Ok, my time’s been eaten by a number of other things and I’m headed for Dallas on Friday afternoon, so it’s unlikely I’ll get my planned articles written in the next few days. So, although you’re probably here for choice words on another $15 million boondoggle and thin rationalizations, I am going to leave you with my single longest anime write up yet. Furthermore, instead of posting lots of cheesecake from a show with more (and racier) than I can post here, I’m going to leave you with lots and lots of words. Maybe too many of them!
Godannar vol. 4 marks a change in the nature of this series, although perhaps it was not an intentional one. As the first DVD of the second season, it marks the first point in which the weakness of the story overwhelmed the fanservice for me. There’s still no explanation of the mimetic beasts, not even a glimmer of one on the horizon. Another problem is that the first season (and therefore the recap) left off with the world in deep kimchee, as the beasts were mounting a huge series of attacks across the world. Only when we pick the thread back up in episode 15, it was “oh, ha-ha, sorry, we were just kidding!” Yes, there were lots and lots of them, but they were all weak. Three months of fighting and they’re almost all done for. Honestly, it seemed more like they realized they had a certain number of episodes to fill and a couple of landmarks to pass along the way, so they just touched base with them and threw in an extra-helping of fanservice to keep the viewer from noticing.
Then I started this review, and that opinion changed in part, before I made it to the end of the first episode. I’ve now realized that there was a lot more logic to the setup of the entire series than I thought; and even an explanation of why they’re using humaniform robots.
That, or I’ve gone completely nutters. It still doesn’t fix some of the problems, though
Of the four episodes on DVD 4, the first was a recap. Since it’s the 2nd season opener, I wasn’t surprised. And since it featured my favorite babe, Shizaru, wandering through the episode having an out-of-body (in fact, out-of-clothes) experience while she’s dead, I didn’t mind it at all. We finally get to the last few minutes of the episode, and the narrative catches up to the point where the two monsters we saw in ep. 13’s season-ending battle are attacking the shore near Anna. But this time, instead of following Anna, we see the events at Dannar Base.
When Goh balks at taking the suddenly-recovered Mira into combat, Kouji (Shizaru’s partner from ep. 1) shows up and decks him. He rants at Goh, and convinces him to accept Mira as his partner again. Then Kouji jumps on a motorcycle and leaves the base, thinking about getting stronger and coming back to join (and protect) Shizaru. It didn’t work for me at all. Kouji is recovered enough from his ep. 1 injuries to deck Goh and threaten to take the Go-Dannar out himself. But then he leaves, in order to have time to get stronger. Huh? If he’s not well, why isn’t he staying on the base (with its medical and support facilities) to finish recovering? If he is well, why is he leaving? He sounds like he means "emotionally stronger," not phyisically. It comes across like he’s having a little girly cry over Shizaru not being in love with him. Which, when added to Anna’s leaving the base, convinces me that Japan’s pilots are entirely too high-strung. Being merely unable to admit she’s in love with Goh makes Shizaru look like the very model of maturity, compared to these prima donnas.
During the rant, I didn’t get what Kouji was saying to Goh and why it motivated him. The response wasn’t what I expected–he didn’t get mad. As I typed out why it didn’t work for me, it suddenly occured to me that he was saying something else entirely, and maybe what I was expecting to hear was interfering. And I developed an elaborate theory based on what I thought that else might be. It turned out I mis-remembered the words, and his rant is just as incoherent as I thought, but it doesn’t preclude my theory, for which there’s a lot of other evidence.
So what did Kouji say? ‘You suck, you failed to protect Shizaru and Anna left you, and I suck because I was wounded and couldn’t help.’ Goh’s reaction just seemed strange.
It should be noted that Kouji’s partner, Shizaru, is highly focused in battle; she may banter just a bit, but her intensity is unmatched. Kouji is sort of the opposite; he’s all over the place, loud and enthusiastic, but it’s the way he expresses his aggressiveness. They’re like a laser and a flame; she’s the laser, he’s the flame, and the destruction of the enemy is their goal. Goh, on the other hand, doesn’t always fully commit to the destruction of the enemy because there’s that nagging little bit, that worry about his partner, holds him back. On several occasions, he has tried to convince his partner to flee the battle while he stays behind, including the battle five years ago when Mira died. Once she showed up again, this problem manifested in another way.
Unsurprisingly, he was torn between his current wife and former lover. He couldn’t fully commit emotionally to Anna any more; he was conflicted and kept holding back just enough that it caused Anna’s (and Shinobu’s) doubts to grow and eventually drove her away. And after Ken defeated him in head-to-head combat, his doubts were so great, he couldn’t fight effectively, which was why Shizaru took the under-armored Core Gunner out to a battle in which she was horribly out-numbered, and died. That’s Kouji’s point.
