Godannar vol. 1
Mike Toole rates it:
Shows like Blue Gender and Mobile Suit Gundam are pretty good at depicting giant robots as tools, not much different from tanks or forklifts. But sometimes that isn’t what you want to see; sometimes it’s far more fun to imagine robots as skyscraper-sized behemoths who can kick up tornadoes or set fire to the ionosphere with the sheer force of their outrageous, voice-activated attacks. Godannar director Yasushi Nagaoka understands this better than any modern anime director (excepting Yasuhiro “Giant Robo” Imagawa, who is always an exception to the rules), and with this series he delivers twenty-six episodes of raw, crazed robot power, larger-than-life personalities, and– this is kind of new– fanservice. Fanservice is a staple of many modern robot shows (see also Gunbuster, or that part in Mazinkaiser where Sayaka loses her bikini top and the effect is like watching a suspension bridge collapse), but Godannar elevates it to heights seldom seen, even in the raciest of harem comedies.
Everything goes to hell in a handbasket in 2042. (What is it about the 40s, anyway?) The earth finds itself under siege by Mimetic beasts, strange invaders who absorb energy and resources and attack cities indiscriminately. In a more ordinary world, we’d see conventional warfare and crisis management, but why have that when you can have a giant robot army? Goh Saruwatari was part of that army, which successfully repelled the invaders and brought some measure of stability back to the world. But five years later, he’s still grappling with his experiences in that great war, haunted by the death of his partner and working strictly as a bacukup pilot.
Of course, things are still pretty rosy for Goh– he lives comfortably with his baby brother, Shinobu, and as the series opens he’s about to get married to Anna Aoi, a girl he’d saved five years earlier, in the climax of that war. The odd thing is that 29-year-old Goh, a hulking man with a lantern jaw and eternally beetling eyebrows, is marrying 17-year-old Anna, a vivacious redhead with more curves than a racetrack. Their relationship seems a little odd, even to their friends, but they seem like a good match and have the blessing of Anna’s mother, so what the hell. The wedding bells get placed on hold when Goh gets a rare call-up to defuse a Mimetic beast-related crisis– but even though Goh gave Anna a humorous “You’re about to become a ROBOT PILOT’S WIFE, you know” lecture, the girl follows her would-be husband right into battle. In the process, she unearths an old prototype robot, hops into the cockpit, and somehow successfully merges her pink, girl-shaped Okusaer robot with Goh’s huge, barrel-chested Dannar model. You can see where this is going– the two young lovers combine their powers in a single cockpit, the two small robots become one BIG robot with twin plasma engines, and the bad guys get routed.
It seems a little by-the-numbers at first, but Godannar is honestly a lot of fun. This is because the show is a giant robot series taken to almost every possible extreme– there are fancy combinations and special attacks galore (the Godannar itself uses a move called “Heart Breaker” to freeze its enemies, then proceeds to hammer them with a “Soul Breaker” to shatter them like glass), there are color-coordinated jumpsuits and secret bases, the cast of characters is filled with funny and fiery personalities, and the plot is brimming with action and melodrama. See, Goh and Anna have to come to terms with being newlyweds AND robot pilot partners (once Anna gets a taste of the action, she reports to the base and proceeds to ace the combat training), all while under the watchful and bemused eye of Kiriko, Anna’s spectacularly-endowed, chain-smoking mother– who, by the way, is in charge of the good guys! Along for the ride are Shizuru, another hot female robot pilot, who harbors secret desires of her own, her wounded partner Tetsuya Kouji (that’s a hell of a Mazinger Z homage!), and Sugiyama, Kiriko’s heavily scarred, stone-faced second in command.
