2021 EOY Anime

2021 Gundam: Newtypes Across Fan Favorites & Underappreciated Gems

The Great Gundam Project (GGP) became my favorite podcast last year for their insightful criticism and leftist readings of the popular anime series. I had only begun my journey through Gundam last year, simultaneously keeping up with the current podcast and watching the original series. I continued that trajectory even though the big series that they covered were referential to shows I hadn’t watched yet. My watch order ended up being After War Gundam X > Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz > Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam > Turn A Gundam > Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (currently watching). For the spoiler adverse I would 100% not recommend this. Gundam X and Turn A Gundam are both in communication with past Gundam series which made watching them GGP more enriching. It also meant that I was spoiled on a number of occasions and for series I hadn’t even got to yet. Some spoilers came from the shows but were relatively minor, like Mobile Suits I hadn’t seen showing up in Turn A Gundam (the Kapol hadn’t yet appeared in ZZ for me). Others were integral in discussions of the shows on the podcast like Em, Jackson, and Austin discussed depictions of Newtypes across various series. This didn’t hurt my personal enjoyment of the individual series and watching alongside enhanced my reading of them. For now my watch order will continue to be a bit odd at least until I get caught up through all the ones leading up to G Gundam (watched it as a kid, not especially enticed to rewatch). All of these series are bangers too. I’m kind of shocked how good of a time I had watching different variations of similar ideas play out. The list of shows are all fairly distinct from one another even as they recycle and mine new parts out of core Gundam ideas (Endless Waltz being an exception here). I think I’m probably in the honeymoon period of the Gundam series if duds like Wing and 08th MS Team from last year prove anything. I’m only just starting Mobile Suit Gundam Seed but I’m seeing a lot of potential red flags pop up around some of its ideas like “Naturals” and “Coordinators” (the OP and ED songs rip though).

The ideas that really carry over across these series seem to stem back from Gundam inflection point Zeta Gundam. Zeta was the first big Gundam tv series as the original Mobile Suit Gundam (0079) was canceled and didn’t gain popularity until the compilation movies released a few years later. 0079 introduces an important Gundam idea relatively late into the series; the existence of Newtypes, people with extrasensory abilities that come from being “free of Earth’s gravity.” Depending on the series you’re watching, Newtypes are seen as the next step of human evolution. Newtypes are relatively rare and are often seen in Gundam among Mobile Suit pilots and especially protagonists. The relative importance of Newtypes changes from show to show and sometimes they’re never even mentioned. What does occur regardless of if Newtypes are mentioned by name is the same sort of psychedelia; even without Newtypes most Gundam shows will still incorporate a way to illustrate the invisible connections between people and the universe around them.

Zeta Gundam Recoa Kamille

A big differentiator between Zeta and 0079, aside from the tone shift, is the knowledge and treatment of Newtypes. 0079 ends on a relatively positive note. The White Base seemingly all awaken their Newtype abilities as they hear Amuro’s voice from across time and space. The entire bridge crew is able to tap into the psychic communication that Amuro had been experiencing and there’s a sense of unity in the show’s closing moments. Zeta Gundam knows the audience has an understanding of Newtypes and immediately starts playing with that through the new chosen boy Kamille as he experiences Newtype flashes in the midst of his no good, very bad day. Zeta is interested in exploring the arms race for Newtypes, both in the AEUG’s utilization of Kamille and the Titans experiments with the new “Cyber Newtypes.” Newtypes are weapons and the other aspects of this transformation, the unlimited possibilities of an evolution in humanity, is ignored. Kamille and Four, the main Cyber Newtype of the show, make for a convincing pair of star crossed lovers. Their instant chemistry at New Hong Kong offers a glimpse at what civilian life could be for the two of them. They’re both isolated among their respective groups even if Kamille is offered the illusion of freedom. Zeta is a dark show though and there is nothing more doomed in the series than a woman. Four’s tragic death at the hands of Kamille signals the tragic fates that await the rest of the female cast. Zeta often earns its darker tone but the motivations of the women go completely haywire in the final stretch. I wrote a bit about that in August and the endings really soured me on Zeta. I still have a lot of fondness for Zeta but it’s the one I’d have the most reservations about recommending.

ZZ Gundam Crew

That statement could completely change by the time I finish Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ as I am about 10 episodes away from the finish. The maligned sequel to Zeta has much stronger character work following the remnants of a diminished AEUG as they find themselves working with a crew of kids from the forgotten colony of Shangri-La. The lack of traditional officers and adults working aboard the Argama means that the “Gundam Team,” led by Newtype Judau Ashta, have more agency over their actions. Judau is the polar opposite of Amuro and Kamille. He has a better understanding of a life outside of the war and even has motivations that are separate from being the best pilot (or being forced to be that). Judau also has the agency to express compassion for others and the Gundam Teams’ solo missions are usually motivated by helping people (this doesn’t always go as planned). Judau is able to do this because he’s not indoctrinated in the same way as Amuro and Kamille. The “get in the robot” pressure doesn’t come from military leaders or Quattro but instead his peers. That means he never has to develop a personal involvement with the military and gets great moments fighting against orders throughout the series. 

Gundam ZZ Judau Punching Mr Wong
Authority? Judau’s never heard of it

Judau also literally contrasts Kamille in their episodes together, a kind of worst case scenario for Judau if he ever loses his agency. Kamille is a shell of the person he once was, his Newtype abilities turning against him after experiencing so much loss. Judau’s abilities seem to only awaken when he’s protecting someone, like when he faces Haman Karn to Dhakar. Judau’s intense pressure only exerts itself when he needs it most. His new humanity shows in his compassion and his caretaking of Ple, the young Cyber Newtype. I’m hesitant to dig too much into it as I know there’s future things about Ple that I haven’t seen yet. In the earlier episodes though, Judau’s effortless support of Ple allows her to move beyond the trappings of being a “weapon.” Judau’s humanity helps Ple find hers. I also want to call attention to how refreshing the tone of ZZ is. There’s understandable whiplash at the start as it goes from the dark ending of Zeta into slapstick comedy right from the jump. This eventually settles out into a more balanced tone of light and dark elements, something more similar to 0079’s. There’s a ton of great material showing just how rotten the Earth Federation is and the evilness that comes from people with power and authority. The colony drop on Dublin is a great example, showing the lengths Neo Zeon will go to assert dominance and the Earth Federation’s inaction letting the city be destroyed. Don’t believe the negative press; if you can get past the initial hump there’s a really fantastic show waiting for you.

Gundam X Garrod and Tiffa

Speaking of refreshing, I found another ignored series After War Gundam X to be an absolute hidden gem. The canceled series is overlooked in the wider Gundam canon; I don’t even think it rises to the level of hate that other shows get just a more passable “eh.” I was surprised by how much I liked it and how much I still think about it. Gundam X plays with a lot of Gundam tradition in a new setting; a post apocalypse Earth that was ruined from Colony drops from the previous war. Surprisingly our protagonist is not the main Newtype of the show as Garrod Ran is just a normal boy who stumbles into piloting the Gundam. He becomes immediately smitten with Tiffa Adill, a young Newtype with powerful clairvoyance and psychic abilities. Together they join the Freeden and the captain Jamille Neate’s mission of finding and rescuing the world’s Newtypes. Jamille is also a Newtype, one who was part of the Earth military. His mission is one of reconciliation and his character is like if Amuro actually took stock and grew from his actions. The presence of Newtype-ness is strong in Gundam X dissecting how Newtype’s were treated and what it actually means to be one.

