Historically speaking, Votoms is one of the first serious military-action anime. Beyond that, it is not a show for viewers who don’t fancy realistic warfare and nihilistic or expandable characters. Although Tomino’s Gundam franchise bridged the mecha and space opera genres a few years prior to this show, Takahashi Ryosuke took all that to the next level with Votoms and the result was plain weird. It’s an excentric anime that on one hand becomes the most “real” among Real Robots (the mecha in it have a highly realistic way of moving and fighting) and on the other hand feels mechanical, cynical, dry, and with little reason for the average viewer to find the appeal in its militaristic and a nihilistic view on life.
One thing that needs to be made clear right from the start is that you are not going to watch Votoms for the mecha action. Although there is a lot of it, it’s not cool. The robots are just tanks with legs or an exo-skeleton, they have no appeal beyond that and they are never the main attraction. The soldier characters get more focus, since it’s about what they are going through in each mission. Basically the anime is a war drama about opportunistic mercenaries and mega-corporations after energy sources and political agendas. It is not some sci-fi power fantasy about robots firing lasers at each other. That can be a huge detriment to enjoyment since aesthetics aside, visually-wise the show looks very dated and it can be dull to look at even for those who are accustomed to old-school animation. The artwork if fine, but the animation is less than stellar, the soundtrack has no memorable tracks, and voice acting is as dry at the atmosphere the show goes for.
The story can also be a hard sell since it’s separated into mini arcs that don’t have continuity or even the same support cast. Each one is a mission that the protagonist takes part in and regardless of what he does in it, it will have no impact on the next. Props for being about a power struggle for natural resources, but if you see past the premise there is no overarching plot, not much of a world-building, or something to spice things up. The plot is 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 worth giving a damn about since he’s the one the viewer is following. He is also a great Rambo-like figure; the one from the first movie, not the dumb action hero of the sequels.
The last episodes become weird since they go for a religious transhumanism message that wasn’t presented in a way that makes much sense. What is this nonsense about god’s journey? Plus, treating the entire human kind as expandable units you are not supposed to care about is not helping the viewer to be invested in what is going on. You are supposed to be a distant and passive viewer of things that eventually are there just to make humanity look insignificant and because everything feels dull and cynical it will leave almost everyone indifferent. That is why this show is not for everyone despite standing out from most other anime.