Category Archives: Bubblegum Crisis

SaiMecha Nonsense, Remembering Mechanical Designs

This is a neat idea, but I don’t have time for yet another one of these. It does presents the opportunity to make me feel slightly excited yet largely apathetic, a “what do I feel in your shoes” moment for my mecha otaku counterparts, coming from someone who can be moe-obsessed at times. Given that I just don’t have time for this stuff, I won’t be emailing in a nomination or anything.

That said, mecha is still the root of my anime fandom, so it’s a good time to do a short list. The very first anime that I was a fan of was no other than Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, and there’s some pretty glorious stuff from that show. In fact from a design perspective the various iteration of the Z has stood pretty well against the test of time. Or maybe because they keep on releasing slightly redesigned versions of it.

I think the fact that Mazinger threw a rocket punch or did super kicks and shot beams out of its chest was all pretty cool to a 6yo, but at the time I was more infatuated with its wings and Aphrodite A’s famous boobie missiles. (I guess I was a moe fag from a young age?) More relatistically, the wing attachment was simply the coolest thing ever (at 6yo), and missiles are obviously weapons of the future. I mean look at how old Mazinger Z is, and we are barely getting started on actual laser weapons in field testing, with some prototype cannons fired from naval vessels. I suppose this is just to say way back then, I was more a wargame/military weapons boy than a pure fantasy person.

Coincidentally I hated how swords are used in giant robot shows. I mean, dude, these are super cool weapons of destruction from the future! Why are they using stuff we stopped using, like, 100 years ago?

Strangely enough, that impulse or leaning doesn’t push me towards “real robot” over “super robot” when the divide was made clear 10+ years later. If anything, how “unrealistic” real robots were became a major turn-off. (The Aestavalis system’s focus over logistics was the only one that pulled it off in my eyes in a convincing manner.) When it comes to anime and mecha, I was mostly a student of design and of setting elements. And when it comes to sexy mecha designs, there were very few that can rival Shoji Kawamori’s work in anime. Macross-style folding for FTL travel? Yea I can get behind that. Variable fighters? Sexy.

The first Macross mecha/spacecraft that I took to was probably Focker’s VF-1. I mean, it’s basically the F-14 in an alternative future. Nevermind that the F-14 is this aging aircraft that should have been retired from the US Navy 10 years before it actually did, it was pure, jet-engine-grade fantasy fuel. I didn’t think much of the Guardian form–I think at first I didn’t quite get the point of it–I mean, it’s a jet with legs? Things like vectored thrust were not entirely clear to me, in the early 90s. Or for that matter, how the basics of flights like how attack and lift worked with each other. Nonetheless, the swept wings, the transformation from plane to robot, the toys that did the same, the “calves” of the ship that was part of a vector thrust thing, the lines and curves, oh my.

I suppose it is a blessing in disguise that I was not well-informed, so something like Macross’s complexity is enough to pull the wool over my childish eyes. At least I was able to ignore the fact that it had arms, as it was at least justifiable in terms of having hard mount points that were on a robotic arm given the range of motion a Valk had.

Speaking of arms and curves and Macross, I was a big fan of those VR-052Fs in Mospeada too, although I was more taken with the way how action scenes and battles were depicted, combining the fact that it is a motorvehicle and a robot. In fact I didn’t get the same kind of feeling until way later that I finally got to see Priss & the Hardsuit girls. Shinji Aramaki hit a good spot. It was not the first “moe moe” fusion, as it was later coined, but if sexy models and car ads were like bread and butter, Aramaki’s motorcycle-inspired designs were the equivalent of buttered croissants. It is about mastering streamlined curves, and express loudly through design the function of things it may do.

I think as I got older, my fervor for mecha slowly dropped over time. I think part of the reason was simply because there weren’t a lot of variety. I could never really get into gunpla largely because they mostly looked alike, and between the variants of the same models and how the same model would get different releases based on grades it just kind of turned me off. Other franchises didn’t help much; I’ve definitely watched a lot more anime since then but fewer mecha were as awesome as how child perceived coolness for the very first time.

That said, there were plenty of interesting stuff, ranging from Escaflowne’s pulley-driven artifacts, CLAMP’s crystalline beasts, and even occasionally invoking from the best, such as the first scenes of Gundam 00. Maybe I just got too old for Gundam Wing and just right for Syd Mead: Turn-A featured innovative designs, just none very awesome . Maybe I was too young to hold the classic GM or the Guntank dearly in my heart (although the GM did age gracefully, perhaps much more so than anything else in UC): I appreciate the variety, even if to me it is not diverse enough. It’s good, but not moe, you know?

I do like a strong sense of industrial design; but unlike many others like myself I am not overly taken with things like, say, the glorified forklift from Alien 2. Still, I was in utter delight when Railgun featured one of the best take on the forklift weapon with those sexy grapple rocket punches (did it ever get a name? I guess). Tethered! I wish I can take the GAMA home. The MAR hardsuits were already pretty neat (but they were more like the tepid oasis lost in a sea of sand–yes, I am a hardsuit fan, no there are not enough hardsuits anywhere) but that final boss thing takes the cake. Sure beats a weird alien fetus anyways.

