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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Shin Seiki Den Mars: The Third Time's the Charm?

The late Mitsuteru Yokoyama may not be as big of a name to anime and manga fans outside of Japan, but in his home country he is right up there with the likes of Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori in terms of trailblazing. The "first giant robot"?  Tetsujin 28, known in North America as Gigantor, was created by Yokoyama back in 1956 and debuted on television back in 1963. The first magical girl anime? That would be Mahoutsukai Sally, which debuted back in 1966. In 1971, Yokoyama debuted Babel II, which might just be the first manga about a boy with psychic powers who fights against evil. The man's magnum opus? Sangokushi/Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 60-volume manga adaptation of the legendary novel based on China's Three Kingdoms era... And Yokoyama's manga adaptation even goes beyond the novel and tells the entire war! The most well-known and beloved anime based on Yokoyama's works outside of Japan is Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, a 7-episode OVA series which came out from 1992 to 1998, which, ironically enough, is actually not an adaptation of Yokoyama's Giant Robo manga, but instead is a giant love letter to the man's catalog, bringing together characters, locales, and giant robots into one crazy world. Odd how his most-well-known work isn't even his own creation...

And that same factoid even applies to an individual work of Yokoyama's: Mars. Though most manga fans will probably associate the "Mars" name with the shojo manga that debuted in 1996 and was released in North America by TokyoPop, I am talking about the sci-fi action manga that Yokoyama debuted in 1976 for Akita Shoten's Shonen Champion Magazine. The manga ran for 5 volumes and has seen three separate anime adaptations since then. The 1980's TV anime Rokushin Gattai God Mars/Six God Combination God Mars is by far the most popular and well-known of the adaptations, but it's also the least accurate, taking simply the basic idea of the manga and creating its own story; it's also known for having arguably the worst-looking mechs ever, the God Mars itself aside. This anime lasted for 64 episodes, along with one side-story OVA and a recap movie, the latter of which was licensed by Right Stuf back in the 90s and called simply Godmars. The 90s were home to a two-episode OVA adaptation, simply titled Mars; not much is really known of this OVA, though I do have it and can review it in the future. But what we're looking at is what the 2000s had: Shin Seiki Den Mars/God Century Legend Mars, a 13-episode TV anime from 2002.

Iwakura, a news journalist, is reporting via helicopter about a new volcanic island that has formed outside of Japan from seemingly nowhere; he calls it the "New Heisei Island". While reporting about the new island Iwakura notices something amazing: A single man standing on a cliff of the new island. Iwakura has the man rescued and brought to a hospital, where Professor Yokoyama is taking care of him. The man has a special visitor named Rush, who fronts as a reporter and hypnotizes Yokoyama and his daughter Harumi to leave him and the man alone. Rush reveals that the man's name is Mars and after realizing that he is suffering from amnesia reveals to Mars the truth: He and Rush are two of a group of six warriors from an alien planet who have been watching Earth for the past few years, since mankind has been becoming dangerously powerful and could be a threat to the universe. Rush says that Mars has been woken up early due to mankind's weapons of destruction and that this has awaken the giant robot Titan, which will judge mankind's power. Japan's Defense Force takes out Titan, and Rush tells Mars that he must awaken Gaia, the giant robot that can destroy Earth. Mars, confused and hearing a mysterious female voice telling him not to destroy the Earth, decides to go against Rush's wishes and decides to use Gaia to protect Earth. Now Mars has to face off against his own kind in order to defend what he feels is right, but there is one caveat: If Mars dies, then Gaia will self-destruct, and the explosion is strong enough to destroy Earth.

