Monday, July 27, 2009


So when I was watching Angel on Hulu, I kept seeing this intriguing title among the A's. Aquarion was some kind of giant robot anime series, and I like watching giant robots blow stuff up, so I figured I'd give it a try once I was done with Angel.

Aquarion is about Apollo, a street kid who gets dragged into a battle between an agency called Deava and the Shadow Angels, a mysterious force which sends giant Harvest Beasts to hoover thousands of people up off the streets for some unknown purpose. Deava battles the Harvest Beasts and their monstrous Cherubim guards with an ancient giant robot known as Aquarion. Apollo is recruited because Deava suspects him to be the reincarnation of Apollonius, Aquarion's first pilot from 12,000 years ago, as recorded in the Book of Holy Genesis.

After the first couple of episodes, it was apparent that this was a rip-off of Neon Genesis Evangelion. A mysterious government agency using giant robots to battle an invasion by grotesque creatures from who-knows-where ("Angels" in NGE, "Cherubim" sent by Shadow Angels in Aquarion). The man in charge seems to have his own designs based on some esoteric knowledge. The main robot pilot is a teenage boy who has a bickering love-hate relationship with a female co-pilot. There's a creepy albino girl whose cryptic statements reveal she knows more than most about what's really going on, and a pretty blonde scientist in charge of technical stuff. Gratuitous biblical references and the Tree of Life from the Kabbalah.

And of course, there's a big-ass control room, where lots of technicians monitor the fights while not contributing in any apparent way.

But unlike NGE, which took pains to subvert as many anime cliches as it could, Aquarion plays everything more conventionally. The hero is your typical brash know-nothing, whose secret past and incredible natural talents cover for his ignorance (see Naruto, DBZ, Bleach, etc.). The antagonist are shown plotting their counter-moves, and the main antagonist has a personal grudge against Apollo (actually his grudge is against Apollo's former life). The team gradually comes together through adversity, culminating in a big battle which the good guys win.

But the thing that's really weird about Aquarion is the kitchen sink nature of the thing; it seems cobbled together out of random elements to try to appeal to every possible audience.

At heart, it seems like a typical robot series designed to sell toys to young boys. For instance, whenever the three fighter jets merge into Aquarion, we get a dramatic toy pose.

But at the same time, there are lots of philosophical discussions and angst, seemingly designed to attract older audiences who made shows like NGE a hit. Then again, it plays in many parts like a shojo series for girls. Lots of emphasis on romance, and as many variations on romantic coupling as they can come up with. There's Apollo and Silvia (the reincarnation of Apollonius's first love Celiane):

But Silvia actually spends most of the series denying her attraction to Apollo and involved in a rivalry with fellow female pilot Reika for the affections of Silvia's brother Sirius, on whom she has a major crush (that's right, Silvia spends most of the series in love with her brother). Reika, meanwhile, is pining for Glenn, another pilot who has been left comatose as a result of a battle in the pilot episode, and is also being pursued by Tsugumi, a nerdy female pilot. There are other relationships, too. Nobody ever hooks up, but out of 14 major characters, there are at least 8 romantic pairings floated out there, hetero, homo and incestuo. Oh yeah, and there's a vampire.

Which is not to mention this guy, big bad Shadow Angel Toma, who is still pining for his ancient lost love (I don't want to spoil it by revealing who). The series has not one, but two tall, thin, androgynous main characters designed to appeal to teenage girls.

As the series progresses, it continues to steal, I mean, homage elements of NGE. The government, not wanting to put all of their eggs in the Deava basket, use captured Shadow Angel technology to build an assembly line version of Aquarion (to be fair, NGE took the idea from Gundam, but still...). A young humanoid Angel confronts the pilots and is killed late in the series, setting up the final confrontation. The head of Deava is deposed by the government, but rebels. In one late episode, dead bodies sprout flowers that contain their prana energy (a device stolen from Betterman, itself a bad NGE imitator).

The most interesting/oddball element of the show is the overtly sexual references to "merging," the process in which the pilots of the three fighter jets join spiritually as their vehicles are joining physically to form Aquarion. In NGE, the EVA pilots were literally babies in the womb. In Aquarion, the pilots are all cumming their brains out. Money quote from Silvia's first merge:: "Oh, it feels so good!"

And it's not limited to just throwaway shots during each merge sequence. In the first episode, Silvia is jealous that Sirius's first time is with Reika, not her. In the episode, "The First Merge," we see female teenagers in the shower asking one of the girls about merging ("I've heard everyone's nervous the first time"), leading to a scene between Tsugumi and Reika where Tsugumi eagerly asks, "What was it like the first time you merged? Were you nervous? Did it feel good?...Silvia said it feels great no matter who you're with."

The sexual metaphor manages to get even more explicit in the episode "Mischief Without Malice" (which seems to have been entirely animated by a different studio--the bulk of the episode is a dream/illusion using different character models influenced by shows like FLCL, but even in the "normal" scenes, everybody's off-model), where Silvia can't help but slip a finger down there during her merge (hope she cleaned up the cockpit after--other pilots have to use those controls, you know).

And need I mention that this means that every episode features a threesome (since it takes three pilots to merge into Aquarion)?

So anyway, bottom line: opening episodes are intriguing but flawed, middle episodes (especially 14-18) absolutely awful, final arc disappointing.

I started to watch something called Glass Fleet after this, but it was pretty bad, too. Political drama approximating the French Revolution in Space or something, with a female main character that everybody keeps referring to as a man. Then I tried something called xXxHolic, which is sadly not about porn addiction; it was a goofy "comedy" about a guy who sees spirits or something. First ep didn't grab me at all.

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