Speaking of Railgun, it was probably the last time I felt that dissonance when everybody else watching the show were busy oogling at middle schoolers, and other than Mii I could care less what they were really doing. It’s a solid show that somehow featured something everyone can appreciate (a cool final boss) but that was not what people were looking for.

I’m just limiting myself to humanoid stuff. I have no idea if it counts, but many of the Guild ship designs from Last Exile were superb. Ao no Rokugo’s submarine is something I want one for myself as well. I will probably never be able to afford a replica of ND-001 or any of her sister ships. The Kildren fighters in The Sky Crawlers were one of a kind. Macross Frontier reinvented the mothership/carrier concept with Macross Quarters, and it now is one of my favorite spacecrafts in general. Well, that is technically a humanoid mecha too, although I don’t think of it that way per se.

Let’s just stop here. Because I can go on…and on and on. I don’t really keep up with the newest development in the anime mecha world, nor do I want to. All my database-animal receptors for mecha are present and working, and that’s the thing that truly matters.

Pimping for Haikasoru, Talking about Butt-Kicking Girls, Talking Trash on Moe

Japan loves their badass chicks. Kuudere or tsundere or just a pretty face with a good head on her shoulders, there are all types and it comes in all forms and shapes and sizes. Even if they tend to be small and yet larger than life.

So I decide to spin this essay topic out in to a blog post, partly because I don’t feel ethically 100% about applying for a freebie (dudes Viz send Jtor some review copies?), but also because I am going over 200 words. (Plus I am going to buy a copy of Mardock Scramble anyways.)

The immediate thought that came to mind is how these girl protagonists run the gamut from cardboard pinup to full-blown mind-virus that consumes the audience. It’s like Satoshi Kon’s Chiyoko, the Millennium actress herself. It’s that feeling of wonder and adoration and moe a person has with his or her idol. She is gender unspecific in a way that she both is adored but she is also a force of nature, a perfected understanding of womanhood, the ideal that is somehow also mono no aware. You can empathize with her, and you admire her because she is your better and she makes you aspire. These things are universal, not limited to a heterosexual orientation.

Chiyoko is probably simply a polished version of another SF heroine, a personal favorite: Priss literally fights with tooth and nail against the things holding her back. But more like a punk rocker than someone driven by universal love, her rebellion is one that highlights human hypocrisy and failing rather than to extol some virtue universal. To me she’s timeless, having survived the 80s, 90s and the 00s. She puts on an act, as in her music gig, but it’s just an extension of her persona.

Which is to say that is yet entirely different than, say, Harmony’s instigators, who are more victims and pawns than human beings capable of their own wills, or are they even such things to begin with? Like puppets in a puppet show, I think that is quite all right. The storyteller has a story to tell, and I paid the admission fee expecting that.

Yet different still is Ibis, who is more robot than a girl, and I mean it in gender terms. The funny thing here is exactly how Ibis (and more pertinently, Ibis’ AI friends) are of originally fancies of otaku. It is through their masters’ drive to fulfilling their wishes that they were born. (As to what I mean by this you can load up a video of Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball for an example.) They bear the shapes of the fancies and fantasies of their masters, even to their personality and desire for non-conflict (although at that point we’re talking about something more Asimov-ish, rather than late night anime or galge). Somewhere between the space, lack of a better term, from the words and ink on a page to the abstraction in the mind of the reader, we’ve inflated these simple ideas like balloons, and injected feelings as if we perceive these characters as some kind of, well, girl, or whatever. Helium or Xenon or what have you, whatever floats your pickles.

Which is still to say that there are a group of people out there, you know, that seek this feminine protagonist, that these protagonists may kick butt in more ways than one, and that is that. And that is the moe problem in a nutshell. It isn’t that these cardboard-cutout characters are deep, insightful, and reflective of the human condition, but their collective existence upon the mind of the otaku social consciousness is notable and profound. They are art imitating life imitating art, except there is no master storyteller here; there are just tens of thousands of storytellers, each seeing the scene with his or her own eyes, each telling his or her own story. It’s a metaversial harem.

Thankfully when we have few substitute for words when it comes to written prose, rather than a flash of a pair of panties or a longing look back with her long blond mane flowing in the wind, pondering about that Distant Avalon that never comes, but kinda should have already given how much money they’ve made on PVC alone. Such simple but indestructible barrier to human communication safeguards, to some extent, the ever-cheapening nature of the database animal. In as much as you can write a book about these 2D cardboard cutouts, it still stands with more dignity than an anime of the same put together. After all, a picture of a butt-kicking girl is not the same as the words “butt-kicking girl.”

[As an aside, I more or less kept my resolution in 2010 about talking about moe. I ought to continue, but it feels right to use the term here. You will have to forgive me.]