This Week in Anime
What is Going on in OBSOLETE?

by Michelle Liu & Steve Jones,

The aliens might not be interested in politics but that won't stop Earthlings from finding new uses for their recently obtained technology. The first half of acclaimed writer Gen Urobuchi's 3DCG YouTube series is available on YouTube now and it wouldn't be a Booch affair without death and commiseration. Strap in soldier, this war has mouths to feed.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Steve
Micchy, we've both seen firsthand how much Gen Urobuchi loves playing with his murder puppets, but I was getting worried he might not remember what anime is.
Thankfully, my fears have been assuaged with OBSOLETE.

Kinda assuaged, anyway.
Micchy
So this is when we start belting out the opening to Gundam ZZ, right?
As good an earworm as "anime ja nai" is, I'd say a Japanese-produced CG show that debuted exclusively on YouTube probably mostly counts as "anime." Even if that's a very weird place to find it.
As a member of the "watched Inuyasha episodes in 3 parts on YouTube" generation, I consider this a return to form, as it were. But seriously, OBSOLETE is a curious little sample of YouTube's strengths and failings (many failings) as a platform. Oh, and I guess the show itself is okay too. I couldn't really tell you where it's going, but it sure does exist!
We'll certainly be getting to the bottom of what it's about (spoiler: it's war), but first let me ask you a question, and be honest: when the first episode ended, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much were aliens on your mind?
About as much as politics is on theirs, I'd wager!
Yeah, I was about a 1 too. It's quite the rug pull! Like, the premiere is pretty much one big battle between two opposing factions piloting these very Metal Gear-looking personal mechs. There's nothing even remotely suggesting an otherworldly origin.

And that's certainly part of the point, but it takes the rest of the available episodes to get there, which turn back the clock and explore the brief history of these newfangled war machines.
Important to note that the aliens never show up (one fewer thing to design!), but there sure are a whole lot of people trading rocks for cool robots. And it turns out being able to buy cutting-edge technology for a ton of rocks does a lot to democratize the tools of, uh, farming. And war. You know, the usual.
We know just one thing about these aliens, and it's that they love chalk.
I have to wonder where on their ships they're putting all those rocks, but considering their purpose for coming to earth was apparently to drop off their used brain robots I suppose they're finding space for them somewhere on their glorified garbage trucks.
Later on a character smartly compares it to conquistadors trading their baubles with the Incas for their gold. Like, obviously we're getting the short end of the stick in this trade, but we both don't know how and don't care, because wow cool robot

I like that this is the extent of the Exoframes' backstory. OBSOLETE is a half-length series to begin with, and where these things come from isn't nearly as interesting as what we end up doing with them.
Namely, that the introduction of these fancy cool robots (!!) effectively renders expensive military technology OBSOLETE, which throws the power balance between countries with obscenely large armies and those without into chaos. It takes a little while for people to go from "neat, bionic extensions!" to "what if we strap machine guns to them?" but once it happens, well, there's no going back.
Urobuchi kindly walks us through all of these phases with a series of vignettes about how war adapts to these new weapons. But more importantly, he takes pretty much every opportunity he can to point a big mechanized finger at the war economy.

Unfortunately this version of "Urobuchi hates war profiteering" doesn't involve very many puppets getting their heads blown off, but to be fair, not everything can be Thunderbolt Fantasy.
Alas. But in his typically acerbic fashion, one of the earliest points emphasized is that most military superpowers refuse (and outright ban) the use of Exoframes—not for any noble or tactical cause, mind you, but purely because they disrupt the whole military-industrial complex we've already got going on. War's a business, and cheap extraterrestrial weapons are bad for the bottom line.
That's why it's so alarming to those same world powers when "lesser" countries (read: black and brown people) start adopting a technology they can't even begin to figure out. They can pretend all they want that they're concerned about the unknowns of alien technology, but ultimately it comes down to maintaining the status quo.
The story of a rugged guerilla outfit taking down a major military is a tale as old as time, too. Countries who grow fat off of war will eventually be undone by their own complacency in their status. Alien mechs not (necessarily) required. And side note: I know they're probably just referring to the price of limestone here, but for as much as the disposability of the Exoframes is emphasized, I personally do not think they look cheaper than a Nintendo Switch.
Well, yeah, can your Switch do radio calisthenics?
Actually I wouldn't put it past Nintendo to make it possible with some Labo cardboard wizardry.
Maybe if you think of the robots like your brother's friend's old Wii that got passed down to a Boys and Girls Club and is now primarily used by small children, you can sort of justify that price tag.
Yeah, I do like that the Peddlers don't even consider us humans worthy of brand new mechs. I don't like as much the implication that the Exoframes might be cyborgs built from the bodies of some creature the Peddlers enslaved.

