Akemi's Anime World

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I just finished watching Gravion (and started on its sequel, Gravion Zwei). It’s very much like Godannar; the plot is entirely different, but they’re both combinations of cheesy old-school mecha action and parody thereof.

In the case of Godannar, it was pretty obvious that most of the drama was supposed to be silly, and it did a fairly good job of sending up its own genre while doing something of a homage to it and maintaining a relatively likable cast with an internally consistent world.

Gravion is much harder to call; between myself and my two anime-watching-companions, we disagreed 2-to-1 over whether it was a mecha action/comedy mix so bad it was funny in MST3K style, or a parody of mecha action that was so poorly executed that it seemed to be playing things straight and just wasn’t that funny. One of us thought it was a somewhat amusing lame parody, one thought it was only slightly amusing really awful straight-action-comedy, and I went with action-comedy so awful it was somewhat amusing. None, you might notice, are particularly complementary to it.

With a genre as done-to-death as mecha action it’s impossible not to have at least some degree of self-awareness, and the genre itself is so overblown it’s easy to mistake even totally serious stuff for comedy if you’re in the right mood, but Gravion didn’t seem to have much in the way of punchlines other than… well, the Gravion robot itself, basically. Regardless of the intent, it just isn’t very good.

If you assume it’s supposed to be a full-on parody, then it’s not a particularly funny one. Most of the drama is silly, but not silly or over-the-top enough to actually laugh at unless the people in front of the screen are supplying high-quality snide comments. More importantly, the “drama” in the battles that make up around a third of each episode drags on so long that even if it was conceptually funny at the beginning you’d be bored with it by the time the credits roll.

The obviously funny stuff is just low-rent anime situation comedy involving an entire castle full of maids, which is occasionally good for a chuckle, little more.

There are two exceptions in the conceptually funny department. One is the series’ penchant for putting its hotheaded lead and his pretty-boy team-leader counterpart in frilly skirts (additionally disturbing because Touga actually looks good in drag). The other is the Gravion itself, which is hilariously goofy looking—giant, so old-school it’s silly, and sporting a Fischer Price color scheme, it looks ridiculous enough on its own. What’s really hilarious (again, in concept) is that most of the other mechanical design is relatively cool—the (completely ineffective) military jets look spiffy, and the alien monsters-of-the-week look drastically more creative than what they’re fighting. It’s like having a ’70s-era Go Nagai mech going up against toned-down Angels from EVA. All played completely straight. Oh, and the shoujo-manga-manly boss dude actually busts out an organ in the middle of the final battle to turn on his super-sword-thing. That was funny in that oh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding way.

You kind of have to assume that everybody involved knew that the heroic mecha was a walking punchline, but the show is so straight-faced about it, and so generally unfunny apart from concept and lame downtime pratfalls, that I’d be willing to believe that somebody came up with a retro mecha show they seriously thought was cool, and the animators were left with nothing to do but design with cool alien monsters and cannon fodder jets to entertain themselves.

Which would be the alternate take on it—that it’s an action-comedy that’s hilariously bad, assuming you have the right friends on hand when you watch it. This was my guess because poorly-executed parodies are usually more blatant and obvious, rather than so straight-faced it’s hard to tell it’s not just lame drama. Even if it was fully intended as a parody, nobody is going to get away with claiming that it was so well executed that it just seems like it’s bad—the obviously funny stuff is too lame for me to believe that, and I won’t accept that somebody that clever was willing to deadpan 13 episodes of boring dramatic action scenes to make the point. At best, I think it was trying to be the good kind of parody that you’re laughing at while still appreciating the characters, which it completely fails to do.

The other Godannar parallel is the fanservice. It’s actually nowhere near as dirty as Godannar, but man, are there maids everywhere. I actually started to appreciate some of that when the maid commandos show up in frilly body armor and night-vision goggles. The trio of pedo-maids (as my friends and I dubbed them), however, were mostly horrifying. Please, if you’re going to put characters who appear to be somewhere in the range of 12  in a show, don’t sexualize them. I’ve seen worse, but mostly, eww.

One other thing to note: Touga (the cheerful pretty boy without any personality) isn’t really the main character, but Eiji, the hotheaded generic dude and main character, never does take his place in the main driver’s seat. I appreciated that the protagonist spends the whole show stuck in the left leg firing knee missiles. Touga’s Japanese voice actor does do a spectacularly good (and funny, intentionally or no) job of yelling attack names with manly gusto—which ANN tells me just now is no surprise at all, since he’s voiced by the incredibly talented Jun Fukuyama (aka Lelouch and Lawrence). I should have known—if anybody could almost sell lines like that, it’s him.

I was laughing at it enough, in the MST3K way, to figure it was worth giving Zwei a shot. I’m not sure if I want it to be better or worse, though; if it had been trying for parody, then I certainly want it to do a better job. If it had been trying for drama, though, better would just mean more boring—it’s so far away from quality that’s a lost cause—so I would actually want it to be worse.

And I must admit, the first episode of Zwei has me reconsidering my position that it’s a really bad drama rather than a somewhat bad parody; it starts right off with a leering low-angle shot of a maid who you immediately afterward realize is the main character in drag, and a few other relatively blatant jokes that, while not qualifying as full-on clever, are considerably funnier and better-executed than the comedy it its predecessor.  Heck, it even manages to be almost-clever in concept when it  tosses out a strip mahjong game (that’s a classic arcade game genre, for those unfamiliar) in which only the dude ends up naked.

