"Armored Trooper Votoms Volume 2": Destroying Hearts and Minds
It’s a shame that even with today’s advanced technology all-out mecha warfare remains but a dream. Still, there are heartening signs that day is nearing, such as a John Deere tractor that moves spider-like on six legs. Yes, I know how many legs a spider has, but you could have kept quiet about it. Anyway, until that dream becomes reality Armored Trooper Votoms is an excellent alternate source of mecha carnage.
Having leveled the grimy metropolis of Uoodo in volume 1, hero Chirico Cuvie joins a mercenary army on the tropical planet Kummen. This arc is full of small teams of armored troopers (AT) making sorties in dense jungles, perhaps inspiring the similar Gundam 08th MS Team series a decade later.
The story is more focused and dynamic than in the first volume, which became slightly repetitive with Chirico constantly playing cat and mouse with the police. Otherwise it is much the same winning formula of frequent mecha shootouts and hints of political intrigue and romance.
The Kummen government is caught up in a civil war with the Veela rebels, who oppose plans for industrialization, preferring to preserve the traditional way of life as the local religion dictates. Chirico is assigned to the Kummen base Assemble EX-10, where he is delighted to improbably run into his old friends Gotho, Vanilla, and Coconna, the first supplying arms, and the others operating the nearby Fantom Club. Meanwhile Chirico’s former commander Captain Rochina continues to search the galaxy for the elusive fugitive, certain he knows the location of the powerful Perfect Soldier (PS) prototype, or Fyana as Chirico has christened her.
Assemble’s General Gon Nu and especially Captain Kan Yu give Chirico a cool welcome after detecting the tracking beacon Rochina implanted in him. However Gon Nu recognizes that Chirico’s knowledge of the PS is a valuable asset, and decides to keep him on a tight leash to see what they can find out.
Sure enough Chirico soon discovers that the Veelans have coincidentally enlisted not only Fyana but also a second PS called Ypsilon. Though their feelings for each other continue to deepen, Chirico and Fyana are kept apart by the war and their commanders’ suspicions. Things are further complicated by the jealous Ypsilon’s own infatuation with Fyana, and the sudden arrival of the scheming Rochina.
This time Chirico’s main companions are his fellow mercenary pilots: dimwitted tough guy Kiderra, gentlemanly Potaria, and soft-spoken giant Shako. Like Chirico, Potaria’s loyalties are somewhat conflicted, as his childhood friend Monica is a prominent Veelan guerilla.
Though still given to defiant scowling, Chirico thankfully becomes a touch more personable and talkative. He still scores alarmingly low on the charisma-meter though, and it remains a mystery why Coconna is so obsessed with him. I might have to look into blue hair dye myself. Coconna drops any pretense of subtlety this time, but finds her coquetry ignored as Chirico pines for Fyana. To her surprise, Vanilla proves to be a much more receptive audience.
As for the villains, Kan Yu and Ypsilon are both very arrogant and insecure, and quickly grow to despise the effortlessly skilled and lucky Chirico. Kan Yu is the sort of self-serving, heartless officer who would probably have ended up fragged by his own men in Vietnam.
Once again there’s plenty of quality mecha action. In a particularly exciting scene, Kan Yu’s squad of ATs escorts a critical supply barge up a narrow jungle river. It’s eerily quiet at first, but when the barge gets stuck on the riverbed Veelan ATs ambush the convoy. Chirico races to a nearby hill for leverage to winch the barge free, while his buddies desperately attempt to protect the cargo from the torrential enemy barrage. However he reaches the top only to run smack into Ypsilon, and be painfully reminded how the perfect soldiers got their name.
This volume’s struggle between tradition and modernization is a common theme throughout history, and extremely relevant today. Especially since the Veelans are motivated by deep-set religious beliefs, it’s hard not to be reminded of the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.
However the rice paddies and peasant dress indicate that Vietnam is the intended parallel. Much emphasis is placed on illustrating the ugliness of war, such as when Kan Yu has his troops destroy a small farming village in a search for guerillas. To the disgust of Chirico and Potaria, he finally forces a random group of peasants to play Russian roulette in the hope that one will crack and reveal the guerillas’ whereabouts. Ironically, though this is no doubt meant to evoke atrocities during the Vietnam War it could just as easily point to Japan’s occupation of the country in World War II.
The animation is again serviceable but unspectacular, although mecha fans will find a richer variety of neat designs on display, possibly due to the need to expand the toy line. The slow, romantic remix of the main theme music amusingly sounds much like the theme to 70s sitcom Taxi.
This volume is sadly bereft of special features. I assume the DVD budget was low, but it sure would be nice to see some production art. Another idea long overdue for these older series is a “Where are they now?” featurette on the creative staff.
Armored Trooper Votoms Volume 2 shows impressive growth in character and story, and is strongly recommended for mecha fans and anyone who’s worn out their copy of Apocalypse Now. I get the feeling the narrator is a big fan of Robert Duvall’s monologue in that film, because he never goes more than a couple sentences without mentioning the “smell of gunpowder.” Unless it’s an 80s drug euphemism, which would explain wild declarations like “The huge beast which encircles the world begins to stir in Hades’ depths.” That’s a bad trip and a half.