Gundam X Frost Brothers
Dastardly doesn’t even begin to describe these two

In fact Tiffa never thinks of herself as Newtype, just someone who was born with extra senses. She’s also different from the typical depiction of a Newtype as their abilities are usually awakened free in space. There’s a hardline distinction between people with psychic abilities and Newtypes that comes directly from the opposing sides of Earth and Space. The Earth military is up to their usual business of trying to create Newtypes and characters like the Frost Brothers are seen as failures (literally called “Category F”). They both only have telepathy between each other but are incompatible with the “Flash System,” Newtype military tech, of the Earth. The Space Revolutionary Army, the space government, on the other hand believes that they are a civilization of Newtypes and all people born in space are one. Their ideal is reminiscent of Eugenics, believing themselves to be a new and superior race. The climactic confrontation with D.O.M.E. stresses the show’s message; to dispel the idea of Newtype and end the conflicts over them. Newtype is a label, a word used to dehumanize individuals and turn them into tools. It’s used for ideological and military purposes and in fact is just an illusion. It’s a poignant message on a wider Gundam motif, offering a final message on the recurrent state of the Gundam series. Gundam X says to cast off your old preconceptions for how these series should go and open yourself up to new possibilities. Too bad nobody watched it. Also this show has incredible mech designs including my personal favorite the Juracg Cold Climate Type (snowboarding suit!). The character work here is great as well and I loved the entire wider cast (also pro the Enil and Tonya ship).

Turn A Gundam Loran and Queen Diana

It’s also just as interesting when a series excludes using the term “Newtype” like in the best Gundam show Turn A Gundam. It doesn’t mean that psychic connection is gone from the series but rather it’s not a focal point. Turn A shifts the setting to a post-post apocalypse Earth where humans have rebuilt society with limited technology. It looks similar to our understanding of turn of the century life, taking place in on the continent of “Ameria” and that has yet to develop industry. There are early cars, propeller planes and some electricity but the majority of work is still physical labor. Instead of people being on colonies, our Spacenoids come from the Moon. Our protagonist Loran is sent down to monitor the Earth and see if it is compatible for the Moon Race to return. There’s a heavy emphasis on connection with nature and Loran is immediately awestruck with the abundance of Earth. There’s a great moment where he exclaims to the Moon how beautiful the Earth is. His ideal life ends when the Moon Race enact their return plan and a conflict breaks out between them and the Earthers their transplanting. Turn A deals a lot with Settler Colonialism, two sides fighting over land and community distribution. It’s really distinct from other Gundam conflicts as the two sides are less coordinated and organized. Ameria isn’t a connected Nation and the Moon Race are led by a kind Monarch. It’s less about warring factions trying to subjugate the other and more about differing ideas on how to coexist or expelling the other people entirely. 

Turn A Gundam Loran and Sochie

Loran is different from the other Gundam boys, having dark skin and no overt psychic abilities. He has a compassionate nature though and that often leads others to use him for nefarious ends. That trait though is his greatest asset. Loran is able to show the cooperative nature of humanity like using the Gundam as a tool for assistance (a bridge for cars to drive over, creating a laundry machine in a river) rather than for war. It’s this wider understanding of a shared humanity that ultimately leads to the Gundams cocooning. He finally understands that weapons of war will always be used for that and the Gundam almost seems at peace. Turn A’s bittersweet ending shows life moving on. There’s no tidy resolution to the world’s problems, just an adaptation to a new normal. I teared up watching the hurt and joy that accompanied the individual characters’ endings (Sochie deserves better). It’s a beautiful show from start to finish.

Gundam Wing Endless Waltz Gundam Boys

It’s rather funny that I’m finishing with the OVA/movie that also deals with weapons of war being destroyed but in a clunkier manner. Gundam Wing is certainly not one for complex ideas and neither is Endless Waltz. The one thing Endless Waltz has going for it though is the short runtime, cramming all the good high melodrama of the series into an hour and a half. And that’s why you come to Gundam Wing; the heightened sensibilities and dead serious attitude. The movie deals with Gundam boys (minus Wu Fei) sending the Gundams into the sun so there will be no more fighting. But wait a faction emerges with Mobile Suits! It’s now a race for them to retrieve the Gundams and save the day. It’s all pretty pedantic dealing once again with how to achieve absolute pacifism and disarmament. If you can go along for the ride though you’re in for a feast of great Mobile Suit fights and dialogue taken directly from soaps (in a good way). I love Endless Waltz for all its popcorn energy especially the new over the top Gundam designs (hell ya for actually feathers and wings on a Gundam). It’s a great time.

I’m very thankful for all these great series and have the feeling it’s only down from here. Maybe that’s a bit uncharitable as I still have older OVAs and Victory to go through. This year was a true Gundam feast though and I’m excited to continue on the journey.

Anime TV

One by One I Watch My Friends Disappear and I Wonder if the Psychic Gun Was Worth It

Spoiler Warning for the complete series and movies for Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta, & Space Runaway Ideon

“Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam,” the 1985 sequel series to “Mobile Suit Gundam,” is notoriously bleak. The series strikes a much darker tone than the original, removing a lot of the ancillary comedic elements in favor of a more serious war series. The protagonist Kamille Bidan is a good encapsulation of Zeta’s change; he’s headstrong and way more aggressive than Amuro Ray. Zeta opens with him running away from school and immediately getting into a fight with army officers (including all time great shithead and Kamille’s series rival, Jerid Mesa). Kamille has a cantankerous relationship with his parents, specifically his engineer dad who we come to find is not only a leading Earth Federation worker but also a misogynistic adulterer. In the span of 5 episodes, Kamille steals the Gundam Mark II mobile suit from the Titan’s (the even more fascistic wing of the Earth Federation that essentially abuses power without repercussions) and runs away to the resistance group AEUG, only to have his mother killed in front of him (“accidentally” by Jerid) and later his dad (fleeing the AEUG to try to get back to his mistress, truly an all time bad dad). It’s a lot to take in and that’s even before the series starts to reckon with the political ramifications of the original series and the various failings of its two main leads. Zeta also has no compunction of killing its characters and its treatment of women is frequently awful. That’s not to say this isn’t a truly great series that earns a lot of its tragedy but Zeta does come with a lot of warning flags and a bit of whiplash immediately following Mobile Suit Gundam.

