#193 : Armored Trooper Votoms: Big Battle

Hey did you hear there’s going to be a big fight between an ex-Red Shoulder with his friends going up against a fortress like transport? This doesn’t happen very often; good time to place your bets! The stakes are high this time round for Chirico and friends as they attempt to rescue Fyana and stop an up and coming Balarant Army PS (Perfect Soldier) who seems a ‘tad’ on the psychopathic spectrum. Enter now yet another tale from the Astragius Galaxy, the world of Armored Trooper Votoms. Presenting now the second OVA released after the conclusion of the TV series, 1986’s Armored Trooper Votoms: Big Battle.

VBB_1Searching for the elusive energy substance jijirium to feed Fyana, Chirico and Gotho, along with Coconna, Vanilla and Shaka, travel to A’koba settling near a gladiatorial battle arena that is being used by the Balarant Army to test their prototype mecha for use against Gilgamesh. Harkening back to the early episodes TV series episodes in Uoodo City, Gotho tries to get Chirico involved in the battling competitions. Balarant’s star battler, Niva, while in the heat of competition recognizes Chirico as a former Red Shoulder. Niva, who has severe anger issues and a ‘touch’ of the insane in his personality sees only revenge. Outside the arena, Chirico would rather work in the world of stealth and focuses on getting the jijirium for Fyana. That all changes when she is kidnapped by Niva and the Balarant, which brings out the dormant Red Shoulder in Chirico once again.

VBB_2Taking place during the final episode after the climatic showdown against Wiseman and before Chirico and Fyana are jettisoned away to live in peace and solitude, Big Battle does not so much fill in any holes in the plot, but instead adds to the previously laid foundations. The usual mystery and attitude that surrounds the world of Armored Trooper Votoms are here, but Big Battle is a rare treat in that it is mainly an all out action showdown… at least for the last quarter of the OVA’s running. Chirico’s piloting magic in a Scopedog are on full display as he, along with his friends, challenge Niva in both the fortress like transport and Niva’s own mech.

VBB_3As a product of the 1980s, just like the emerging direct to video OVA boom, Armored Trooper Votoms would ride this home video trend with great results. Three releases would emerge in the decade: The Last Red Shoulder (I love this one), Big Battle and The Roots of Ambition (still need to see!). Instead of previous compilations, the easy way out, Sunrise and Ryosuke Takahashi would introduce original stories for the Votoms universe. Big Battle, or more precisely Battle of the Heterogeneous Species (odd title… I prefer the shortened version) is for me the most fun entry I have seen in all of Votoms. While this does not dive into Chirico’s past as a Red Shoulder, or develops much in terms of character, or plot development, Big Battle is pure fan service (no not that kind!) giving fans a fun ride with the familiar cast and settings.

VBB_4Armored Trooper Votoms was ground breaking for a mecha TV series in that it brought military grit and a heavier mature sci-fi attitude that was not seen before. Piloted robots mixed with Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner became a hit combination that stills draws fans in. Votoms is a series that we don’t grow out of, but grow into as we age; much like a fine wine. If you have watched the TV series, you have only completed the first stage. If you are prepared to move on to stage two, then Big Battle is one of several great choices.

#185 : Aura Battler Dunbine

“Fortunate are those who remember the tales of Byston Well… ,” to quote the text that began many of the opening episodes for the 1983 mecha series Aura Battler Dunbine. Most fortunate are those that learn the lessons from the hardship of war, the downfall of power for selfish gain and the balancing act of dealing with emotional turbulence. Based on an adaptation of a concept from Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino that has been reinterpreted several times (Garzey’s Wing, Wings of Rean), Aura Battler Dunbine is a show that one never forgets.

ABD_1Often times I end up in tears when watching certain anime. I often expect this from really great work that brings you into the story. This can either be from something very sentimental between characters, or more often, the death of someone dear to the cast and plot of the show. During the last two episodes of Dunbine, I cried… very hard. The brutality of the war and watching one by one heroes and even sometimes antagonists go down was as painful as many of the largest loses of my life. Dunbine may be Tomino’s most brutal series in terms of his “Kill ’em all” trademark? I would say even more so than the likes of Ideon and Zeta Gundam, two series I truly love. Yet Dunbine is not all dark and gloom, there is a lot of light and at times comedy, but it’s the finale that often defines how a series feels for me in the end.

ABD_2The medieval European influence of Byston Well’s environment was a different take on the usual far future, outer space and/or alien invasion themes so prevalent to traditional mecha anime. Mixed with a form of fantasy laden technology and pagan mythological wonder, Dunbine would include insect like mecha designs (Aura Battlers), psychic powers and even fairy like characters that have a number of translated variations in English. This is a world where individuals like you and me are transported via the Aura Road to Byston Well from Upper Earth to play out in a struggle between power hungry despots, moral crusaders and nature priestesses that control the balance of Byston Well in their hands. A hopeful motorcycle enthusiast, Sho/Show Zama, is one of these select few who lands in Byston Well and learns quickly of the power games and ambitions of one local lord Drake Luft. Sho/Show eventually defects with his acquired Dunbine (his Aura Battler) to the opposing side and eventually earns the trust, as well as admiration of another Upper Earth exile, Miss Marvel Frozen, one of the best female mech pilots of all time. And to top things off Sho/Show acquires a sidekick (maybe cheerleader is a better term?), one of the Ferario (the fairies I mentioned earlier), Cham Huau, one of my favorite characters from Dunbine.

