Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sub.Blu-Ray +DVD - The Complete Series
High school student Aoba Watase's normal day is interrupted when Hina, the new girl in class, suddenly saves him from a giant robot that appears out of a golden tunnel in the sky. Hina tells him that she's sending him to the future where “Dio is waiting.” Sure enough, Aoba ends up seventy years in the future when the world is at war...and he has the unique ability to fly a special mecha and use the Buddy system to “couple” his mind with another boy named Dio. But where is Hina in all of this? And is fighting a war in the future worth never returning to the past?
Buddy Complex is a bit of an odd duck. It's a time-traveling mecha show that owes its plot to a lot of recognizable sources, from Aquarion and its sequels to hints of the original El Hazard with its relationship between Hina and Aoba. None of this is bad, per se, nor does it feel fully predictable, but there's just something that feels a little stale about the show, making its relative lack of popularity (Funimation has released it as a sub-only set) understandable, if not a little too bad.
The story revolves around high school student Aoba Watase, who leads a normal life until the new student in class, Hina Yumihara, saves him when a giant robot falls from a golden portal in the sky. Hina, for reasons totally unknown to Aoba, has her own mech stashed away, and with it she flies him to the portal and sends him through, telling him that he's going to the future. She also cryptically tells him that “Dio is waiting,” which, given that “dio” means “god” in Italian, could have the connotation that he's going to die. Luckily for Aoba (and the episode count), Dio turns out to be the name of a mecha pilot seventy years in the future. The world is at war, with the Confederation (good guys) against Zogilia (bad guys) in a battle apparently started by the discovery of a new mineral, as we see briefly on the news when Aoba is eating breakfast before everything begins. The Confederation has been developing a new battle system whereby two pilots (“buddies”) can couple their consciousnesses in order to better fight, and it turns out that Aoba is unusually fit to participate in the program. (This does make sense in the end.) He and Dio get a “Nice Coupling” reading, which means that they are well suited to be Buddies in the fight.
As you may have noticed, “nice coupling” has some perhaps unintended connotations. While it is well within the realm of possibility that the original Japanese writers did know that “coupling” can be used as a sexual euphemism, it feels more likely that the phrase is intended to refer to railway coupling, which is a mechanism that attaches the cars on a train to one another. Since the Buddy System basically attaches two mechs, called Valiancers in the show, this interpretation really does make the most sense, no matter how suggestive it may sound to native English speakers or people with a broad knowledge of older euphemisms for sex. While the system does feel very reminiscent of the one used in the Aquarion franchise, it also is strictly used for battle with no real fringe benefits or suggestive chuckling from the other crew members. It is also, as it turns out, quite dangerous – failed couplings can cause serious brain damage or worse; something which is amply shown in the character of Bizon, one of the Zogilians. Bizon is first introduced as the pilot trying to kill Aoba in the past, but when we meet him in the future, he's a much different person – nice and fairly balanced. Over the course of the fifteen episodes (thirteen originals and the two-parter that aired later to wrap things up) we see him court his own destruction. His slide into insanity is exacerbated by both the coupling system and the avaricious Dr. Hahn (played by a deliciously evil Koyasu Takehito), who uses his love for one of his co-pilots to force him beyond what he is capable of. In soap opera terms, essentially Bizon loves too much, and his transformation, for which he largely blames Aoba, is probably the most interesting character development in the show.
That's a bit of a problem, of course, because he's not the protagonist. Aoba and Dio mostly maintain their same basic characters from start to finish, with Aoba refusing to compromise on one major point and Dio being unable to accept himself (or anyone else) because of a tragedy in his past. While Dio does eventually warm up to others and shed some of his shell, Aoba is basically a static Nice Guy throughout. This doesn't greatly detract from the show, however, because he's the only nice guy character – he walks away from a hazing attempt, is open and honest about what he feels, and honestly tries to accept his new situation and make the best of it, even when it seems weird to him – his bemused expression when he puts on a military uniform is pretty great. He essentially serves as the catalyst for the development of Hina, Dio, and Bizon – again, something that makes sense when we find out the truth about the time travel.
The time travel itself can get a bit confusing and feels riddled with paradoxes up until episode fifteen, with the definite sense that had a full second season happened, things would have been explained more clearly. This feels true for some of the other characters as well, like Zogilian soldier Alfried or the deceptively easy-going Confederation captain under whom Aoba works – the man is definitely hiding something, and his willingness to use Aoba without actually trusting him speaks volumes – especially since Aoba is, admittedly, a terrible soldier.
The animation looks fairly good, and even though there is no English dub, Funimation's release of the show has both a Blu-Ray and a DVD version. The BD is sharper and brighter, but otherwise there really isn't much difference apart from the number of discs – two Blu-Rays and three DVDs. The art isn't spectacular, but does seem to know how the human upper body is put together, and the different types of mecha are all easily identifiable. The show has a tendency to label everyone and everything pretty much every time they appear on screen for the first time in an episode, which means that there's a lot of text on-screen at times, and putting the English over the Japanese can make for some difficult reading. Music tends towards the heroic, which works well.
Buddy Complex is actually not a bad show. It suffers from being abbreviated, although the added two episodes do help, and it is relatively derivative, but Aoba is a hero who never gives in to his circumstances and just does his best with what he's got and efforts are made to make the Zogilians just as human as the good guys. If you're a mecha fan, this is sort of a “lite” version of most of the non-parody shows out there and is enjoyable as such. Like the characters, Buddy Complex does its best with what it's got, as as it turns out, that's not bad.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Works to make most characters understandable, tries to explain everything so that it makes sense. Story flows well, good voices.
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