The basic idea of Mars' story is a neat idea, and admittedly Shin Seiki Den Mars does a nice job telling it. The story goes on to having Mars take on each of his fellow six warriors, including Rush, and their giant robots one at a time, but the anime does avoid simply having Mars fight, rest, and then fight again. Sure, the first two fights are like that but afterwards the battles become more and more dangerous and deadly for Mars, as his fellow warriors decide to not give Mars time to rest, not to mention even poisoning him at one point and still attacking him while he's suffering. That's not to say that Mars and his kind are the sole focus, though. Professor Yokoyama and Harumi become a family-of-sorts for Mars, giving him shelter and guidance, while Iwakura decides to head to New Heisei Island, which houses a base, and researches information that could help Mars out in his battle. While the Yokoyama's admittedly become less important as the story goes on, Iwakura ends up becoming a pretty enjoyable character to watch, and seeing him go through troubles of his own in the base makes you feel for him. In the end Shin Seiki Den Mars utilizes only a few important characters, but this smaller main cast actually works out well, since the focus is mostly on Mars, as it should be, and the last couple of episodes brings about a neat dichotomy for Mars to think about. Due to the destruction brought about by the Titan, the people start to trust Mars less and they even start to attack him, but at the same time Mars doesn't want to betray the planet he has come to call home; the ending, in turn, is an admittedly bittersweet one that stays in your memory. While this anime is a much, much more accurate adaptation of the original manga, it apparently still deviates enough to not be considered a completely accurate adaptation, though in what ways I'm not fully sure.

The staff behind this anime is mostly filled with people who seem to have no other anime behind their names, outside of mech designer Koji Ito (Tytania, Cybuster, Geisters), who does a good job at adapting Yokoyama's myriad of mech designs (fans of Giant Robo will recognize a few, specifically that of Gaia and Uranus), art director Eiji Iwase (The Law of Ueki, Bakugan Battle Brawlers), and producer Toshiharu Namiki (Gantz, Gun Frontier). The music by Hiroshi Motokura (Demon Lord Dante, Ikki Tousen) & AMAzeus, likewise, isn't anything special but simply does it's job. The opening theme is "Hanazono kinema" by Penicillin, and it's a pretty awesome rock song that might, arguably, be a little too awesome for the show it's being used for. The ending theme is "an eternity" by ALLEY:A, and it's a nice slow song that focuses on protecting what you care for; a fitting song in general. Voice work, though, is really good, featuring the voice talents of Tomokazu Seki (Mars), Jouji Nakata (Rush), and Takehito Koyasu (Iwakura), among others, and in one of the last episodes listen out for a cameo vocal performance by Nobuyuki Hiyama, who voices a random resident of Tokyo.

This Mars anime did have a moment where it was licensed, believe it or not. Back when I covered the titles in Enoki Films USA's catalog I did bring up how Media Blasters had a few titles that they licensed but did nothing with. One of those titles was simply titled "Mars", and considering that this is the only anime with that name that Enoki has, I'm sure that means that Shin Seiki Den Mars was technically licensed at one point. But after feeling that he got a raw deal from Enoki, John Sirabella dropped those licenses, leaving this Mars with no North American release once again. Truly this was a case of "Slow close, yet so far away".

As you can see this review is pretty short, but that helps bring about the biggest flaw with Shin Seiki Den Mars: While it's far from a bad anime, & the ending certainly sticks with you, it certainly isn't anything mind-blowingly great. The action scenes are good and the story does move along at a pace that works and features plot developments that keep your interest, but overall there is also a feeling that this could have been done better. Yokoyama's works like Babel II and Mars are certainly trailblazers, but at the same time they now do seem a little cliché, with only some traits that keep them different enough nowadays from the imitators and inspirations. Admittedly, Mars' general story is still original enough that it hasn't been used quite as often as Babel II's basic story, and that could very well result in the 2010s receiving a Mars anime adaptation of its very own, but as it is it's easy to see why Rokushin Gattai God Mars, the least accurate adaptation, is still the most fondly remembered version of the story and why it's the one that continues to be used in various mediums, such as it's inclusion in the recent Super Robot Wars Z2: Hakai-henShin Seiki Den Mars is still worth watching, but don't go expecting anything special from it. Maybe one day I'll watch the 90s OVA adaptation and see how that one does, and I could always review the Godmars recap movie...

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