And Before VOTOMS There Was . . .

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.

Tanks for the memories, Takahashi, tanks for the memories.

Tanks for the memories, Takahashi, tanks for the memories.

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10 responses to “And Before VOTOMS There Was . . .

  1. Once there was a time when Sunrise commanded respect.

    Looking at recent Gundams, the thing called “Geass” that people seem to really like, and looking back, it’s easy to see why you prefer to cover more “vintage” works.

    “An inexplicable interval of good taste,” indeed.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Geass myself. Plenty of people have said most of what can be said about it, however, and Dougram deserves some coverage of its own.

  3. I’m honestly interested in this, ever since I heard about the current subbing effort a couple of days ago, but haven’t found the time to sit down and start it. Mainly because the show is so ridiculously long that I might as well wait…which is what I did with LOGH, and that particular show definitely benefits from marathon sessions. Perhaps I’ll do the same with Dougram, perhaps not.

    @Dorian Cornelius Jasper :

    I like good vintage shows as much as the next guy (around these parts, as opposed to the “next guy” among the general population), believe it or not, but I don’t see anything wrong, subjectively, with something that entertains me in spite of its objective flaws or limitations, whether that something is named Gundam 00 or Geass.

  4. @Camario: I didn’t find Geass very entertaining at all. And that’s on the subjective level. The plot twists ran through too quickly to emotionally register, and not even amusing doses of unintentional (or was it?) bathos could change my opinion for the positive. When I realized I wasn’t getting nearly the same “entertainment experience” others were I just dropped the show from my rotation. Which was a shame, as I’d liked it a lot for the first half of the first season. When the show felt like it was going through the motions of a plot, it made watching it a chore in spite of its frenetic prettiness and over-the-top presentation.

    I also prefer G00 to SEED Destiny, and more of my ill-will is geared towards the latter when I say “recent Gundams.” Dare I say it, Gundam 00 might be a lot worse than Geass but it’s a lot more fun, if less fabulous.

    Internet community meme-generation notwithstanding.

    But the last Gundam I really liked was Turn A, and that’s for other reasons entirely.

  5. @ Dorian Cornelius Jasper:

    That’s a respectable position, even if I still did find it more than entertaining enough. I’ve commented far too much about Geass in the past several weeks, if not months, so I’ll refrain from hijacking this any further.

    I still need to see Turn A…might pick that up to add some variety while more Dougram gets subbed, we’ll see.

  6. Subjectivity is great. It’s all deculture to me! What iKnight is doing however is adding more to my backlog watchlist. This year was supposed to be LOGH year, but so many other anime got watched and most of them good.

    iKnight gets credit for making me want to write my own stuff.

    Shameless Plug: We Remember Love (http://ghostlightning.wordpress.com)

  7. anima, I’m not sure if you’d like it since it lacks mechs and explosions and shit but you need to watch Rose of Versailles. I don’t think many could appreciate it more than you.

  8. @ Camario: Time will tell which approach bears fruit, I suppose, though given that I might be run over by a bus or blown up on a bus or [insert potential forms of sudden death here, ad nauseam] I prefer to sieze the day in this case. And I heartily recommend Turn-A, though you might have guessed that.

    @ ghostlightning: Having other bloggers pile things on my backlog is a familiar experience. And thanks for citing me as an inspiration, a pleasant experience which doesn’t happen enough.

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: I’m afraid to say an article in the second volume of Mechademia spoiled me on the story (it was a good article, though) of Rose of Versailles some time ago . . . but I’ll remember the recommendation.

  9. I was spoiled by a background speech in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s pretty easy to get spoiled to one of the most famous stories ever >_<

  10. The spoilers weren’t so much ‘Marie Antoinette dies’ as very specific details of Oscar’s story.

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