Broken Blade 04 is Breaking Out the Right Moves

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Recently T.H.A.T. Anime Blog graciously published my aspirations for the robot show of the future. In it I asked for two things: 1) an entry-level kids’ show that has strong merchandising potential so as to create new fans organically, and 2) a show that indulges my own detailed tastes informed by a relatively long relationship with robot anime (and having seen a relatively significant amount of shows).

I can’t remember accurately but as I read the comments I got an impression that Broken Blade fulfills many of the things I’m asking for, and given my favorable opinion on the show I don’t disagree. But after watching the 4th installment of the film series minutes prior to writing this, I think Broken Blade is making my wishes for the future real in the present.

It’s a great time to be a robot fan right now. In this post I talk about three things that I thought that makes Break Blade excellent robot show goodness.

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Battles are long, intense, and well thought-out.

The actual engagement may only have taken less than half an hour, but the treatment it gets from the film exceeds ten minutes – which is pretty good. It takes a lot of effort to keep animating a battle without resorting to shortcuts (re-using footage). What this shows us is that whatever the film was showing, it was something new for our consideration. Different soldiers were taking fire, giving fire, killing and getting killed.

This is significant in that Broken Blade does not rely on explosions as animation filler. When robots get hit by slugs, parts get punctured, break off… and this also directs our attention to the fantasy world-building of the show: the robots are quartz crystals as opposed to metal. The fantasy is how such crystal can behave like metal, particularly how they can slice and get cloven – but these are demonstrations of great swordsmanship. Otherwise, the robots crack and break… and it’s all animated splendidly.

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The tactics aren’t particularly brilliant, but the presentation is effective. You get a sense of how crude battle is in this setting, with its fantasy-medieval feel. There’s still an effort to portray characterization via their behavior in combat – that is, how they fight tactics wise.

The numbers involved are rather sparse, given what feels to be a grounded sense of scarcity for the respective militaries. When a side loses 20 units, you feel the weight of that loss… not only for the ordnance, but for the soldiers and officers killed.

The formation of a crack unit feels grounded and took effort on the part of everyone involved.

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The Queen Sigyn drops from exhaustion from going all-out tuning the Delphine, her way of protecting whom she loves the most (!); an older sibling willingly goes under command of his kid sister; a devoted officer to her general leaves his side to join the team; the whole group has to work with a criminal – Girghe, the son of the General of the Armies; but what I appreciate most is the training.

Rygart had to train with the team. They addressed his “muggle” weaknesses (he is not a sorcerer unlike everyone else therefore he cannot use pressure guns) by making him a close-quarters fighter. Even so, it isn’t like he’s a natural swordsman, he has to keep working at it.

[gg]_Break_Blade_-_4_(1080p)_[E3665DC5].mkv_snapshot_16.17_[2011.03.01_07.22.10][gg]_Break_Blade_-_4_(1080p)_[E3665DC5].mkv_snapshot_16.28_[2011.03.01_07.22.29]

Even so, the group itself doesn’t quite come together. They are intended to be a crack unit, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. This, to me, is pretty damn great. Similar to Macross’ crack units they don’t just appear in the battlefield all perfect and unstoppable. As expected, their coordination and chemistry break down – but unexpectedly it’s Girghe who suddenly freaks out and renders himself unable to fight (but fulfills his full display of batshit by the end of the film).

As a point of contrast, consider Gundam 00’s Celestial Being who perform complex, coordinated tactics routinely without having met each other, frequently deploying untested equipment, and never practicing or training… ever.

Rygart and Delphine, the real super robot tandem

The Animanachronism let me in on the joke, and now I can’t unsee it: how Broken Blade plays on the real-super robot anime continuum.

The quiet joke in Break Blade is that Rygart’s ride is a super prototype by virtue of being more real-robot than the supers that surround it, just as Rygart is special because he is (to us) more mundane. Rygart and Delphine are both ‘broken’, like that one character/weapon/build queue which never got playtested and like something which doesn’t work.

Rygart’s “exploits” in the previous films I can attribute to luck compounded by how unprepared his opponents to see (much less deal) with the Delphine’s abilities. The training sequence in this film underscores this, making the effort to ground Rygart and Delphine in real robot verisimilitude.

His inability to use pressure guns, plus the Delphine’s speed and power advantages, makes for the conceit of being a specialized robot for close-quarters battle. I can’t help but contrast this with Gundam 00’s GN-001 Exia (one of my favorite units, so I’m not hating) who is comically designed to specialize in “anti mobile-suit melee.” In a tactical environment where there are so many ranged weapons, I find that specializing a high-end robot for sword use is a conceit and sacrifice to the altar of wanting to look cool.

And how exactly does Rygart use the Delphine to dominate on the field? Crude use of power. I love it. Rygart isn’t an “ace” pilot. Rygart the Farmer is more Simon the Driller, than Soran the Soldier or Kira☆ the Messiah. If he were able to pilot a regular sorcery golem, he would be completely ineffective since such a machine would not be able to compensate for his lack of skills with its power the way Delphine does. This was established I think in the first three films. This time we see Rygart apply himself and get reasonable results.

