mecha; attempts at humour that misfire; magical jewels; prophecies… And the ghost of Escaflowne haunts proceedings but without the musical genius of Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi to enhance the drama, not to mention the flaccid pacing and some tired, predictable plotting, it’s a lacklustre affair. The characters are not endearing; Nobunaga often comes across as an arrogant, petulant adolescent with a big mecha, and Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc mopes around, sighing (inexplicably) over him.

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The Sentai US dub is one to avoid. The dub script is awkward and even unintentionally funny in places. And the performances!? Scott Gibbs is, to be fair, not really any worse than most of his fellow actors in the dub but I expected better from the voice of Mikorin in Nozaki-kun! Of the original cast, Mamoru Miyano seems, at least, to be having fun in his swashbuckling portrayal of Nobunaga.

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The music, by experienced composer Masayu Yokoyama, is perfectly adequate (although I wonder if he was required to work with a temp track taken from Escaflowne for the battle sequences?)  He’s done far better with Arakawa under the Bridge, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and many more. The best music/image moments come with the stirring OP#1: “FOOL THE WORLD” by Minori Chihara  and the beautiful concept artwork (harking back to Aquarion) for the ED which hints at an early vision of what the story might have been rather than the pedestrian version they ended up with.

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In Summary

It’s a little sad when the best one can find to say about an anime series is that the artwork in the ED is truly gorgeous! But Nobunaga the Fool is disappointing, especially given the talents of the team working on it.

Title: Nobunaga the Fool Part 1
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Action, Mecha, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Studio: Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 6/10

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III – Dawn of Rebellion Review

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Ian Wolf’s Review

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

The third episode in the OVA series detailing the events prior to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series begins to show how one of anime’s greatest antagonists began to develop a more ruthless streak to his nature.

This instalment begins with a short summary of the events of the past two episodes. When the second episode ended Casval and Artesia Deikun, now living under the names Edouard and Sayla Mass, had learned of the death of their mother. The two have gone their separate ways, with Sayla remaining at her home and Edouard leaving Texas Colony in the company of Char Aznable, a man who looks almost identical to him. The only difference is the colour of their eyes.

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The duo are leaving Texas Colony to begin military training in Loum. On the way to the spaceship taking them there Edouard spots that people are spying on him, while Char is stopped at customs for carrying an antique gun. Edouard convinces Char to swap clothes with him to avoid his problem, meaning that it would be Edouard who misses the flight while Char can board. However, Edouard correctly predicts that Zabi allies are up to something: the spaceship explodes, killing Char, who the allies of Zabi believe wrongly to be Edouard. Edouard meanwhile takes up his friend’s identity, dons a pair of shades to disguise his eyes – claiming that his sight has been affected by cosmic rays – and begins his new life as “Char Aznable”.

Edouard, or Char as we should probably now call him, excels in his class to the annoyance of one classmate, Garma Zabi, heir to the Zabi throne and whose importance is clear to all; he clearly stands out in the class because of his purple hair which he keeps messing around with. However, the two do eventually become close after Char helps Garma during an exercise. Later on, an Earth Federation ship crashes into Zeon, sparking more riots and demands of independence from Earth. Char uses this as a chance to increase his power by getting Garma and their fellow cadets to launch an attack on a Federation Barracks.

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Among the positives of this episode are that we get to grips with the Char Aznable that most Gundam fans will now recognise. We see him wearing his trademark visor with the overhead strap for the first time. We also see some of the events which lead to the increasing tensions between Zeon and Earth. The end of the episode even features a segment concerning Amuro. In terms of negative points, we see very little of Sayla and some of the animation is of dubious quality. For example, when Char flicks away a flunky of Garma’s, the character seems to not move at all, and instead the other man is just shrunk to indicate how far backwards he has travelled.

However, as with the previous collections distributed by Anime Limited, the most impressive thing about this set is the amount of bonus material you get (although most of it is in Japanese). On the discs there is an audio commentary, trailers and video of the debut screening of the second episode. Elsewhere you also get the wonderfully illustrated presentation case, a book covering the storyboards, another book covering the cel art, a third booklet covering the episode, and one thing that was not mentioned when the OVA was released: a clipping of the actual film reel, containing four cels of footage from the episode (in my case it depicted Dozle). It is wonderful that we are able to get such impressive collector’s editions these days.

Score: 8 / 10

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Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III – Dawn of Rebellion
  • UK Publisher: Bandai Visual Japan via Anime Limited
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha, Military, Sci-fi
  • Studio: Sunrise
  • Type: OVA
  • Year: 2015
  • Running time: 68 minutes