Monkeys Fighting Robots

When we last finished off on Part 1 of the Brave Raideen review, we saw a show which had innovative ideas, solid potential, and every so often delivered these aspects. Yet most of the time, didn’t because it couldn’t decide if it wanted to serious or comedic. Will this change, or will it be “second verse same as the first?”

Episode 14 starts off like a mini bottle episode with our leads in a giant cave, as Raideen suffered an injury which prevents it from fighting. We find out Raideen is made of Mutronium, which is like adamantium, because it’s this impenetrable element without an explanation where it came from.

Prince Sharkin in Brave Raideen.
As I’ve said time and again, the only legitimately good part of the show.

Episode 15 establishes a unique plot twist which is never followed up on any of the subsequent episodes. Raideen is vulnerable to diamond, as evidenced by the beating it takes at the hands of a monster with diamond appendages. Does the Demon Empire take advantage of this obvious flaw in the next episode? Of course not, this is a Saturday morning cartoon show, so the enemy doesn’t learn from their mistakes.

This brings up a relevant point. For a major threat, the Demon Empire, is a complete non-threat. General Agayo is one of the most ineffective Generals in narrative fiction. The only reasons I can assume he still has a job is because he’s blackmailing Prince Sharkin over something, or this is a Wayne Fontes situation, where he sucks at his job, and coasts on decent talent, but magically pulls something out of hammer space and still has a job. We’ll get back to this, trust me.

Really, General Aguyo? You’re surprised you failed? You fail almost every show.

Episode 16 has another unique idea: a ticking clock plot involving a cruise ship and bomb planted on the ship. If this sounds familiar you’ve seen Speed 2: Cruise Control. It’s not as derivative but it’s one of those episodes focusing on the comic relief. This is terrible for many of reasons. I don’t like kids, I don’t like comic relief, and I sure don’t like them together. It comes off to me as pleasant as a car alarm blaring into an eardrum. So naturally, I found them insufferable. It doesn’t mean there weren’t kid characters I liked in the series. I’ve kept track. There are two sick girl characters, both had surprisingly sweet single episode arcs, and I enjoyed those despite how blatant the manipulation is.

Episode 17 continued a downward slide. It starts off with Prince Sharkin telling General Agayo he has no more tolerance for failures (if this were the case, Agayo would have been dead by episode 6), and Agayo gets another chance. He gets his own giant monster, he fails yet again, and is seen escaping in his escape pod cursing out Raideen like a Saturday morning cartoon. This episode also introduces a girl character, Atchan, who unlike the rest of the comic relief isn’t annoying. Why isn’t she annoying? Simple, she is relevant to the plot later. Plus, she has a pet lizard, even if the lizard resembles the king lizard from the old Sesame Street cartoons.

Surprisingly, the idiotic plan of hiding in plain sight, is so effective it worked. Even the moronic comic relief is surprised.

Episode 18 is the episode we see hope and gives this series justification. Prince Sharkin is berating Agayo for his failures and tells him this is this true last chance. So, he does the thing we all do, beg for mercy from the opposing side. This plan is so stupid, it works, Agayo infiltrates Raideen’s base, but can’t complete the coup de grace, and dies at Raideen’s hands.

In these episodes, I’ve noticed a kind of seriousness emerging in the background. The series is developing Cerberus syndrome, and I’m so grateful, because when the series had serious episodes, it became legitimately great to watch. The biggest change comes regarding Akira’s injuries. In the early episodes, even though Raideen is being attacked, he is never hurt. Around episode 9, with the concussion subplot, and continuing in the background, the hits to Raideen, now appear to hurt Akira. You may say it’s a little thing, yet I’ve always believed the sum of trivial things make the larger things possible. So, when the Cerberus Syndrome emerged in the forefront in Episode 18, with Agayo’s death, you could see it coming, for the most part.

You know, there are some days when I love this job. This is one of them. Brave Raideen eats a sandwich this big!

Episode 19 is a straight riff on King Kong (specifically the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake, which was big at the time). A sad gorilla befriends Mari and the Demon Empire turn it into a monster. It’s quite moving, seeing Akira wail on this monster, not knowing this was the giant monkey Mari befriended (and was kidnapped by). The episode tugs at the heartstrings and it works.

Episode 20 continued this upward pattern with the introduction of Commodore Dilandou… I mean Daldon, and already Daldon did more than Agayo ever did. The monster battled Raideen for the full episode instead the 10-15 minutes in previous episodes.

Okay this shot, is admittedly really cool. I give them credit here.