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Note how Delphine (center) is of the same color tone as its enemies. This shows a lot of balls by the animators, who are pressured to make the “hero” robot colorful and distinguishable as much as possible (i.e. the original Gundam was intended to be purely white).

If I found him (and everyone else) rather phlegmatic characters up to this point, at least for Rygart it’s beginning to work for me: he isn’t hung up about having to fight, nor is he sputtering with righteous zeal about it. It puts his focus on the fighting itself, which is what I enjoy seeing, as opposed to angsting inside the cockpit; or worse, lecturing the enemy. Rygart focused on managing the performance of Delphine… developing a relationship with his mecha – something that I feel is overlooked in robot anime, even by those who claim to be fans of “character development.”

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There’s more to Broken Blade than this. After all, it really is more a fantasy anime (an adaptation from a fantasy manga) than it is a robot show (though as fantasy goes I don’t know if is as comparable to something like Fullmetal Alchemist, the way it is comparable to Gundam as a robot show). I think going the fantasy robot show route a la Escaflowne is a good one. I certainly find it enjoyable.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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17 Responses to Broken Blade 04 is Breaking Out the Right Moves

  1. schneider says:

    In this movie, we’re also treated to some good cockpit death. Because there are no explosions/energy weapons in this show, one will have to impale or rend a Golem pilot in order to kill him/her, and that is what the show does. That shot where blood was dripping from the woman captain’s eyes… ugh. It effectively removes the writing crutch where pilots survive events that should otherwise be fatal (i.e. having your mech’s nuclear reactor, placed right below your seat, explode). Other mecha shows obscure the violence by employing a white-out effect to imply vaporization, but that’s not even a decisive indicator of death as some actually make the impossible possible… FML.

    The battle is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I find Balder’s blunder to be elementary (don’t throw away your numerical advantage, don’t fall for an obvious trap, the enemy general’s reputation for deviousness precedes himself, etc), and his trump card (the crack unit) still unreliable. However, I liked how the enraged Krishnan troops cut off both enemy flanks by digging themselves right in the middle, despite how dangerous it was. The Athenian troops were in disarray, simply because they couldn’t link up again, and this understanding of troop formation makes me inclined to forgive the screw-up.

    Golems in cloaks are fucking badass. Just saying.

    There’s some parallelism between Borcuse and Girghe. Both considered their enemies (Balder and Narvi) to be so rational/textbook that it made them sick. And now they’re having a go at it. While Borcuse looked sane in this movie, the preview for the next one implies that he’s not above killing civilians (presumably of his own country) to achieve his mission, which does put him in line with Girghe. Also, there’s the unanswered question of why Girghe is piloting an enemy unit in the first place…

    I didn’t realize Delphine couldn’t use a pressure gun until it was stated. Now it’s throwing kunai, orz. But I really appreciate the effort to make the Delphine battle-ready, by outfitting it with a weapon ridiculously easy to use (you only need to barrel through the enemy). Crude, but extremely effective.

    As for other non-battle stuff, I got a kick out of bespectacled Sigyn. Actually, she pretty much stole the show for me! BRB changing all my online avatars

    • Crazydave says:

      Girghe is piloting the mecha that was captured when they captured Cleo. With some modifications of course~

    • Good observation on the cockpit deaths. Man that’s quite a great bit of detail to appreciate. And yes, no more false death scenes.

      Again, I can’t give to much credit to the tactical content of the show. After all, for all Baldr’s supposed orthodoxy, he gave up higher ground, numerical advantage, and rushed an opponent that demonstrated deciding superiority (destroying 20 crack units without taking any losses) LOL. It’s rather inconsistent with his supposed characterization for me.

      But, I’m not too hung up on that, since the resulting sortie was well-presented… and the cavalry did arrive, which in Rygart’s case somewhat balanced out the initial losses (but not the quality of the troops lost).

      Here’s what I have to say about the kunai:

      Usually, when a character is training at something, it is a set-up for us to see it used miraculously or at least effectively. It’s not the case here in this film. It shows that preparation may be worth doing, but it’s no guarantee of success. There’s an unpredictability both for the characters and for myself as viewer. I like this a lot.

      • schneider says:

        So the kunai is a jammed Chekhov’s Gun?

        Maybe it could still work in the future, like Armor-Schneider-last-resort style. Wait, it’s possible… I am brimming with anticipation!

  2. Js, most mecha animes had the protagonist ditching their mechs at the end(played badly in mars daybreak)

  3. Pingback: First Person Sigyn | Continuing World

  4. Turambar says:

    I heartily await the Delphine to join a future SRW game since it really is essentially a ground based Black Selena and that is pretty awesome.

