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"Super Robot Wars OG: Divine Wars Volumes 1-3" Yield an Improved Character Focus

Following on from the Super Robot Wars OVA, Bandai Visual has begun releasing the prequel TV series, Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars. Unlike the OVA, which effectively blitzed the viewer with characters upon characters from the get go, Divine Wars takes a vastly more measured approach to introducing the characters and their world. A helpful introduction as to where the world stands at the moment is provided at the start of each episode. Initially, these recaps reveal that the Earth has been bombarded with three meteors, two of which set back Earth’s development for a few years, while the remaining one yielding advanced alien technology. Seven years after Meteorite-3 has impacted, the aliens, dubbed Aerogators, make their first overt move on Earth. In the midst of their initial assault on the surface, keen super robot fan Ryusei Date is caught up in the battle, and, in classic Macross and Gundam fashion, ends up piloting an empty Personal Trooper robot belonging to the Earth Federation Army to fight the invaders.

The rest of the first eight episodes of the show continue very much in this vein, with Ryusei clearly the focal character on show. These first few episodes detail the formation of the SRX team of robot pilots, and as such mostly concentrate on the headstrong Ryusei, the token girl Aya Kobayashi, and the aloof Rai Branstein. Amusingly, even Ryusei comments on how the three of them together fall into the “standard pattern”. It’s this occasional, almost self-reverential attitude that makes Super Robot Wars Divine Wars thoroughly entertaining, rather than being unremittingly grim. One definite improvement upon the OVA is the fact that it is solely the SRX team being spotlighted at first. True, there are still enough characters to go around, but with the focus being on the one team in the beginning, the story isn’t meandering between characters on different battlefronts.

As the SRX team continues its training, secret moves are being made by Bian Zoldark and the EOTI Organization, who have been studying Meteorite-3 since it crash-landed. The EOTI have made moves to develop their own Personal Troopers, but their goal is somewhat different from the secret plans of the Earth Federation Army. When a clandestine meeting is called at the South Pole, the two sides’ surreptitious agendas become clear, and the series changes focus away from the Aerogator invaders to the new DC War between the EOTI Organization, now calling themselves Divine Crusaders, and the Federation. To complete this Gundam analogy even more, a space colony also allies itself with the Divine Crusaders and the battlefront between the two factions ends up covering Earth and space. It is only at this point that more of the other SRW famous denizens show up, most notably Cybaster and the ATX team.

Personally, of the teams originally featured in the OVA, I preferred the ATX team, so it was nice they essentially got an episode all to themselves. By the end of Volume 3, one of the ATX team members in question has been captured by the Divine Crusaders and treated to a one-on-one audience with Bian Zoldark, where he eloquently explains his reasons for starting the DC War. At the same time, the SRX members are about to sail forth on the powerful Hawgane battleship in order to hit the Divine Crusaders where it hurts.

The series is a welcome return to the world of animated Super Robot Wars, and the more measured approach to storytelling has done wonders in better portraying the characters on show here. That said, there’s still a tendency to include too many characters per given episode, something that was even touched upon in one of the consistently amusing episode trailers, where Ryusei comments, “Don’t you think there are too many characters?” Most notably, both episodes 7 and 8 generally have a more decentralized focus on the DC War itself, with the series falling into the danger of not concentrating on the lead characters of the SRX Team. Nevertheless, these last two episodes are not all a shooting battle between opponents, as there’s plenty of political intrigue behind the scenes, not to mention a big question mark over the ostensible real threat of the Aerogators, which takes a backseat by the end of Volume 3. It will be interesting to see just how long the war is played out, and if the Aerogators themselves will be ready to take advantage of the situation.

The animation is not quite as flashy as the OVA made a year prior to this series, which is to be expected given the TV budget. One immediately noticeable difference is that this time around all the robots are rendered with cel-shaded CG graphics rather than with traditional animation. Thankfully this isn’t too jarring, as the animation of the robots themselves is handled quite well, particularly the all-out assault of the EOTI’s Granzon in episode 6. Also retained from the OVA is the more cinematic 16:9 ratio.

As with most Bandai Visual releases, there is no dub, but the subtitles are clear and easy to read. The Japanese voice cast all perform well, especially in the irreverent episode trailers. The episodes are presented with excellent audio and visual quality, with a true anamorphic picture. The DVD menus themselves are surprisingly basic for something targeted towards the collectors’ market. Also, having only two episodes on Volume 1 does make me raise both eyebrows with the usual concerns pertaining to the pricing of Bandai Visual’s releases. Indeed, that the whole series will be released across 5 separate volumes rather than in a boxset immediately indicates that this will be an incredibly niche title in the current R1 anime climate given the total price in question, but I’m not counting on a more palatable alternative in the near future.

Similar to their original release of the Super Robot Wars OVA, each volume comes with a small booklet detailing the key characters and mecha that appear in each volume, which are pretty useful at detailing who’s who. One note I found particularly funny was a small detail drawing of ATX pilot Excellen Browning’s underwear, as other than being a shameless fanservice image, we don’t get to see her in such a state in that specific volume. Perhaps an attempt at ensuring people come back for future volumes?

In any case, I know I’ll certainly be keen to find out what happens in future episodes if these first eight are anything to go by. Newly available, unpretentious robot anime on R1 DVD is a little short in supply these days, so if you’re prepared to put enough aside and actually track down Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars, you’ll be more than satisfied.

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