ABD_3Byston Well and the concepts of aura power could relate heavily to our subconscious, both individual and collective. Byston Well was noted for being a place between sea and shore, a land where our souls come to rest after death, or perhaps even before birth. A world of dreams that in one aspect is outside our human existence, yet also running concurrently with it. The use of aura power reminds me of Ideon’s Ide power and Gundam’s newtype abilities. These are latent powers that are within us, where a select few learn to channel them, or awaken to them, like a Gundam newtype. Or perhaps it is the collective energies of our emotions, either peaceful, or destructive that shapes how we correspond with the universe much like Ideon’s Ide. Aura power also makes me think of the concepts: ‘thoughts create things’ and ‘the words we speak create our reality and actions’. Out of the subconscious comes forth our conscious reality.

ABD_4Currently I have watched Dunbine in total twice and I will say like many of Tominos’s shows, it is best to have multiple viewings to gain as much perspective as possible. Tomino can tell a good story, but he does not always give the information in an expected manner. Lastly I can’t dismiss the character designs of Tomonori Kogawa as perhaps my favorite from his vast resume (Ideon, Southern Cross, Cool Cool Bye, Xabungle as examples). As part of a unique trilogy of mecha series created by Sunrise in 1983, including Armored Trooper Votoms and Galactic Drifter Vifam, Aura Battler Dunbine is mecha anime at it’s best featuring a world of fantasy with reality, joy with hardship and spiritual power with technology.

… and let’s not forget Dunbine has some of the most bizarre names ever to be featured in anime. How would you feel to be named Shot Weapon?

#178 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (OVA Series)

Sunrise and mecha usually equate to the ever present name Gundam. As a studio Sunrise has a long resume of mecha titles. Some have a famous pedigree and many are only known by a select few who yearn to go beyond the bigger names. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is not a new topic here at CAM. I reviewed the TV series here way back when I was getting started and SPT Layzner needs another shout out. Beyond it’s short comings and twist in plot in the middle of the series, I believe this is one of the best mecha titles of the 1980s. Early cancellation would create problems in finishing the story, but a brilliant solution was available for SPT Layzner. The year was 1986 and direct to video releases were a growing market. Blue Comet SPT Layzner would end it’s sojourn as an OVA.

LayzOVA_1I debated if it was worth the time to review this OVA version of the Layzner story as a separate entry from the TV series. So much of what is presented is a condensed retelling of what is familiar if you have seen the previous incarnation. Of the three episodes, the first two: Eiji 1996 and Le Caine 1999, could be skipped as there is really nothing new under this sun. It is the third episode, Seal 2000, where we find missing links to the rushed ending of the former TV series. Interspersed between some familiar scenes of action and drama we find the hidden passages that make this third episode a more concise and well rounded finale. Much like another Sunrise property Ideon, the TV series would be rushed at the end and would have a second chance of telling the true ending in the form of feature films. All is now complete for Layzner, no stone unturned. That being said, while there is a lot of recognizable sameness, this OVA version is in a small way original to the TV series.

LayzOVA_2Episode one tells the story of the first arc, which for my money is one of the greatest mecha story arcs I have ever seen. Too bad it was condensed heavily. The once far future of 1996, which from 1985 eyes was still a possibility, features a group of students that land on Mars. Suddenly there is an attack by unknown mechs (Layzners) featuring one renegade blue robot defending the Earthlings. Piloted by the troubled Eiji Asuka, he eventually becomes an ally to the group of students as the struggle to survive on Mars and eventually find a way back home to Earth.

LayzOVA_3Episode two recalls the second arc, which jumps the shark from space mecha action and turns into dystopian dictatorship in a cross between Blade Runner and Fist of the North Star. We rejoin our cast of heroes three years into the future. Eventually they reunite to combat the established Gradosian empire who invaded the Earth after defeat at the end of the first arc. The signature Blue Layzner also returns along with Eiji as they now continue their rebellion and solve the mystery of the new Maiden of Cuzco. A new nemesis is also introduced, Le Caine, whose ambition for power blinds his judgement. Episode three finalizes the second story arc and can act as a substitute for the final couple episodes of the TV series. Here we learn of the link between the peoples of Earth and Grados, traverse to South America, Nazca, Peru to be precise, to find the great Seal of Grados and enjoy plenty of heavy mecha action. The final showdown between Eiji and Le Caine is the pinnacle of this episode.

LayzOVA_4You can view this OVA as a shorthand version instead of diving completely into the TV series, almost like Cliff Notes. Remember that much of the drama, character development and finer details will be lost if you take the OVA path over the TV series. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is best viewed by watching the TV series first and then following up with this OVA to tie up loose ends. The shorter path sometimes is the more tempting, but often will lead to missed opportunities. … Eiji may you continue to run like Melos on your “Lonely Way”.