Prologue to tomororow’s post. Think of it as the 800 word short program to tomorrow’s 2,000 word long program.
So I was on a long, uncomfortable flight over the holiday (Frontier Airlines makes Sailor Moon Crystal and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches seem like big budget productions) where I got to binge read some Batman and play some Hungry Cats Picross.
I was thinking of the appeal of Batman. For me, he is a human– granted someone of above average resources, durability, intelligence, deduction, and physique, but still human. Yet, despite being an above average (maybe even three sigma) guy, he hangs around Gods. He pals around with Superman, an indestructible lady with an invisible jet, a bunch of dudes with secret decoder rings, a token black guy, and a guy who can talk with dolphins. Batman fights supervillains with superpowers (with Joker being retconned into some immortal being during Scott Snyder’s run).
So fast forward a few days, and I am marathoning Iron-Blooded Orphans. I’m watching the episode where Vidar is slaughtering some blue light special mobile suits to build him up as a threat to Mikazuki and his Barbatos. Superhuman piloting Godlike mecha fighting another superhuman (totally not a certain character “killed” in season one) piloting another Godlike mecha. I thought about Gundam 00 where Graham Acre, who is a normal human with an awful name, fought almost equally to Setsuna F Seiei, who is not a normal human with a cool name. But he tried to out-pilot Setsuna and relied on his Overflag designs to shorten the technology gap between a non-Gundam frame and a Gundam frame.
Then I had a thought, “What about a giant mecha anime that has Batman fighting Godlike mecha?” Instead of trying to out-pilot a superiorly-equipped rival, the protagonist uses deduction, insight, and elbow grease to win.
But then I got sad. Really sad. We had this show. The first few episodes of Aldnoah.Zero were fantastic and refreshing because it was Batman vs. Godlike mecha. Inaho and his intuition and deduction were taking down Godlike mecha much like Batman against his superpowered rogue’s gallery. Each battle lasted multiple episodes and had palatable tension and suspense. You kind of knew Inaho would win, but how? At what cost? When Inaho eventually prevailed, it felt like a hard earned victory with a satisfying conclusion. Maybe he lost some friends. Maybe he took some big hits. The battles and resolution to them had weight and were immensely satisfying to witness.
Then Gen Urobuchi got booted off of the show, and it turned into Code Geass because Code Geass sells since the audience understands OH GEASS NO. Fights were trivialized into fifteen minute (or shorter) affairs with Inaho’s Godlike eye winning the fights. I wonder if it is because A-1 got terrified of doing something different. If for your whole life, you read Superman, Justice League, and Wonder Woman, and I just came buy and made you read Nana, wouldn’t it be jarring? Wouldn’t it be scary? I wonder if A-1 chickened out of Urobuchi’s original vision because it wasn’t an expected anime norm. A-1 wanted Gundam with Slaine and Inaho saying each other’s names much like how Kira and Shinn would do. They wanted nonsensical battles with flashy missile trails and purple explosion clouds. They didn’t want a boy Batman taking down Godlike mecha with a squirt gun, a fire hydrant, and some pocket change. How do you sell toys of the villainous mecha if that mecha can be beaten by a mere mortal? How do you sell toys of the protagonist mecha is the protagonist doesn’t really need a mecha? That’s the thing though: they had a chance to move the giant mecha genre forward, got scared, and went two steps back. It makes Aldnoah.Zero even more disappointing because we got a glimpse of something better.
(Heavy Object is a similar concept for an everyman taking down superior foes. I just can’t take the Objects seriously. They look like some sort of bad drawing of a battle egg a kindergartner kid might come up with.)
Unfortunately for A-1, they didn’t realize a bad anime with “marketable” toys makes no money. We aren’t exactly inundated with Aldnoah.Zero plastic figures. If A-1 had stuck with the original vision, who knows? Maybe Aldnoah.Zero would still be discussed today as revolutionist the giant mecha genre much like how Madoka introduced darkness to a genre that was pretty much all sunshine.
Aldnoah.Zero experimented with something new and different and exciting and got cold feet. It is a shame. Anime is generally bad at breaking through its stereotypes, and, when it tries to, it has to be some sort of comedy or parody or wink nod towards the original stereotype (like Girlish Number). But once in a while, anime does produce something that not only destroys the stereotypes that constrain anime, but it makes it look as effortless as a triple axel into a triple toe loop.