Another thing I really like about Godannar is that it doesn’t limit the global Mimetic Beast crisis to Japan. There are awesome super robot teams all over the world, including China’s Goddiner, America’s Genesister, Russia’s Volspina, and Britain’s Dragliner. Each robot is manned with stereotypical pilots of their own, whether it be Britain’s ladykilling ace Knight (and his hot sister, Ellis) China’s ragingly aggressive Mokaku, or Russia’s sexpot Ecaterina. In this world, it seems, all nations have cool giant robots, outrageous pilots in outrageous outfits, and awesome special attacks.
To me, Godannar‘s only serious crime is taking every aspect of itself to such incredible extremes; a single episode of this first DVD was enough to exhaust me. Even the show’s occasional moment of comedy socks you in the face– it’s not enough for Anna to constantly call Goh her pet name of “Goh-chin;” every character does it in a couple of memorable scenes. One aspect of the show in particular is so incredibly overblown it’s ridiculous, and that’s the fanservice. To a certain extent, Godannar seems like the result of a big brawl between the super robot animators and the harem comedy animators, where the robot guys won but kept a couple of the harem guys around to keep things interesting. It’s just that every character in the series is at least a C-cup; even 12 year old Lou Roux, a dour girl whose personality evokes Betterman‘s Hinoki, worries me when she appears onscreen, because I just know I’m going to get a faceful of her underpants. The girls in this show bounce and sway so pendulously that it brings to mind ancient Sumerian earth mother statues; even the mechanics in Godannar are hot, curvy babes. Top all that off with a generous helping of camel toe and visible nipples and shower the show with plenty of bizarre perspectives (we frequently get to ogle Anna from the viewpoint of a gynecologist), and you can understand why Godannar just seems too excessive at times. I mean, hell, even the robots have boobs. (Roboobs?)
I only watched one episode of Godannar in Japanese. I liked Takayuki Kondou’s rough, ready performance as Goh and Mai Nakahara’s spunky Anna, but ADV really have a good handle on how to adapt and dub this series. The actors are great– George Manley is hilarious as the outrageously belligerent Moukaku in one episode; Chris Ayres plays the fiery young pilot Kouji well, even from a hospital bed, and Brett Weaver is pretty much the best possible choice to play Goh; his voice has a sense of presence and power that few others in his field possess. Hilary Haag really stands out as Anna, as well– her role calls for a lot of yelling and arguing, and she really rises to the task well– Haag unleashes one of the best “NOOOOOOOOO!”s I’ve heard since Excel Saga.
Godannar has an odd pedigree. Its director cut his teeth on Rayearth and Crest of the Stars episodes. One of the mechical designers is the Saber Marionette J guy. But the man most responsible for Godannar‘s look (and, I’m assuming, it’s outrageous sexual overtones) is Takahiro Kimura, the character designer. He’s found a lot of mainstream success with shows like GaoGaiGar and Betterman, but all you need is one look at the female characters’ gravity-defying curves and slinky outfits to realize that the guy hasn’t forgotten his roots in hentai games. The thing is, I like his work– his bright, expressive faces are ideal for a giant robot show. Altogether, the show is a solid production, with good animation (you can also thank 3D director Tetsuya Watanabe for that; he fuses 3D robot scenes effortlessly with the show’s abundance of 2D animation), a great cast, and snappy theme songs that evoke those great robot shows of the 70s and early 80s.
I could point out how preposterous this series is, with its blazing sexual tension, relentless fanservice, and roboobs, but Godannar left me with a big smile on my face; I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy just about every minute of it. The director and his staff know just when to let up, which is never. Every character and robot in Godannar goes up to 11, and it makes for some excellent hero robot viewing. ADV’s DVD is filled out with some character profiles and production artwork– the usual stuff, really. Altogether, Godannar is a good example of a classic giant robot series with modern sensibilities. It’s a show that realizes that huge robots with giant metal faces are kind of silly, but still treats the material with grace and good humor. If the director can just even out the balancing act between HOT ROBOT ACTION and HOT CLEAVAGE ACTION, we may just end up with the best super robot series since Giant Robo.
Added: Sunday, September 04, 2005
Related Link: ADV Films