The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline
How would you rate episode 1 of
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline ?
What is this?
In 2061, Japan is under a state of occupation by multiple states. The world, including Japan, has been consolidated under the rule of four trade blocs. The entire archipelago is now the frontline of conflict. The Japanese people live under a state of constant occupation and oppression, with humanoid war machines called AMAIM patrolling its streets. A young introverted boy named Amō Shiiba has a chance meeting with the autonomous AI Gai, and his acquisition of the AMAIM Kenbu begins a story that will see him attempting to take back Japan. Gashin Tezuka is a reticent and frank 16-year-old member of the Japanese resistance who pilots the AMAIM Ghost to avenge his father.
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline is part of a collaborative project between animation studio Sunrise Beyond (formerly XEBEC) and toy/hobby company Bandai Spirits. The anime streams on Funimation on Mondays.
How was the first episode?
Say it with me now, everyone: I'ma keep it real with you, 58th Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga, this won't solve Japan's declining birthrate.
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline has all the hallmarks of a fun, if uninspired, addition to the mecha genre: a scrappy teenage boy with stupid hair who is vaguely discontented with the status quo getting pulled into a large-scale military conflict because he just really loves giant robots, with a sassy assistant helping him through his first clash. In this case, it's Amou Shiiba, who has been building his own giant robot called an AMAIM when he finds an autonomous AI named Gai. It's lucky he and Gai encountered each other, because soon after Shiiba's friends get taken in by the military police, and he must fight their way out with what turns out to be a particularly powerful robot.
It would all be a familiar good time if AMAIM didn't positively reek of xenophobia and anxiety about the declining birth rate.
The scenario the introduction outlines is absolutely laughable: in the mid-21st century, Japan was on the verge of economic collapse because of the shrinking population. So, a bunch of countries sent in humanitarian aid and settled in, expanding their territory and growing their own populations on Japanese soil. Eventually they started to run into each other and war broke out between the four nations that had settled there, leaving the poor oppressed ethnic Japanese to huddle in their homes as the evil foreigners battled it out for their own land.
It's an utterly preposterous scenario, but it also carries more than a whiff of Japan's conservative party's fear of their own people dying out and being replaced by foreigners. There's a not-insignificant contingent of people who think at least part of the answer to Japan's shrinking workforce is to become more welcoming to immigrants, and this feels like it's directly addressing them. Imagine, my fellow Americans, if you changed the setting from Japan to the US; it's the exact paranoid fantasy that white nationalists have been yelling about for years. The ending even features Amou and who I'm presuming are two other leads doing traditional Japanese crafts and looking melancholy.
Oh sure, mecha fans will be pleased as punch at the hand-drawn mecha, which have been a dying breed for years as they were supplanted by the easier-to-execute computer-rendered kind. They were even conceptualized by a trio of top mechanical designers, who between them have probably created damn near every Gundam of the past couple decades. The action is solid and weighty in that way that CG struggles to recreate, and the other animation is bright and pleasing, even if Amou's triple-braided mullet is one of the worst hairstyles I've seen in anime recently. But it's not even remotely worth the nationalist overtones on display here. There have been a ton of good mecha shows lately; watch one of them instead. Might I recommend Planet With or Back Arrow?
AMAIM faces the same big challenge that almost all mecha anime have to deal with: how do we establish the main character, explore his motivations, and get him into the pilot seat of a giant robot within 22 minutes? Moreover, AMAIM elects to do this on hard mode by having a setting that demands explanation and by having a protagonist that is an every-man (who has no real reason to be in a mecha in the first place).
Yet, despite all these potential hurdles, this first episode is solid. This is mainly because AMAIM understands not only what is important, but also what can be put on the back burner for later. While the show opens with a breakdown of the state of the world, it doesn't get bogged down in the details. While we know that four countries have basically carved up Japan, it doesn't bother to tell us those countries' names or anything about their cultures or governmental policies. At the moment, those details are irrelevant to the story of how Amou gets in the giant robot.
Instead, the show uses its limited time to establish Amou as a person, showing what his life is like and the utter hopelessness of his situation. It also shows that he is kind, quick thinking, and intelligent—I mean, hell, he's smart enough to repair a giant mecha to working order from salvaged parts all on his own. The idea that society doesn't have a place for him shows the gaping flaw in his world and the powerlessness he and those like him have in regards to their own lives.
Now all that said, this series desperately needs to explain its core conceit soon. While the episode mentions that the four countries first arrived in the guise of giving aid, at some point, it turned into a shooting war between them. This raises the big question of “why?” What do these countries get by controlling part of Japan? What is worth open war to gain in this country in the middle of a social and economic collapse? I mean, they're not even getting cheap labor as the unemployment rate is at an all-time high. There has to be something that would make not one but four countries spend precious lives and resources on Japan. If there isn't, the story just kind of falls apart at a base level.
But all in all, this is still a solid first episode for a mecha series (though, honestly, I could have done without the cute mascot AI) and I'll be tuning in next week to see more.
