The Relevant Brilliance of Broken Blade (Finale)

[gg]_Break_Blade_-_6_(1080p)_[D820D6DE].mkv_snapshot_28.34_[2011.08.04_06.32.04]

When I think of brilliance I usually associate it with grand, broad, and comprehensive things. I do not find evidence of such in Broken Blade the anime. But in considering one or a few narrow, specific things, I think the show is incredibly remarkable. These things are actually what’s relevant in terms of discussion and valuation of this series of animated films.

It’s something that I noticed very early on, but  I got caught up in the fantasy conceit in such a way that I didn’t really think about what the show actually did with it. So often in my analysis and appreciation of anime in general I get caught up in the elements of narrative. Too often I am limited by my own education as a scholar of literature to get a full appreciation of some anime. What do I mean? Bear with me, my intention will make everything clearer later.

Perhaps an education in cinema would make a difference but I am too ignorant to give much credence to this speculation. I am dealing with these thoughts because I think Broken Blade is a brilliant anime.

No it’s not a strong narrative. It’s probably a problematic adaptation, given the discussion about how important characters end up being quite different but not intentionally so between the source and the adaptation. It is brilliant because it does what animation is supposed to do well: portray movement and action.

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Broken Blade portrays complex movement and action, because fighting and battles provide the ideal opportunity to do so. The key to this brilliance has to do with the choice of materials in the fantasy setting.

The conceit of crystals as a primary military material is a clever and what proved to be a daring turn that yielded excellent returns for the show. Crystals and minerals in fantasy almost always have to do with either magic energy sources (e.g. Sacred SeveN). Here the minerals comprise everything. All the robots are made of stone or crystal. In lieu of metals that are the staple of robot anime, everything is crystal.

The first consequence is that nothing really shines. All the robots and their weapons have this dull, rocky, mineral palette – even when painted(?) in bright (yellow, sky blue) colors. After action or movement the golems have this incredibly worn, cracked look. It’s a great visual cue for the struggle and strife in this narrative of mostly battles.

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Things crack and break and nothing is obscured by smoke or fire because there are no such fixtures in the battlefields of this show. There is no gunpowder and there are no laser beams. All conflicts are resolved by impact. The losers always crack, crumble, get crushed or rather, they shatter.

If you feel exhausted by the succession of fights in what really amounted to a stretch of prolonged battles, then good. The show did well to portray exhaustion not only on human terms but on mechanical terms as well. Everything looked crumbling apart and it was wear and tear that made a difference in the final battle.

All of this is set up by a narrative element: that of Rygart being a magically disabled person. This set up his wild, disruptive fighting style that truly provided the interesting action in the show.

An easy comparison to make is with The Vision of Escaflowne. Van Fanel is the hero, and therefor must use a “hero weapon” in this case (as it is most often the case), a sword. The enemies are the ones who get to use the outlandish weapons: Dilandau’s guymelefs had not only stealth powers, but also tentacle guns (whose tentacles can form into swords). Similarly, even a far less outlandish period samurai anime like Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal has the final boss fight the legendary swordsman with metal knuckles.

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The Delphine’s final weapon is inspired. Instead of a sword, it fought Borcuse’s “The O/Epyon” (I do not yet know, or have forgotten the name of the unit) with a giant heavy ninja star attached to the most awesome rubber band in animation. This created a duel with such a fresh dynamic. Usually, the hero gets to use the “noble” weapon – usually a sword while the enemy deploys the weird, gimmicky weapons. Here it is completely flipped.

The final boss gets to use the swords, its hidden tentacles already broken while the hero gets to deploy the WTF weapon. This is great stuff. The constraints and limitations of infantry combat allowed for amazing feats that are routinely cheapened by the making the impossible possible stuff in AU Gundam. Instead, the combat brings the dynamic displayed in full glory by shows like Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team, albeit without the tactical complexity.

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The following table presents the real robot films and OVAs that I’ve seen from since the 90s. I intentionally avoided comparing any of these to TV anime.

Film/OVA Freedom of Movement1 Relevant Terrain2 Tactical Complexity3 Awesome Choreography
Broken Blade Films No Yes No Yes
Gundam 0083 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gundam 08th MS Team No Yes Yes Yes
Gundam 00 Yes No No No
Gundam Unicorn Yes Yes Yes YES
Macross Plus Yes No No YES
Macross Zero Yes Yes No YES
Macross Frontier Yes No No Yes
Patlabor OVA No Yes Yes No
Patlabor Movie 1 No Yes Yes Yes
Patlabor Movie 2 No Yes Yes Yes
Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0 No Yes Yes Yes
Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0 No Yes Yes Yes
VOTOMS Case; Irvine No Yes No Yes
VOTOMS Finder No Yes No Yes

1Flying and space combat generally affords freedom of movement, while infantry-based combat generally doesn’t.

