The back of the Nadesico DVD cover will tell you that it was voted the "Best Anime of All Time" by fans in an Animage magazine poll. What it won't tell you is that, at the time, Cowboy Bebop was still a year away, and Fullmetal Alchemist was just a gleam in Hiromu Arakawa's eye.
Nowadays, the gushing over Nadesico has not only died down, it seems to have all but vanished, with hardly anyone talking about the series anymore. It may be the last relic of straight-ahead space opera, but Nadesico still deserves some respect for being the snappy comeback to that other
giant robot series from the mid-90's—you know, the one that people won't shut up about.
Although it's easy to point out Nadesico's intentional lampooning of Evangelion, Gundam, Macross, and a host of other mecha shows, there's also a level of seriousness that most fans don't expect in a parody. The heartbreaking ending in Episode 3 marks the point where most viewers realize that this is more than just a spoof. Politics, war, and romance all play key parts in Nadesico, and with nine episodes in this two-disc set, it's easy to get absorbed and find yourself craving the next volume. There's plenty of story and emotion involved, so those looking for a breezy comedy might be surprised to find themselves investing in a densely-narrated epic adventure. But don't think it's all drama and battle after the first few episodes. The delightfully old-school show-within-the-show, Gekiganger 3 (a blatant take-off of Gatchaman and Mazinger Z) provides plenty of laughs and reminds us why Nadesico beats all those other serious mecha titles: because giant robots are supposed to be fun!
Imitation anime shows aside, Nadesico's lightheartedness also owes a lot to its colorful cast of characters. Despite his heroic calling as a robot pilot, Akito is remarkably approachable—after all, what could be more down-to-earth than a cook? Yurika, the world's most unlikely starship captain, may seem like a troublesome ditz at first, but demonstrates resolve and emotional depth as she learns the art of leadership. The characters may be billed as goofballs, but they also provide some of the most touching moments in the show. The Nadesico mindset shows that heroism and self-sacrifice are still respectable virtues, and that nobody needs to hear whining about why you can't or won't pilot a giant robot.
While epic adventures may be timeless, the visuals in Nadesico have begun to show their age. Too new to be classic and too old to be modern, the animation looks worn-out and possibly not touched up since the transfer from the original VHS. The linework and color in the character designs are lively and distinctive, but they're no match for today's digital animation. (Incidentally, the extremely circular eyes seem to bother some people, but this is more a matter of personal taste than anything the animators did.) The spacecraft and Aestivalis robots are sturdy mechanical gestalts, picking and choosing design elements from their anime predecessors. While the mecha battles look exciting and dynamic the first few times, the animation gradually settles into a lazy pattern of moving only what's necessary—the usual consequence of hand-drawn work. Nadesico may have put the swashbuckling fun back into sci-fi, but it was never meant to break any visual boundaries.
The English dub of Nadesico, recorded in 2000, is a sobering reminder of just how far North American dubs have come in the past few years. With inexperienced voice actors and some unknowns taking the starring roles, this project seems more like a training ground for future ADV veterans or a passing job for VA's whose careers never took off. Incorrectly accented Japanese names abound, and the twelve-year-old character Ruri sounds twice her age, which ruins the child prodigy effect. The dub script also deviates plenty of times from the true translation, and while it doesn't completely alter the intent of the dialogue, it does affect the rhythm and the content of what's said.
Keep your ears open for the background music of Nadesico, however, because it's a rousing complement to the heroic ideals of the show. The most ingenious touch is using the melody of the opening song as a primary motif. There's a dramatic version with emphasis on strings, a romantic version that switches the key from minor to major, and possibly more variations in the episodes to come, all providing thematic unity by linking different emotions to the high-spirited theme song. Some of the other orchestral scoring sounds dated, but in a series that blatantly borrows from other series, it's highly likely that the music itself also pays homage to mecha shows of years past.
Aside from all this praise as a "neo-classic" sci-fi series that reclaims giant robots in the name of optimism, Martian Successor Nadesico's real strong suit is its re-release in the Essential Anime format. With over twice as many episodes in a volume, and at two-thirds of the standard price, this DVD allows anime fans to grab the complete Nadesico at a bargain price if they missed the original releases. The solid story and likable characters are a delight, and there aren't too many series these days that can balance pure comedy with serious drama. There may be flashy young whippersnappers out there with digital effects and CGI, but sitting down to watch Nadesico is like getting re-acquainted with an old friend.