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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gin-Iro no Olynssis: Our Frothing Demand for this Show Increases(?)

The other review for the third Mecha Month takes us not quite as far back as Matchless Raijin-Oh did; this time we're only going back to 2006. In this year Toei Animation was celebrating their 50th Anniversary, and one of their products during this celebratory year was a relative rarity from them nowadays, a mech anime. Yeah, they had a notable hit with Gaiking: Legend of Daiku-Maryu shortly before, and I guess you could include 2005's video game adaptation Xenosaga the Animation, but prior to those Toei's last mech anime was the generally ignored Getter Robo Go from 1991 (& before that you'd have to go back to the early-80s for titles like GoLion, DaiRugger XV, Albegas, & Lazerion). Not only that, but the topic of this review was the last mech anime Toei has ever done until literally just a few days ago with the theatrical debut of their sci-fi movie Expelled from Paradise. What am I trying to get at, though? Hisashi Hirai.

This is literally the only image I could find of Hirai

It's honestly pretty astonishing that a man like Hisashi Hirai has become such a highly notable name in anime without ever having directed anything; the highest he's done is animation direction for OPs, EDs, & the occasional episode. Instead, Hirai is known primarily as a character designer, with his first notable work being 1995's Wild Knights Gulkeeva. He would then go on to do designs for Infinite Ryvius & s-CRY-ed, but he didn't became a big name until he was brought on for 2002's Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. His style was very sleek & for SEED he featured a bit more of a bishonen look, which helped attract female fans. What happened, though, was that his next two works, 2004's Fafner & Gundam SEED Destiny, looked a little too similar. How similar, exactly? Well, SEED Destiny's lead, Shinn Asuka, looked almost 100% exactly like Fafner's Kazuki Makabe; the only notable difference was eye color! Not only that, Hirai didn't seem to feature much variety in general when it came to making larger casts of characters, leading to anime fans (especially in North America) nicknaming him "Same-Face" Hirai. Naturally, when Toei debuted their 50th Anniversary mech anime, which featured Hirai character designs, fans immediately began mocking it. Then once the show debuted it was deemed one of the worst mech anime of recent memory & promptly buried under the sands of time. How bad, you ask? Well, joke anime news site AnimeMaru deemed it special enough to warrant a bogus license announcement from Sentai Filmworks this past May, complete with not just a DVD & Blu-Ray release but also VHS. So let's take a look at the most obscure Hisaishi Hirai mech anime out there, Gin-Iro no Olynssis (Olynssis, The Silver Color).

You can ignore the "Tokito" at the end... Everyone else does.

It is the year 3567 & the Earth is a post-apocalyptic mess. A being known only as the Consul operates from the Moon & sends down organic robots called Gardeners in an attempt to eradicate humanity. At the same time, the Earth itself is surrounded by the Olynssis Phenomenon, a space-time distortion that has sent people both to the past & the future. Tokito Aizawa is a young man who works with some others as Hunters, who take out Gardeners for a living using their Crawlers, which are created from salvaged Gardener parts. While stopping in Meteotown, Tokito comes across a mysterious girl named Téa, who can't remember anything past 6 months ago & insists that he's a man named Koichi. She shows him a secret part of the town that leads to the lake right before the town is attacked. Téa lead Tokito there specifically to release a giant robot named Silber from its slumber & have him pilot it. Tokito agrees to pilot it alongside Téa, while she travels with Tokito's firends in an effort to find out her hidden past, and if she's from the present, past, or even the future.

The best thing about Olynssis from a non-technical perspective is how it actually makes each character feel like a real individual. Tokito starts off a little too milquetoast, essentially allowing Téa to call him "Koichi" with little to no resistance, but as the story goes on he grows more of a spine & becomes a fairly believable lead. Téa's amnesia sounds a little too generic, but instead of being someone obsessed with finding out her past she instead looks to the future, which is a nice touch. Even the Hunters feel like they matter. Misuzu has known Tokito since they were kids, which leads to a love triangle between her, Tokito, & Téa, and it actually feels somewhat natural, especially when it's shown that neither Tokito nor Misuzu are exactly go-getters when it comes to admitting love. Yousuke is the leader of the group, and is probably the least developed, while Bryan is essentially the second-in-command who has his own secrets; Bryan's easy-going nature, which partially hides his serious motives, makes him easy to like. Airi is a little girl who acts sometimes like the third-in-command, but her young age still shows itself in natural ways. Finally, there's Jin, who lives life completely carefree, & Selena, the most mysterious of the group who joins them of her own accord; there are hints of a romance between these two that also works slightly. Admittedly, the development can only amount to so much in 12 episodes, but it's still something Olynssis does well.