Episode 21 & 22 are minor downward slopes, Episode 21 was four minutes away from continuing the upward increase of quality. Daldon has captured Raideen & Akira, ties Raideen to a St. Andrew’s Cross, and torturing him. It’s quite visceral to watch, and you can really feel Akira’s pain, until Mari comes in and tells him to survive. I swear I could feel the balloon deflate, when she interjects. The episode also introduced a robot for the comic relief to pilot and let me tell you something, there was no amount of sympathy seeing the comic relief’s robot being attacked. I am not joking. Episode 22 had an intriguing plot by Daldon. Keep Akira on watch for three straight days and tire him out, then shell the rock fortress Raideen is located, until it’s destroyed. It’s not a bad plan, except they should have kept him on watch for a whole week. He’d just fall asleep and then boom, destroy Raideen.

Episode 23 is okay, not great. The show still insists on focusing on the unfunny “comic relief” and their “robot”. Honestly, this episode proves the point I’ve been mulling over watching the series. There seems to be two different visions for the show. One team (probably Tomino’s) felt it should be a completely serious giant robot show. The other was making a Mazinger Z rip-off and decided to compromise. This could explain why some episodes (4, 10, 18-20, and most of 21) come off as great, while most of the episodes come off as tonally confused, veering between scenes of decent action, and unfunny comedy.  I’d like to believe cutting out the comic relief and focusing tightly on Akira and his support team (Rei Asuka and Jinjuki) and beefing up on the pseudo-scientific elements, would have made this show a more consistent watch.

General Daldon from Brave Raideen
General Dilandou…I mean Daldon. (aka a Go Nagai villain)

Anyway, episode 23’s plot involves two monsters teaming up to destroy Raideen’s bird form. It doesn’t work but good plan though. Episode 24 had a freeze monster, I’m speeding through this because I’m getting tired of the series and it’s declining in quality in record time.

Episode 25, like a lot of the episodes had a great start then falls apart. It’s starts off with Akira getting blinded from an explosion caused by the Demon Empire, and he now must fight on sound alone, where he bumbles his way towards success. It also prevented something interesting happening, because Mari was going to sacrifice herself for Akira, then Gihren’s predecessor tells her to pull the emergency release hatch. The remaining investment I had in the series, plummeted to almost zero.

A rather intriging scene from Brave Raideen
Well, somebody’s working through their issues.

This incidentally set the stage for the two part “finale.” I call it a finale because it ran for 26 more episodes, yet episodes 26 & 27 seemed like a suitable place to finish this train wreck. Episode 26 like the rest of the series has an intriguing concept. The monsters Akira fought came back, wreaked havoc, and were defeated in five minutes of screen time. Anti-climax, what’s that? This leads into a surprisingly good finale.

Prince Sharkin is being punished for his failures and comes to the realization he needs to turn into a giant monster to defeat Raideen. This seems to do the trick, except it doesn’t, because Sharkin’s defeated. Distraught over this failure, he commits seppuku in a tragic scene. The scene composition itself, is pure Shojo. Rain pouring, our hero crying, sitting beside the vanquished villain. Composition wise, it’s clichéd, yet perfect. This would also be the perfect way to fade to black…

The final battle in the Tomino based Brave Raideen
This is it, the final battle, (insert your own cliche music here!)

It doesn’t, guess what happens next? Go on, I know you’ll get it right. The show immediately cut back to the kids. The perfect topper to mountain of inconsistency.

Episode 27 and the remaining 23 episodes of the series was directed by the late Tadao Nagahama. The previous episode (26) was the last directed by Tomino, he was replaced by Nagahama for unknown reasons. TV Asahi, Tohokushina, and probably Sunrise (the companies who produced the series) probably weren’t happy with the way the show was heading, with the seriousness Tomino was trying to inject and removed Tomino from the production (watching the episodes, I got the sense there were two different artistic directions who were completely at odds with each other, which reeks of production problems). The show Tomino took over after Raideen, a series called La Seine no Hoshi, a shojo series, in which he directed the final 12 episodes.

Prince Sharkin's Death in Brave Raideen.
NOOOOO!!! Prince Sharkin was the only thing keeping me invested in this series!!

So, what of Brave Raideen? Simple, it’s inconsistent. You can see the building blocks of other Tomino anime in here, at least in the characterization, and every so often there will be a great episode or three. Then they focus on the annoying kids and all the momentum is flushed down the drain in an instant, it’s quite depressing. I’ve found I’m not a fan of Super Robot shows. Yet I enjoy Real Robot shows, because of the amount of effort put in the drama, and the relative realism of the mechs. Thus, Brave Raideen didn’t sell me on Super Robot shows. In short, they had the pieces of a great mech series, yet couldn’t put the puzzle pieces together to make a great final product, which you could say the same thing about the Demon Empire in the series.

What are your thoughts on Brave Raideen? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Brave Raideen (Episodes 14-27)
If he isn't watching a forgotten library title, Matthew Simon is watching anime or attending anime conventions.
cmwyt-brave-raideen-part-2When we last finished off on Part 1 of the Brave Raideen review, we saw a show which had innovative ideas, solid potential, and every so often delivered these aspects. Yet most of the time, didn’t because it couldn’t decide if it wanted to...