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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Twelve Mech Anime That Deserve a (Literal) Second Chance in SRW Part 2

So around the time Part 1 of this list came about, Bandai Namco announced that there will be new information coming out regarding Super Robot Wars via a live stream on December 11. Not just that, but the company's Southeast Asia Twitter account, which posts in English, also promoted the live stream, so it's likely that the Moon Dwellers & V English translation efforts were a success. With that in mind, at least one entry in this list has an (ever so slightly) better chance for re-inclusion than before (...maybe). With that said, let's get straight into Part 2 of this list of "mech anime" (read: not all are anime) that saw a single appearance in SRW, but deserve a second moment in the spotlight.

Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion, though itself homaging mech anime that came before it, became a massively influential anime. Yoshiyuki Tomino couldn't escape the connection with Brain Powerd, though he technically came up with the concept before Eva debuted, Masami Obari's Platinumhugen Ordian was a blatant response to it (even using Norse mythology instead of Christian mythos) and Yutaka Izubuchi's 2002 TV series RahXephon likewise was caught up in being called an "Eva clone". Detailing Ayato Kamina's battle against the Dolems of the ancient Mu civilization, while also finding out the truth of the life he's lived in Tokyo Jupiter all his life, the anime was obviously similar to Anno's tale in various ways, but it was also made to be a heavy homage to 70s mecha icon Brave Raideen, especially since Ayato & the RahXephon shot arrows & had an equivalent of Akira Hibiki & Raideen's God Voice. I remember back when I first started getting into anime fandom in the mid-00s, and RahXephon was definitely a popular series for its time, so I have always wondered why it only appeared in a single SRW... At least going off of my criteria for this list.

Generally considered to be conceived as a sequel to Super Robot Wars Impact, primarily because of a lot of the same anime being used & the ability to choose the order of stages, 2004's Super Robot Wars MX is definitely one of the best games in the franchise. The Favorite Series system was introduced here, the gameplay is extremely solid, the roster of giant robots is very fun to use (Zeorymer is so insanely overpowered, yet extremely enjoyable at all times), & the selection of anime here was definitely chosen to allow for a lot of excellent thematic linking. Metal Armor Dragonar mixes in perfectly with UC Gundam, there's a quartet of series using martial arts (Tosho Daimos, Machine Robo, G Gundam, Gear Fighter Dendoh), and then there's the combination of Evangelion, the debuting RahXephon, & Raideen. Having only aired on TV in Japan two years prior, RahXephon was obviously chosen to debut here so that Ayato could converse with Shinji Ikari & Akira Hibiki, & the Mu civilization could be used to tie together the creation of both the Raideen & the RahXephon. It was a perfect storm of crossover that just had to happen, but at the same time it makes one wonder if Banpresto played all of its cards too early, thereby making Izubuchi's series less imperative to include again. Now, yes, RahXephon did appear in a second SRW, in this case 2007's Scramble Commander the 2nd on PS2, but that was a real-time strategy game instead of the usual turn-based strategy RPG. Still, even in that game it appeared alongside Brave Raideen, once again showing that Banpresto may have been typecasting it.

Chances of Return?: As I said before, I have always wondered why RahXephon only saw a single "traditional" inclusion in SRW, and even counting alternate genre spin-offs it only saw one other use a decade ago. In fact, considering how less likely it is for mech anime of the 70s to still see use as time goes on, mainly due to the fact that the people who did voices for those characters are either too old, have already died, or are outright too expensive to bring back (& recasting isn't always an option), I'm kind of surprised that Bandai Namco hasn't looked to more anime that could be used as replacements. There was a little bit of experimenting on that front during the 00s when anime like Shin Getter ArmageddonGaiking: Legend of Daiku Maryu, Koutetsushin Jeeg, Shin Mazinger, & Dancougar Nova were brought in to take the place of their original inspirations (& in Nova's case actually interact with it in the Z Series), but only a small amount of them have actually stuck around as such. In that regards, RahXephon could be the replacement for Brave Raideen, especially since the two mecha themselves played very similarly in MX. Hell, B.B. Studio could even utilize the "newest" Reideen anime from 2007 if they wanted, though how much it would really mix with RahXephon is unknown to me. Still, it doesn't seem like there's any real rush or effort out there to bring RahXephon back, so who knows if it will ever return.

