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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.