Let’s start with the technicals. This movie series is animated by Production I.G. which does a great job in any sci-fi project it is given. It never produces wonders in terms of character appeal though; too crude and fake. They also made this in collaboration with Xebec, one of the most notorious studios that always fails to make something great. Not a smart move there fellas. It is directed by Habara Nobuyoshi (DNAngel, Fafhner in the Azure, Mahou Sensei Negima) and Amino Tetsurou (Macross 7, DT Eightron, Shiki). My Gods; these people are synonym to disaster! All these names together smell fail from miles…
The premise is about a war amongst nations for the control of natural resources. It is also about several personal dramas around pilots and aristocrats and their interaction during these times. In theory, this could have all made a great epic of strife, ambition and tragedy around the needs of a nation forcing it down the path of violence and destruction. In practice though it is hardly as interesting.
The most obvious reason is the action. For a show heavy on it, focuses too much on skirmishes and duels with simplistic field tactics that doesn’t make you feel you are watching a continent-wide war. What you see to the most part is big robots firing and punching at each other with invisible fragment bullets, while the gunshots are almost as if they use a silencer and the damage they inflict is a simple dent. Even hand-to-hand battles are simplistic to the point you don’t even feel you are watching mecha action but some b-grade armored dudes brawling. Heck, the mechas themselves are made of crystals and not metal and you feel they are big chunks of rock; in fact, they are also called golems that mostly act as armors. That doesn’t sound nor does it look interesting.
The whole thing looks like a dull Gundam rip-off, where the pilots keep monologing and explaining everything to the viewer instead of just making us understand it alone, and all that minus the great explosions and poser mechas. I must make it clear that I don’t like poser mechas any more than realistic ones, yet these Golems are none of the above. They are big chunks of rock dammit, neither realistic nor poser. People who loved the action in this clearly haven’t seen good action choreography or are very easy to please.
The only time the action becomes interesting is in the fourth and sixth movies, when the elites of the war are having showdowns. All of a sudden the top pilots can use weird superpowers and a bit more strategy which makes everything look better. The other four are generally boring action-wise and I’ll be damned if I ever understand why do they even need entire armies in this war when it’s just the usual elites doing all the work and deciding the outcome of the war. Couldn’t they just have a championship or something and spare the thousands of deaths and waste of resources?
So the action is mostly a miss and thus let’s see past that in case there is something good elsewhere. This is after all a war drama and a political intrigue too themed anime. It should be heavy on political maneuvers and deep character immersion if it wants to be good.
Let’s look at the politics first. Nation A invades nation B and must win before nation C decides to aid B against A. And that is all the politics you get in this show. In fact, nation C doesn’t even matter since everything was decided by the duels of a handful of pilots; so we might as well screw the tens of thousands of troops that were sent to die in this so-called war. Don’t go expecting any complicating mind games and unexpected plot twists because you won’t find any; the whole story is straightforward and simple enough even for elementary kids to follow. There are several scenes where generals and kings chat about their further moves and it is all dead time as all you hear them say is how cool their few elite pilots are and how they alone can win the war. In fact, I believe this was done deliberately so even kids would be able to go watch the movies, get amazed with the shallow action, and then go buy the toys.
Ok, so the story is for kids and should not fit in such a scenario. Let’s proceed to the drama part; maybe that will be good… Nope; it is again weak. One guy is worried about becoming a heartless killer, another girl gets captured and has duty clashing with morality and… um, that’s all of it actually. What, you expected more? Sure, there are about two dozen different characters in this anime that affect the plot in some way, yet besides the generic shonen lead blondie, all the rest have a very weak presence in the story. You don’t feel like you should care. Hell, you don’t even know them. Hell, you hardly even understand the drama the lead character feels. They all talk and they act and nothing seems important to remember because they are all typical shonen archetypes that solve their differences with good old fashion SMACK THEM DOWN that magically makes all the rest feel unimportant. And since the action is boring to the most part not even that seems to work in its favor. I hardly understand their motives, like why the blonde queen is sleeping with the big busted loli who tried to kill her, or why is there a woman that looks like a kid, or why did the megane dude surrendered and allowed to be killed in battle when he owned everyone during the fights. And who the heck is the opposing elite general? I don’t know anything about him other than he is an ass with good fighting skills. What is going on here and why should I care? This is all paper thin. Do you believe that 6 movies worth of duration were unable to make you care about at least ONE character? People who like the characters probably have no idea of what character development or personality immersion even mean.
Let’s now look at the production values which are indeed far better than your average anime. But movie material??? I wouldn’t go so far to say they are amazing; 5 Centimeters per Second looks damn better even if it’s far older and shows only a normal city about normal people. The mechas move rather crude and fight simplistically, while half the backgrounds are barren wastelands with rocks. There isn’t much variety in locations or uniforms either. The BGM is also nothing awesome for me; I hardly even remember the tunes. The only thing I clearly remember is that blond queen who gets naked every 15 minutes, just so the viewer can stay awake through the uneventful scenes. So ok, they are good, not amazing.
Let’s sum it up. I watched a simplistic war, concerning a blondy dude with the potential to be a top killer in battle (queue for generic inner dark side superpower) and a blond chick having a problem staying dressed. Oh sure, the story is not about becoming the best ninja in the world and the interactions amongst nations are a bit more complicating than just storming in and hoping you belong to the side with the protagonist. So what? Did that excuse all the duration of this series so far? Or maybe I should feel some sort of sympathy for the king and that little bird that got saved some years ago. Wow, how exciting… not.
There is very little to see or expect in this series and frankly I don’t understand what was all the talking about the amazing story and the wonderful animation. An average Gundam series has ten times more exiting action, an average shonen series has far more interesting characters, and the story can be described in three lines of text. The character interaction is very basic and thus impossible to care which in effects throws in the bin the whole setting. It might as well be the same old five teenagers piloting a transforming robot and fighting some generic evil army of monsters or something. It would sure feel more interesting than having a neglected setting of multiple nations at war and of supposed political games that even my 10 year old nephew can understand.
What, just because it lacks loli tsunderes ala Legend of the Legendary Heroes (lol what a lame name) it automatically is awesome? Comparing this to Legend of the Galactic Heroes (wow what an awesome name) or The Twelve Kingdoms, you feel you are watching a wasteland (and I don’t mean the battle field). Area 88 for example is a hundred times more exciting war drama and has far more poser battles despite being made in 1985. This entire movie series is plain boring!
I don’t recommend it to those who want quality war drama or mecha action. Heck, I am not even sure if an average viewer would even manage to stay awake through the dull plot. Very bad overall for a premise that could easily be far more than a boring Gundam wannabe. And don’t listen to all the silly fanboys who claim this is some sort of masterpiece. They have no idea what they are talking about.