Galactic Gale Baxinger & Galactic Whirlwind Sasuraiger
I am admittedly cheating a bit here with a twofer, but since they're related to each other I figure it would be better to count them as one, instead of listing them separately. The crown jewel of the late Kokusai Eigasha, the J9 Series is a trilogy of unique mech anime, each of which was inspired by a different pre-existing story. SRW has utilized the first entry, 1981's Galaxy Cyclone Braiger (which was inspired by the Hissatsu Series), numerous times, though it hasn't appeared since Neo in 2009, but what I want to focus on are the other two entries. 1982's Galactic Gale Baxinger, based on the tale of the 47 ronin, & 1983's Galactic Whirlwind Sasuraiger, a space-based variant of Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, operated similar to Braiger by delivering very stylish & unique stories, with memorable music & characters, though neither seemed to quite reach the level of nostalgia that the original series still has. A fourth entry, Galaxy Devine Wind Jinraiger (utilizing Water Margin as its inspiration), has been in pre-production for a number of years this decade, but who knows if it will ever come to fruition.

Anyway, in late 2004 Banpresto released Super Robot Wars GC on the GameCube, and that game was focused primarily around mech anime of the 80s. Therefore, it was decided to have all three parts of the J9 Series finally meet up & unite, marking the one & only appearance of both Baxinger & Sasuraiger. Since each entry in the series took place centuries after the previous one, some time & space jumping hijinks were instituted, so while the original J9 team joined your crew early on, the J9-II & JJ9 groups weren't introduced until about after a third into the game, when other time skip & alternate planet-appropriate series, like Zeta Gundam & Heavy Metal L-Gaim, also appeared. Still, out of the three J9 shows, it was Baxinger that actually saw the most focus in terms of story. Braiger's Khamen Khamen only appeared occasionally during the second half, while Sasuraiger's Bloody God appeared even less, but the Erwin Family from the Domestic Bakuufu Camp did make a few good appearances, & a major plot point from near the end of Baxinger got its own stage in GC. Now, technically, these two anime did make a "second" appearance in 2006, but it was only via Super Robot Wars XO, an upgraded HD port of GC for the Xbox 360. Granted, XO is the way to play this game, because it's literally everything about GC done better & shinier, but I won't count that as a second actual appearance.

Chances of Return?: As I said earlier, Braiger is the part of the J9 Series that has the most nostalgia towards it, so that's why it gets the multiple appearances; being not as focused on actual plot as the other shows also helps in terms of convenience, too. That being said, it was absolutely awesome to see all three shows' characters & giant robots interact & work together, so I think there is always that feeling of awesomeness that could always make it possible for Baxinger & Sasuraiger to make at least one more appearance, especially since neither GC nor XO were especially well known entries. Unfortunately, a full J9 Series reunion is the only possible way I can see these two anime return to SRW, as I doubt either of them on their own have enough appeal to most mech fans. Now all we need is for Jinraiger to actually get into production, & Bandai Namco would have a perfect way to help promote the series...

Saikyo Robo Daiohja
Speaking of SRW GC, here's another one that was part of the thematic roster, but has never been given a second opportunity. 1981's Saikyo/Strongest Robo Daiohja was part of (Nippon) Sunrise's early surge into the 80s onslaught of mech anime, operating similarly to the J9 Series by being based on a previously existing story. In this case it was the period drama Mito Komon, which ran on Japanese TV from 1969-2011 & lasted 1,227 episodes. Daiohja followed Edward Mito, Prince of Edon, as he decides to covertly journey throughout the lands around his kingdom, defeating any & all evil alongside his attendants, Duke Skade, Baron Carkus, & young kunoichi Flora Shinobu. For the most part, the series seemingly came & went, though it was part of a multi-year run of notable major characters in mech anime for seiyuu Toshio Furukawa, who voiced Kai Shiden in Mobile Suit Gundam, Kento Tate in Future Robo Daltainous, & Prince Mito in this anime. In fact, when I was at Otakon this year, I made sure to have Furukawa autograph my copy of Super Robot Wars XO, and when his wife & I reminded him that he voiced all three characters, his only response was, "Man, I'm all over this game!"