Unsurprisingly, Zeta ends on a big down note. The series factions come to a head over two dark episodes, where just about all of the characters meet an untimely end. It stands in dark contrast to Mobile Suit Gundam’s “the characters are all Newtypes now” ending, eschewing shared humanity for a darker exploration of sacrifice. I’m not opposed to a challenging ending but I found it less engaging than one of Tomino’s other works; “Space Runaway Ideon”. Ideon, the series Tomino followed up the original Gundam with, is a show that can be similarly dark telling a story of a group of people stuck in an endless battle trying to keep large institutional powers from acquiring a devastating weapon (one of my all time favorite shows now and I wrote about it last year). Ideon’s main series ends semi abruptly (it was canceled) with humanity being wiped out except for two babies. The 1982 movie follow up, “Be Invoked,” greatly expands upon the ending fleshing out the final battle between the Buff Clan and Solo Ship. Both Ideon and Zeta’s endings cover similar ground, but I find Ideon much more resonant and thematically consistent than its Gundam counterpart. It’s the way Ideon explores death that really sets it apart.

Zeta Gundam Reccoa
Hated Reccoa’s heel turn

The last two episodes of Zeta culminate in all three factions battling it out; our heroes in the AEUG, the ailing Titans and the ascending Axis (formed from the remnants of Zeon). The large-scale fight results in the aforementioned body count including the majority of the main cast. Zeta has a number of “doomed women” and the show’s rough gender dynamics culminate in back to back vignettes. Reccoa finally meets her doom on the other side of Emma’s gun punishment for defecting because she was entranced by Scirocco. Emma is then hit while piloting the Super Gundam which leads to her sustaining mortal wounds. After being pulled out of her suit, she speaks to Kamille about the power of the Zeta Gundam and passes on her life force. It’s a disappointing end for both women, who started out the show as strong individuals. To see them offered up as fodder for the special boy removes some of that core individuality. But the most shocking of death all isn’t a woman; Katz is unceremoniously destroyed when he accidentally crashes directly into an asteroid. All of these deaths plus the previous passing of Four and Sarah become significant, as the souls of these characters join Kamille to defeat Scirocco. The women and Katz allow Kamille to become the ultimate psychic gun to defeat the Titans. It’s a hollow victory as Kamille is left catatonic and his mind seems to be wiped clean. He’s calm and childlike as the Zeta cockpit transforms for him into a white liminal space. 

Gundam themes are often summarized as “war as hell” but are really much deeper. Zeta asks us to reckon with how political structures change in the aftermath of war and how passivity enables new, more fascistic regimes to subsume the old ones. Zeta also interrogates the cost of individual inaction; characters like Amuro stood aside and let the fascists take his place. Other people like Char failed to take a leadership role to fill the Zeon vacuum in the space colonies. What does this all lead to? The fascistic Titan regime on earth and the new Axis of Zeon repeating and creating new steps that harm people in their quests for power. Zeta stresses the need to continue fighting and that acquiescing to political structures leads to the same tragedies. And it all leads to others getting hurt, especially the women serving alongside. Zeta seems to say that these casualties are part of the machine to create the perfect weapon, in this case Kamille. The series highlights the roles these individuals play by showing how insignificant they actually are. What matters is Kamille and the Zeta Gundam and they were fodder for the psychic gun. In many ways the conflict is inevitable and the best we can hope for is a cause to rally behind.

Space Runaway Ideon Characters

Ideon takes a different tact in relating individuals to weapons of war. It’s viewpoint on destruction is also more spiritual; while Gundam often includes spirituality it doesn’t fully explore it in the way that Be Invoked does. Newtypes having a sixth sense and communing with the dead is one thing, but the “power of Ide” and our direct vision of the afterlife is much more overt. As I mentioned earlier, Be Invoked and Space Runaway Ideon as a whole can be pretty bleak. The story pertains to a group of space colonists from earth who accidentally stumble upon an ancient technological power; an interstellar spaceship (Solo Ship) and three vehicles that can form together to create a giant robot, the Ideon. They are forced to board these vehicles after aliens from the planet Buff attack them, the Buff believing that the colonists attacked one of their princesses, Karala (who incidentally is just fine and with the earthers). Before too long the colonists push back the Buff Clan and escape into space, finding that they are constantly pursued by the Buff army. The Buff soon starts to consider that these vehicles represent the mythologized “Ide”, an unlimited source of energy. The Ideon proves time and again just how powerful it is and over time begins to develop even more destructive powers.

Space Runaway Ideon

The series is essentially about how these colonists stay alive and keep the most destructive power in the universe out of the wrong hands. They’re constantly on the run as the show depicts how large ideological organizations misuse power and how their militaristic goals make them inherently untrustworthy. But the show is also concerned with how these same ideologies trap people into performing violent actions. There’s a strong feeling of “if they could only talk this out they wouldn’t fight!” running through this show but the Buff Clan’s warlike culture prevents them from ever having a productive or humanist conversation. The Buff Clan’s has a militaristic (also referenced as “samurai”) social hierarchy which rewards people based on military accomplishments. The Solo Ship acquiescing to them would mean handing a nuke over to an imperialistic force and the Buff would never back down from the perceived threat that the colonists possessed. And the colonists’ own home planet can’t be trusted; who knew the cultures between Buff and Earth would be so alike?

All of this fighting comes to a head in the final episode and movie where the power of Ide is invoked and all human life is extinguished from the universe, save for Lou Piper (baby on the Solo ship) and the unborn baby of Karala. Be Invoked expands the ending by depicting a larger final confrontation stretched out over 90 minutes. Be Invoked is often compared to End of Evangelion, which is fair for multiple reasons. First, it essentially replaces the original tv series ending. Second, both movies have a huge bloodbath as we watch as all of our main characters meet untimely ends. Both films culminate in an unknowable power being invoked but the two couldn’t be more different in their thematic intention. Both are hopeful, but Be Invoked finds hope in shared humanity where Eva finds hurt worth shouldering through.

Space Runaway Ideon Be Invoked Lou Piper

Be Invoked immediately jumps into the final battle between the Buff Clan and Solo Ship. The movie starts with the Buff Clan finally getting the Solo Ship on the ropes with their vastly larger space force. As the circumstances become more dire, the Ideon’s destructive power starts to increase. Both sides receive word that meteors have struck all their planets and colonies completely destroying their corresponding civilizations. The Buff Clan doubles down on the attack, sending an infiltration group including Kirala’s sister Harulu to board the Solo Ship. Harulu kills Kirala and her unborn child Messiah before being taken down herself. The Buff Clans boarding party opens the floodgates and waves of soldiers swarm the ship. One by one, our protagonists are struck down. The leader of the Buff, Doba, continues to order the attack even in the face of unspeakable destruction. The Buff Clan soldiers eventually execute him to stop the attack but it’s too late as the Ideon wipes them out. The power of Ide is invoked as all life is extinguished.

Instead of ending there the final moments of Be Invoked are spent in the afterlife. We see both Buff Clan and Solo Ship characters awaken and rejoice finding themselves free of the weight they carried in the living world. No more are they forced to fight, forced into situations designated by their civilization. Sisters Karala and Harulu no longer have to fight; the former being the deserter and the latter being the military leader hunting her down. There’s none of the baggage carried over and their spirits can once again connect on an unencumbered level. Ideon knows that these conflicts don’t take place in a vacuum; there’s important structures that force them into existence. When they lived, the Buff Clan could never let a powerful weapon be obtained by a different faction as it would threaten their vast empire. In death this no longer matters. The souls eventually fly off together to a new planet hoping to try again. 

