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"Super Robot Wars OG: Divine Wars Vols. 4 & 5": These Are The Voyages of the Hagwane

Volumes 4 and 5 bring Super Robot Wars to its halfway point, and it’s interesting to see how things have progressed.

The war with the Divine Crusaders, which quickly displaced the initial threat from the mysterious Aerogators in the early episodes, is still the series’ primary plot. So far, the alien threat has only served to set up the civil war between the Federation and the DC. At least with the DC there are actual personalities behind the scenes rather than nameless alien hordes, so on that front the series is now even more interesting than it was at the beginning. After having been somewhat sidelined for the last couple of episodes, Ryusei is finally given a little more spotlight. The sheer number of speaking parts still continues to grow, but it finally shows some signs of stabilizing.

That’s welcome, because the heroic characters alone number around twenty by this point, and it is easy to get confused about what each character is supposed to be doing at any given point, particularly if they’re in their tinted pilot helmets. It’s also finally obvious which are star characters and which are supporting. There is more interaction between the different groups of characters, as they work together on their common causes. Reinforcing this consolidation is Ryusei’s old friend Kusuha from the first couple of episodes, now joining the crew of the Hagwane as a medical orderly, complete with her hideous ‘energy drink’. Additionally, Rai’s true connection with the United Colony Corps’ branch of the DC is finally revealed, and this gives him a little more time in the spotlight, though he still remains as aloof as ever. Masaki and the powerful Cybaster finally join up with the Hagwane as he realizes that his rival Shu is working with the Divine Crusaders in the Granzon (which sadly only makes a brief appearance on Volume 4). The Hagwane itself is by this point a self-autonomous unit with the single goal of destroying the DC’s island base, and is slowly moving across the sea to achieve that goal. I must admit this aspect of the series was quite enjoyable, as it deliberately invoked the similar epic journeys of the carrier ships in such classic anime as Gundam, Blue Noah and Yamato.

Volume 5 continues very much the same way, with the Federation as a whole clearly now gearing up for a major assault on the DC. More character moments are seen, as Rai continues to confront his heritage. Ryusei discovers the identity of the one DC pilot who’s caused more consternation than anyone else, his old gaming rival, the entertainingly arrogant Tenzan. The youthful Latun is finally given some further characterization and makes quite the impression on Ryusei, so it’ll be interesting to see if his life becomes even more complicated.

At this point, the Federation changes tack and orders the Hagwane to rendezvous with the Hiryu Kwai for a major space-based assault on the DC’s United Colony Corps allies. Sanger, from the ATX team, having been captured by the DC in Volume 3, finally makes a reappearance. As he’s now joined up with the DC, this allows for some intense conflict between him and his old ATX comrades, particularly head pilot Kyosuke.

With most of the introductory scenes out of the way, Super Robot Wars can finally proceed unhindered, both with the larger story as well as with a decent helping of character-building scenes. I’m continually impressed by the characterization on show in the series, as it reinforces the fun. While the DC isn’t technically evil, as clearly seen with characters like Bian Zoldark and Maier von Branstein, there are clear bad guys among them, and it’s refreshing to have the occasional character like Tenzan who has no redeeming qualities. The Federation looks to be coming to a head with the Divine Crusaders quite soon, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, and when/if the Aerogators will finally exploit the situation.

Picture- and sound-wise the DVDs are still generally flawless, and the animation is still of a superb standard, managing to show countless other modern anime just how CG mecha should be done. Although the subtitles remain clear and easy to read, it is irritating to see the translators swapping the family and given names of some characters, despite what is clearly being heard in dialogue. For instance, Ingram Plissken and Bian Zoldark are generally referred to in spoken dialogue as Ingram or Bian, though the subtitles constantly translate these as Plissken or Zoldark. It’s a minor point, but it does create a little disconnect between what is being spoken on-screen and what is being read. Other than that, the DVDs continue to come with helpful booklets giving short bios on various characters and mecha, and now also include a few comments from the voice actors as well. Aside from these however, the DVDs themselves include no extras, not even trailers for other series.

Super Robot Wars is clearly a series for hard-core mecha anime fans, and the homages to other anime, particularly the original UC Gundam, remain very entertaining. Still, with the series being released across nine high-priced volumes on barebones DVDs, it undeniably remains an incredibly hard sell. While still having a very enjoyable style of storytelling, the large number of characters continues to be the series’ Achilles heel. But since said characters are all memorable and entertaining, the series still manages to keep me hooked and eager to see what will happen next.

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