As for how Prince Mito's journey was adapted into SRW GC/XO, it was another one of those series that wasn't brought in until your crew gets warped into far space about a third or so into the story, alongside the introduction of Baxinger & Sasuraiger. Overall, the Daiohja story was usually in the background somewhere, likely relying on its episodic nature to allow the seeming recurring villain & his forces to appear every now & then so that you constantly have foes to face. As for the robot itself as a usable unit in the game, the Daiohja was a really solid super robot, with some nice versatility due to its various weapons, & it's ultimate attack, Denkou Raimei Kuzushi/Lightning Thunder Break, being a rather powerful final move that was always reliable. Overall, it's not exactly a major pick on this list, but the fact that it's main three characters are still in the industry makes it still semi-viable for a return.

Chances for Return?: If I have to compare this to an entry from last year's list, Saikyo Robo Daiohja would easily be in the same boat as Future Robo Daltanious, and it's not simply because Toshio Furukawa voiced the lead in both. As I mentioned, a major restriction I put in for both last year & this year's lists was that older series would have to be taken out of consideration simply due to age, especially when it comes to voice work. Sure, B.B. Studio could probably re-use some voice work from prior games to bring back older series, but there's always a major appeal in bringing back the original voices, and it's not like recasting is something that should just be done anytime it's reliable to do so. Therefore, I don't think it's impossible for Daiohja to return one day, & I'd certainly be happy to see it return, but I won't lose any sleep over the fact that it's very unlikely.

Gundam SEED Astray
While Gundam Sentinel was the first overall entry in this list back with Part 1, it's not the only time SRW brought in a Gundam series, only to forget all about it. Unlike that novel series, though, the fact that this manga spin-off hasn't become a constant guarantee, like it's source series is now, is saddening. Said source I'm talking about is Gundam Seed, the 00s reimagining of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, because in Japan that's one of the most popular entries ever made; hell, even the sequel Gundam Seed Destiny is beloved over there! Internationally, only Seed is generally well liked, but to some people the best part of the Cosmic Era isn't even done via anime (minus a couple of OVA shorts from 2004). Actually debuting a little before the original Seed started airing on TV in late 2002, & still apparently being made to this day, Gundam Seed Astray is a series of manga & light novel side stories that take place before, during, after, & in-between the two TV anime series produced. Generally written & illustrated by Gundam manga experts Tomohiro Chiba (Lost War Chronicles, Gundam EXA) & Koichi Tokita (G-Unit/The Last Outpost, the 90s G Gundam manga), though others have helped, the various stories tended to bring in Lowe Guele of the Junk Guild & Gai Murakumo of mercenary group Serpent Tail, who pilot the Red Frame & Blue Frame Astray prototype Mobile Suits, with Orb's Rondo Ghina Sahaku acting as primary antagonist with his Gold Frame Astray. Across six manga series, at least, other leads wold be introduced, but Lowe & Gai tended to always appear, eventually.

In terms of SRW penetration, the Cosmic Era is right up there with the Universal Century when it comes to sheer amount of games it's included in. In fact, since Seed's debut in Alpha 3 back in 2005, only Neo & BX have rosters that are completely absent of any Cosmic Era influence, so it's both a surprise & a downer that the Astray stories have only been seen in a single game. I mentioned in Part 1 that Bandai Namco has started aiming for an international (i.e. English-speaking) audience in the past couple of years with SRW, but the first real attempt at this was done back in 2007 with Super Robot Wars W (pronounced "Double") on the DS. If one was to take a gander at the roster in that game, it's easy to see that every single series in W had been licensed & released in North America at some point in time, with the only real exceptions being the Mazinkaiser movie & the Shin Getter Robo manga, but they're more tangential in that regard. Therefore, it's obvious that the Astray manga, which was apparently more popular in America than in Japan, was chosen to appeal to a "foreign" market, and though X Astray was only included for units, the original manga was adapted as well as can be, and the Red & Blue Frames were both very enjoyable units to use. Still, considering how much overall story there is now (Astray, X Astray, Astray R, Astray B, Destiny AstrayC.E.73 Delta Astray, & Princess of the Heavens), it's not like this spin-off series can't be included for a lack of plot or characters that can be used.

