Armoured Trooper VOTOMS is a simple show. I should swiftly add that by ‘simple’ I don’t mean to imply ‘bad’ (it was good) or ‘stupid’ (it wasn’t stupid), simply ‘simple’, in its denotation but not any of its connotations. Armoured Troopers are simple mecha, tin cans with machine guns, the characters are simple people, the dialogue is frequently sparse (and better for it) and some of the show’s best images, such as Chirico carrying a sick Fyana across Sunsa’s airless desert with Zophie following behind him, are its simplest ones.
That particular image is a fitting example, for the Sunsa storyline seemed to me to be the simplest part of the show. The first arc closes with a change of circumstances in Uoodo City, the second with the end of the war in Kummen, and the fourth with dramatic events on Quent and the movement of large space fleets, but the third arc, the Sunsa arc, only alters its central characters. (It’s a fine example of whittling-for-meaning.)
In fact, we don’t even learn as much as we might expect about Chirico’s own past: he meets a character whose family were killed by the Red Shoulders, but he eventually reveals (in his internal monologue) that his own unit wasn’t on Sunsa at the time – and this is all we get. There’s no heart-rending confession, no whining and no catharsis: when he isn’t being directly reminded of it, Chirico simply shoulders the burden of his past and soldiers on.
Personally, I felt that this quarter of the series was the weakest. I’d venture to suggest that some of the episodes were a little flabby, particularly those episodes at the close of the arc which brought the rivalry between Chirico and Ypsilon to a head: they kept promising a decisive encounter between the two warriors, and kept postponing it.
Yet these episodes were hardly uninteresting, because the conversations between Chirico and Ypsilon made the irony of the title ‘Perfect Soldier’ more obvious. For the Secret Society, and its scientists who treat Ypsilon as an object, the perfect soldier is a self-absorbed person who feels no emotions, apart from those which make him a better killer. Ypsilon considers himself to be a chosen individual whose destiny is simply to continually hone his skills. As far as the standards of the story itself are concerned, however, the perfect soldier has a conscience, dislikes killing and behaves selflessly. This describes Chirico and Fyana well (and for a surprisingly large part of the Sunsa arc Fyana is looking after Chirico or vice versa). It ought to be a description that fits, because we’re expected to sympathise with Chirico and Fyana and take them as moral examples.
Anyhow, if the Sunsa storyline was, in its great simplicity, the distilled essence of the show’s general flavour, then the final quarter of the show was something of a dramatic departure from that essence (and I’m about to launch big spoilers, both for the ending of VOTOMS and probably for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, so be warned).
If, when I was writing this, you’d told me that VOTOMS would end with Chirico being chosen as God’s successor, shooting God with a pistol and (as seen above) taking God’s brain to pieces from the inside, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea. Yet that is essentially what happened, and I didn’t laugh.
The intervention of Wiseman (which is God’s name, if you haven’t seen the series) became overt at least as early as halfway through the series, as it was presumably him who placed Chirico and Fyana on the abandoned spaceship. (Actually, I have a suspicion that several other things could have explained that, and that the writers chose the Wiseman End later, but I may be wrong.) The Quent episodes also eased me into the right frame of mind with the judicious application of sufficiently advanced magic/technology.
I’m going to pause there – normal practice would be to cap that last paragraph with a resounding closing sentence – and suggest that my allusion to Clarke’s third law is not a throwaway one, as it might be in another of my posts, because the application of that law (which I prefer to think of as a dictum) controls Chirico’s attempt to kill God.
Chirico initially pursues Wiseman out of curiosity and a desire to find out who he himself is; when he finds out that Wiseman wishes him to take over the job of ruling the Astragius Galaxy, he plays along, accepts Wiseman’s trials and abandons his friends so that he can comprehend the technology that Wiseman runs on. And it’s when, in the final episode, Wiseman explains his own workings to Chirico – when the technology involved becomes distinguishable from magic – that Chirico is able to commit deicide. Wiseman’s mystical invulnerability thus relies precisely on the incomprehensibility of his technology.
This is very much a Judeo-Christian reading, even in its capitalisation of ‘God’. In my defence, Wiseman’s dialogue (or the translation of it that I was provided with) leaves itself open to this interpretation: he does say ‘I am the light of this world’. Subtle this is not, but then VOTOMS is a simple show – so simple, in fact, that it has Rochina show up and tell Chirico to his face that he ‘just killed God’.
[Perhaps this is a good reminder for me that I'm always in effect analysing a translation. It would be a fun exercise to take different sets of fansubs of the same show, and the official translation, and compare the different spins they put on the story.
Actually, even the fonts used by the original animators are significant. For a start, they can tell us something about the taste of Sheryl Nome's fans.]
Whether or not we should be looking at Wiseman this way, I think it’s interesting to pick out what distinguishes him from the omnipotent, omniscient (&c) God that theologians throw at one another. One striking difference is Wiseman’s inability to perceive thought itself. He was able to send messages over long distances to Killy, Rochina and Chirico, but if he could read minds he’d have known what Chirico was planning.
Wiseman is, moreover, not good, or at least not good in any traditional sense. Wiseman’s mission in (after)life is to be a kind of gardener tending to the galaxy’s wars – not to stop them, but to make sure that they promote humanity’s growth. Given how VOTOMS is infused with a war-weary tone (from the lyrics of the opening song to Chirico’s final departure, in the epilogue, in search of a world without war), and how much trouble (to put it mildly) war has caused Chirico, I think it’s safe to say that this is evil, as far as the show’s own moral framework is concerned. Wiseman himself argues that the normal rules do not apply: ‘[o]nly God does not sin when he kills!’
This is where the contrast between Wiseman and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann‘s Anti-Spirals becomes most obvious: Wiseman promoted struggle and evolution, while the Anti-Spirals devoted their energies not just to suppressing external struggles, but also to suppressing (by inculcating despair) the urge to struggle at all.
I’m most definitely not an expert on Nietzsche, but I think it’s safe to say that Gurren Lagann is quite Nietzschean while VOTOMS is, despite featuring deicide, pretty un-Nietzschean. It is after all Chirico’s rejection of power-hungry behaviour which allows him to resist Wiseman’s temptations, and his final action in the series is to reject the world of (military) struggle in favour of cryogenic sleep travel. (What were the Anti-Spirals doing on their home planet? Sleeping.)
These two shows are, however, alike in having a strong, consistent internal morality. We’re not expected to ask if Simon’s struggle is justified, let alone question the rightness of Chirico’s rejection of Wiseman. Which leaves us with a final question: if our personal views don’t align with a particular story’s internal morality, do we judge the characters from our viewpoint, or the show’s?
(Yes, I appreciate that we can only see the show’s understanding of good through the lens of our own, and so on. I’m just asking.)