Before anything else, lets get the criticisms out of the way for both those who have already seen Broken Blade or have read the manga and are eager to point them out, and for those interested in this 6 episode OVA and want a full picture. This is a show that puts the bulk of its attention behind the action elements. The characters are not unlikeable by any means, however they are not given enough camera time nor plot progression to fully develop. Relationships and back stories are stated but not explored. Many future character growths are hinted at, but fall short of the scope of the show. In that sense, the cast of Broken Blade leaves much to be desired. That said, Broken Blade is absolutely brilliant in another light. It succeeds in disproving the rule of cool that explosions enhance a combat experience, replacing it with something better.
Set in what the show suggests is a far future post apocalypse world, the setting of Broken Blade is devoid of oil or seemingly any other form of combustible energy sources. Instead, humanity as a whole have gained an unexplained power simply dubbed "magic" that allows them to control and manipulate a ubiquitous material called quartz through touch. This allows for the creations of hand tools, automobiles, ships, pressure guns, all through the usage of quartz technology. Of course, it bleeds over into military technology as well in the form of golems. Through the manipulation of quartz ligaments, these giant bipedal mechs do combat through both melee weaponry as well as pressure guns.
The genius of Broken Blade's combat is derived through this setting. Golems are designed in such a way that, because of their lack of any combustible components, nor anything outside melee or projectile weapons, there are no explosions. Things do not spark and smoke. Instead, a broken golem chips, cracks, and crumbles in extremely satisfying ways as the quartz they are composed of break apart like rocks do in real life. The action as a whole is given, quite literally, a very clear and visible form because of this design choice.
Further, the lack of smoke and explosions lets something else be seen unhindered: pilot deaths. Most mech shows have shots to the cockpit be either obscured by exploding control panels or, in the cause of wanting to emphasize a permanent death (and sometimes not even delivering that), engulf the scene with white light. Such techniques are not possible in Broken Blade, and the show is better for it. Character deaths of some significance are given more visual focus. There is no gore mind you, but when a pilot is killed during an *inside the cockpit* shot, there is no attempt at hiding the fact.
Lastly, there are the weapons. The lead mech of the show, like many other real robot anime series, is a super powered prototype far superior to the rest of the cast. However, not even the Delphine's far stronger physical capabilities is able to escape the limited weapons catalogue of the setting it is placed in. The world has swords, lances, and pressure guns as weaponry for the golems. While the Delphine is a super robot in everything but name, its lack of any internal weapons systems means it is stuck using those said weaponry as well. In other words, the combat is crude in a way that ups the tension, and makes full use of the mech design to give us good battle damage. A pressure gun will fire multiple rounds before downing a golem, each round creating a crack on the golem's frame. Physical weapons crushes and dents, at the same time finding themselves splintering under the force of the attacks. It is actually hard to kill someone, and that not only makes fights more exciting, it makes the few aces capable of dispatching a foe quickly all the more impressive.
Perhaps not for those looking for a depth in character and story, but Broken Blade set its eyes on a goal, and achieved it quite well.
Full disclosure: this post was written at 8 am during a stint of caffeine induced insomnia. Over the course of the day, I have read and reread it, wondering if such a garbled mess should be posted. I ultimately decided it should. When I first watched it, Honey and Clover was a series I immediately adored, and ended up having a big impact on me. Partly because of where I was personally in life, and partly because of the trials and tribulations of the cast, I ended up finding the characters very relatable, so much so that watching the show put me in a state of contemplation about my own life. It was this morning (or last night, whatever) that I stumbled over a blog post from two and a half years ago on my reactions to this show, and I felt compelled to respond to myself.
Be warned: this post is not a well written post by any means. It's incoherent, overly ponderous, and raw. Oh, and it certainly won't be a good introductory post for anyone wanting to find out just what the show is about. I didn't spend time mulling over and rewriting sentences, trying to find the proper wording and verbiage to get my point across. But I'm leaving it like this because seeing my own in such a crude form is quite a personal experience.
"Perhaps it’s the fact that he was in the same stage of life as I am. Perhaps it’s the fact that his lack of direction gave him an increased sense of humanity. Either way, everything that happened to him through out the show felt far more personal, far more relatable than anything that I have watched. And his struggles inevitably to force me to think on my own. Where am I heading? What stops remain along the way? And as the fear of passing days that flew by despite lack of preparation for the future passed through Takemoto’s thoughts, I found myself hitting pause, and for a long moment, sighing heavily.
