Gasaraki is the unacceptable face of large robot action. If Gundam 00 is mecha pornography, it’s standard middle-of-the-road product, whereas Gasaraki is the equivalent of something only legally available from one shop in Amsterdam, catering to a bizarre paraphilia involving several species of animal and copious amounts of various bodily fluids.
Gasaraki‘s pilots are unheroic professionals and their mecha are unglamourous. As can be seen from the screencap above, which mimics the traditional ‘here’s my plane and all its missiles’ photograph, the series works hard to portray the Fakes and Tactical Armours primarily as weapons. The aim is to feel realistic – not to be realistic (these are mecha, after all), but to give the impression of realism.
This is why the series’ approach to action is idiosyncratic. Though Gasaraki has superbly-designed mecha, it’s very careful never to actually show us as much as we’d like of them. There are no moments when the animators’ ‘camera’ lavishes its attention gratuitously on a Tactical Armour in quite the manner of the following screencap:
[Comparing the two screencaps something else should be abundantly clear. Most of Gasaraki is animated using dark greens, blues and greys, which is a stark contrast to the technicolour palatte employed in the second image.]
Rather than this kind of easy-to-grasp image, Gasaraki‘s treatment of action sequences is fragmented. We’re shown glimpses from awkward angles, often only covering part of a Tactical Armour. A considerable proportion of each fight scene is actually taken up with images of the pilots inside their cockpits, grainy first-person views from the pilots’ HUDs, the reactions of the Tactical Armours’ command team and the readings on their instruments (most commonly the heart rate monitors). To further obscure the potentially exciting combat, many of the series’ confrontations take place at night, indoors or in the dusty environment of Belgistan. A crucial moment from the series’ last and longest battle looks like this:
A lecturer told me (so make of this what you will) that – up to a point – a viewer actually becomes more involved in a scene the more cuts are used. This is apparently because the effort of piecing together what’s happening from limited information forces the viewer to be fairly active.
Watching Gasaraki‘s action forces you to be a very active viewer indeed, which is quite refreshing, although it’s not the easiest thing to watch late at night when your mind is tired. This gritty, fragmented and often very tense kind of action is not directly very cool. It manages to be cool by a rather indirect route, by virtue of its very realistic(-feeling) take on mecha and the sense of dramatic contrast to most of what’s out there.
The mechanical design work is rather fine, too. Izubuchi (mechanical design for MSG 0080, later to direct RahXephon) and Aramaki (later to direct the Appleseed movie) worked together on this, and quality tells. Of particular note are the Tactical Armour’s prominent shoulder ridges, which hark back to the Evas, and further back to the eponymous mecha of Space Runaway Ideon. The resemblance of the TA’s head to the visor of a medieval helmet is rather nice, and I fanboy wildly over the kneecap-mounted spikes, which epitomise the unglamourous nature of Gasaraki‘s action. They encourage not the sword-waving heroism of normal mecha, but rather the mecha extrapolation of a movement you’d see in a pub brawl, or employed by Kaiji: the knee-in-gut.
It says much about Gasaraki‘s deliberately obscure action that this is the best kneespike screencap I could take
Gasaraki also spends a great deal of time showing its mecha being packed up, transported around, unpacked, serviced, rearmed and prepared. Takahashi was evidently keen to drive home how much servicing the Tactical Armours require, because pretty much any conversation which can have mecha maintenance in the background does have mecha maintenance in the background. Of the things I’ve watched recently, only Macross Plus conveyed a similar sense of mecha constantly being tuned and serviced, and in the case of Plus this is done with a much lighter touch.
It’s revealed very early on that the TAs’ key component is actually a kind of empathetic artificial muscle, but the viewer is rarely reminded that the TAs are essentially organic: as we’ve seen, most of the time the series works to reinforce our perception of the TAs as realistically mechanical, artificial weapons.
This makes the organic – ferociously organic – Kugai and the rather gooey ending of Gasaraki‘s final battle rather more shocking. This perhaps reflects a broader contrast used in the series: the hard-nosed sense of realism of its action sequences and financial politics (and the worrying Middle Eastern intervention story) make the series’ mystical aspects feel wierder. [By contrast, Evangelion is wierd through-and-through; the organic nature of the Evas is not shocking because everything in the series is bizarre.]