Although Tomino’s Gundam franchise bridged the difference between the mecha and space opera genres a few years before this show, Takahashi Ryosuke took all that to the next level with his work. And the result was plain weird; Votoms is a very hard anime to criticize. On one hand it is the most “real” amongst all Real Robots anime, as the mecha in it have a highly realistic way of moving and fighting. On the other hand the entire show feels mechanical, to the point the emotions it inflicts to its viewers are of military nature only: Cold facts, raw anger and a nihilistic approach to life in general.
Seeing it from afar, the Votoms setting is one of a kind because of this combination. Practically all mecha are more about fancy entertainment, full of improbable super attacks and highly emotional unstable pilots. Votoms is to the most part far more down to earth, where the characters are opportunists and warfare is nothing but control of energy sources and political agendas. In a way this makes it a far more mature work. It also makes it a heartless one, hard to be liked by the majority of anime fans.
The animation and artwork are overall realistic and follow physics to a great extent. All deviation is mostly because of animation limitations of the era and lack of funds. Seeing past that you get a setting that in theory looks and works as plausible for most of the time. The characters look and act quite realistic, especially from a military point of view. The soundtrack on the other hand is completely mediocre and forgettable, while voice acting is so serious and militaristically realistic that to the most part feels dry and hard to like.
SCRIPT & CAST
The setting looks and works in a rather realistic manner where everything is about a power struggle for natural resources. It is not particularly detailed and basically all the arcs have close to no relation to one another. So don’t expect much of a world-building or any sort of variety.
The plot is rather straightforward and usually comes down to the protagonist doing some really improbable comebacks during the battles. He gets an epiphany to things he previously had no clue about, or just looks plain badass. He is also the only one who ends up being the only interesting and memorable. Chirico Cuvie is one mean GAR macho soldier, a pure man of the 80’s before gay became a trend in modern anime. He is great to look at his cocky attitude and constant comebacks, no matter the dangers he faces. He is an anti-hero, a cold mercenary, an opportunist who first kicks ass and then takes names. He is a great one and unfortunately the only one; all the rest are either ephemeral in the anime or hardly as bold in personality.
Plus, the show treats the entire human kind as expandable units and you are hardly made to care if they all suddenly die (sometimes they actually do in a few missions). This becomes even weirder in the last part of the series where everything becomes metaphysical and the whole thing jumps to weird religious and existansialistic topics. Now all of a sudden the GAR protagonist is some sort of uber deity and humanity are nothing but foolish dust drifting in the wind of selfishness. Yeah, it sort of makes it cool but it is also the thing which makes the whole thing so impersonal. Down to it you are supposed to be a distant and passive viewer of things that eventually are there just to make humanity look insignificant. It is very hit or miss and comes forward very late in the series.
Historically speaking, Votoms is one of the best military action anime with real robots and highly unique in its structure and atmosphere. Other than that, it is not a show for viewers who don’t fancy “too” realistic warfare and nihilistic expandable characters. For the average mainstream anime fan, this will feel dull and distant. I sure didn’t like it much despite being aware of its uniqueness. I still recommend it as something special but not entertaining.