But of course, I’m not Takamoto, and of course, he’s not me. And while his own journey gave him a clearer sight of his destination in life, I still wonder where my life might lead me."
I can't deny that I was very much like Takemoto, and probably for longer than I would care to admit. He was always uncertain of his feelings towards Hagu-chan, a new student he met in the beginning of his sophomore year, from the beginning to almost the end. He was uncertain if fighting for her affection against Morita, a senior student far more talented than he and yet was also a close friend, was a battle worth fighting. He was uncertain just what he wanted out of life, having seemingly drifted from spot to spot based on nothing but the closest goal post. Indeed, Takemoto's story in Honey and Clover was one of uncertainty. As an art student in Tokyo who arrived there simply because he liked making things with his hands and no other reason, I really was like him both in high school and college.
Yet looking back at this blog post, I am wondering why I felt so attached to him as a character. Perhaps I was swayed by the fact that he was the lead character of the show, if you could claim for there to be just one. But there were also characters like Mayama, Takemoto's friend and mentor, and also student of the university. Now that I think back, he, amongst other major characters, were more interesting character than the ever uncertain Takemoto. He had his own romantic issues, which is the bedrock for the drama filled plot of Honey and Clover. Affection from a childhood friend, Yamada, which he would not let himself reciprocate to. And feelings for Rika, an older woman and owner of a design studio that he has interned for, but feelings that she, similarly, would not let herself reciprocate to. All three have their own personal reasons, their own personal trials, whether it be past mistakes, crutches, or the genuinity of one's feelings.
I now see a bit of myself in each of those trials, much as I had Takemoto's. Characters like Hagu-chan and Shu-chan, Hagu's uncle and the guidance counselor to all our main cast (how else do you think they became such friends?) are no exception, though I think I've listed enough vague emotional burdens each character carries. Perhaps its a sign of growth in the last three years that I find myself resembling older characters. Or maybe I'm just a more keen anime watcher with a whole wall of nostalgia to guide me as I think back to this show.
That was quite the mess of words I wrote. Though aside from all those reminiscent analysis, there is one piece of certainty that I can give the show. In a moment of extreme stress and angst, Takemoto jumped on his bike with nothing prepared, and begin riding northwards. A few days into his impromptu journey, the chain on his bike breaks in front of an old shrine undergoing repairs, resulting in a serendipitous meeting with a construction crew that lets him work with them, using the wages he earns to buy a new bike. It was through this experience that he realizes what he wants to do. For a person who was led to where he was because he liked making things with his hands, this felt both enjoyable and rewarding to him. Or so the show would like me to believe. But I'm at this point now. Or rather, I'm past this point now. "Life changing experiences" like this I feel like I can say is false on a personal level. That the kind of certainty Takemoto has gained is so fleeting it is sickening and depressing. And suddenly, the ending, Takemoto's return to Tokyo after he rounded Hokaido and came back a man, feels so much emptier. And yet somehow still awesome.
Of course, that says much more about me than it does Takemoto, and the show. But then again, that's the point of this post, maybe.
Edit: Huh, switching to Chrome fixed the image upload issues. Woo pretty pictures.
Mobile Suit Gundam made its debut in 1979, and legitimized the entire Real Robot genre as something people wanted to watch. Up until then, mecha anime was dominated by Super Robots. Flashy attacks, screaming out attack names, and neigh infinite power sources that broke every law of physics were both common place and incredibly popular. What Gundam helped popularize was the concept of robots not being invincible. Realistic weapons such as plain old guns (giant guns but guns none the less) replaced the absurd like rocket punches and yo-yos. Energy and ammo became actual things that could run out in a fight, and the fictional world developed real world physics such as Lagrange Points as well as fake, but realistic sounding such as Minovsky Physics that helped create clean nuclear reactors. It was a far step from the world of "Super Alloy Z" and "Photon Power."
Thus it is even more ironic that Gundam could never pierce the realm of quasi-realism with its own Gundams. For example, the Zeta Gundam from the show of the same name (sequel to the first show) is literally powered by the spirits of dead newtypes and magic. The Nu Gundam and the Sazabi both use psycommu systems , which in layman's terms are giant megaphones for a newtype's ESP-esque powers. Victory Gundam had giant girls in bikinis in space (Look I don't even know what...). The list goes on and on, and all the more so as we go from the Universal Century universe to the many Alternate Universe Gundam shows where Gundams are super robots in everything but name. These Gundams are ominpotent beings that can only be defeated by other Gundams. It doesn't stop just at the mecha design, but is applied to the combat itself. The rule of cool makes melee oriented combat a continued must in a world where ranged weaponry are common place. The samurai-like design choice for the iconic RX-78-2 Gundam doesn't help things.