If it can keep up the momentum, Zwei might actually warrant more than a “entertaining to heckle, lame otherwise” final verdict, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

First impressions of five random shows

A quick rundown on a selection of first episodes I checked out recently:

Welcome to the NHK:  This series sounded interesting to me, and while I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect it certainly wasn’t what I got.  Sorta like halfway between Genshiken and Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, it appears to be about a college-age hikikomori guy (recluse who never leaves his apartment) who has gone at least mildly insane due in part to the anime music his neighbor plays loudly and is drawn out of seclusion by the daughter of an evangelical Christian. I have no idea whatsoever where it’s going, but the mix of surrealist cracked fantasy in the guy’s head (his appliances start talking to him and he has… interesting ideas about what the girl must do in her free time) and low-key slice-of-lifeishness (of weird people) is intriguing.

Godannar: Like the sequel to a classic giant robot anime that never was, it is about the heroic pilot of a giant mecha and the young girl he’s marrying. The big war has been over for a while, but there’s still mopping up of giant monsters to do, and in a presumably-comic take on Myra and Max from Robotech the possibly-not-so-happy couple end up piloting mecha together fighting evil. The first episode features a variety of old-school, appropriately cheesy, over-the-top classic mecha action and large amounts of wedding-day innuendo/symbolism involving merging mecha (flashbacks of Vandread). The main question appears to be how seriously it’s going to take itself; so far pretty over the top, but if it starts being more mecha series and less comedy it won’t bode well.

When Seagulls Cry:  Intriguing, confusing. Watched this with someone who’d read the visual novel, but I’m not sure how much I’d be following without someone there to fill in the gaps glossed over in the animated version. Focused on a very rich, rather dysfunctional family at their annual get-together where they verbally joust and try to wring an inheritance out of the ailing (maybe) patriarch, the first episode introduces a cast of at least a dozen when you count the help. I assume there won’t be many more added, but the character overload was tough to keep up with and the involved infighting hits the ground running. On the stronger side, the three kids in the group aren’t part of the posturing and seem to provide a little levity—particularly the late-teen male lead (at least, I’m guessing he is), who does a few rather goofy grope attempts (which I’m told are more of a coping mechanism than straight comedy). Another strong point is a preteen girl with an annoying way of talking—it was getting on my nerves a little until her mother flew into a screaming rage about it, quickly shifting the tone from “annoying anime thing” to “it’s apparently a symptom of psychological issues, and people around her are very much not ignoring it.”  Relatively powerful drama for so early on, as well, and there are creepy hints galore about “the witch” who presumably is doing unpleasant things to/with the patriarch. Bonus points for several brief flashes of “cute little girl suddenly going way creepy.”

Maria+Holic:  A hard-edged parody of Maria Watches Over Us (et al) with shades of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (I said this based off style and noticing Maria’s voice actor, but now that I look it up it’s no coincidence—both the director and series director worked on Zetsubo Sensei and sequel, as did the majority of the main cast). The plot isn’t wildly original; apparently normal girl transfers into an elite all-girls Christian boarding school, meets elegant, beautiful, powerful, rich girl as soon as she sets foot on campus, ambiguous relationships ensue. The standard comedy twist is that the girl she meets is actually a guy in disguise, the lead breaks out in hives when she touches men, and of course they hate each other and end up in the same dorm room. The interesting twist comes from the extreme characters; the lead is a drooling, nosebleed-prone lesbian—no yuri or euphemisms here—the guy is vicious and hammer-blunt when he’s not being a perfect, refined lady, and his deadpan maid is impressively foul-mouthed. The humor appears to be as much from the lead’s completely loony internal monologue and fantasy images (part of what brought Zetsubo Sensei to mind). How far it goes with that, and whether it ends up annoying or hilarious, the jury is out on, but so far I very much like what I see.  Might even be lesbians without the tragic, though I’m expecting a predicable turn straight when she eventually goes for the guy. On the other hand, it looks cracked enough that maybe it won’t take the obvious path.

UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie:  Ouch.  The first episode takes place somewhere well into the series, apparently to hook you by showing you where the stupidity is eventually heading before going back to the beginning. All this did for me was show that it’s not going anywhere interesting, at all. Painfully lame drama, generic characters, lots and lots of fanservice—in a near-trifecta there is a literal platoon of catgirl maids (with a bonus dash of assault squad). About the only plus is that the thing that had me cringing before even starting—the aggregation on the RightStuf product page of the words “bathhouse” “8-year old body” and “Rating: 17+”—didn’t turn out quite as horrifying as I feared.  The roughly-adult main love interest transforms into a little kid after crashing on earth and nearly killing the generic niceguy protagonist then pulling a Birdy (or somesuch) to keep him alive. Instead of horrifying “she only looks eight” fanservice, the tack appears to be that she mentally reverts, too, so really she’s just an annoying kid and the main character is wondering where the hot, mature love-interest went and how long he’s going to have to play babysitter until she comes back. Doesn’t matter, though—it’s still wildly unoriginal, hugely predictable, seems to have an overload of cringeworthy drama, and just plain not funny or fun.  Also, the modern-day-like future in which aliens are everywhere has some potential, but the show just doesn’t seem to do anything with it.  Usually I’ll reserve judgement, but this one only took a couple episodes (one, really) to put it in the masochistic, “only if I’m heckling” bin.