The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
LBX Girls ?
What is this?
In an unplanned field trip, Riko is transported to an alternate Japan where metal-based life forms known as Mimesis ravage the world. Only girls equipped with LBX armored weaponry can stand up to this scourge. Joined by four other displaced young women, Riko will have to adapt to save humanity. The hope of a planet now rests on these heavy metal soldiers who desire one wish—to return home again.
How was the first episode?
At the start of the episode, I gave in to temptation and looked at my phone while watching, with the excuse that if I'm looking up information about the show, it's research and totally justifiable, not “being distracted” or “missing out on crucial details.” Turns out LBX is totally a thing and has been around for nine years in anime, manga, and video game form, and I've just been totally ignorant of an entire franchise. LBX stands for “Little Battlers eXperience,” is usually about robots and not cute girls in battle armor, and even aired on the Nicktoons channel for a while.
Suffice it to say, I don't think this version will air on American children's television.
In fairness, I seriously doubt I missed much of anything when I was looking this info up, because the episode's start is sloooooow. Riko and her friend Mana wander Ikebukuro, having an extended conversation about all the different wards of Tokyo they've been to and the trains they had to take to get there. They arrive at their destination, some kind of LBX event where Riko reveals that she's, like, the only person in the world who isn't into them. It's excruciatingly pointless and dull, and I was so sure it was half the episode instead of the five minutes it actually took.
Wouldn't you know it, the girl who doesn't know or care about LBX is the one who ends up in the other world, clad in body armor and convinced that she's playing some kind of VR game. About half the episode is cell-shaded CG, and thus predictably stiff and clunky. The LBX battle armor is as ridiculous as one would expect in this kind of show, big and clunky but leaving key areas like their thighs and underarms bare, and their chests clothed but unarmored in a way that really emphasizes their breasts. The camera isn't terribly horny outside the detailed and lengthy transformation sequences that every single girl gets and this is far from the worst of this kind of show, but it's eye-rolling all the same.
It tries for a grim and gritty atmosphere, with a stark ruined cityscape and the girls grumbling about how they don't really get along and they're not here to make friends, but the mecha design is so ludicrous, and their bobble-headed character designs so firmly in the realm of cute girl anime that it just doesn't hit. It's just a toy commercial.
While watching the first episode of this series, I could not help but be reminded of the much earlier Infinite Stratos, which shared a somewhat similar concept in that only girls could normally sport powered exoskeletons. This series combines that with the even more standard concept that only individuals with special abilities and/or equipment can fight off alien/extradimensional invaders, and throws in some alien motherships which look like they were borrowed from Noein - to your other self for good measure. The result is a story about a girl who's not even into mecha models being transported to another world as the wielder of one of these exoskeletons and thrown into the fire, all without the faintest clue about what's happening to her.
The intended appeal here is clear: cute/sexy girls in robot-themed battle harnesses fighting off mechanized alien invaders in a ruined version of Tokyo. They even toss in frilly skirts paired with bloomers and try to give it more edge by adding the very real possibility of the girls dying; one even does in the first major battle scene (though the death is not shown). However, this one falls short in numerous different ways. The biggest is that the first episode does not offer any unique hook, whether in the types of characters, the setting, how the protagonist ends up in this situation, or the type of enemies being fought. As generic as the show's concept is, the show doesn't do much to make its approach stand out. It tries to make up with some battle scenes that are heavily dependent on CG, and while these do feature ample movement, the alien mechanoids actually look smoother and more convincing than the girls do. The design of the battle harnesses also leave a lot to be desired; they look entirely too clunky for the girls to move around in them well and provide no front torso protection at all.
If I had to name a single element which most turned me off about this one, though, it would be the obnoxiously-long armoring-up scene. This involves four of the girls the protagonist meets equipping in magical girl-like transformation fashion, with a total running time of almost three full minutes. I have never understood the appeal of these kind of scenes, but they might have been at least passable here if they were not so incredibly overplayed. Was the creative staff just trying to kill time?