2Terrain must affect the style and presentation of the action, if not the tactics. In space, relevant terrain would be the presence of debris or asteroid fragments for cover.

3Tactical complexity means that the action has multiple considerations beyond “there’s the bad guy, we must go there to fight him,” e.g. the kind of units to bring, the deployment of said units across relevant terrain, team-based actions (as opposed to mere duels) and counters, a significant level of planning and coordination.

The above isn’t meant to be an evaluation method. It’s more like a database for such shows. We can see from the table that films and OVAs can be generally expected to present awesome battle choreography, although there will be degrees of this: The awesomeness of Gundam Unicorn’s space battles seem far ahead of even that of Gundam 0083’s which is really good stuff. Tactical complexity is another difficult category because there is a pretty good variance between shows like the Patlabor OVAs and the films IIRC.

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Broken Blade has token tactical elements but remains non-complex, similar to Macross Frontier TV (the Macross Frontier film doesn’t even pretend to have tactical complexity: Sheryl sings, explosions, and lots of missiles LOL). The awesomeness of its choreography is very different from those found in the Rebuild of Evangelion films, and the Gundam Unicorn kinds of awesome, but not quite a mere combination of the two. There’s elements of both, but the world-building elements allow for a very interesting and visually impressive delivery.

Nonetheless, the confluence of all these factors make Broken Blade a triumph of anime in that it did things so well, but in a very different way from its contemporaries. It’s not something the casual anime fan will probably look for or take into consideration, but for those who do, it makes this set of films an outstanding adaptation.

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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19 Responses to The Relevant Brilliance of Broken Blade (Finale)

  1. WhatSht says:

    That WTF weapon Rygart used is really more versatile than other weapons, you can use it as a shield, a boomerang(limited by the rubber band) or even an anchor.

    Using the quartz as a metal in Broken Blade is brilliant.
    The extremely worn look of each golem during/after battles projects the tiredness of the soldier, you never know when any part of the golem is gonna fall apart/break.

    The second picture was in fact, interesting for me, using destroyed golems to build a ramp to get over the wall, and with splatters of blood on the wall itself, Broken Blade shows a lot of things we don’t see much of in other mecha anime

    • Don’t forget “ninja star.”

      I can’t say enough about the use of Quartz in this show. It’s nothing as complex as say how Alchemy works in Fullmetal Alchemist, but there’s a lot more show and a lot less tell re the magic in Broken Blade. What else is more magical than giant crystal humanoid infantry?

      Then, consider how the Delphine flips the script on “ancient buried weapon.” It was NOT more technologically advanced. It had with a fuckton of limitations. Its advantage was the novelty of its attacks. Everything about it was WTF, abetted by the raw power of the machine.

      This brings me to this interesting and LOL subtext of the show: everything else are magic golems, but the Broken Blade (Delphine) is mecha. Mecha owns, in this exceptional mecha anime.

      • WhatSht says:

        To add on, the limitations of the Delphine are actually what makes the Delphine stands out in battle, limited by range, the Delphine had to resort to high speed melee attacks/throwing weapons/special equipment that is different from the normal golems that use guns and swords.
        And the different weapons are somewhat “made” for the Delphine, they had to manufacture/build unique weapons just for the Delphine. The raw power of the Delphine which is already gundam-like, with the unique weapons(which the enemies have little infomation on how they work), make the Delphine stronger than any golem.

        Delphine(the name) seems to be derived from Tyrfing, a cursed sword from Norse
        mythology, someone once commented that the pronunciation of both words in japanese
        is similar.

        • Yes, and thank you for the etymology notes as well.

          This show really hit the design “sweet spot” with the Delphine. In mecha anime, it is customary for the lead mecha to have one “midseason” upgrade. The Delphine is almost a different robot in every single movie. This is insane, and not only did the films get away with it, it felt natural and unforced. This is abetted by the love triangle… Sigyn the Queen is the chief technologist and has a high vested interest in the success of the Delphine.

          Don’t you just love it when a love triangle is done in the service of mecha carnage?

          This is just another thing that goes to show what the real goods are in these films.