Zeta Gundam Emma Death Scene
Emma’s final moments

I much prefer the Ideon’s depiction of relating human lives to destructive weaponry. The Ideon is uncontrollable even though humans try their best to. It’s mutually assured destruction and it eventually led to the end of all civilization. The show Ideon understands the ways in which ideology and society traps people and forces their actions. But it’s in its depiction of the afterlife we get the bittersweet message, how we’re not so different and how we’re all connected. We’re trapped now but on a metaphysical level we’re the same. Zeta’s more cynical ending doesn’t quite land the same for me. The psychic gun instead stands in for the destruction of war, the bodies piled up in the conflict. The protagonist wins, but at an immense cost to our crew. These characters are too trapped by their roles but Zeta’s more cynical worldview highlights the sacrifices over metaphysical exploration. It’s narrower focus is concerned with the immense cost of conflict. Ideon takes that one step further, interrogating the root causes of war amid the obvious connective tissue between people. Both understand why different cultures don’t understand one another and the polarization that power brings, but Ideon digs into the connections that are missed in conflict. Maybe it’s that Zeta was already part of a burgeoning series; ZZ Gundam began airing immediately after and continues the story (I’m currently watching, but still in the early goings). Ideon, with its definitive finale, grasps stronger thematic concepts that elude its Gundam successor.

Anime Movies

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time Opens With a Moving Meditation on Community & Growth

After 9 years of waiting, Neon Genesis Evangelion has ended for a third (and hopefully final) time. Hideaki Anno has released another capstone to the popular series and the fourth and final film in the Rebuild movie series “Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time.” To my surprise, the final movie opens with the most beautiful hour of Evangelion, a slice of life character section that reckons with its theme about mental health and connection better than it ever has before. The series is notorious for being dark and tragic, chock full of moments where characters suffer great physical and mental harm. That doesn’t mean the series isn’t hopeful but it spends the majority of its time depicting the dangers of relationships, abusive behaviors, and what it means to suffer from mental illness. The Rebuild movies have been different though; they cover those topics as well but take a different tact. Starting with “Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance,” the series diverged from the original series’ plot points, character interactions, and narrative focus. That movie made time to have its characters exist outside the moments of mecha action and showed us them processing growing up, dealing with trauma and what it means to have healthy relationships. 3.0+1.01 smartly builds on this with its moving depiction of Shinji learning to trust others and love himself by coexisting through cooperative labor.

The downside to Evangelion’s previous two endings, the tv finale and the follow up “End of Evangelion,” were having Shinji’s growth tied to the more mystical aspects of the series. It’s easy to see Anno slowly iterating on how to depict the central theme of connectedness over the course of 25 years. The TV finale, episodes 25 and 26, are the start of that path but it’s incomplete. The two episodes are known for being a struggle to complete; Anno wavered on how the series should resolve, leading them to run up against deadlines and big budget cuts. The result are two abstract episodes, containing intercut clips, hand drawings and other visual art mediums, diverging from telling a more linear story. They both nonetheless finish on a positive note. Shinji realizes that he needs others and resolves to open himself up and rejects Seele’s Human Instrumentality Project to make all beings be merged together. Even if the plot is hard to parse, the themes are easy enough to understand; people’s individuality makes us special and opening ourselves up to others makes our lives richer, no matter how hard it may be. Fans hated this ending. The original Evangelion series contains a lot of mysteries that are not even close to being resolved by the finales. Not dissimilar to how negative reactions happen today, fans sent death threats to the studio and Anno.

Which eventually led to the two movies, “Death & Rebirth” (recap movie) and “End of Evangelion,” (EoE the promised final ending to replace the controversial TV finales). There’s a metatextual read that a lot of people make with EoE; Anno’s declining mental health, resulting from the fan backlash, led him to make an extremely dark version of the finale. That read has helped me salvage parts of it that I do like, that no matter how cruel people can be to us the path forward is always to keep yourself open. There’s a lot of thematic content about the movie that I really like and I think a darker take could help hammer down Evangelion’s exploration of loneliness. It’s too bad that the movie itself is so vile, almost 90 minutes destruction that starts with Shinji committing sexual assault (the notorious “I’m so fucked up” scene). From that point it’s hard to route for Shinji, who’s more comatose than ever as people are annihilated around him. The uncharitable read is that Anno is making the most negative choices for all of his characters as a response to the fan backlash. Moments like Misato using the promise of sex to motivate Shinji certainly seem like a monkey’s paw for anime fans. I think the more real read is Anno using the template of a classic anime, the stone-cold classic Space Runaway Ideon movie “Be Invoked,” to explore his pain and trauma once again. The result though is mean and gross in a way that doesn’t earn the damage it puts its characters through.

Evangelion 3.0+1.01 Kensuke & Shinji

3.0+1.01 has the exact opposite tone of EoE. It has a strain of positivity running through it that I don’t think has ever existed in any other piece of Evangelion. That all starts with its opening hour with our trio of protagonists in the village. After the beginning action set piece (my favorite action scene in the movie btw), we are reintroduced to Shinji, Asuka, and Alternate Rei walking along the apocalyptic scenery after the end of 3.0. They’re eventually picked up and transported to a small village. This village has started to regain some normalcy; the surrounding environment has recovered and they are able to farm crops and have access to drinking water (thanks to the technology from WILLE shown off in the opening set piece). We’re reintroduced to civilian characters that had disappeared after 2.0; Shinji’s friends and classmates Toji Suzuhara, Hikari Horaki and Kensuke Aida. These characters ground Shinji in a more real world. These characters don’t take part in the grander mythos of Eva having nothing to do with large robots, angels, or Human Instrumentality. As regular civilians they’ve had to deal with the after effects of these battles and learned to adapt to the apocalyptic scenarios the Earth faced. All three characters obliquely reference the hardships they’ve endured to survive, but all display an upbeat attitude. Their attitudes are the exact opposite of Shinji as they were never afforded the luxury to close themselves off. Essentially when their lives were altered they had to grow up fast and have learned to cherish the things in their lives in a way that the protagonists from NERV never did (they’re also the only ones to have physically aged as well). When acts of god are occurring all you can do is soldier on.

Their growth tied to material conditions in the real-world anchors Shinji’s and allows him to change in a way he never has in previous Eva media. He starts in a predictable mode; closed off, feeling a strong mixture of shame, regret, and self pity around how his actions have caused so much harm. Shinji has always had his decisions turn out horribly although that’s less of his fault and is actually from Gendo’s abusive manipulation of him. He still blames himself though and his response is close up almost to the point of being comatose. Being around the village is at first too much for him; he blames himself for how the citizens’ lives ended up and despises that his friends try to take care of him. He moves himself to the outskirts where the old NERV facility used to be like a cat running away to die. Alternate Rei meanwhile has ingratiated herself into the village and takes part in the cooperative labor of harvesting, finding a newfound happiness through the human connections she’s making. She learns how fulfilling being a part of a community feels and decides to help out Shinji. Alternate Rei’s growth is beautiful here but the movie does her a major disservice. You’ll notice I call her Alternate Rei; 3.0+1.01 makes a clear distinction between this genetic copy and the “real” version we last saw in 2.0. While Alternate Rei learns about shared humanity and cooperation, she inevitably gets removed from the movie by reverting her into a goop of LCL.