Chances of Return?: Unfortunately, the biggest thing holding back the return of Gundam Seed Astray is the fact that a single series represents the lion's share when it comes to the constant deluge of Comic Era in SRW for the past 12 years. After debuting overall in Scramble Commander 2nd back in 2007, & making its mainline debut in 2008's Z, Gundam Seed Destiny is what's always used in SRW; in fact, original Gundam Seed hasn't been seen since W. Admittedly, it's easy to see why this is done, too, because it allows all of the characters introduced to be utilized, & the Mobile Suits used there are the most powerful & appealing as a whole; why limit yourself to just Freedom Gundam, when you can get Strike Freedom? Unfortunately, that also limits the storytelling potential, as Astray is something that starts with the original Seed's plot & eventually advances to the sequel's story. Since Seed Destiny has already been included in V, I doubt that new series will actually go back in time to properly include Astray's story, but with a return to marketing towards an international audience, maybe B.B. Studio will be able to include some sort of Astray representation in another one-off title, ala W.

Beast King GoLion
I originally didn't have this anime on the list, but after deciding to make Gundam Sentinel & New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine separate entries, I decided that this one should make the list. This entry is similar to Escaflowne's in Part 1, but taken to it's absolute extreme, because while this series isn't even a cult classic in Japan, it's one of the most iconic anime of all time in North America. Adapted into the "Lion Force" of Voltron: Defender of the Universe, 1981's Beast King GoLion still more than makes up for its lackluster reputation in Japan by sheer visual surprise. In order to survive in a growing market for mech anime in Japan, Toei Animation decided that the story of five Earth space pilots who wind up becoming the pilots of a giant combining robot made up of five lions, which was actually an arrogant giant who was punished by the goddess of the universe, would be a rather violent one. Earth has been destroyed by World War III, the evil Galra Empire ruled by Emperor Daibazaal has no qualms about brutally killing any who oppose them (it literally rains blood in one early episode!), and in GoLion one of the original Earth pilots is downright killed early on; in Voltron, his twin brother introduced later on is altered into the way the pilot actually survives. Regardless, GoLion would wind up becoming forgotten to time in Japan, while Voltron would be so successful that, instead of adapting a third series, World Events Productions commissioned Toei to produce an extra 20 episodes featuring the "Lion Force" cast. That's not even mentioning that GoLion has been the template for every new Voltron production since the 80s.

With SRW being such a Japan-centric series (obviously), it only made sense that GoLion would be ignored, no matter how much international fans dreamed of one day seeing Voltron appear in the series. That's why it was such an unbelievable shock when it was announced that GoLion would be appearing in 2007's W, and if you needed any more definitive proof that Banpresto was aiming at importers with this game, then you can't get more absolute than this. Without a doubt, Banpresto was marketing GoLion as a major factor for this game, and the story was implemented well, with it even being one of the final stories to finish up in the penultimate stage. In terms of GoLion as a unit in the game, it was really damn good, effectively being one of the best super robots to send out into battle. Granted, there did seem to be some odd imitation, as GoLion's ultimate attack animation did look very, very similar to that of Braiger's from Alpha Gaiden, but overall Banpresto implemented this forgotten (in Japan) series respectfully. Considering the renewed push for international sales, could there be a chance at "Voltron" returning to SRW?

Chances of Return?: You know, licensing can be a really funny thing at times, and I have an amusing story to tell regarding Beast King GoLion being in W. At Otakon 2007, I attended the Media Blasters panel, and alongside the MB reps was someone from WEP, since this was during MB's major Voltron releases & WEP really wanted to help promote it. During the fan Q&A, someone asked the WEP rep what the company thought of GoLion being in Super Robot Wars W, and the WEP rep answered back with confusion, because he knew nothing of such a thing. After asking for proof of this, which prompted a fan to boot up his copy & show the rep GoLion's (well done) sprite work, his only response was, roughly, "I'm going to have to bring this up to my bosses when I get back." Obviously, Banpresto didn't contact WEP about including GoLion, instead talking with Toei, and here's where it gets dicey when it comes to licensing. This is a similar situation as Harmony Gold's license of Macross, a series which did see a lot of inclusion in SRW for the Alpha Series, but afterwards has been forgotten in place of the more recent & (potentially) less-problematic Macross 7Macross Frontier. With the resurgence in popularity for Voltron via the recent Legendary Defender series, the original GoLion might actually be less likely to return to SRW now, because WEP now knows of the franchise, and they might try interfering if they hear word of Banpresto trying to appeal to an international audience by using "their" anime. Would WEP have any legal ground to do such a thing? Who knows, and I feel like we, as fans, shouldn't find out.