          • Reid says:

            Fascinating footnote about the Delphine/Tyrfing connection. That’s truly brilliant on the writer’s part. I often wondered why the good folks in the mostly landlocked Kingdom of Krisna would name their new secret weapon after a porpoise, but now I know. This is good stuff because it also kind of shows how, as in Five Star Stories, humanity hasn’t really retained much of its cultural understanding of the past through the passage of many eons since “our time” except in places here and there. The Broken Blade golem seems to be one of those such places.

  2. schneider says:

    Fuck yes. The final film was a harrowing experience to watch through, showing the doggedness of city combat. It’s done really well. That montage at the beginning of the film that showed Binonten in peace, that which employed later on with superimposed scenes of Golems getting busted up in those locations–that was a killer. It also funny how the film focused on that woman general who kept going after Borcuse, and failing, yet never really getting killed off. I felt sorry for her!

    The choreography can’t be implemented in black-and-white panels, I’m afraid. Manga readers can QQ all they want, but it was always the mecha action in anime form that made Broken Blade so strong and innovative. I do care about the characters in their own way, but THE ACTION, MAN, THE ACTION. No mech has thrown a giant, unbalanced shuriken at another before.

    I agree with the casual fan not being able to pick these stuff up. I don’t blame them at all, but these we can teach through blog posts (which you’ve already done a great deal of).

    I really enjoyed the contrivance of the final duel. Rygart goes back home after running through hell, Sigyn gives him her masterpiece weapon, which allows him to win. It’s a very fulfilling viewer fantasy.

    At any rate, I like the open ending–it could stand on its own, but there’s also room to continue where they left off. (!!)

    • Yes, thank you. I agree with everything.

      One thing should be very clear — I have a bias for animation vs. manga. I love illustrations, but I always like them more when they are “moving” and yes, fights are my favorite expression of complex movement. Shonen action shows, including things like Hajime no Ippo, DBZ, etc. often use fighting anime conventions that, while better than the American cartoons I watched growing up, aren’t anywhere as good as the things you’ll find in the very violent DC cartoons like Batman, Justice League, etc.

      And yet, neither of these kinds of fights are things I would go out of my way to watch. It takes samurai/nija OVAs and films to give me really something to relish. I think Sword of the Stranger’s final duel is still superior than the final duel in Broken Blade, but the Broken Blade fight is far more interesting. It had a lot more elements mixing it up. The other thing about piloting a mecha, you can shout real loud when you’re delivering an attack (while in the cockpit). This is far less awkward than doing so while throwing a punch from one hundred meters away.

  3. digital boy says:

    Love the post and Schneider’s comment, but especially:

    “[Broken Blade] has token tactical elements ”

    There’s a phrase I’ll be using from now on.

    • Hehe, I mean there are maneuvers and all, but the outcome of the battle was always going to be decided by individual contributions, I think. So those maneuvers and assault points etc. are pretty much token.

  4. Stormshrug says:

    My big complaint walking out of Broken Blade 6 was that in the same section of the manga, Tactical Complexity would be “Yes” or even “CREEEEEEEEEEEED!” The defenders have like a month to set up instead of hours, and they use that time well. The Delphine still carries the day, but it does so in a far less contrived way. It is the most powerful thing on the battlefield, and they stage the battle so that they can use it to full effect. Most importantly, the battle isn’t won just because Borcuse decides to Leeroy Jenkins the palace without an escort.

    Rygart’s battle with Borcuse was also, in my opinion, more satisfying in the manga, although he does use a sword (and a number of other weapons that are more or less gimmicky, including a pair of the giant shuriken things). This is a fairly minor quibble, though.

    I think what pisses me off most about this is that we’ll never get an animated version of Broken Blade that does the tactical part right even though the original work generally did. The version we have isn’t by any means *bad*. Hell, it’s great. It just isn’t as great as it *could* have been, and that will bother me for a long time. I suppose that’s what I get for reading the original material. I’ll blame that one squarely on the inconsistencies of Episode 5 making me want to find out what the fuck was going on, though.

    • I hear you, as long as you agree that the manga represents the potential greatness of an animated mecha battle and not superior to the anime as it stands. There’s no way, and I’m even talking about Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind level manga awesomeness (it’s one of my most favorite manga forever and ever) will surpass the animated treatment when it comes to action and battles.

      I’ll read the Broken Blade manga maybe before the year ends and I do expect to get a more satisfying narrative and a higher level of detail. These are things that I expect would make up not seeing all these golems smash each other on the field, in the ravines, on the cliffs, up the walls, and on the streets.

      • Stormshrug says:

        No, I agree with that. Still images can rarely compete with animation for action. That said, I have been impressed with how well the manga conveys action – usually, I have trouble telling what’s going on in manga fight scenes, to some degree, but Broken Blade is at least above average in this regard. A lot of the keyframes from the anime are pretty clearly just panels from the manga.