Evangelion Rei Farming

Before then though, she decides that she’s going to take care of Shinji and bring him food. Her routine of visiting him daily lasts for what seems like weeks in the movie. Eventually she gets through to him enough that he breaks down. He asks her through tears why Alternate Rei and the village continue to help him; she replies with “Because we like you.” It’s a tender moment, where Shinji realizes that even though he feels responsible for their suffering they still find redemption in him. Shinji starts to piece together that he needs to forgive himself first before he can bring himself back into the community of the village. This is the first time where Shinji as a character has been able to make this connection outside of the pivotal climax of Eva. He gets to learn through others actions, not large-scale metaphysical battles, that he’s worthy of human connection. Shinji gets to actually reckon with the abuse he’s suffered at the hands of adults and reckon with the trauma that came with it. After following the series for 13 years, it’s so rewarding seeing him make true connections. Getting to experience Shinji actually building relationships with people was truly gratifying in a way that the mecha action never surpasses.

Evangelion 3.0+1.01 Shinji & Rei

The best part too is that his growth is also grounded in the cooperative nature of the village. His return is marked by contributing to Kensuke’s work. Shinji begins to tag along with him for his daily tech operations to keep the village running and secure. Shinji’s redemption is tied to directly making contributions instead of feeling sorry for himself. He realizes that walling himself off won’t help attone for the shame he feels and that he can find fulfillment in actually helping improve the citizens’ lives. Shinji also realizes that he has a place in the world and that he can be a part of something. He’s been misled and failed in his role as protector before, but he finds a new commitment through working to understand peoples’ conditions. It’s the most open we’ve ever seen Shinji and he actually gets to work through his trauma with others. He’s never been afforded the chance to be part of something that is so spiritually enriching and connecting. Anno seems to finally understand how to illustrate that next step of wanting to connect with others by playing an active role in coexisting with them. Shinji returning the favor to the village by taking care of him grants him a new autonomy over his actions. He finally gets to feel in control of himself. I couldn’t have imagined a better send off for the character.

The remaining hour and half had no hope of reaching the same highs. The other piece of Evangelion needs to be dealt with and we get the return of the mecha action and convoluted lore. The Rebuild movies shift to CGI and ridiculously large-scale fight scenes have left me a little cold and this final one is no different. I’m also not really interested in the ridiculous puzzle pieces of mythology anymore so I got a bit numb to the proper nouns being thrown around (“Eva Imaginary,” “Anti Universe,” and “Black Lilith” to name a few). We also get a huge upswing of the gross “fan service”; lots of boob and ass shots of girls in tight normal suits. While Mari becomes slightly more of a character here (and is weirdly important to the lore?), we are also treated to many shots of her butt and her talking about her big boobs. 

The positivity from that first section is carried all the way through though; I’ve never felt a more powerful resolve in all of the characters before. Shinji himself is more confident throughout as well, knowing who he is and what he has to do. Comparisons to Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks the Return are warranted; Shinji is a character with a purpose. The forgiveness and tenderness Shinji displays to all of the characters he reunites with in the abstract last half hour are really touching. His growth anchors an almost perfect resolution to the series as a whole. The last section of waking up in a real-world Japan analogue is a bit hokey; I would’ve preferred he returned to the village. Regardless, I think the first village section ties a definitive bow on Shinji’s character arc and the Evangelion series as a whole. I don’t think anyone could top that piece of Evangelion and I hope no one tries.

Anime Manga

Reading Old Manga has Become my Favorite Soothing Activity

Have you been besieged by seemingly unending stretches of absolute exhaustion? I know I have. Even without the added stressors of the pandemic lifestyle I seem to hit a bottoming out of my energy levels for days, sometimes weeks at a time. Back when I had to commute, this was more or less met with a “just gotta deal with it” attitude as I laid the blame for this feeling squarely on riding public transit and sitting in an office for 40+ hours a week. Now that I’ve been inside and been similarly fatigued I know that there are multiple reasons this could be happening (something I am working on with my therapist). It’s hard for me to want to do anything during these periods; games can be too intensive and my attention span for shows goes right out the window. Reading can be a good replacement, but the attention span problem can again rear its ugly head. It’s hard to get absorbed when my mind is barely running. I found an unexpected new outlet in 2020; reading digital manga.

Shonen Jump Cover

A bit of context. I used to be a veracious manga reader back in middle school and early high school. I would spend the money I made mowing lawns (white suburbia aims to constantly be in the 50’s and our young business was no exception) on anything Shonen Jump related. Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, and Case Closed were all favorites of mine and I would devour each new volume in less than day, sometimes even in the Barnes and Noble manga section. I would also infrequently buy the monthly magazine at the grocery store so I could see any potential new favorites and read old Yu-Gi-Oh which in no way reflected the Kids WB show. I kept up this habit over the course of 4 years and in the process collected a lot of physical material. Luckily for my thin shelf space, I had friends who would swap volumes with me so I didn’t have the burden of trying to complete a collection. Still it was a cumbersome collection one that didn’t survive the move with me and was donated before I got back into anime in the past couple of years. I eventually fell out of favor with the genre my junior year and stopped collecting.

Fast forward to 2020 and quarantine significantly sped up my anime consumption (I wrote a little bit about that here). I started to get excited about rewatching old shows that I had only seen bits and pieces of on Toonami (Yu Yu Hakasho, Naruto) and revisiting old favorites (Dragon Ball Z). Here is where my time and aforementioned low energy came into play; most days I just didn’t have the energy to commit to watching multiple shows at once. Feeling spent after work meant I didn’t want to sit down with an unfamiliar show in the evenings. I was simultaneously discovering comics on my phone. I had heard of digital comics apps before but had never tried them out. I’m a very infrequent reader of Marvel and DC comics, mostly purchasing old arcs that people or movies reference. The sheer volume and mythology of comic books make them super intimidating to get into. There’s too much I don’t know about and it seems like such a large amount of work to catch up means that it doesn’t sound appealing to try and jump in. I did enjoy X of Swords though; I had read the reboot “House/Powers of X” because it was precisely that, a reboot so I felt at least somewhat primed to read that larger arc.

I was reading an Abnormal Mapping subscriber letter and the writer Em mentioned the Shonen Jump app. You could read any of the back catalog of their numerous manga for only $2 a month. Finally, I had found my way to catch up on old series in a way that worked for my brain. Reading manga after work became my perfect “spent” routine. Shonen manga being mainly adventures meant it was easy to follow the story and not too dense for me to get into. I could be absorbed even when my brain was literally at a stand still. That’s not to denigrate the content of the series, but they are intentionally more straightforward and aimed at a teen audience. The manga I read also had an unexpected upside; they were all complete series. No weird digging into which Spider-man comic impacted this new Avengers storyline or finding what run created this specific X-man character. All of the information and context I needed was in those chapters. That meant I could read a 900 chapter series front to back without having to resort to a lore bible.

