Monday, 17 September 2012

Anime REVIEW #58: Martian Successor Nadesico

Martian Success Nadeisco

'Classic' is a word that can have various meanings. Sometimes it can refer to something old, while others it refers to a film/television series/whatever that is perfectly crafted no matter what its age may be. But less often does it mean both things. Xebec's (Dai Guard, Love Hina) Martian Successor Nadesico is a 1996 anime series considered by some to be among classics. The series ran for 26 episodes, with a sequel film "The Prince of Darkness" released in 1998.

In the year 2196, Earth is at war with an alien race known as the "Jovian Lizards". A privately owned company named Nergal build their own space battleship, the ND-001 Nadesico, the aid in the struggle. The crew is made up of top civilian experts in their fields, most of them not quite what you would expect from a crew manning the most powerful battleship on Earth.

The ND-001 Nadesico

The primary protagonist is Akito Tenkawa, a resident of Mars' former Utopia colony (which was destroyed in an attack) who has no memory of how he escaped its destruction. An avid fan of the super robot anime Gekiganger III, on board the Nadesico he just wants to be a cook but is constantly called into action as a pilot of the ship's robot fighting force - the Aestivalis. Not only that, but he has to also fend of the advances of several female members of the crew, including his childhood friend and ditzy captain Yurika Misumaru.

Martian Successor Nadesico Akito Tenkawa
Poor Akito just wants to be a cook

Martian Successor Nadesico is a series which has two very distinct sides - one serious and one comedic. The tone shifts between the two in the course of one episode, but rarely do the two actually meld together at once. The serious side of Nadesico is filled with all the things you'd expect from a space drama, from the horrors of war (which are accentuated by a surprise twist mid-series) and complicated scientific terms like "boson jumping". As the series progresses the overall plot becomes more dependant on these themes, throwing issues like time travelling and various degrees of double-crossing into the mix. As a result it becomes more and more difficult to follow toward the end (especially when its still playing off against the comedy side), finishing on a pretty unsatisfying and inconclusive note.

Martian Successor Nadesico Yurika & Crew
Captain Yurika among the crew of the Nadesico

The comedy element is varied, but crutches heavily on the relationship drama between Akito and Yurika. Or Akito and various other members of the crew. The love-triangle aspect of the show plays an important part in adding more depth to the characters involved, but is often unnecessary and comes at the expense of less screen time for other crew members who perhaps could have done with more. There's also an element of parody to other space-faring series such as Yamato and Macross, the most obvious moment being an episode where the female members of the crew participate in an all-singing, all-dancing idol competition to become the new captain of the Nadesico.

However Nadesico shines in the range of characters it has on show, even if many of them don't get a chance to develop out of their initial roles. The crew is essentially made up of otakus and misfits - including a ditzy captain, a perveted model-making mechanic, a doujinshi-drawing robot pilot and a hulking businessman. Early episodes are brought to life by Jiro Yamada (soul name: Gai Daigoji), a Gekiganger III fanboy who took the job as a pilot because he would out he would be commanding robots similar to the ones in his beloved anime. A scarily accurate depiction of what many of us would probably be like in control of a giant robot and an extremely fun character to boot, Gai is one of the main driving forces behind the progression of the Nadesico crew, particularly Akito. The rest of the show is arguably Ruri Hoshino's - a child genius girl in control of the ship's main computer. Injecting smart-mouthed comments about the adult situations happening around her rather that involving herself in them, Ruri is not only the sanest character in Nadesico but acts as the perfect bridge between the cast and the audience.

Martian Successor Nadeisco Gai Daigoji
Gai Daigoji - a hero for otaku everywhere

But perhaps what's most memorable about Nadesico is the way that it uses show-within-a-show Gekiganger III. This over the top parody of super robot shows such as Mazinger Z and Getter Robo is quite literally the bible to some of the characters in the show, and affects the way almost everyone thinks and fights. Akito tries to fight by the show's teachings of bravery, honour and justice but slowly comes to realise that its near impossible to live by such black and white ideals in the real world. Clips of Gekiganger mirror the events occurring in Nadesico, and the lengths the show's creators take the level of meta commentary is something arguably unique to the series.

Martian Successor Nadesico Gekiganger
The rather familiar looking Gekiganger III

While the series may have left things incredibly open-ended, this is nothing compared to the following movie. Rather that provide an adequate explanation for what happened after the 26th episode, the action moves several years forward with very little explanation for what happens in between. Most of the characters have resumed normal life, while other key ones are missing/presumed dead. Ruri becomes the star of the show, with the rest of the cast serving little more than a background role. Many of them, Akito in particular, seem to have taken a massive U-turn in personality, and the story itself is essentially 70 minutes of build up for a 10 minute resolution (which is just as open ended). The animation may benefit from a movie budget, but even those that loved the series will be left in the cold by this unfitting sequel.

Martian Succesor Nadesico Ruri
Ruri (centre) is a star of the series, and the main focus of the movie

Martian Successor Nadesico may be fondly remembered by some, but a classic it is not. It manages to (for the most part) tell a semi-serious story alongside otaku-centric comedy, but it never really excels at either and in the end the story just becomes more and more convoluted. A series full of great ideas and a level of meta you probably won't find in many other anime, but one that falls short of success due too shorter running time to prevent it being crushed under the weight of its own ideas.

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