Where am I going with this? You see, the ability to control a robot isn’t a matter of raw skill. It’s not even "instincts" as you hear characters say (especially Ken). Robot piloting is magic. I’m not necessarily meaning magic in the sense of sorcery and spells, but I don’t rule it out either. I mean magic under the Steven Den Beste rules. If you prefer to think of it as psychic ability, that’s fine. But feel free to explain the odd things happening around Mira without something of the sort being true; the most spectacular example of which is Shizaru’s resurrection hours after her death. Mira and Max’s resurrections could be put down to some mysterious intelligence behind the mimetic beasts. (There’d better be one, or otherwise the whole series makes no sense. Wouldn’t be the first time a series had an unconvincing antagonist though.)
Evidently, psychic ability is tied to emotion. And Goh is being hampered by his fears for his teammate. Ranting, Kouji succeeds in momentarily convincing Goh to ignore his doubts and commit fully to battle. He accepts the suddenly-recovered Mira as his partner. Dr. Aoi, with no choice, sends the two of them out to fight together, which Anna witnessed in ep. 13. But this means that unknown to her (or me at that time), it wasn’t so much Mira’s abilities making the combined Go-Dannar/Neo-Oksauer unit so powerful, as it was Goh’s. In the battle, Anna sees Mira take Neo-Oksauer through some impressive acrobatics, but is floored when a series of attacks by the combined bots quickly destroys both monsters. She’d never even heard of those combat manuevers, but it’s the power that they show which shocks Anna. And she assumes the reason that it never showed such ability before was becasue she wasn’t good enough.
Her confidence shattered, Anna aborts her return to Dannar Base, and spends the next episode (and three months) fighting against poverty rather than mimetic beasts, trying to find a place to live and work. What she does not realize (in fact, no one but her mother and Shizaru appear to understand) is that she is actually a better pilot than Mira; just not as experienced. In ep. 16 she proves it, bringing the Go-Okasuer under control (in combat, no less) after the overpowered plasma engines went beserk, which is something that neither Shizaru or Mira had been able to do, even in the lab. (The Go-Okasuer was an old prototype brought back into service due to the G-Gunner and Core Gunner’s destruction. There’s a hint that another Dannar bot is being constructed also.) A possible cororllary is that it’s not a matter of Mira and Anna’s relative abilities — it’s just that Mira is a better fit with the graceful movements of the Neo-Okasuer and Anna’s fiery personality is better with the tempermental, powerful Go-Okasuer, about which Shizaru remarked: "She’s got a hell of a temper!"
So what other evidence do I have for the magic theory? In ep.1, the control room girls, Momochi and Konami, talk as Goh prepares to join the battle. Few of the staff are from "the old days" five years before, so they only know him as a pilot never trusted with anything more strenuous than traffic control. They’re stunned to see Goh break the limb off of a mimetic beast "with one move? What incredible power!" (In English, it’s rendered as "That was incredible!") Dr. Aoi thinks "the giant has awakened." Only a second later, Goh is hammered by an attack he didn’t see coming, and she thinks. "I guess the giant hasn’t awakened after all." But why was the limb-break so amazing? Either the robot is capable of exerting that much force, or it isn’t. If it is, the staff should know. There was nothing especially tricky about how he did it; Goh simply wrapped his arms around the beast’s limb and squeezed until it broke. And the girls are clearly being amazed at Goh, not the Go-Dannar.
Anna has a dream at the beginning of episode 15, in which Goh is very ineffective in battle without her. Fantasy wish-fulfillment or is her subconcious telling her the same thing that Kouji said, and that she needs to return to him if he’s to fight at full potential? Now this is suspicious, but hardly conclusive; Goh’s situation fits the meme of a combat-fatigued veteran, and indeed, Goh himself states he’s been "dead" since Mira died, and Anna brought him back to life. (Somehow, Anna only knows he’s been "dead" since the war, not that the reason was the death of his lover, Mira. This is evidently due to her mother keeping Anna’s existence a secret from everyone, so she wasn’t around the base.) But in every battle we see the pilots screaming as they attack, suffering when the robots are damaged, and their combat ability seems to be closely tied to how angry/determined they are. No one ever says it directly, but it shows in how they think and act. Some of these things can be excused as typical anime conventions. Everyone screams out the name of their attack, unless it’s just a generic combat move. Ho-hum.