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline is the kind of anime that desperately hopes that you won't ask it too many questions. “How exactly do economic troubles and a declining birthrate result in Japan collapsing so completely that it becomes a fully occupied territory?” Don't worry about it! “Which specific nations have decided to invest millions, if not billions, of dollars into a decades-long standoff that requires the use of fully automated mecha battalions?” Doesn't really matter! “Outside of being the main character, and somehow being able to construct a fully functional, pilotable mecha with little to no training and resources, why should we give a damn about Shiiba?” Quick, look at the robot that is punching other robots! That sure is entertaining, isn't it!?
Look, I didn't go into AMAIM expecting high art or anything, and I don't need all of my mecha anime to be cerebral exercises in complex allegory. It's 2021, though, and every single variation of the giant robot theme has pretty much been done to death, so if you're going to dive headfirst into the genre without a hint of irony or self-awareness, I don't think it's crazy to ask that you have something cool and unique to bring to the table. So far as this first episode of AMAIM is concerned, I'm not seeing a single shred of evidence that this show isn't just a poor man's version of other, better anime from years gone by.
Now, does that mean that AMAIM is terrible? No. It's competently animated by Sunrise Beyond, and the robot designs will probably be appealing to young kids and other viewers who haven't been inundated with giant anime fight-o'-trons since they were old enough to understand what moving pictures were. The worldbuilding almost seems like it is being treated as an afterthought on purpose, and there's not one character that we meet in this premiere that stands out as particularly interesting or memorable, but whatever, I guess. We've got a Main Guy. He makes friends with a Big Robot. They fight some other Big Robots.
I know that there are fans out there who take pride in watching literally every single anime that comes out in any given season, and treat dropping a show as some mark of shame or failure on their part. I've never understood that mentality, but different strokes and all that, right? If that description applies to you, then you could do a lot worse than AMAIM. There's nothing outright offensive about it, the twenty minutes go by quick enough, and you'll get some passable robot-fighting action out of it. For folks looking for mecha and other sci-fi series that have real style and substance, though, there are dozens of better shows to choose from, and you won't miss out on anything if you stick AMAIM way down at the bottom of your anime backlog in the meantime.
This is a weirdly prolific season for mech anime. As a subgenre that's largely fallen out of vogue outside of new entries in classic franchises, it seems like the stars and production pipelines all aligned to give us a whole lot of robot fightin' action in one quarter. If you include the non-humanoid mechs of 86 and the currently unlicensed Megaton Musashi, we're looking at five different kinds of metal-on-metal action this fall, and we're kicking off the new entries with the latest original production by offshoot studio Sunrise Beyond. Fittingly this is being helmed by creators sufficiently versed in mech series, and it shows, for better and worse.
Probably my biggest knock against AMAIM so far is that it just feels very, very familiar. While it's not a carbon copy of any particular show, it's riffing on all the same ideas most mech shows have for the last two decades, which leaves this otherwise well-executed premiere feeling a tad generic. The designs are very reminiscent of the Gundam Build Fighters series, while the titular AMAIM robots could easily pass for unused Iron-Blooded Orphans mobile suits, and even the convoluted political setup of a future Japan turned into the battleground of a proxy war for other global powers is reminiscent of a number of other mech shows. It's not that any of these ideas are bad, or even poorly implemented here. But it does mean this premiere feels lacking in its own identity in key places.
The biggest innovations are mostly in our hero duo. Amou is your typical moody teen robot pilot, but comes with the caveat that he's a gearhead who largely built his robot from spare parts and refurbished hardware. That's a bit of a novelty, as usually these central machines are built by a genius scientist or a high-end military operation, so a hero who's not only capable of tinkering with his own machine, but intimately familiar with how it's built offers some interesting potential. The other half of the equation is Gai, a chirpy AI who becomes Amou's companion and software support, coaching the teenager through his first battle, all in the form of a goofy-looking animal sidekick. The pair actually have a fair bit of chemistry, and definitely felt like the strongest element of this premiere, contrasting Gai's energetic observations with Amou's more cynical point of view. If I keep up with this show, it's probably going to be for them.
Well, that and some good ol' 2D rock'em sock'em robots. While I always prefer seeing new designs, I do still appreciate the angular, distorted humanoid shape of Amou's AMAIM, and it looks very nice in action. I especially love details like the kangaroo legs that seem to be standard for mechs here, allowing them to hop and skip around the battlefield with some believable weight and momentum, while also allowing for some dainty footwork on Amou's part. The actual battle is relatively simple, but that's fitting for our first foray into combat, showcasing that these mechs can look just as good in movement as they do in stills, and establishing a neat dynamic where our heroes are piloting a robot amidst a sea of unmanned enemies. It's solid mech fight fundamentals with just enough of a twist to have me interested for more than just spectacle.
So yeah, this isn't breaking any boundaries (or borderlines, heh) so far, but a solidly executed and well-animated piece of genre fiction can still be a damn good time. And given this is set to run for two cours, there's plenty of room for AMAIM to find its own identity, or at least look good while trying.
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