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On a distant world, the Perfect Soldier is finally created after genetic manipulation and a breeding program lasting centuries, but by the time this happens, the war has almost ended. The politicians and scientists who bred him either want him dead or want to use him in other, more sinister ways. But Chirico Cuve isn't a machine-he's a human being, and he's determined to find out who is responsible for all this. As the war ends he is separated from his unit, thrown into a series of desperate situations, enslaved, used as a gladiator in robot combat, enlisted as a mercenary, and meets the love of his life, only to discover that she too is a Perfect Soldier.
The first video, The Last Red Shoulder (1985), is a continuation of the story after the end of the TV series. Chirico leaves Udo City in search of his beloved Fiana. In Big Battle (1986), he finds her being held hostage by Bararant in an experimental facility near Koba City, and he and his comrades have to fight their way in to save her. 1987's Red Shoulder Document: The Roots of Treachery is a prequel to the TV series and shows Chirico's origins as part of a genetic experiment and recruitment into the Red Shoulder group. In 1994 Takahashi brought the same team together for a four-part video adventure set 32 years after the end of the TV series. Chirico and Fiana have been in cryo-sleep together for all that time, but now a new threat has arisen, and it's time for them to fight again. An extra item on the first tape, Votoms Briefing, filled in the backstory for those who missed the series 11 years earlier.
The "real robot" concept was born out of a conviction that the weapons of the future would not be made of shiny metal in clean, bright primary colors. Designer Okawara wanted to create suits that looked as if they could be made in a 20th-century factory, designed so that the toys that would inevitably be spun off the series could be posed and moved exactly like their animated inspirations (unlike many of the suits he'd designed for Gundam) and smaller in scale than his designs for Dougram.
Robots, which started out in anime primarily as cool toys to even up the odds for the little guy (children, the human race, or the Japanese) against a big, hostile world (adults, alien invaders, or foreign competition), had been seen right from the first as having as much potential for destruction as for good. Gigantor could be used by evil men just as easily as by perky little Jimmy Sparks-the power lay in the hands of whoever held the remote control. Takahashi and his fellow writers and directors extended this idea into the whole range of future military technology (VOTOMs is an acronym for Vertical One-man Tank for Offensive Maneuvers), showing robots and scientifically enhanced superbeings as just another weapon in the arsenal of the politicians, and war as a vicious, dehumanizing process in which honor and courage came from the individual, rather than any religion or value system, and could be crushed as easily as an insect (see Grey: Digital Target). It also didn't hurt that Votoms' hero resembled Steve McQueen (lead character in the Western Junior Bonner, an early inspiration for the anime), whose laconic combination of little-boy charm and man's-man toughness was hugely popular with Japanese audiences.
The concept and the appealingly gritty realism of Takahashi's future war vision spun off another video series set in the same universe, as the title signals. Written by Takahashi but directed by Takeyuki Kanda, Armored Trooper Votoms: Armor Hunter Merowlink (1988, Kiko Ryohei Merowlink) is the story of a young rookie who is the sole survivor of a platoon cut down by bungling and treachery higher up the ranks. Framed for desertion and the deaths of his colleagues, he vows to avenge them; each of the twelve 25-minute episodes shows one act of vengeance on an individual betrayer. A brilliantly paced series richly meriting a Western release, it combines good character development and edge-of-the-seat tension. There are points when Merowlink doesn't simply suspend disbelief but knocks it out cold, especially in the final episode with an escape sequence as silly on calm reflection as it is absolutely convincing while you watch. Sequences of extreme violence and deliberate cruelty are carefully calculated to enhance the effect of this stunning rite-of-passage tale. The series was a major inspiration for the Heavy Gear role-playing war- and video-game franchise, which now has its own CGI cartoon series. Note that Votoms has many recap episodes and fix-ups of preexisting videos, which are sometimes mistaken for original episodes. These recapitulations are ATV: Highlights, Stories of the ATV 2, Woodo, Kammen, Sansa, and Quant. LV