#97 : Armored Trooper Votoms

Votoms_1Armored Trooper Votoms in a certain frame of reference may be the greatest mecha anime of all time. And I say that again as a certain frame of reference since this may not be everyone’s idea of where mecha shows should tread. Several shows before and since have dived deep into realms of gritty military life and, or psychological science fiction, but nothing equals Votoms in terms of it’s presentation of both. This is a tale about a singular battle scared man coming to terms with his life and humanity in the dire of constant combat, but Votoms is also, perhaps, one of the most underrated love stories as well.

Votoms_2The year of 1983 brought many classic mecha shows to us and in particular the so-called real robot aspect of the genre. Sunrise would produce three gems: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s (Gundam dude) Aura Battler Dunbine, Takeyuki Kanda’s Galactic Drifter Vifam and Ryosuke’s Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms. Mecha shows by this time had grown into a wealth of expression and many of the best had strong leanings towards space opera. Examples such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Yamato and Gundam all left influence on many shows in the early 1980s. These are prime examples of classic heroism and this is definitely not the world Armored Trooper Votoms. Votoms is more akin to the noir drama of Blade Runner, the esoteric sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Vietnam War grit of Apocalypse Now. Votoms is a story of the hunted outcast searching for his purpose, not that of a perfect hero.

Sergeant Chirico Cuvie, a former member of the deadly Red Shoulder brigade, is a man on the run. Despite his stint in Gilgamesh’s Melkian army during the great war of the Astragius galaxy against the Balarant, Chirico finds life on the run just as difficult. During a mysterious last minute final assignment, Chirico becomes aware of a great secret. After interrogation and being left for dead, Chirico runs to find peace and safety. The only problem is everywhere he goes he can’t escape the proverbial battlefield. All Chirico wants to know is what the secret operation he was involved in was all about, who the secret organization behind the operation is, to have both Gilgamesh and Balarant off his back and… most importantly… who this mysterious beautiful woman that is so linked to his destiny is and why is it that he feels so attracted to her (Duh!… she is pretty and loyal to you).

Votoms_3The grit of militarism exudes not just in the story and politics, but also in the designs of the mechs themselves. The AT Scopedog is a timeless design for not being flashy, cool, or futuristic. The Scopedog is a basic run of the mill tank or army Jeep brought into the world of piloted robots. Clunky, functional and a nasty shade of green, the Scopedog is an antithesis to say a Gundam, or Valkyrie fighter (Macross). Ironically, the simple build quality of Scopedogs are fitting within the culture of model building since Chirico himself many times during the show either rebuilds, or modifies, several mechs. Yet there is one characteristic of a Scopedog that is distinctive… those roller skate type feet which allow them to roll on the ground. Of course this helped in production of the animation by keeping the drawing minimal at times, but still… it’s kind of fun!

Votoms_4The structure of the show is in four successive stages, or arcs and each one builds on the previous. The DVDs I have separate neatly into these so called movements: we begin in the streets of Uoodo (very Blade Runner), move into the jungles of Kummen (Apocalypse Now), and finish with the planets Sunsa and Quent (2001). Like an onion you slowly peel away the drama and suspense and end up in a world you never thought was possible when you first started. Uoodo was fun, Kummen was intense, Sunsa is my favorite for how dark and psychological it became and Quent turns everything on it’s head and then some.

Many times I write about anime from memory alone, or after I seeing something ‘new’ to me, I have to speak about it within a quick turnaround. Then there are times when the urge to dive back into the entirety of a show is most necessary. Votoms needed a re-watch and having seeing it with half fresh eyes, I can’t discount this masterpiece. After all… I am comparing this show to two live action movies that I highly respect and love, 2001 and Blade Runner. Perhaps I needed to grow into this show and now was the time to recognize Votoms brilliance.

… this could be Grey Digital Target’s soul brother and I love that movie too.

#3 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (TV series)

I love, I really do love Blue Comet SPT Layzner. Despite it’s odd break in the so-called middle of the running that changed the show’s direction, there will always be a soft spot for it in my heart. It’s sad that when most people think of mecha and the studio Sunrise, only word comes out… Gundam. I shake my head. You have to dig deeper, because several years ago Sunrise was known for many shows, many different ideas, many that have gone off into the abyss of legend. SPT Layzner is one such series.

layznerspt1.jpgI see SPT Layzner as a tale of two souls in one body, or perhaps two different, the first part kind of like the original Gundam, kind of, while the second is a mech show that takes many design cues from Fist of the North Star (showing the popularity of this Shonen Jump series). But at it’s genesis, SPT Layzner is a sci-fi mecha series that is told in the ‘future’, the ‘future’ of 1996. Well 1996 was the ‘future’ when the show aired in 1985. Not only that, but the Soviet Union never fell either and the Cold War continued well into the 1990s. If none of this rings a bell I suggest a quick run to your local library’s history section (we are here to talk anime my people). With high political and military tension in the air, what would be more perfect than to have an alien human race come to our solar system and attempt a take-over during all this? And guess what? We get just that.

Layznerspt2Just before this maelstrom, we begin our story with a group of students and their teacher making there way to Mars as part of an effort to foster the peace of the Earth. These students get caught up into the upcoming hell of the Gradosian invasion losing  a majority of their classmates and friends. Upon seeing so much death and destruction these kids catch a glimpse of a blue robot fighting against these invaders not really sure who this lone fighter is. And it is from this robot we meet it’s pilot, a terrified, confused, but bravely determined young man Eiji Asuka (Null Alberto) voiced by one of my fav seiyu, Kazuhiko Inoue. His warning of this invasion is met with caution and hatred as he is one of them, a Gradosian. How can he prove his authenticity and trust? Only time will tell as these students struggle to survive with this new ally.

spt-lz-00xNow I will be very, very biased here, but I think the SPT-LZ-OOX is perhaps the best mecha design ever (by the way SPT stands for Super Powered Tracer). It’s small, sleek and sexy, but very functional. Almost like a great sports car or rally racer. And it’s BLUE, beautiful blue. A Gundam, Ingram, Scopedog, Valkyrie, or your odd assortment of super robots also have their merits and are great, but the Layzner for me is personal. That is what I am looking for on the showroom floor. I wonder if you can downhill it like in Initial D? Hey… wasn’t there a guy in Initial D named Ryosuke Takahashi (Layzner’s director if you didn’t know)? Makes you wonder?

Despite a rushed ending on aired television, a second chance would come the way of releasing direct to video. A three volume OVA would retell the backstory of the two separate arcs, episodes one and two, and a third volume finished off what remained with more breathing room. So now it all comes full circle, but I will say this to you SPT Layzner… You may not be perfect and I don’t care, but I love you anyway. Now is it worth a watch despite it’s minor flaws? Oh hell yes. Plus the opening song, Melos no Lonely Way by the band Airmail over Nagasaki… awesome.