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A new mass-produced giant robot is about to be introduced to the world's military-industrial complex when something goes terribly wrong. The models, called Bartoll, attack the waiting dignitaries. Soon the Bartoll are swarming all over the world, carrying out the nefarious plans of an evil (but deeply traumatized!) scientist. Employing a remote battling system that uses human bodies as parts, he has the new models gather up more people for his project, and it's up the pilots of the Earth Federation Army and their giant robots to stop him before his automated army grows unbeatable.
Bandai Visual's strategy of marketing to hard-core fans reaches perhaps its pinnacle with Super Robot Wars. It's a pricey, superior presentation of an OAV from late in a franchise that includes games and television series, some of which have never been released in the US. Who but hard-core fans would ever be interested?
Well, fans of massive robot mayhem for starters. This is a series that knows where its strengths are; it begins in a flurry of destruction and hardly lets up for its entire eighty-five minute run. The Bartoll storm a weapons demonstration, and from there on it's all exploding, slicing, dicing and every other form of robo-death imaginable. It's a show in touch with what makes "super robots" cool—crammed with rocket drills, zipping remote-controlled missiles, revolver-driven spikes, laser horns, giant swords, spectacular transformations and a myriad of sure-kill ultimate techniques. It makes full use of newer animation techniques to communicate the old-school cool, using 3D CGI for the lightning insectile behavior of the Bartoll (watch the way they swarm and dodge) and to keep the fights slick and dynamic, with all of those important touches—such as the insides of torn mecha and the occasional torn human—animated in impressive detail. At its best, the series builds massive aerial battles into a series of climactic technical showcases employed to the shallow (but spectacular) end of glorying in a particular character's piloting prowess.
The series' discussions of plot or character points, despite dealing with an interesting, sadistically Hellraiser-esque technology for creating a unified human consciousness, can't hold the attention firmly enough to keep it from wandering onto subjects such as how fundamentally hollow the entire enterprise is, how the plot is little more than a skeleton from which to hang endless action set-pieces, or how often, in retrospect, a seemingly impossible battle is turned around by the timely arrival of yet another character from earlier in the franchise. For the Super Robot uninitiated the cast is an uncontrollably expanding monster, an enormous, confusing collection of one- or no-dimensional people that only grows larger with each battle. Brief flashes of character-building are laughably ineffectual, drops of depth in an ocean of mecha fan-service. And then a giant, screaming robotic samurai slices a flock of mecha in half or a revolver explodes, ripping through nearby enemies, and all that thinking seems rather moot. Until the action stops again, that is.
For a work as invested in giant-robot fan-service as Super Robot Wars is, the mecha themselves are curiously underwhelming. The mecha come a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes, from businesslike mass-production units, to organic winged-things and a drill-shooting carnivalesque monstrosity. And yet none—outside of the aforementioned samurai—have the iconic feel of, say, MazinKaiser or even Godannar. Much like the characters, there simply isn't enough time, and too many different mecha, to indulge in the kind of fetishization that longer series can. Even so, the mecha, when combined with their distinctive movement patterns, can be pretty neat. The main villain even has transparent mechanical bodyguards. Transparent mecha. Now there's a strange innovation for you. The variety of colors, clothing and hairstyles that characters sport is as bewildering as that of their mecha. They tend to look good in spite of it, and manage the nearly impossible task of making everyone in the extensive cast look distinctive. The blending of three-dimensional mecha and two-dimensional characters is good, never contrasting the two to detrimental effect. Backgrounds, naturally, excel at urban ruin and war-ravaged landscapes.
The series' music does a fine job of proving that there is just as wide a variety of musical bombast as there is visual. It's an often thunderous, full-bodied work that utilizes everything from the symphonic to growling guitars and doom-laden organs. When it accompanies the unleashing of some devastating attack, it can be positively rousing. Though the opening starts out gently, both it and the ending are typically loud, and reasonably fun, giant-robot themes.
Bandai Visual excuses the price point (fifty dollars MSRP) by including all three (three!) episodes, a sizable booklet and a second disc filled with extras. The booklet is a helpful source of information (mecha, characters, timelines) for those unfamiliar with the franchise, much of which is replicated in the glossary and other text extras on the disc. The disc also includes a trio of music videos, and a gargantuan series of interviews with the cast.
Outside of fans of the franchise, it's difficult to recommend the purchase of a title with as little replay value as this to anyone. It is solid fun for fans of destruction and pure eye-candy, but there is no escaping its essential emptiness on repeat viewings. In that way robo-porn is like any porn: after a once-through, forever after there is nothing to do but skip straight to the money scenes.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ A technically polished and wildly varied endless robo-rumble.
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