    More on topic regarding the latest episode, my fondest hope is for the whole romantic aspect of Sigyn and Rygart’s relationship to take a very back of the bus seat, perhaps more than it already is. I have not read any of the manga, but for any Romantic triangle to develop between Sigyn, Rygart, and Hodr would be rather disappointing to me.

    • schneider and I were just talking about a SRW-type game where BB can be the foundation setting. I told him I’d keep it sorta magical and medieval, which would limit the shows that’ll take part in it.

      While I mention BB as a foundation setting, the overall setting is that of a distant future of the Joker Galaxy of the Five Star Stories — which allows from some time travel shenanigans that can bring to the game its best cast (e.g. AKD era Mirage Knights, the Ballanche Fatimas, etc.). I would also include Vision of Escaflowne, then some bizarro form of Mazinkaiser SKL (maybe Panzer World Galient, UFO Grendizer, Xam’d:Lost Memories, etc.; Code Geass, TTGL).

      Gameplay wise, we thought we’d limit map weapons and encourage melee. We’d like to see hexes instead of square tiles so as to allow fighting multiple enemies in melee. Maybe we can make a .xlsx macro-assisted board/pen and paper game out of this using SRW-based mech statistics and battle dynamics. Just a thought.

      It is a triangle to begin with, and it is rather unfortunate how Hodr is kind of a putz — a lawful good putz, but a phlegmatic character nonetheless. This makes any romantic progression lack the ability to compel me as a viewer. That said, I’m a fan of melodramatic love triangles and have enjoyed a bunch of rather lame ones (Macross) so I can’t say I’ll be averse to seeing it when it happens for Rygart, Sigyn, and Hodr.

      • Turambar says:

        I think part of my aversion towards the romantic aspect also stems from the fact that Sigyn and Hodr are married. And the more naive side of me really hopes Sigyn’s decision wasn’t so heavily effected by Rygart’s absence.

        Also get on that SRW project now! Go go go!

        • Being a married person myself, my take would be that it would make for much melodramatic tragedy with the higher stakes and all. I’m a fan of tragic melodrama so as much as I’m not a fan of this particular love triangle yet, I look forward to something intense actually happening. But for that something has to be done about the Hodr character.

          As for the SRWish project, that’ll take some doing as we’re all pretty busy here (and WRL needs a LOT of work right now), so perhaps you’d like to join the project! It’s very informal and in its proto stages anyway.

          • Turambar says:

            I cannot guarantee that I will be much help as a) I am a lazy bum, and b) My mecha knowledge is no where as varied yours or Schneider’s. But if you want to send me an e-mail at yifanyang22@gmail.com, I’d be more than happy to try to pitch in.

          • Don’t worry, and I have your email. Just don’t expect us to move fast and efficiently here, as we’re all just hobbyists doing a 3rd tier priority activity at best.

  5. Stormshrug says:

    I think Baldr’s mistake is actually fairly consistent with his character. Baldr’s a very competent but also very conservative commander, but he’s also a reasonable guy. He relies on functional, simple tactics instead of “Tactical Genius”-style flashy plays that win battles when it’s dramatically appropriate in shows like Code Geass. He had the right idea initially, but got talked into taking a fairly reasonable risk with a huge potential payout by a subordinate. When he committed to it, he sent 21 Golems – enough to finish the job decisively, he hoped, not the originally proposed 11 – so he knew better than to half-ass the attack. It wasn’t necessarily the *wrong* choice, it just didn’t work out for him, as Borcuse pointed out. If he’s guilty of anything, it’s being a bit Genre Blind so that Team Delphine can save everyone’s bacon.

    I feel that the tactics – and the ways they played out on the battlefield – were a bit rushed on a number of occasions in this episode, and I think if the scenes had had more time to develop (and a bit more tension had built as to whether they’d work or not instead of immediately showing the results), Baldr’s mistakes would have come across as a bit less glaring. There were also a few too many “manga panel” cuts between shots with the intervening animation removed for my taste, frankly, though it’s a small complaint about a good movie.

    I’m trying to figure out what role Sigyn’s relationship with Cleo is playing in the grander scheme of the plot right now. Besides, you know, being excuse to get Sigyn naked in bed with another girl twice an episode.

    • Thanks for breaking down Baldr’s behavior. I think I appreciate the battle more — or at least feel more confident in why I like it.

      Cleo is, right now a device to add texture to the history of the relationship of the four friends: the love triangle plus Zess. Through her the past events back in school are given significance because she realizes them as significant given her intentions (kill Rygart).

      Beyond this she’ll probably have her own story involving testing her loyalty (and this establishes a tiering of values: state vs. friends/individuals vs. other ideals), and then coming into her own as a counterpoint to Rygart — another seemingly incapable person who can become a demon of the battlefield.

      In the meantime, she gets Sigyn naked in bed which is a value unto itself hehehehe

  6. Pingback: Break Blade 04: Understanding Baldr | Transistor Glamor

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