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.