Review: "Martian Successor Nadesico" Complete DVD Boxset - A Truly Super Robot Show
In the post-Evangelion landscape, mecha anime became even more serious, deeply philosophical and emotionally overwrought. I say even more, because really those wheels had been set in motion since Gundam, which marked a major shift away from super robots as toyetic kids shows, and towards “war is hell” allegories. However, post-Evangelion, stories tended to be even bleaker. Against this drab backdrop came Martian Successor Nadesico, a perfectly satirical yet incredibly likable love letter to the super robot shows of old. In an era that soon trended towards drab existentialism, Nadesico was a wonderfully unexpected and immensely welcome dose of somewhat more traditional mecha action. It was also a gutsy show as it was so steeped in nostalgia, and much more multi-dimensional than even many shows airing today. However, does it hold together with another 17 years in between it’s original airing and now?
Akito Tenkawa is our lead male, and he’s had a rather rough life. After having lost his parents to an “industrial accident” (read: state-sponsored murder,) he only narrowly escapes death during an attack from invading forces, the mysterious Jovian Lizards. Right in the middle of the blood-bath, he miraculously finds himself on Earth with no idea how he got there, and no interest in fighting the impending Jovian threat, in spite of that fact that he has the nanomachine implants to be a Aestivalis (mech) pilot. He has massive PTSD from multiple traumas, so he tries to keep his head down as a fry cook. Alas, fate never works that way in an anime. He ends up running into an old elementary school classmate of his, Yurika Misumaru, and after a half-second of not remembering her, he pursues her to the Nadesico, the ship she happens to be captaining. Why? Not out of love as Yurika thinks, but to get some closure regarding his parents.
Here, Akito finds a motley but talented crew that might as well be a cross between the A-Team (the best of the best) and the study group of Community (an absolutely hilarious group of weirdos and misfits with more quirks than common sense.) Akito himself is an example of this, as he’s originally brought on the Nadesico as a chef, only to end up thrown into battle because, hey, that’s how it happens in this kind of anime, and this anime knows you know the tropes. Surreal crew members and self-aware antics aside, some absolutely and unexpectedly brutal moments are interspersed throughout the series from the get go. One of the most likable characters is killed quite early on in the show, and in a surprisingly realistic, honest way for a show with such a satirical element. The moment almost crosses over into commentary on how unrealistic death is even in serious mecha series, and yet, it doesn’t actually break the flow or tone of the show. It just clues the audience to never forget that the setting is a massive interplanetary war where good people can die, even if there are some laughs a long the way.
For the most part though, an energetic, light, and generally engaging tone with snappy, clever direction drives Nadesico, at least with the TV series*. It has an absolutely massive ensemble cast of characters since it really does include everyone you’d need to run a corporately-owned space battleship, right down to the cooks and accountants. There are a lot of trope-ish characters in the show as such, including the Nadesico’s pilot, Ruri Hoshino, who was arguably and notably the first Rei Ayanami-clone and who was certainly a template for future tsundere characters. The size of the cast and their initially thin character histories could have killed this show, but instead everyone manages to get development and screen time enough to be more than just window dressing. The pacing and direction never drag because of that development either, and if anything, it’s amazing how much is stuffed into every episode. It also never crosses over into feeling abridged or hyperactive, and when the time come to actually make the dramatic plot elements count, it never falters. If anything, those moments bring the series into a surprising level of plausibility since they often logically fill in gaps in just how a lot of the things in the series work.
The rather likable voice acting from both the Japanese and American casts may also have provided Nadesico with a huge assist in believability. Even Spike Spencer, who often was (unfairly) brutalized for his work in the Evangelion dub, is unquestionably fitting as Akito. He brings a great range between silliness and seriousness, and that’s really works wonderfully in Nadesico. Everyone else in both casts are also a delight as there are no traces of sniff, over-dramatic, or over-saccharine delivery. Even Ruri, who has a deadpan delivery in both languages, sounds less like a character and more like some one actually bored yet annoyed by the occasionally antics surrounding her. The soundtrack is a treat as well, and the opening may be one of my favorite of any 1990s anime; it is almost viral in it’s infectiousness. The audio mix itself is rather smooth as well, with the 5.1 Japanese audio feeling down right cinematic.
Visually, both the animation and the DVD encoding itself are in great form . Yes, there are few scenes that aren’t as synced with the American dub because Nozomi Entertainment has used new masters, but really, that’s a nitpick, and one I wouldn’t have even noticed to make had Nozomi not been so kind as to warn me as the DVD started to play. I’ll certainly take a few out sync scenes that the horrible overlays/replaced visuals that the old ADV release had. The animation is definitely 1990’s by design both for the characters and mechs, but it’s rather good 1990’s animation. The fluidity makes it still one of Xebec’s better titles visually. The mech fights are nicely choreographed, but even the handling of simple conversations feel like they have a nice sense of positioning and flow. Keiji Gotoh’s designs have actually aged alright as well, as they reflect some of the best trends of 1990’s anime character design. Nadesico is not without it’s cheats, but the cheats are used intelligently rather than lazily, and at that point, they go from being cheats to style choices. The retro-style animation used for the Gekigengar 3 scenes (the anime within the anime,) is also expertly done. Taken out of context (as it almost is in the finally released in America and included Gekigengar OVA,) you’d never know they’d made a fake anime from whole cloth for the Nadesico to use and meta-reference.
With all this said, the question comes up of whether it’s worth it for existing fans to double dip. Personally, I feel it’s a yes, as this is the Nadesico we were always supposed to have, in it’s entirety, and for a price that’s quite reasonable. More practically though, as with any double dip, you have to ask yourself how much the show means to you. If you love Nadesico, this is the set to own until we get a Blu-ray release. If you’ve only watched your existing copy once since you’ve bought it, maybe you should think twice. However, if you don’t own it, and you’ve never seen it, this is definitely the Nadesico boxset to get right now as even the packaging is rather nice. More importantly Nadesico is still one of the best ensemble cast mecha shows ever, and it’s now itself a wonderful time capsule of a bygone era of mecha anime.
*=While the movie is included with this release, I feel it is too serious given the show it’s based on. Were I to review it separately, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a completist.