Mecha Obscura

TA Armoury

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:

Freedom

[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:

Obfuscation

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.

Kneespike
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.]

Blogiography

  • You can find Washi’s positive review of Gasaraki here.
  • By contrast, the series received an absolute pasting on Chizumatic.
  • The End of the World covered Gasaraki in some detail, beginning here.
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11 responses to “Mecha Obscura

  1. Great review….I’ve only started reading your blog and it’s already one of my favorites. I haven’t seen any Mecha anime at all (transformers don’t count), but I think this is a good one to start at.

    I really want to see you review Shigurui, you know that “Samurai” anime that came out last year that everyone pretended didn’t exist….once you see it you’ll know the reason why. It’s probably one of the most unique animes I have seen depicting the Samurai and I would like to hear your voice on it.

  2. Thankyou. I’d certainly recommend Gasaraki, although it’s a slow burner which takes itself very seriously, and it’s not typical of the mecha genre.

    I’m a bit ambivalent about writing something on Shigurui, because from what I’ve heard it’s too graphic for my tastes. But Bateszi did write about it here.

  3. Recommending Gasaraki for me is like recommending wholemeal bread over white – it’s ultimately satisfying and offers more to chew on but most people would go for the lighter, more palatable options. That’s the best way I can describe a show like this without writing a series of full blown reviews (so cheers for posting links to them and saving me the trouble!).

    It’s definitely not for everyone – most mecha fans are in it for the excitement, and giant robots by definition aren’t meant to be realistic in most situations – but the attention to detail and ambition makes it an underrated show. With the demand on my concentration aside, the biggest problem was the coldness of the Yushiro/Miharu relationship, which should have offered a crucial injection of warmth and humanity into the series as a whole.

    It’s ironic really that the things that make it unusual and special are the very things that push it into such a niche – realism and maturity are commendable aims but not necessarily what make for a popular series. I’m not surprised you enjoyed it actually, because I know you appreciate this sort of thing in the same way as I do. I’ve probably mentioned this at some point before but I’d also recommend the soundtrack – it’s expensive and hard to find but well worth the effort if you enjoyed the music used in the show.

  4. Food similes = win! Gasaraki really is the ultra-hardcore, wholemeal-bread-with-seeds-on-top of mecha anime.

    I think I agree with you on the Yushiro x Miharu thing, though I hadn’t considered it before. If there had been a ‘proper’ romance there, I would’ve rated Gasaraki even higher.

    As for the music . . . that ED: wow. Amazon UK claims to sell several CDs titled Gasaraki, but I don’t think they’re all the soundtrack. It’s rather confusing.

    Credit to Amazon.co.uk, though, I did manage to buy all but two of the Region 2 discs for the series through their Marketplace at student-friendly prices (new, not used!)

  5. Okay I’m really late to this party, but I actually read an interview on Gasaraki that said the realism is exactely what they were going for. That’s why all the mecha look the same too. Funny enough it was produced by Sunrise, who did not get what they were expecting out of this one.

  6. Well, quite. There’s an interview somewhere on one of the disks in which one of the staff relates how the marketing advisor nearly had a fit on being told there were only two types of mecha in the show (‘But you’ll introduce more later, right? Right?’).

    Interestingly, from reviews I’ve read, the model kits which were produced of the Tactical Armours and Fakes were actually very well-made and good quality.

  7. Pingback: A Paean For The 08th MS Team « The Animanachronism

  8. I’ve heard of this series before, but never followed up. Maybe I should add this to my pallet of non whiny animes. You also write really well.

  9. Thank you! As a literature student, writing’s one of my few marketable skills . . .

    Anyhow, I’d certainly suggest giving Gasaraki a shot – maybe you can rent the first disk from Netflix, or something? It’s in some ways a slow show, it devotes a lot of time to political intrigue and you could argue that it’s a bit nationalistic (hardly Angel Cop, though). But it may be to your taste, and the hero doesn’t whine much – in fact, he doesn’t really talk much; I have a theory that the script works hard to portray him, at least initially, as just a tool of his family’s ambition.

  10. No matter what anyone else might say, this is not your run-of-the-mill mecha that “was absolutely pointless, not worth watching.” The combat was most certainly not the base of the anime. Overall, with me, it was the storyline itself and realism that I personally found most endearing. I could visualize the TA’s being used in real life, and the actions of the characters were true to what real people would do in those sort of situations. The lack of “true” romance was because both Miharu and Yoshiro sort of had everything on their hands at the moment.

    Because of its focus not upon combat, humor, or – thankfully – cliche plot items, but upon a mirror of reality… that is why it separates itself from all other mechas, causing itself to be truly classic. Its seriousness was indeed born out of this true desire for realism. There is some humor, yes, but do you see that as being Gasaraki’s central focus?

    It is truly mournful that this series has been overlooked by the majority of anime and sci-fi otaku because of these characteristics. Perhaps it is because of a lack of “entertainment” value that so many people are looking for… or because of a fear of true emotional introspection and contemplation that many of the episodes force upon the viewer. Gasaraki is indeed tedious at times, there being entire episodes in which tension is literally the only emotion evoked, but each episode that you watch draws you deeper into the story and attaches you more closely to the characters.

    Serious? Yes. Classical? Yes. Entertaining? Yes, to those who enjoy serious fiction. Pointless? NO.

  11. The combat’s certainly not the point of the story, and it only achieves tension and interest through the counter-intuitive process of obscurity and concealment that I describe here.

    You’re quite right that Gasaraki deserves kudos for its almost uniquely straight-faced, obsessively detailed approach. Where else in anime would the final military confrontation be over grain prices?

    If you liked it (and it sounds like you did!) then you should give Flag a try if you haven’t already. It shares the same director and some of the same approaches.

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