There’s this mecha anime from Sunrise about the son of a white-haired absolute ruler. Violently disagreeing with his father’s regime, he joins a ragtag group of freedom fighters and becomes the hero of a rebellion.
This is not, however, the noughties; this hero lacks limbs like noodles (he’s much more of a proto-Mellowlink) and has a perfectly normal voice. Welcome to Fang of the Sun Dougram, which someone recently started subtitling. Our benefactor is obviously infected with divine and brilliant madness (it’s seventy-five episodes long!), but as a fan of Flag, Gasaraki and VOTOMS I am just as obviously required to watch it. Even if that entails learning how to use .ass files.
Here’s our Ragtag Band of RebelsTM. The first episode enters the story midway (or in medias res, if you must), as they prepare to blow up a military supply train. (The word on /m/ is that one inspiration for the story and aesthetic was The Battle of Algiers.) Their greatest weapon is (of course) a prototype mecha, the Dougram.
As you can see, we’re already in the post-Gundam territory of understated war machines. The Dougram and its fellow mecha are unwieldy beasts (in the second episode one is stopped by four soldiers with an anti-tank rifle), which helps to deflect accusations of ridiculous power imbalance but does lead to other familiar questions: if it’s so vulnerable, why use it in the first place? I suspect the Rule of Cool is still in full effect. (And long may it remain so!)
The second episode goes back to the beginning of the business – yes, yes, ab ovo, I know – properly introducing the hero, Crinn, and sketching in some details of his political and familial surroundings. Earth has colonised some other planets and the colonials are definitely second-class citizens: immigrants to Earth are attacked by white-hooded gangs. (It would seem that in every age, in every place, the badges of bigots remain the same.)
Perhaps it’s worth emphasising that this really is a big step back in time, as in the second episode Crinn still gets on with his father, and indeed his father isn’t even a ruler yet. This suggests the staff were reasonably sure they’d have a decent number of episodes to work with, though Dougram doesn’t – yet – have the just-as-planned air exuded by the four arcs of VOTOMS. Whatever the truth there, the temporal dislocation is already bearing fruit: I want to know how the affectionate, if slightly wild, son of the second episode became the doughty, Dougram-piloting desert rat of the first.
Dougram‘s story is deliberately paced, its political setting complex, its chronological organisation intriguing and its battles surprisingly intricate, if still filled with hapless enemy grunts. It also has considerable historical interest as the spiritual predecessor to VOTOMS and part of the ‘real robot boom’ – I prefer to think of it as an inexplicable interval of good taste – which is supposed to have filled the early eighties. And – unless Gundam 00 really pulls its finger out – Dougram‘s also the probably best mecha show I’m watching this season.