Buddy Complex had me worried at the start, mostly because it reminded me of Valrave the Liberator and I have nothing good to say about that show.
Thankfully Buddy Complex managed to rise above that particular image; though ‘rise above’ is too strong a statement to use with regards to this anime. Buddy Complex is commendable for being an entertaining mecha anime, nothing more, nothing less.
On the first day back after summer break, high-school student Aoba is attacked by a giant robot that appears out of the sky. As he's pursued through the city, his classmate Hina appears in a robot of her own. She rescues him, and tells him cryptically that "Dio is waiting for you", before she disappears. This begins Aoba's new life as the pilot of the Free Treaty Alliance against the Great Zogilia Republic.
I am not the biggest mecha fan; not that I don’t enjoy watching giant robots doing combat on screen. But it can get pretty repetitive. Once you have seen one giant mech battle, you have technically seen them all.
Which is why I couldn’t see the Buddy Complex appeal when I first considered watching it. And I still don’t. Buddy Complex stands upon the base of pure entertainment value alone, in which the characters are inherently likeable and fun to watch but nothing more.
Aoba is an innocent boy that finds himself cast into a war seventy years in the future between two warring parties; he finds, to many a surprised persons, that he possesses the ability to utilize the newly invented coupling system better than any other pilot ever trained, allowing him to connect minds with a second pilot, combining strengths and knowledge to bring forth a new power.
Basically Pacific Rim within a world war context. And maybe that is all Buddy complex has to offer, a fun ride in which we get to follow Aoba’s exploits.
Stranded on a alien earth, he has to come to terms with his fate, the nonexistence of all he knew and the hostility of a seemingly evil foe. Along the way, he makes connections, with Dio, his coupling partner, and the various members of the Alliance he encounters.
If that sounds mildly entertaining, that is because it actually is; and that is the problem. Buddy complex never advances beyond this rather typical premise. The World war is a pretty bland affair, the political complications and conflicts that constitute the various battles proving to be quite boring.
Buddy complex plays out as a typically good vs. evil scenario, in which the Zogilia empire seems intent on ruling earth and an alliance of nations rises to stop them. I say ‘seems’ because very little effort is injected into explaining the purpose and reasons driving the different sides.
Zogilia is a fashioned in darkness, typically donning and armored in darker tones; its cast ever frowning or exuding a sense of negativity, that as opposed to the light surrounding the Alliance.
Certainly some effort is placed into actually fleshing the Zogilia force. Well, I say ‘fleshed out’, but all the anime does is allow us to meet these young men and women, does almost nothing to actually elucidate upon their role in the war, perspectives and reasoning.
+I don’t want to call Buddy Complex cliché, because it isn’t. It is a story that fails to be what it wants. And I believe it knows what it wants, unlike so many other failures, taking into account the way the plot develops.
The attempt to create a sense of personal conflict, to show that both warring parties are indeed human beings with personalities and goals and beliefs that they fight for just about fell flat. Zogilia wasn’t interesting enough, its soldiers just random faces that the author felt the need to name for purposes of depth.
Maybe if we knew a little more about this war than the shallow briefing we were provided near the start, but the anime more or less ignores the war as a whole. And truth be told Buddy Complex would be perfectly fine without all this complex and layered stuff; probably even better. It is the fact that it tried and failed to achieve its intended level of depth that the anime falters and loses a few points.
Buddy complex is the Dio and Aoba story. Their various conflicts were a source of entertainment, as was the coupling system and related elements. Though the conflicts between Cygnus and the higher ups over the coupling system seemed so silly and utterly forced.
Little reason was given for the Alliance choosing to ignore and even debase a weapon as powerful as the coupling system beyond a cheap attempt at creating conflict.
Same thing goes for the way the battles were staged, somewhat ridiculously and forced.
Every time Aoba needed to learn one thing or Dio wanted to prove another or a new mech or attack was in play, it was silly how a Zogilia attack would occur almost immediately after.
I couldn’t overlook the convenience; it was like the author intended to craft an engaging set of battles but couldn’t quite figure out how to lead into them. Considering all the talk about stealth and cloaking technology and secrecy, it felt like Zogilia could find the Alliance forces and ships anytime it felt like it.
I found it fascinating that the power ups behind Buddy Complex were essentially an interesting variation of the power of friendship common in most shonen series, in which the relationship between two individuals and its strength determined the levels of power achieved.
Now admittedly we have seen these settings before, where synchronization of some sort requires a specified level of compatibility on a mental or emotional level.
That being said most such scenarios occur between man and machine and are rarely a matter of two human beings combining metal prowess.
I can summarize Buddy Complex as such:
The character interactions were pretty good and engaging.
Aoba was a decent hero, not too dumb as to ignore the obvious, never too unrealistically emotional, not so suddenly capable as to render better trained characters useless.
Certain characters received a healthy level of exposition and development, Dio most of all.
The Mecha battles were entertaining and never repetitive.
There were way too many coincidences, and that doesn’t even include the worm hole’s sudden appearance.
The antagonists were all forgettable, just random individuals with names we didn’t even need to know. All but Hina and her loyal pet.
Little effort is injected into explaining the war and the motives behind each party. I don’t need my antagonists to be deep and layered; I simply would have liked to know a little more of what Zogilia wanted.
All in all, an entertaining 13 episodes from Sunrise, worth the watch but nothing so impressive as to be mind blowing or even memorable. IN other words, if you choose not to watch Buddy Complex, you wouldn’t be missing much.
RATING: 6/10, not the best of mecha but not the worst. It would have worked better if not for the subtle attempt to inject depth, and the endless coincidental attacks.