Dragon Ball Z Gohan Playing Baseball
Gohan in high school is an underrated and all too brief section

So far I’ve read all of Naruto (~700 chapters) and Dragon Ball (194 and then the 325 that were adapted into Dragon Ball Z). I don’t think I need to sell anyone on either, but I found that both were well worth a read for completely different reasons. Naruto’s world is really fleshed out so it’s amazing seeing different ninjas and nations. The characters are fun to tag along with even though Naruto doesn’t really change much and all the female characters get sidelined. Pour one out for Sakura, she may absolutely wreck other people but Naruto and Sasuke are special boys. Also the power levels at the end of that series are so ridiculous that it becomes a bit too untethered. My main takeaway though is that Kakashi is still the best (Gaara #2). Dragon Ball on the other hand (especially in the chapters before Z) is so so funny. I had only ever caught bits and pieces of the anime on Toonami, but the manga is top tier. It’s a Loony Tunes adaptation of “Journey to the West” but filled with a bit more pervs (which definitely cross the line from time to time). But who could ever forget this killer bit:

Dragon Ball Krillin "No Nose" Joke
Absolute all timer

Kind of a shame they went so action heavy, even though I do really love Dragon Ball Z. There’s something really special about those zany original chapters before it’s all about power levels. The only downside (outside of pervy humor) is the lack of Vegeta.

Honestly having just an easy way to access manga has been an immense help on my low powered brain. It has been the perfect way to distract my mind when I feel like sitting facedown on the floor which is a not infrequent occurrence. If this is sounding like a pitch for the app, I guess it kind of is? Anyways, here’s to the minor activities that help us get through the rough times.

2020 EOY Anime Star Wars TV

2020 TV: Exploring Space & Piloting Mechs

Spoiler warning for Clone Wars, The Mandalorian, Mobile Suit Gundam, Gundam Wing, 08th MS Team, & Space Runaway Ideon

2020 was the year I finally got off the new show hamster wheel. I didn’t try as I usually do to keep up with every new series that came out. I lost the drive to be in the zeitgeist with every new streamable thing instead picking and choosing when and what I wanted to watch. Once quarantine started and the “Tiger King” had officially left the cultural consciousness, I settled more on rewatching old favorites or discovering older shows. Some of this is due to the general climate; I really want to watch “I May Destroy You” but at the time of its release my brain was not in a good place to handle heavy subject matter. I did watch at least a few newer shows. I finally sat and watched “What We Do In The Shadows” which is absolutely the funniest TV comedy on right now. “The Last Dance” entered my life for ten blissful weeks of Michael Jordan and 90’s nostalgia even if it had largely stopped being interesting by the end (we’ll still have the Jordan memes). And while “The Queen’s Gambit” has officially entered the oversaturation zone I had a phenomenal time with. Mainly I sidestepped bingeing new series because I officially broke the valve on my anime watching. I had been slowly dipping my toe back into anime over the past few years after ostensibly swearing off it in high school. I’ve found that I can wrap my head around the good and bad of the genre better than when I was younger and liking anime was much closer to something of a personal identity. I’m still not right with a lot of the gross horniness that comes along with the genre but I’m much better at identifying that line within a given series. There are series where women are sexual and there are others where they are sexualized and my brain is much better for learning that distinction.

Instead of this list being the best new shows of 2020, I’m writing about a few different series and universes that I had a great time engaging with. All except one predates 2020 and the majority by multiple decades:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars & Mandalorian

Star Wars Clone Wars

Star Wars is one of those special series that each time a new thing comes out the online discourse becomes absolutely insufferable. There is no better example of a series that should probably be removed from existence than Star Wars. Since “The Last Jedi” the online fan reaction has shown just how awful and abusive fan reactions can be and is the entire alt right movement in microcosm. The Star Wars fandom has a direct line from Gamergate harassment and the Trump presidency at large. The absolute worst thing you can do is bring up Luke Skywalker on Twitter. This is all coming from someone who is a lifelong fan of Star Wars. One of my parents favorite anecdotes is how I pestered family friends for plot information about the original trilogy movies before I was allowed to watch them (this was in the mid 90’s). I grew up with the prequels and loved them as a kid so I have been bought in on the series since I was 3. Still, Star Wars fandom is so incredibly toxic that it would probably be a W for everyone if it ceased to exist. Which makes my Star Wars watching a much more personal experience and not try and lose it over every “The Last Jedi is bad” take. I’ve been able to enjoy the TV shows as I pick my way through them even if I’m largely wary about where Star Wars as a brand is heading.

The Mandalorian premiering last year was certainly big for me. Here was an expensive live action Star Wars tv show that wasn’t about Jedi or Skywalkers. I was definitely excited but even more surprised when the show launched. To paraphrase Gita Jackson at Vice Games, the show is largely “about going to different planets and a new western is taking place.” I was taken aback that this wasn’t a show made in the style of “prestige TV” but rather cable adventure shows from before the advent of streaming. The first season especially eschews every episode pertaining to one long form narrative and instead has majority one off adventures. Mandalorian is a great in a B-tier action sense, which is 100% a compliment. I don’t need a large scale space adventure, give me the lone wolf and cub as they stumble upon different societies in space. It’s messy but in a charming way. Once the Darksaber was introduced at the end of season 1, I knew I finally had to jump into Clone Wars.

Star Destroyers

Clone Wars is similarly structured, albeit slightly more kid friendly and with much larger seasons and arcs. The series covers the interstitial war that occurred between episodes 2 & 3 and retroactively makes the prequels better. Emily and I just started a rewatch of the series starting with the prequels (I don’t care if you don’t think this is the correct watch order) and I was ready to embrace these movies after finishing two seasons of Clone Wars. They’re not as bad as I remember but boy are they boring. Clone Wars gets to benefit from the exciting parts of those series, namely the world building, and expand upon it with interesting stories. We get a look into what it means to be a clone trooper, smaller planets caught up in the wider Republic politics, and clever foreshadowing of movie plot points. The show gets to include all the cool Jedi found in the background of the Prequels and added the unstoppable cultural juggernaut that is Asoka Tano (very fun character). Even the characters from the movies, especially Anakin, benefit from longer form storytelling. Stories like the ones that center around Obi Wan’s romantic feelings for a politician he protected when he was younger make the Jedi orders rejection of Anakin’s love affair even more hypocritical. Also just having Anakin be a reckless general and actually having fun makes for a much more engaging character than the mopey edge lord we get in the movies. Since I’m at the risk of overselling the show, the 22 episode seasons do mean there’s plenty of lag. Some stories are very slapstick, goofy, or plain unengaging like a three episode King Kong riff. I’ve heard the best is still yet to come, so I’m excited to move further into season 3.