Lastly, there are the pilots. They are constantly aces, often newtypes or some analog for a newtype. Capable of seemingly swinging the tide of battles single handedly, their plot armor means they not only cannot be killed, they cannot even be touched or damaged by the common soldier. Much like how Gundams can be taken down only by other Gundams, these aces are only capable of falling at the hands of each other.
And then there is the 08th MS Team. It succeeds at, or perhaps is the only show to even attempt to bring Gundams down to earth, making them just another war machine instead of the stars of 30 minute long toy ads.
The first thing worth noting is most easily demonstrated with a simple viewing of the show's OP.
Ok, I lied. Many things are in fact evident through this OP, but lets take it one step at a time. We are treated to a scene showing the effect of terrain on mecha. A mere gunboat out maneuvering a Gundam in water is seen about half a minute in. Moments where the show almost admits to the fact that treads are better than bipedal legs for mechs are common in this show, or at least common compared to most other mecha shows, regardless of being real robot or super robot in genre. The second episode has the show's main protagonist Shiro Amada finding trouble getting his footing in a jungle battlefield, letting his Gundam trip and fall in the process. Too much sand getting caught in the machinery causes mechanical failure while oxygen preservation in zero g environments become focuses at different points.
Another point is the lack of flash and bravado in that OP. There is an emphasis on the soldiers fighting the war, not the mecha. You see a Gundam firing but once in the OP, and it very much lacks the "one man against the world vibe" that many over Gundam show openings give. The contents of the show does not betray what the OP offers. The 08th Mobile Suit team is composed of 3 Gundams. But always in toll, and constantly shown to be invaluable by the show itself, is an armored support tank that houses sensitive electronic senors. Further, instead of one man armies, we get small squad tactics. The assault on an enemy base is not done by the main characters charging in, but by the systematic bombardment of long range artillery units while the Gundams play babysitter to these units and keep them safe. The attack on a few Zakus occupying a civilian village is done by Shiro, on foot, using a few hand held RPGs while the rest of his team provide long range cover. Compare the previous OP to this one, belonging to Gundam Seed Destiny and the beam spaming Strike Freedom Gundam.
...Actually no, screw you, you go find them. It physically hurts even watching one, and the music is horrible except for the 4th opening which has Vestige. Have some Gundam 00. It proves my point just the same.
The combat in the show is not flashy either. Though due partly to the in world chronology where miniaturized beam weapons were still very far from commonplace, there is little to no pew pewing in this show. Instead of lasers of every color under the sun, we get 100 mm machine guns, rocket launchers, and RPGs. This in effect makes fights last longer and almost less deadly as even a Zaku's armor can take multiple shots before succumbing while able to dish back significant blows. Melee combat is also significantly reduced. Beam sabers are drawn a total of 3 or 4 times over the course of the entire show, and always in desperation. In a world of guns, 08th MS Team ditches the rule of cool and embraces the logic that shooting each other is far better a choice than running up and slashing.
And lastly, there are the pilots. Following the theme of the show, these are not aces, but rather grunts. Grunts that can come out on top against other grunts, but grunts none the less. They aren't the most skilled, and the fact that they are actually capable of missing their shots gives the combat a degree of tension not usually existent when your protagonists are aces. In fact, when the 08th team finally bumps heads against the only pilot worthy of being called an ace in the entire show, they are pushed to the brink and given a sound trouncing as seen below. Note: obvious spoilers.
This is the ending where I'm suppose to say some concluding thoughts that tie up all the points I made so far. But I suck at those, so please imagine one for yourself.
Edit: Author's Note - If you know me on Giant Bomb, this post will probably seem familiar. FoxxFireArt's recent posting on GB (and the rest of the WM sites) convinced me that I should help rectify some of the issues I take with AV and start contributing written content myself. I'm going to port over some of the more coherent blog posts I've written on various shows as well as hopefully finally put some of the blog ideas I've had for awhile down into words. God knows I need to spend my paid vacation days doing something other than lounge around until 7 am before going to bed. Speaking of which, its 7 am....