Not so easy to dismiss: In Shizaru’s death battle, the monster she’s fighting unleashes an acid attack, eroding her armor. Shizaru screams in pain, and then we see her physically exerting herself to hold the beast’s arms apart and avoid being crushed. But she’s not really holding its arms, the Core Gunner is. So why is she straining so hard? The controls are basically just fancy joysticks. The only possible explanation is that pilots are psychically or magically linked to their robot. Damage to the robot harms (in some sense) the person, and extreme effort by the person translates into extreme effort by the robot. In fact, everyone in the control room is amazed at the level of performance she’s getting from the Core Gunner. Again, all this evidence is leaving aside the rather magical resurrection of Shizaru.
This may also explain another thing that I dismissed as a plot hole. It is obvious from the large support staff and constant maintenance/repairs to the bots, that it takes a great deal of support to keep a single Dannar going. Yet somehow Ken and Lou are running around engaging in combat with absolutely no support staff at all. In season one, Lou stole a few parts for Ken, but how are they keeping their bots running and recharging now? They appear to have no base, being shown camping in the open overnight. But if pilot psychic ability extends to damage mitigation (or even minor repair) of the bots, this hole is at least partially explained away. It’s worth noting that pilot determination seems to override the laws of physics sometimes, during the War of the Giants sequence opening ep.1, a controller looks at the Go-Dannar’s power levels and shouts "How is it even standing?!?"
As a momentary aside, no amount of psychic abilities on anyone’s part will fix the two biggest holes in the story told on this DVD. First, Hide (he-deh) is a cardboard cutout of a character, who existed for the purpose of appearing to tempt Anna into permanently leaving Goh, and to remind her that her lifelong dream was to pilot a robot, thus motivating her to return to base. And he sucked at the first; he just couldn’t be taken seriously. I mean, through three episodes that he appears in, he always looks like a kid they didn’t finish designing. His eyebrows are three straight lines over either of his eyes, which are themselves just black dots — he doesn’t even have pupils. Even the mysterious man with a moustache at least has pupils! Hide never seems credible, which makes Shinobu’s frantic attempt to break them up seem silly.
Second, the argument between Anna and Goh as they get back together (it’s another Anna-bails-him-out-of-trouble thing) has got to be the least convincing marital argument in history. They scream alternating grievances a each other. Some of them are amusingly petty, like Goh’s, "I hate that you save more money than I do!" and Anna’s "I hate that you never change your socks!" After a few moments of this they simultaneously yell at each other, "I know everything about you!" And that’s it. Argument done, lets combine robots and go kick mimetic beast ass! Sheesh.
The combination isn’t flawless because of problems controlling Go-Okaseur, but under the psychic interpretation several more things start making sense. For one thing, during every combine sequence, we briefly see the nude body of the pilot superimposed over that of the robot. This time, as the two approach each other and Anna struggles to control the Okaseur, we briefly see the two of them flying towards each other nude, something we don’t ordinarily see.
Another non-random sudden change of subject: The G-Gunner and Core Gunner were unique, because the G-Gunner was an outer combat shell piloted by Kouji. Shizaru’s Core Gunner rode inside it– as a seperate unit. Several of the other Dannar bots are normally merged in combat (such as Dragliner) but theirs is the only one in which the units remain discrete, and the pilots are not in the same compartment during merger. Why? Shizaru and Kouji are the odd couple of the pilots, for despite his being in love with her, she keeps herself apart (because she’s secretly in love with Goh. It’s something she only finds the strength to admit to herself after her death. ). In fact, the crew chief, Pops (well, he has a name but it doesn’t come to mind right now), responded to her quip about the Go-Okaseur’s temper by remarking, "That’s another thing the two of you have in common. You never merge." It wasn’t a typical comment for him, and she reacts as if stung. It’s obviously a reference to her personal life, but it was evident from an earlier scene that she’d come to terms with having waited too long for Goh. Nobody likes someone else commenting on their personal life, but the old Shizaru would have barely lifted an eybrow and glared coldly at him.
Suddenly, it starts making sense that the pilots are always paired in some way: siblings, married, lovers; and that they are always emotionaly connected to each other. It wasn’t just a cute way to put romantically involved (or hoping to be) people in the show. They have to be able to form a psychic bond with each other in order to merge the robots. And that is what we’re seeing when we see the nude shots of Goh and Anna; by this point she’s already mastered the Go-Okaseur, but they’ve got to link up before the robots can. That explains the chief’s remark and Shizaru’s reaction. It’s a double-edged swipe at both her personal and professional conduct; her piloting. He’s slamming her because the Core and G-Gunners had to be designed the way they were because of her. She’s the exception that proves the rule: because she was still hung up on Goh, she couldn’t link up with Kouji. And Pops knows her actions in pushing to test the Go-Okaseur early make no sense, because it’s designed to merge, but she won’t. (It’s worth noting that as he leaves, Kouji remarks that she’s the only one he trusts at his back. It may be that he means to become stronger psychically, which would make some sense.)