That being said, it's pretty much the only thing the show does well. The trick to telling a good story is to balance character development, world building, & the conflict they get involved in. Unfortunately, the entire first half focuses too much on the first thing without delving enough into the other two. It takes two whole episodes to properly introduce the characters, Silber, & the idea that they're all journeying together; if you want to be picky, Selena doesn't actually join them until the end of episode 3. The fourth episode is pretty good at showing Tokito & Téa's relationship strengthening, but it's mostly pointless in the grand scheme of things, and even while the story technically gets going in episode 5, it isn't until the half-way point that anything of note is really introduced & delivered on. It's here that we're introduced to the Resistance, a group lead by former hunter Dallas who plan on destroying a space elevator named Heaven's Door, as it's the way the Consul sends Gardeners down to Earth. While it's not on the level of AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave- when it comes to pacing, simply because stuff actually happens in these episodes, it must be said that Gin-Iro no Olynssis seems content to merely wander around for the first half.

Unfortunately, this results in the second half having no real sense of importance or weight to it. The Consul appears in front of Tokito & Téa, Bryan's relationship with Bolf (the Consul's aide) & his secret gets revealed, & Selena's mystery is explained, but none of them feel like they matter. When it comes to Bryan & Selena it's mainly because the show doesn't make it a guessing game, partially due to how time travel is so casually accepted in this world. It's obvious that Bryan & Selena are from the past or future, and in Selena's case it's so blatantly spelled out to the viewer by her personal words & actions that the actual reveal feels hollow; at least Bryan's exact origins are only vaguely hinted at. As for the rest of the story, the fact that it just kind of starts happening half-way in makes you not care at that point. The twists aren't anything special, the reason for why the Consul is doing what he's doing is pretty simple, & overall the entire story seems like it can be described simply as "stuff happens, plus there are mechs in it". Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention the importance of Silber & the other Olynssis Machines, as they're called? That's mainly because the show defines them so vaguely. Silber's power seems to be nothing more than throwing out rainbow-colored energy waves that are apparently space-time distortions, and overall it just feels like the giant robots were almost added in at the last seconds of pre-production; the Crawlers & Gardeners feel more important & interesting than the Olynssis Machines.

It's very easy to see that Toei didn't put much of a budget towards Olynssis, because not only is the animation somewhat rough at times (I saw the TV version, but I doubt much was improved for the DVD release), but they had a relative no-name, first-time director handle the show. Now, to be fair, I'm not saying that Katsumi Tokoro was bad at directing this show, but the only notable position he had at this point (& since then, even) was being an episode director for One Piece. Still, this was not an ideal show to debut as series director for, and since then the only stand-out titles Tokoro has been the main director for has been One Piece's 2008 Romance Dawn special (which was considered okay) & 2012's Episode of Nami special (which I've heard is actually exquisite). Likewise, the writing by Yuichiro Takeda (Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspector) is heavily a mixed bag, with the characters being written mostly well written but the story feeling bland & insipid for the most part. In fact, the finale was actually pretty disappointing, and I wasn't even expecting much to start with. Misuzu becomes a dumbass when it comes to Tokito & Téa, Yousuke suddenly has feelings for Misuzu (which were never even hinted at during the entire show), the Consul's backstory is absolutely ridiculous (in all the wrong ways) & even incestuous for no good reason (not to mention Selena's story being just as odd), & the show even has the gall to end with some sense of ambiguity to it! The only good part of the last three episodes was Bryan's parts and that's simply because he's the best character in the entire show.

Well, that and a quick scene where an Olynssis Machine is slashed in the chest & the pilot shoots upwards out of the robot like bread in a toaster... Seriously, it was hilariously dumb.