On the other hand, if my trip to Japan taught me anything, it's the importance of heated seats.
One thing I do find fascinating is how the mechs make people reconsider the automation of warfare - in an era of drone strikes it's entirely possible to kill a lot of people without putting any of your own at meaningful risk. The mechs essentially force these powers to go face-to-face, one-on-one like in the old days.

Which of course raises the question of who goes in the mechs in the first place. Spoiler: it's not the ones calling the shots.
It's not like the modern depersonalization of war has made anything "better," so a return to past tactics and considerations likewise doesn't end up improving things much. In fact, I'd say the point of the bog-standard military shooter aesthetic of the first episode is an indication that the fundamentals of war ultimately remain unchanged by the presence of the Exoframes. They're just another weapon through which we kill and are killed. In other words, shit still sucks.
Case in point: child soldiers!
See also: the disturbingly peppy recruitment ads that autoplay on every website!
Lmao you could taste the irony dripping off that episode coda. It's so good and acerbic, especially in the nonchalant way it then brings up the related videos, half of which I assume (given that it's alt-reality YouTube) are from Nazis.

But also, I saw an ad for the Army at the gym today that was Exactly That. It's ghoulish.
tfw you open YouTube to watch some anime OPs and 3 videos later you're getting ads for the U.S. Marines alongside thumbnails with internet shoutmen yelling in impact font.
No need to invent a sci-fi dystopia whole cloth when we're living in one.
Next you're gonna tell me Amazon's gonna introduce the Amazondam, the hottest new fighting machine on the market. Of course, it harvests your brainwave data for marketing and/or stalking purposes.
OBSOLETE is certainly very timely. I'd be tempted to say surprisingly so, given how much it confronts American military interventionism in other countries, but given that we've been on that bullshit for pretty much my entire life, it's not surprising at all.
That episode takes place in 2023 but I'm sitting here in 2020 like "Buddy, way ahead of ya."

Tag yourself, I'm the guy floating face down.
I'm under this truck.

By the way, I've been trying very hard to be good and not reference Metal Gear Solid too much in this conversation, but Urobuchi goes as far as introducing a PMC named Cerberus (definitely NOT to be confused with Diamond Dogs) who are led by a guy with Kazuhira Miller's haircut and glasses.

i SEE you, Urobuchi.
Okay, but are we not going to talk about the fingerguns?
Hell yeah I love Big Boss

A little too good at molding, I dare say.
Besides the alien thing, the best (and by that I mean most awful) spin that Urobuchi puts on that first episode is the eventual realization that the Outcast Brigade our heroes were fighting are either child soldiers or former child soldiers. Either way, it ain't good.
Yeah, whatever the age or the technology, it's always the youngest, poorest, and most vulnerable that get the worst of it. It may not take a lot to get an Exoframe, but so long as there's someone less powerful to take the bullet, shit's gonna stay the same.
It's bleak as hell! And this is The Butcher just getting warmed up. There's a whole 'nother half of OBSOLETE yet to air, and I'm sure it'll be a Fun™️ Time when it does.
Oh, almost certainly. Though I would like to say that, for all the bleakness, I wish the character designs weren't so.... Hero Mask? I'm having trouble remembering which stern buzzcut military man is which!
Please don't speak the words "Hero Mask" to me. But I do agree. And it doesn't help that, while the mechanical animation actually looks pretty decent, all of the humans look and move like PS2-era NPCs.
Ragging on anime CG is getting kind of old at this point, but yeah, OBSOLETE is pretty dang committed to an aesthetic that looks like a mediocre Chris Nolan movie and I kind of wish it weren't.
Colors just aren't allowed when you're telling a Serious Story About War
That's neither here nor there though, because the writing's strong enough that even though I struggle to see where it's all building to, I'm at least engaged, which is more than I can say about a lot of Serious Stories About War.
For sure! Urobuchi packs a lot of good stuff to chew on in a pretty short time span, and that's more or less what I wanted out of an outside-the-box project like this. As far as anime shorts I've had to watch on YouTube go, I'd say OBSOLETE easily edges out Miru Tights. Even though both are ambitious in their own way.
That's a disservice to Miru Tights and you know it, Steve. Not to diss OBSOLETE, but come on, I thought you were a man of culture!
My heart is big enough for both big war boys and long panning shots of tights of various denier levels.
Jokes about known pantyhose fetish artists aside, I'm interested to see where the Booch takes OBSOLETE, given that its first six episodes are largely unrelated vignettes. I just ask that the aliens remain a non-presence; their perpetual absence is too good a joke to ruin.
They only want two things: to be left alone, and to eat chalk. And dang if that ain't a mood.
Definitely better than the alternative!

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