Perhaps this one will eventually amount to more, I can easily see this being quickly forgotten.
Okay, ladies, what is it you need to be a fighter in a mecha exoskeleton? According to LBX Girls, that would be a foundation garment that lifts and separates, a flirty lace-trimmed mini-skirt just perfect for upskirt shots, thigh-highs that enhance your color scheme, and of course back-heavy gear that by any reasonable standard of physics would have you flailing around like an upside-down turtle. Et voilà! You're ready for the battlefields of post-apocalyptic dystopian alternate Tokyo.
LBX Girls perhaps doesn't deserve such censure, but it certainly isn't trying all that hard to avoid it. The story is essentially science fiction isekai, with hapless high school girl Riko pulled from a comfortable mall in our world to the grim remnants of a Japan ravaged by what appear to be sentient robot bugs. Riko's first assumption, that she's somehow started playing a VR game without realizing it, is only marginally weirder as an explanation than the “temporal conjugation” (in the words of the show) that sucked her out of her world and into this other one. That she can now fight as the LBX figure she was looking at when she was summoned is faint consolation for a girl who didn't even care about LBX figures in the first place.
There's something decidedly uninspired about this first episode. It offers us a selection of high school girls known as “armor girls” who apparently form the fighting force of the dystopia's military, but it doesn't do much by way of giving them even the most basic rudiments of personalities or tropes. The character designs are so basic that I spent the entire episode convinced that two of the girls were in fact the same girl, and the camera's need to consistently be at just the right angle to be looking up the girls' skirts said plenty about what the story thinks its biggest selling point is. The LBX armor does look a little more interesting, and the transformation sequences are decently engaging, albeit in a “sexy Transformers” kind of way, but the questionable physics of how the girls can stand upright, much less move around, in their armor undermines that a bit. (Also, is that one girl's armor basically just a portable standing desk?) I do like that the show seems to be willing to do something beyond “our world, but trashed” for the Earth Riko has been brought to; Mount Fuji appears to have actually changed locations, which is a far cry from decimated cityscapes. On the whole, however, LBX Girls just isn't that interesting and has enough off-kilter nit-picky details that stand out as you try to find something to pay attention to that it just doesn't quite work.
If I had to describe LBX Girls in just a few words, they'd be “slight, but functional.” This is a premiere that gets by pretty much on being competent at whatever it attempts without ever impressing. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it kinda is.
This opening episode tells you the basics you need to know to get through it: in a parallel world there are monsters invading from some unspecified alien dimension, and the only way to stop them is squads of anime girls who can don special armor that just so happens to be from a toy line you can buy right now (provided you live in Japan, I suppose)! Our heroine is transported from our world and gifted a special armor of her own, and proceeds to stumble her way through her first battle before being picked up by a group of more experienced Armor Girls who will presumably teach her the ropes as they fight more monsters. If that sounds a little too reductive, it's really not, as this episode stretches out its barest plot points without adding such flourishes as character or personality. It also pads the whole thing out with a good 3 minutes of the entire cast's transformation sequences as they equip their armor, which really hammers home how little substance there is here.
Visually, the show is equally functional, with solidly implemented CG models for all of the cast once they've equipped their armor and start fighting. It's nothing amazing, and some of the movement feels really floaty for characters supposedly carrying around hundreds of pounds of military hardware, but it gets the job done and keeps the lengthy action sequences engaging enough. The designs themselves feel pretty boilerplate, but I'm far from a mech aficionado so that may just be me speaking from ignorance.
Overall I don't have much bad to say about this opening. It does what it needs to do in a clear and coherent manner, and even skips over some tedious misunderstandings by handwaving the whole parallel world thing with the rest of the cast, which is nice. But it's the type of premiere that I can already feel fading from my mind the more time passes, and I have to imagine there are better options here. If you're really hard-up for some mecha-adjacent girls kicking butt...well there's 5 seasons of Symphogear to catch up on before stooping to this.
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