Bo Katan & Mandalorians

Clone Wars also benefits by having the main focus be on characters from the movies. This allows the show to avoid weird character guest appearances which was a major problem I had with Mandalorian season 2. Before I get to that, I do want to say that I think this season was a total improvement over season 1. The directing was better across the board so the action scenes were a lot less hokey. The individual stories were all interesting starting with a real winner of space cowboy in Boba Fett, a misdirect that unfortunately doesn’t stick long term. They even included an extended look at the ongoings of the fallen imperial army with a tremendous episode featuring a space Bostonian. They made smart ties to the Clone Wars tv show too with Bo-Katan and her crew from the homeplanet of Mandalore. My favorite episode of the season “The Jedi” evoked classic samurai films to great effect (but unfortunately casting noted transphobe Rosario Dawson).

Where the season gets messy though are those aforementioned cameos. We were teased Boba Fett at the end of season 1 and we get him returning here as a badass warrior, which is hilarious given that his biggest moment in the original trilogy has him immediately ending up in a sarlacc pit. I did enjoy his introduction episode, a fun action set piece directed by someone who knows a thing or two about B-movie action scenes Robert Rodriquez. The show couldn’t escape the feeling of nerd wish fulfillment. Here is the Boba Fett fans have been fantasizing about since his first appearance in Empire Strikes Back. This cool guy in Spartan armor must be an all time badass right? He even looks like the star of this show so bring him in! It unfortunately connects the show all the way back to the movies which it had been so clever to avoid. The movies all suffer from this inertia that everything revolves around this small set of characters. People have made many jokes through the years of just how small the universe is since things always involved the same dozen characters. Mandalorian proves it’s exactly that small with Boba and then the eventual appearance of Luke.

The Mandalorian Boba Fett

This is where the nostalgia gets real messy and opened up the floodgates (literally). People were so hyped that they got to see badass hero Luke swoop in again that it reignited the whole Last Jedi harassment again. Disney has catered so much towards fans and it makes the fandom even more irritating. They want their Star Wars myths preserved, Luke in this case being a total hero rather than morally compromised in Last Jedi, and Disney seems to be cementing that. Really this exacerbates the aforementioned small galaxy problem and makes the storytelling so much less interesting. When your plot is building toward a character showing up, it makes it hard to care about the characters you’re spending time with. It cheapens the whole experience and that’s before you realize half of this season was a backdoor pilot. Disney has instead backed away from the onslaught of Star Wars movies to jam 10 (!!) new tv shows onto their platform (not including other movies in development). It makes you wonder how much narrative they have that can be unique and also cater to the very loud group of fans. Much like the Mandalorian, I will probably enjoy some of it. On the other hand, I’m already tired of it all. 

Mobile Suit Gundam Series

Gundam Wing Protagonists

Here’s where the anime reintroduction officially began. I started to listen to Abnormal Mapping at the beginning of the year (specifically their Outer Wilds episode, amazing game and episode) and slowly started to listen to their wider podcast network. For $1 on their Patreon you get the Great Gundam Project where they watch every Gundam series in release order. They happened to also start covering Gundam Wing this year, one of my favorite Toonami era anime. They also pair all of the Gundam shows with a backup anime to watch along with, which led me to Space Runaway Ideon (more on that later). Needless to say I was very excited to jump back into Wing.

And boy what an uneven show that is. It’s a show that starts pedal to the medal with our 5 teen protagonists touching down on earth to battle OZ. What starts as a straightforward fight against two sides rapidly shifts to changing sides and organizations in power. Also the warring factions fight in giant armored mechs and the protagonists pilot special ones called Gundams. The show really wants to focus on the nature of war, the personal ideologies of soldiers and the machinations of the powerful. Our protagonists quickly find themselves stranded without a purpose as the show burns through an entire series worth of plot in 20 episodes. With so much thematic material covered, the back half of the series is left without a purpose. Wing instead shifts to a message that “war is bad actually” and misguided notions of why war is fought. It all ends with the two sides essentially play fighting and really cool looking fight sequences that are essentially meaningless.

08th MS Team

I remembered at least some of this ideology on rewatch. I remembered it’s intense dedication talking about total pacifism and I thought that this idea extended throughout Gundam. This is a fairly common western conception of the series; Gundam Wing and 08th MS team are by far the two most watched series among US fans because of their Toonami airings (Wing was the first to come over from Japan). 08th runs along a similar ideological wavelength by focusing on the ground troops set during the original Gundam’s timeline. It’s a more on the ground “war is hell” sort of Vietnam story tied up with a star crossed lovers story (people love it, but this part did not land with me). It’s strangely meandering and boring for a series that’s beloved by the fandom. In the end it’s trying to tell a story about finding your place in the world outside of national ideology, which never really landed for me.

RX78 Gundam

These two shows got me interested in watching more so I started watching the original Mobile Suit Gundam from 1979 when it was added to Funimation. The original has a lot on its mind; it’s about the cost of war but also why people fight. It’s about the terrible weapons being deployed for destruction and the Gundam is supposed to be terrifying. Mobile Suit Gundam is also about the mechanics of imperialism (Gundam is a portmanteau of gun and freedom and the Rx78 mobile suit is in the colors of the American flag) and the places caught up in the battle between Zeon and the Earth Federation. This is all wrapped in what ostensibly resembles a Saturday morning cartoon with an overarching storyline paired with climatic mecha battles. It also balances plenty of humor to go with the darker parts of the plot. It’s a tremendous show that stands apart from its later counterparts by having a more nuanced ideology. It complicates the hero’s journey by questioning their reasons for fighting and what forces are influencing them.

Space Runaway Ideon

Space Runaway Ideon Cover

This is a really special show. Space Runaway Ideon aired from 1980-81 and was the series immediately following Mobile Suit Gundam’s cancellation by Yoshiyuki Tomino (Ideon was also canceled). The show still revolves around mecha, this time three truck looking vehicles that form one giant mech. These vehicles are discovered by earthling colonists on a new planet called Logo Dau and believed to belong to what they refer to as the “sixth civilization” (the sixth alien society they’ve cataloged). Before they can understand this new power, they’re attacked by the “Buff Clan” (aliens from the planet Buff) who look suspiciously exactly like humans. The earthlings fight back the Buff Clan and find themselves on the run with this new technology which the Buff believe to be a source of infinite power known as the “Ide.”

Much like the original Gundam this show at first also resembles a Saturday morning cartoon. I struggled with it a bit in the opening episodes as I wasn’t accustomed to this type of anime (less bombastic and melodramatic than the typical 90s fare I saw on Toonami). Why did the two sides have to fight every episode, couldn’t they simply talk it out? That exact question underpins the entire show and Ideon reveals that it’s about how power and nationalism naturally breeds distrust. The struggle for the protagonists is how to handle this immense power and who to trust when you’re literally carting around an atomic level weapon. They don’t trust the conquering Buff Clan who only want to use it to further expand across space and even the Earth military wants to take it for their own destructive ends. It’s less about the alluring nature of power (ala LOTR) and more about how power only brings destruction. The destructive power of the Ideon only grows stronger the more times they engage in battle. In a regular Shonen anime growing power is tied with self actualization and control over yourself. In Ideon, growing power breeds more fear and anxiety and a loss of control. The protagonists quickly realize they have no idea how to bottle it’s increasing destruction as they are continually forced to use it to protect themselves. It can be a pretty bleak show.

