I’ve been a fan of Ryousuke Takahashi for quite a while now. This guy always manages to combine realism with an intelligent plot, that yet are epic and full of action. Because of that I obviously had to check out the series that put him on the map: Armored Trooper Votoms. And like most of his later works, it really is an excellent series that takes both itself and its audience seriously.
It’s interesting how this one of the few mecha-series that aired between the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam, and because of this it has the advantage of being inspired by the more serious and realistic Mobile Suit Gundam, but not the repetitive emo-fest that was Zeta Gundam. This allowed Ryousuke Takahashi to really play with the formula, and significantly improve on it in a lot of areas. And he succeeded at this really well.
Chirico really is the antithesis of all those wimpy teen-aged leads you see in anime through all ages. As an adult, he stands out as being a regular soldier, following the duties from his superiors. He is cold, heartless and can’t live without fighting, and even though he slightly softens up throughout the series he never loses his hard edges.
Another thing that’s been bugging me a lot about Gundam series is that while they start out diverse and different, for some reason they always start looking too much like each other, with the final quarter being a string of random battles that look like each other and most of the time hardly resolve anything. Again, Votoms aired before this trope was even created, so it beautifully avoided this. It’s basically made up out of four arcs of about 13 episodes (or 12 episodes and a recap), with each of these arcs being distinctly different from the others, and all of them get better and better as the show goes on. There really is plenty of action, but the creators manage to make the battles count: each of the battles has a point or purpose in the story, even if they’re very small. This really allows the story to evolve continuously.
There are some lighter parts in this story though: Chirico spends the series with three rather silly henchmen around him who are the ones who sometimes provide the comic relief. While at first they may seem annoying, this series knows very well how to handle them. They’re not just there to brighten up the mood and prevent the story from getting too dark, but they also prove to be surprisingly useful to the plot at times; they help to develop Chirico’s character, and tend to remind him what a socially awkward idiot he can be. While they’re not often the most pleasant to watch, without them this series would have lost one of its sparks, and looked a whole lot more generic.
This series does have its flaws, which mostly lie in small plot-holes throughout the story. It really is a series that continuously evolves, but for that it had to sacrifice a few things in the plot, like bringing a bunch of characters from one point in the universe to another instantly when it’s necessary for the plot, or characters knowing things that they aren’t supposed to know. And really, I’ve seen 52 episodes of this series now, along with the 12 episodes from the Pailsen Files, and I STILL don’t know what the “Votoms” in the title stands for. It seriously never gets mentioned in the entire series.
But yeah, those are just nitpicks. Votoms is a great recommendation if you’re looking for something old and dark, away from most cliches and teen-aged stereotypes. There is a romance in the series, but it’s handled really well and forms a central part in the series without dragging on. Ryousuke Takahashi is one heck of a talented director, and he already showed this in his first major series.