Posted by psgels on 1 July 2009 with categories: Anime Reviews



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.

Storytelling: 9/10
Characters: 9/10
Production-Values: 8/10
Setting: 9/10

14 Responses

  1. IKnight says:

    The plot holes aren’t helped by the multiple prequels adding extra confusion and the fact that Big Battle and The Last Red Shoulder both take place within the original series’s timeframe. I imagine the staff weren’t sure they had the funding to make a fully fifty-episode series when they started out, too. But perhaps the clearly separated arc structure of the plot helps to deal with that. There’s a massive plot hole in Dougram, Takahashi’s previous series, when two characters have a flashback to a flashforward that hasn’t happened yet!

    Wikipedia claims that VOTOMS stands for ‘Vertical One-man Tank for Offense and ManeuverS’, which sounds like an explanation cooked up after the fact to me.

  2. Julian says:

    This anime is….confusing…

  3. Firechick says:

    You sure like realism and intelligent plots and dark stories.

    If you’re a fan of realistic settings and dark stories and characters, you should definitely check out this movie called Ringing Bell (aka Chirin no Suzu). It’s about a lamb who becomes a wolf’s apprentice when his mom is killed…by that very same wolf! It may seem kiddy at first, but after the first 10-15 minutes, it immediately goes into a COMPLETELY different direction. There’s no blood, but there IS violence. And best of all, there’s no happy ending! Unfortunately, the movie is hard to find since it was made in 1978, and it’s available on YouTube only in English. But I think you’ll really like it if you’re into animals being portrayed in a realistic manner and darkly toned stories and twisted moods and vice versa.

  4. Pax says:

    Nice to see that you have watched this classic anime and enjoyed it.So far,i have only watched the 1st two arcs and it is one of those anime that even if i like i doubt there are many other who i would recommend watching it.One can clearly see its age,it can be quite slow,it has its pacing problems,but i like its dark story and Chirico is a great main character,i like the way he evolves and learns to care about other.Votoms is for me one of the few serious sci-fi anime one can find.

    You should also try Layzner,another anime from Takahashi and another classic i would recommend to you would be L-Gaim,it’s from Tomino.

  5. Camario says:

    The importance of plot holes is relative though…I’m sure someone else probably cares a lot more about them than you do, by all means, so we’ll see how that goes for me. I might be more generous, or I might be more demanding.

    In any case, I’ve been interested in Armored Trooper Votoms for a while and everything makes it sound like something that would appeal to me, so this review adds yet another reason.

    I just need the time and resources, literally and otherwise. That’s what keeps delaying my watching older, longer series lately.

    It’s possible that I might end up watching Armor Hunter Mellowlink, a Votoms spin-off, first. You might want to look into that too.

    By the way, I would also second the previous recommendation for SPT Layzner, if you’re interested.

    I’ve only seen the first few episodes but a slightly similar vibe seems to be present, although events take place in a Cold War context and teenagers are very much involved…initially as spectators who end up getting much more than they bargained for, granted, but the setting justifies it. Then again, I don’t necessarily dislike so-called “emo” in and of itself either.

  6. Camario says:

    On a different note, have you seen Gasaraki yet? I’ve always wanted to here more about that one, considering how its reputation is a bit negative.

  7. Keith says:

    Gasaraki was pretty good, in my opinion. It’s fairly slow but it’s definitely one of the more realistically-toned anime out there. The politics in the story are fleshed out just as well as about anything else. Not to say that it’s realistic, because it’s not.

    I feel like Gasaraki got negative reviews because most people don’t have much of an attention span.

  8. Camario says:

    Looks like my first comment disappeared into the void, somehow.

    I’ve been interested in Votoms for a while and everything makes it sound like something that would appeal to me, so this review adds yet another reason. I may watch Armor Hunter Mellowlink first though, since that will take me less time.

    Also, the importance of plot holes is often relative. I might care more or less for them than you did, in time, but we’ll see have that turns out.

    By the way, I would second the recommendation for SPT Layzner. The Cold War setting and survivalist atmosphere makes for a relatively unique work. It’s been quite interesting, at least for the first few episodes I’ve seen. There are some teenagers involved and they do angst, but I think it’s justified under the circumstances.

  9. Camario says:

    That’s good to hear, Keith. I might check it out myself, at least at some point.

    That’s strange, it looks like my first comment disappeared into the void, somehow. Oh well, nevermind.

  10. Camario says:

    Sorry if I might be spamming a little. I’ve been interested in Armored Trooper Votoms for a while and everything makes it sound like something that would appeal to me, so this review adds yet another reason.

    I may watch Armor Hunter Mellowlink first though, since that will take me less time.

    By the way, I would second the recommendation for SPT Layzner. The Cold War setting and survivalist atmosphere makes for a relatively unique work. It’s been quite interesting, at least for the first few episodes I’ve seen.

  11. psgels psgels says:

    Camario: apologies. Sometimes blogsome has the tendency to hold very long comments for moderation.

  12. Nomus says:

    Thanks! This review finally inspired me to watch it (couldn’t make up my mind all this time since Pailsen Files).

  13. heavensdrive says:

    Hey! Im really having a hard time finding the series online…. i pinned down all the Ova’s, i really like this story!

  14. vp says:

    Thanks for this, really. Was trying to find something to quench my thirst after finishing Legend of Galactic Heroes and this got me really interested.

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  • Emma
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 11:46 AM)
    Wait, wait scratch that, that was an old article/rumour…feck…
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 11:39 AM)
    @Bam: I was quite fond of Gillian Andersons character.
    Apparently Laurence Fishburne wants to quit the show =<
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 10:44 AM)
    I really enjoyed Alana Bloom’s shadow transformation during the season two hypnotherapy sessions. I thought was visually stunning and thematically relevant. Bryan Fuller has managed to gather quite a bit of talent around himself in the recent years, but Mads is undeniably both the egg that holds this cake together as well the cherry that’s sitting on the top.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 10:37 AM)
    Word of mouth and good reception managed to raise the viewership near the tail end of the 2nd season, that and the aforementioned cosponsorship managed to pull a hallelujah and bring the show back from the verge of death. And I’m glad tha happened.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 10:32 AM)
    I also always felt that their screen chemistry was mesmerizing and am very surprised that some critics found that it was lacking in that very same department, but to each his own I guess. The budget is not all that low actually, and the reason the 3rd season was greenlit was in part due to a dedicated fanbase, as well as the fact that this is a joint effort between NBC and a European studio who undertakes portions of the expenses.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 10:08 AM)
    There is this…certain chemistry between Dancy and Mikelson in that show too.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 10:01 AM)
    *their
    As much as I love the inventiveness and creativity of the death/crime scenes I can see how someone would find them silly.
  • Emma
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 09:54 AM)
    @Bam: I had heard there were alot of cancellation risks but that there series was cheap to make, if its true the budget is low, then they’ve worked around it effectively.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 09:27 AM)
    But everyone knows that this is Mads Mikkelsen’s show, and it’s really his magnetic charm and the series’ strong cinematography that sells the experience. I also think that the special effects are very well handled, and the whole show has a seriously disturbing edge while still managing to stay classy. Quite sophisticated if nothing else.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Feb 28. 2015 09:22 AM)
    @Emma: I’ve been steadily enjoying Hannibal and am thrilled for the third season. A lot of people had a problem with Hugh Dancy as Graham since they believe that he doesn’t fit the novels or the earlier adaptations, but I take this show as as a whole new reimagining of the story so I don’t particularly mind him, and I do think that he’s mania is quite palpable.

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