Still, it would be cool for GoLion to be given a second chance. Since W's release, Media Blasters did release the original Japanese series, and it's still (as of this post) streaming over at CrunchyRoll. Therefore, there might be a large audience that's familiar with it now than before.

At the start of this list, I brought up how the 00s was a time of experimentation when it came to trying out possible replacements for the classics of old, and 2009's Super Robot Wars K is the best example of that idea. Yeah, this isn't 10 years old yet, but since I made the J9 Series a double entry, I'll make an exception just this once to make it "twelve". The Classic Series & Alpha Series were both aimed at crossing over the iconic classics of the 70s, 80s, 90s, & (for the latter series) 00s, but when it came to the DS, which had a notable younger demographic playing on it, the 70s & 80s weren't going to appeal to them as much; this was likely seen with the Game Boy Advance games. So, while W did it first to an extent, K nearly ignored the 70s, 80s, & 90s completely, with only Mazinger Z & Dangaioh being the sole series from each of the first two decades, respectively; the 90s is missing completely here. The rest of the roster was filled with recently-produced reboots of older franchises, like Gaiking & Zoids, as well as plenty of 00s series, like Fafner, Godannar, Gundam Seed, Overman King Gainer, & the final entry of this SRW list, 2005's Gun×Sword, the tale of a drifter named Van who looks for a man with a claw for a right hand that killed his bride.

I thought about reviewing SRW K last year, when I finally finished it up, but the fact of the matter is that it's a surprisingly mediocre entry in the series. There are some neat idea ideas to be found, like the ability to pair units together & adding in a dating sim-esque element where your story decisions decide which of two girls the main character ends up with as a lover. Still, even with a rather solid roster, the new gameplay elements don't really add much, the story cheats a fair bit by jamming everything onto a single planet, longtime fans vehemently hated the original lead character (I thought he was harmless, if nothing special), & let's not forget that a few songs were outright plagiarized from Chrono Trigger & Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. Sadly, while most of the newer 00s series would receive second attempts to (hopefully) better implement them, Gun×Sword remains the only one to not have been given a better attempt. It's really disappointing, too, because Van & his giant robot Dann of Thursday weren't exactly implemented as well as I feel they could have. Dann was stuck with just a paltry three attacks for the large majority of the game, and even by the last stage it only received one more solo attack, plus a couple of combo attacks with other units. Also, I personally wasn't a fan of how K utilized a shared world, as it removed a lot of the style of what were originally Planet of Endless Illusion & (for Zoids) Planet Zi, which was simply changed into Area Zi as a part of the shared world.

In the very first list in 2015, I included Heroic Age & mentioned that its space-faring journey could be used as a way to implement mech anime that take place on different planets. I still maintain this idea, and it would be a great way to give Gun×Sword a second chance, this time with its planet & style fully maintained.

Chances of Return?: Similar to RahXephon, it is a bit odd that Gun×Sword never received a second chance in SRW. It's not an old series by any means, even today it's only 12 years young, it has plenty of interesting characters, & the various robots are all designed well & stylish enough to stand out amongst the crowd. I guess one could argue that the fact that it takes places on a different planet than Earth holds it back, but then that certainly didn't stop Zoids from seeing more representation later on in Operation Extend for the PSP, which uses three different series from that franchise. Admittedly, since it hasn't even been a full decade yet since it's debut in K, there could always be a chance for Gun×Sword's return, but I do wish it was given more olive branches.

[11/2018 UPDATE: It could be that Gun X Sword's style made it tricky to properly reintegrate into SRW, but a decade after it's first appearance, Van & crew get to have a second try with 2019's Super Robot Wars T. Interestingly enough, this series will now be rubbing shoulders with the likes of GaoGaiGar & even Cowboy Bebop, which should make for some amusing moments... GaoGaiGar teaming with El Dora V, anyone?]
This brings an end to my trilogy of Super Robot Wars-related twelve anime lists, and in turn brings an end to another mini-era of Mecha Month here on The Land of Obscusion. While I don't exactly get to playing these games as much as I feel I should, I am a big fan of the series, and am looking forward to whatever new information comes out on December 11. Who knows, maybe one day we can all look back at these three lists some time in the future, and laugh at things like the idea of Fang of the Sun Dougram not having debuted yet, Victory Gundam not being used in a mainline entry for over a decade, or Escaflowne actually being considered "too obscure" for inclusion beyond a single game.

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