Now bear in mind that the show is alternately subtitled "The marriage of God and Soul," or sometimes "The Ultimate Marriage of Man, Woman, and Machine." I am beginning to suspect those are not just catchphrases. The robots are the Gods, the pilots are the Souls. In fact, when I saved an early version of this article to file, I noticed something I’d not paid attention to before: "GoDannar" God – Annar? I hit the Chinese Opressors Search Portal (aka Google), and looked for Dannar, the generic name for the robots. A lot of family histories for people named Dannar. But Annar hit the jackpot. Odin. "The God Annar." So, hidden in the show’s whiz-bang battles and fanservice is an underlying logic to how it all works, and maybe why only the robots could succeed vs. mimetic beasts where ordinary weapons systems cannot: it’s the psychic abilities of their pilots, not the hardware. In fact, Mira remarks in the previews (Japanse and English versions), “I have them back! My past! My powers!” I’m beginning to think that I may have been missing a lot of clues all along.
Other units could be built to do the same job, like tanks, but this runs into the limitations of the pilot’s mind. A tank-like robot could be designed with a psychic interface, but the pilot can’t imagine him/herself as such creature very easily. Thus the efficiency and advantage is lost. This means that Knight and Ellis are truly something special as they can easily do that with Dragliner despite it’s non-anthropomorphic design. In fact we see it do things no jet should be able to do, such as land and take off on bare dirt, or even a sandy beach, or get dunked in the ocean. Is it just random robot silliness? Then why does the chief remark in ep. 17 that forcing robot designs to conform to a human shape makes them weaker? That’s a major criticism by anti-fans of robot shows. It’s obvious that this design is the result of some sort of compromise, and the only possible source for such a compromise is the pilot.
An implication of that: while certain abilities might be generic, robot design is somewhat an extension of the personality of the pilot. Goh, the big guy, has a huge and powerful robot. Ditto for the Chinese guy. Kouji, the flashy sort of a fellow, has the StrongBuster, a huge gun nearly as big as the G-Gunner itself. Shizaru has a light and agile bot with a lot of hidden tricks up its sleeves (and bra), and later gets the SniperShot Cannon. Yet it’s not absolute; Max pilots and makes full use of the Core Gunner and the SniperShot, while at one point, Goh carries it on the Go-Dannar as an extra weapon, though he misses his one shot. In fact, it’s a bit uncanny how well the pilots seem to switch off between bots and yet have no problems operating them. But not all the abilities work like that. When Mira faints, Goh cannot fire the SoulCrusher attack at all. What, no override? But if it’s psychic-based. . . Anna tames the Go-Okaseur on the first trip out with no practice (she didn’t even know the robot existed until she got in it), and handles the weapons like a pro. Furthermore, she and Goh seem to invent a brand new attack out of the blue, executing it with perfect timing. It’s barely possible that Goh had been briefed on the design of the attack form and he instructed Anna on how to do it as they attacked, but then why don’t we see that being done, as in their first battle? On the other hand, if it’s an expression of their combined psychic powers and the robot’s abilities, it makes more sense.
Even after they get back together, Goh reverts to form and starts criticising Anna’s performance, giving her confidence problems. She still thinks she’s not as good as any of the other pilots. There’s some direct evidence yet that it’s affecting their combat ability, but I’m going to be interested to see if I’m right about what story this series is really telling. Of course it’s about Goh and Anna’s relationship, but it’s not just “will they stay and fight together?” It’s also “Can Goh grow up enough to stop being overprotective of his partner, thus allowing himself and Anna to realize their true potentials?”
Now all this is quite possibly crazy. I could be taking a few disjointed scenes and connecting random dots into a pattern only I can see.
I don’t think so; I went back and looked at the scenes in question, and it all fits. There’s two DVD’s to go, and I’m looking forward to seeing if it all hangs together. But one thing’s for damn sure. After getting obsessed and writing all this, I’m never going to roll my eyes when someone comes up with a long rationalization of oddities in a movie or anime again.
Ok, I’ll have pity. Here’s two pieces of cheesecake. Not safe for work, so no thumbnails!