As much as Hisashi Hirai was nicknamed "Same-Face" at the time of this show's debut, there's actually not much of it to be found in Olynssis. Sure, Tokito looks slightly similar to Kira Yamato, Téa looks a little like Lacus Clyne, and Misuzu has a hint of Flay Allster (all from Gundam SEED), but Hirai seemingly decided to purposefully rely on his lesser-seen character designs for this show (and pointless side-boob from Selena at all times). Jin, Yousuke, Bryan, & Airi all look like minor characters from his previous shows, and it comes off more like Hirai's take on the Tezuka Star System than lazy copy-pasting. If anything, the only real blatant copying of an older Hirai anime happens at the end of the OP sequence, which literally rips off the "showcase pairs of characters one after another" bit from Gundam SEED, but done too fast to really get a good look at them & filled with all sorts of weird angles. The mech designs were a team effort, with Hitoshi Fukuchi (Gundam 00) & Yoshikazu Miyao (Vandread) handling the Olynssis Machines while Masahiro Shimanuki (Toriko) handled everything else. Oddly enough, though, Fukuchi & Miyao's designs are just completely generic & uninteresting, complete with giving each of the main mechs a protrusion at the bottom of the face that makes all of them look like they're scouling. Shimanuki's Gardener & Crawler designs, on the other hand, are simple but highly effective, lending a cool sense of organic styling to them; like I said, the minor mechs are infinitely more interesting than the lead mechs.

There is one shining light on the production side of things, however, and that would be the music... All of it. Composed by Yugo Kanno (Birdy the Might: Decode, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Starlight Crusaders), each & every piece of background music is amazing, delivering calm & carefree moments, tense scenes, majestic battles (though said battles are actually pretty barebones), & rocking tunes. Kanno's music is so good that the show doesn't feel worthy of it, and that even extends to the opening & ending themes. The opening, "destiny" by CHiYO, is a hard rock anthem that actually fits the thematics of the show & is simply an astounding song on its own; if you had no previous idea of what this show was like, it would certainly get you interested. The ending, "Saraba Seishun no Hibi" by The Inazuma Sentai, is a superbly laid-back song about those old days of youth & while it's fairly at odds with the last few episodes' seriousness, it's just a great way to cap off each episode from a mood-creating perspective; it's probably the best song in the entire show, to be honest.

The voice cast is another high point, though I guess it isn't exactly hard to be a "high point" in this show. Miyu Irino (Sena in Eyeshield 21, Saji Crossroad in Gundam 00) voices Tokito, and his performance is much like the character: Starts off kind of bland but improves as the show goes on. Téa is performed by Kaori Nazuka (Nunnally in Code Geass, Kisa Soma in Fruits Basket), who does a good job both in Téa's more innocent moments & the later parts where she's much more serious & steadfast. To round out the other lead females, Akemi Kanda (Asuna in Negima!) & Aya Hisakawa (Skuld in Ah! My Goddess) voice Misuzu & Selena, respectively, and both deliver fine performances, even in the end when both characters' development suffer. Much like how Bryan was the best character in the show, though, the best performance is by his seiyuu, Toshio Furukawa; he gives Bryan such a likable casualness to everything. The rest of the major cast is done by Fumiko Orikasa (Airi), Hiroaki Miura (Yousuke), Hiroshi Tsuchida (Jin), Kenichi Suzumura (the Consul), & Taiki Matsuno (Bolf).

Having now watched all of Gin-Iro no Olynssis, I can see why AnimeMaru deemed it worthy of a mock license announcement. Conceptually, there are elements that could make an cool show, but it's just so poorly executed here that it's all a wash. The first half is so cavalier about doing nothing of importance that, even if it helps give Tokito & his friends actual personalities, you feel nothing about what goes on. The second half improves slightly by actually doing stuff, but by then you just don't care and the main story itself feels so unimportant that it doesn't do much to make you care; even when there's a major character death before the final act begins you're past the point of caring. The fact that the finale is pretty poor doesn't help at all, either. What positives the show has are in constant attrition with the multitude of negatives that combat them at every second.

There's no putting it lightly: Gin-Iro no Olynssis is one of the worst mech anime of recent memory (the past decade at the very least). That being said, it isn't one of the worst anime of all time... It's merely just exists, but to some that's worse than being "horribad", so take it however you want.

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