Space Runaway Ideon Characters

I’ve already written about my favorite character, the no holds barred teen Kasha, but the show is filled with other interesting ones. Cosmo is the opposite of the anime boy stereotype, a brash and rude teen who thinks he knows the best in every situation. Sheryl plays the role of devil’s advocate most of the time, but her hard rationalizations can prove correct making her needling an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the crew (her final breaking point at the end of the series is fantastic as well). We get the Buff Clan perspective from Karala, a Buff royal who turns to the earthling side after Buff Clan fighting. Her outside perspective makes the rest of the crew naturally distrustful of her and it’s through those interactions that we get a better look into how the two cultures lock people into specific actions and roles that are often opposed to outsiders. Bes, the ship’s captain, starts out as a loud condescending figure before learning to listen and trust his fellow crew members. We also get this amazing scene from him in literally the first episode.

Ideon barrels to an amazing conclusion that shows how national identity locks people into conflict. The Buff Clan and our earth protagonists find they have no choice but to fight, less the Buff Clan soldiers lose rank and status. The show ends well enough, but the follow up movie “Be Invoked” expands upon it thematically. Ideon knows that these characters have no other path but destruction and the movie can be rough watching the violence overtake the ship. The movie ends on a positive note though, a spiritual counterpoint that shows how live beings are connected outside social and national paradigms. Released from the conflict, they are able to be at peace and join with one another before their spirits fly to a new planet to ostensibly try again.

Ideon Be Invoked

Ideon was never a huge hit here, but made a big impact among anime fans of its generation. The most notable influence can be seen in Hideaki Anno’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” There’s a direct through line between the two series and you can see where Anno even lifted parts from it. This is especially true for the follow up movie “End of Evangelion” which practically recreates shots from Be Invoked, albeit with a much darker and less affecting ending. I haven’t seen anything like Ideon and I don’t think I ever will. It’s an effecting story interrogating the reasons and structures that keep people locked in conflict and the metaphysical forces that tie us all together.

Anime TV

Space Runaway Ideon: Kasha has no Time for Your “Details”

Repetition and archetype are the two adjectives that immediately jump out at me when I think of the old Saturday morning adventure cartoons I watched as a kid. I had to catch the shows week to week so their episodes all resolved around the show’s core premise. The crew of characters are out on some mission or embroiled in some conflict and engage in one off adventures. There is a fair amount of repetition in the episodes which usually climaxed with an action set piece, which afterwards the story was reset. Characters fit nicely into boxes: serious (and usually male) protagonist, goofy comic relief, romantic interest and a shrill girl. That last character is usually always contentious with the other characters, is the butt of jokes, and is wrong in any given situation. These were shows made for boys and misogyny was ingrained in us early.

These structures allowed me to engage with whatever show I was watching, no matter what the premise was. They also governed my initial impressions of Space Runaway Ideon, an anime from the 80s that at first resembled those Saturday morning adventures. My anime knowledge is strictly Toonami related (putting me in the 90s-early 2000s) so I was taken aback when this show felt more like Voltron. The Earth colonists of the planet Logo Dau find ancient vehicles that resemble trucks that form into a giant robot. The earthlings are attacked by aliens known as the Buff Clan, who want the weapons for themselves. The Buff Clan attacks, gets rebuffed by our child protagonists piloting the robot, and retreat to fight another day. The show eventually becomes so much more than that and really exceeded my expectations. Ideon grapples with national identity, imperialism, and ecological destruction over 39 episodes. While there are plenty of memorable characters, none of them stood out to me as much as Kasha. 

Starting the show, I thought I knew exactly what Kasha’s arc would be. She’s part of the group of children from Logo Dau who were destined to pilot the robots. She’s strong willed meaning that the other boys of the group minimize everything she says (lots of “what would girls even know about this?” sort of stuff). She has an antagonistic relationship with Cosmo (our boy protagonist) which in my predictions meant she would end up as the fake out love interest. I thought Ideon was setting her up to be a thorn in the side of the group, the girl who displays reticence in opposition to the boy’s courage and ends up getting dragged for it. The show had vastly different plans.

Kasha isn’t afraid to squish a human being

Kasha ends up being the most blood thirsty character on the Solo ship (the ship that houses our protagonists). She becomes the main pilot for the legs of the robot (Ideon) the Ideo Buster. While she has some initial anxiety over piloting, that quickly gives way to aggressive fighting tactics. Kasha is just as confident as the other pilots and pushes to absolutely crush the Buff Clan whenever possible. When the enemy retreats, she’s the one yelling to finish them off. Kasha brings the get shit done energy. She doesn’t care what everyone else’s qualms are; they are the enemy, they attacked the ship and they need to be stopped. Things are very black and white to Kasha both to her benefit and detriment. That detriment though is fascinating, a true wildcard that has to be reigned in.

She’s also the last hold out on trusting the Buff Clan defectors. Karala (that poor, poor woman) has an absolutely terrible time being trusted by the Logo Dau colonists. She puts up with being imprisoned, belittled and shot to prove her allegiance. Eventually the colonists all come around, but Kasha straight up refuses to trust her. Kasha always lets everyone know that it’s probably a bad idea to trust her because she’s a Buff Clan alien. I don’t think Kasha ever comes around on Gije, who by the time he defects has a much easier time acclimating with our protagonists. You can understand Kasha’s reasoning, even if she’s being overly stubborn by the end.

Launch all missiles!

That stubbornness is what makes Kasha so fascinating though. She’s far from perfect but in a genuinely fun way. She’s like a hardened soldier from the jump, someone who’s seen and knows the enemy and refuses to pardon them for their faction’s violent actions. Kasha’s the perfect devil’s advocate because she refuses to take peoples shit. Her position as both a child and a girl make her aggressiveness even better. She’s the thorn in everyone’s side who operates a giant leg with missiles. She wants decisive action and she wants it ten fucking minutes ago. It’s rare that the unhinged character is a preteen girl which makes it all the richer. I don’t say that as in a “representational” sense, but more in how her gender operates within the usual stereotypes. Everyone dismisses her and makes snide comments about her, but Kasha continues to double down. 

It’s tough to say what the show actually thinks of Kasha. She is usually wrong and more gung ho about going after the Buff Clan than the rest of the team. Characters like Cosmo write her off because she’s a girl and it’s unclear whether the show thinks he’s entirely wrong in that regard. Either way, Kasha fucking shines or more clearly attacks the sun. She’s pedal to the medal and ready for action. I loved seeing Kasha overreact and consistently insist on decisive action. It was a little disappointing in Be Invoked to have her cede her seat in the Ideon, but glad that she goes down shooting. Kasha wouldn’t want it any other way.