  5. Arabesque says:

    I wonder if your going to bring out this table out for the Towa no Kuon OVA, since it more or less fulfills everything on there.

    I do get what your saying here, even though it’s clear that the adaption messed around for no reason with some of the characterization, it still remains outstanding due to how it managed to maintain a consistent set of rules for it’s battles.

    ”Things crack and break and nothing is obscured by smoke or fire because there are no such fixtures in the battlefields of this show. There is no gunpowder and there are no laser beams. All conflicts are resolved by impact. The losers always crack, crumble, get crushed or rather, they shatter.”

    This is why the battles remain great, since everyone is fighting on the same playing field, from movie one to six. Sure, there are new weapons and upgrades, but they are never presented as a sure fire way to win, but more like hidden trump cards that need to played right so that they might win via the element of surprise.

    Which is really why the combat looked so great here. When they were aiming high to make it more and more exciting, they make sure they can still land safely so that the next fight doesn’t pale in compression.

    ”The constraints and limitations of infantry combat allowed for amazing feats that are routinely cheapened by the making the impossible possible stuff in AU Gundam.”

    I do agree with you that lack of constraints in many AU Gundam shows do end up hurting the fights, but I don’t think that’s really the reason why such feats are cheapened.

    It has more to do with how the AU Gundam shows end up following similar developments over their run, going from a semi-grounded beginning and ending up with an end-all battle that would decide the future of humanity, all the while trying to stay in the Real Robot bubble with the battles being a personal one-on-one fight to the death between two pilots.

    The desire to have the titular Gundam be both a superior weapon that can end a battle within an hour on it’s own while at the same time being grounded enough to have a personal even fight with the rival is the reason why so many battles in AU Gundam end up being constantly cheapened (and why Unicorn avoided this by having the Gundam being a superior tactical weapon in war, but the more important effect on humanity had to do with the black box within it and not the fights it wins)

    • Since we do agree on the important things re Broken Blade, allow me to address some of your comments on AU Gundam. I believe I spoke about this at length in some posts from last year:

      It is amazing in part due to the aversion from many if not all of what kept me from thinking highly of mobile suit battles in Gundam. I reproduce my list from this post:

      Variable damage (weapons arbitrarily get weaker, targets arbitrarily become impervious to weapons)
      Shouting matches concerning ideology and morals during fighting. And by during fighting I mean when you’re supposedly giving your all to lock on and shoot the other guy, concentrating like hell to avoid gunfire; or swinging a robot sword hand using levers, pedals, and buttons.
      Standing around and not finishing a target off so as to allow a dramatic dialogue or scene to pass, then getting killed precisely because said drama was allowed to pass.
      Stealing into, or just plain stealing mobile suits easier than stealing panties.
      Remote beam weapons flying within reach of beam swords/melee weapons.
      Hell, finding it easier to engage opponents with swords than it is to shoot them
      HUGGING ROBOTS IN SPACE.

      I say this in addition to what you put forth. Indeed it is true, how Gundam after the original series went from the humiliation of being a sideshow during the OYW, to being an anime about the Gundam as the decisive weapon in the final battle every single show. This is why none of the sequels can usurp the original movie trilogy as the apotheosis of real robot anime, not so much in the technical robotic sense, but rather from the thematic “war is hell” sense. It’s not so hellish if the Gundam can fix everything with magic dust, etc.

  6. Ohhhh man these were fun movies! Well the first two were kind of slow and boring, but yeah they are building the characters and relationships before awesome battles! Which I was in awe of the animations during the close fights were really fun to watch. I agree no explosions and no gunpowder or missile spam was a great change of pace for most mecha animes/movies.

    It was nice to see the various machines all had a beaten up look to them, even the final boss’s machine had some dents as well.

    WTF weapon! YES A ninja star on a rubber band lolol

    So this is the final one right? No more coming out? D:

    • The only real installment that I find the least interesting is the first one. It was the second film that changed my mind about this mini-series and it was all good from there. It’s not really the pace, that’s changed, but something fundamental to the portrayal of action. Instead of obscuring the illustration with flashes and explosions, you really get to see what happens to a mecha when weapons strike it. I can’t stress this enough.

  7. banagherlinks says:

    ^_^ Yay I’m on episode two. Good thing I bought this series while waiting the fifth installment of unicorn. So I still can’t give this a grade but hey I really love those erotic scenes out there LOL. (fanservice?) anyway 5 episodes left for the show to showcase it’s so called brilliance to me :-D

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