[Amazingly, NO SPOILERS!]
I had a moment of existential doubt approaching the end of Armored Trooper VOTOMS. It wasn’t the show I hoped it would be. This is not entirely a bad thing. Thanks to reading The Animanachronism, particularly the post on the final arc, I’ve come to appreciate the contemplative simplicity in this show. It invites thinking, despite its incredible action content – there’s far more fighting and battle here than anything Gundam. This is no mean feat, and I’ll say more about this later.
I found myself lost in the post-apocalyptic city, the jungle, space, the desert, and through time as I tried to keep up with the narrative. It’s not that it’s confusing, it’s like I kept expecting something big, grand, and important to happen, and it largely didn’t until the very end, where the final boss wasn’t someone I expected in the least. Instead we see rather simple, small stories punctuated with lots and lots of fighting and destruction.
On the other hand, there’s Code Geass, which if we consider both seasons, is almost exactly the length of VOTOMS, they’re effectively both 4-cour shows, with Code Geass having the more over-the-top story, plot, and characters. For these reasons I find it more exciting than the older show, and for one other thing that confounds me, and this is very important: the roller-skating robots.
Code Geass had a very interesting treatment of the roller-skating real robots. It gave them a unique short range weapon: the slash harken. This allowed for interesting dynamics when the Knightmare Frames got close to each other. The slash harken is a claw that’s shot from the torso of the KMF and is attached with a strong cable. Presumably this limits the mobility of the target making it easier to hit by surrounding allied units.
However, I didn’t see much use of the slash harken this way, as the show was more interested in portraying flashy exchanges where the harkens directly break apart the target, though most of the time the harkens miss, are dodged, or even parried, or cut.
More importantly, however… the fighting potential of the KMF went through the roof as technology developed at lightning speed resulting in obsolescence of most units from the beginning of the show. The latter half of the show resulted in the deployment of super prototypes that unveiled very powerful exotic weaponry that changed the landscape of combat, resulting in the tactical deployment of KMFs to be futile, as each of the super prototypes can fight entire battle forces. Also, the battles have ultimately taken to the air, leaving the interesting rolling ground-based combat behind.
As a result, the show’s mecha combat was reduced to super units pairing off in duels. For me this is a very disappointing outcome as a mecha fan. Clearly, the show gave left its roots from VOTOMS and instead embraced the tradition indulged by the likes of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, and Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
This is ultimately underscored by the fact that Code Geass is much less a mecha battles show than any of the Gundams, that its final resolution occurs outside the final battle. Gundam shows resolve whatever the conflict is during the final fight. This is true for most mecha anime (Eureka SeveN, Macross Frontier, hell even Star Driver). Thus, the mecha battles exist more as features, or fanservice even. Thus, it can be forgiven for not making its mecha style much more than a showcase of toy products wherein each new unit gets to deploy its special attacks.
VOTOMS, on the other hand, devoted itself impressively to combat. I roughly estimate that a full third of the footage seen in all the show is that of mecha combat. This is insane. There’s always fighting, and it’s prolonged small-unit skirmishes every single time. Even more impressive, as far as I can tell, there is no recycling of animation. Sunrise never tired of animating ATs blowing up in so many different ways. It’s because the combat here consists of mostly ATs eating shots, fists, grenades, missiles, punches, kicks, and blowing up.
The fights consist of a bunch of ATs rolling around, firing rounds, and getting shot to pieces by Chirico, Fyana, and Ypsilon – the three super soldiers in the show. What’s interesting and also impressive is that none of them are immune to being shot down. They spend their respective turns getting blown out of their ATs. No super prototypes here. The things get shot up and blow up. The pilots move on.
But for all that – and this is the wasted thing here – there is a stupefying sameness to almost all of the battles. There is no real tactical innovation, despite changes in the environment: space, urban wreckage, jungle, desert, ship interior… it’s all the same. Dozens of ATs find their way into (mostly)Chirico’s line of fire and get shot to pieces. The style of combat is to simply rush the opponent using the roller wheels, firing the whole time. When in a defensive position, the defender just stays long enough under cover and fires when the opponent rushes. Or, takes its turn rushing at the enemy.
Combat prowess is mostly demonstrated by getting hit far less and landing more shots. There’s no cleverness or guile, or at least there’s none apparent. The lesser combatants just miss more, and get hit far more easier. And there’s sure to be a lot of them – almost a hundred to two ratios of combatants at times.
Sure there’s a novelty to the grim destruction of what usually would be flashy hero mecha. There’s almost zero flash, no fancy moves. Everything is done within the relatively limited capabilities of the humanoid tanks. Even the one on one duels just feature more evasion, circling around, and melee – but are otherwise the same kind of fight. The novelty, dried up for me very quickly.
I’ve seen one other Takahashi Ryosuke work: FLAG. In terms of mecha combat it is far, far, far more stingy than VOTOMS, but my god what battles it had was so incredibly satisfying. It went all out in portraying military operations very similar to how they’re portrayed in the Hollywood adaptations of Tom Clancy military thrillers: very coordinated, and operates on the level of high scarcity – every little thing matters.
The tension is provided by limited visibility, resources, and operating time. This more than compensates for the lack of continuous action, as whatever action is shown, it is portrayed incredibly well.
But let us take FLAG aside and see what has greater appeal between the two rollerblading mecha anime. Before anything else, I want to make it clear that I do not wish to see either style be adhered to by future anime. There’s so much in both that I dislike and have to put up with.
|Tactical/Strategic elements||No||Yes||Code Geass|
|Combat Scenes||Stupendous, staggering amount||Lots||Code Geass|
|Fighting while damaged||Oh hell yes||No||VOTOMS|
|Mecha Design variety||Some, but very subtle||Lots||Code Geass|
|Shouting debates while in the cockpit||Rare to never||Lots||VOTOMS|
|Most outrageous move||Flipping another AT with a kick from below||Spinzaku||Code Geass|
|Indestructible Pilot||Chirico Cuvie||Kururugi Suzaku||VOTOMS|
It would seem like VOTOMS is the clear winner, but like Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, it did what I consider a most grievous sin: it made a staggering amount of mecha combat boring. What I would otherwise consider a crowning asset to the show becomes a cloying, tiresome thing. This frustrates me to no end, and despite my many complaints about Code Geass, it emerges the better show in this showdown between roller-skating robot anime.