"Linebarrels of Iron Part 1": With Great Power Comes Great Irresponsibility
It’s rarely a good idea to judge a serialized story by its first episode. And here comes Linebarrels of Iron, one of the best demonstrations of the wisdom of this adage I’ve seen in recent years.
The series, which takes place in the year 2019, initially introduces us to the main protagonist, the lowly Kouichi Hayase. Currently in junior high, Kouichi has had something of a hard life. He has a loving mother and sister and a couple of supportive friends (Risako Niiyama and Hideaki Yajima), and he dreams that one day he will be an “ally of justice.” But he consistently feels himself too weak to stand up to bullies. Meanwhile, the world is being threatened by the mysterious Katou Organization and their army of highly advanced and supremely powerful piloted robots, the Machinas. The Katou Organization have been conducting terrorist incidents for twenty years, and in that time another organization, JUDA, has mobilized its own Machina force to combat them. In the middle of an audacious attack on his home town, Kouichi, in the middle of yet another bully-enforced errand, finds his life changed forever by the arrival of a previously unknown Machina called Linebarrel, and its unconscious pilot, the very naked Emi Kizaki.
A recovered Emi later tells Kouichi that he is now Linebarrel’s new pilot, with all the super-human strength that goes with that position. Kouichi is initially very pleased at having so much power, and as a constantly bullied adolescent does perhaps the most realistic thing with it: he abuses that power. While technically protecting his home against Katou’s Machinas, Kouichi spares no thought for any of the immense collateral damage he causes, having become caught up in the euphoria at no longer having to kow-tow to anyone. It’s then that Emi reveals to Kouichi one important fact regarding his relationship with Linebarrel. He is the robot’s new pilot because of the particularly ignominious fate he suffered when the robot initially fell to Earth: it stepped on him, killing him instantly. Now it is in Kouichi’s best interests to ensure Linebarrel’s own health, as it is the only thing sustaining him.
After the initial battle, Kouichi has Emi move into his house, while he gets his own back on the bullies at school and generally acts like an immense jerk, his new-found absolute power having been taken to its logical conclusion. JUDA subsequently approach Kouichi to get him to join their taskforce protecting the Earth, but he is initially resistant, claiming to not need their help. A tragic event gets him to reconsider, especially when Emi is revealed to have now joined up with JUDA. Wasting no time in joining up himself, he quickly becomes acquainted with the many young ladies working on the Machina taskforce. And, yes, predictably, he ends up being surrounded by a girl of each type, from the aforementioned Emi, to his childhood friend Risako, the brash Shizuna Endo, the child genius Rachel Calvin, and the outrageously busty Miu Kujo, to name but some.
There’s probably little truly revolutionary to say about mecha series these days, and Linebarrels of Iron adds little that is strictly new to the genre, perhaps outside of the revelation as to which “other world” the Katou Organization hails from. Nevertheless, as a pure piece of shamelessly male-targeted science-fiction hokum, I do have to admit I found the series quite entertaining. The series’ first episode really gives little indication as to how the rest of the show will develop, depicting everything quite seriously, and playing up to the hilt Kouichi’s immense angst.
On that note, Kouichi’s character progression throughout the first half of the series is quite interesting in particular, initially placing him in a relatable position as an underling, only to then completely spin that on its head once he gains super-human powers. Indeed, for several episodes in a row afterward, he is pretty much a detestable human being. By the halfway point of the series however, he has actually been subject to some character growth, enabling him to become a slightly more responsible lead.
Complementing Kouichi’s character growth as the series progresses are some amusing layers of subversion on various aspects of the mecha genre. Kouichi’s acting like a jerk, far from being shrugged off as an acceptable character fault, is pretty much constantly called on by other characters, this being one of the things that finally motivates him to become a team-player. The stern and serious-looking head of JUDA, Kunio Ishigami, who is restricted to giving some clichéd silent enigmatic nods in the first episode, is later revealed in fact to be one of the most childish and fun characters in the series, despite his senior position and backstory regarding his relationship to Katou. And naturally with so many female characters on hand, there’s ample opportunity for Kouichi (and the viewer, of course), to accidentally end up seeing rather more female flesh than any of the characters intended. Comedy moments along these lines even play a role in the A-plot of the final episode on the set, where Kouichi is actually unable to summon Linebarrel due to having lost too much blood. Said episode is set on a beach, so hopefully it’s obvious how and why Kouichi lost as much blood as he did. While ostensible action series being supplemented by huge moments of comedy are nothing new, the 1980s’ City Hunter being a prime early example, I can still imagine this dichotomy of styles being unsettling for some. For me however, it is exactly this clash of storytelling styles that kept Linebarrels fresher than I had first considered it to be.
As a fairly recent series from Gonzo, its anamorphic presentation is clear and problem free, showing off both the studio’s 2-D animation work on the characters, and the extensive, albeit not especially revolutionary, 3-D work on the robots and associated explosions. The character designs themselves do admittedly take a little while to get used to, especially with most characters having ever present “scratch marks” under their eyes for greater definition, but as with the majority of aspects of the series, a few episodes in an everything settles down to a slightly more pleasing aesthetic. Voice work on both the Japanese and English audio tracks is similarly free of problems, with good performances by both casts. The only criticism I have is the show’s opening theme, which quite honestly gives even the word cacophony a bad name.
While I can’t deny the series is full of clichés and perhaps more than a few moments of crude humor, I also can’t deny that I personally found it a quite enjoyable show, primarily thanks to the many moments of humor found in the latter episodes. Ultimately I think it’s this willingness of Linebarrels of Iron to poke fun at both itself and many by now unoriginal anime conventions that saves it from being yet another anonymous mecha show. Linebarrels of Iron definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you like your mecha and your humor in an unsophisticated manner, and are willing to simply savor the series on those grounds, then it’s definitely worth watching. Just resist the temptation to switch it off after the first episode.