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.
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.
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.
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.
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 08th MS Team||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|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|
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.
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.