B4 Commentary: Giant Anime Robots

In B4: LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration, S1, E12, Princess Lucia proves her giant robot skills and we finally meet Akayama, completing the title trifecta. Here I show my dorky plumage. I’ve studied Japanese for years and studied in Tokyo for six months in 2015, and while I don’t watch a whole lot of anime, no one can hate giant robots.

Giant robots, or mecha, have been a staple of Japanese animation since the 50s. The first was Gigantor, known in Japan as Tetsujin 28-go. Franchises like Getter Robo (the first combining robots!) and Gundam have long-term, widespread popularity. There are deep cultural reasons for the popularity of the genre in Japan, but it’s infectious: American movies like Pacific Rim are love letters to mecha and giant-monster movies, a related genre. So I hope it’s not too “cultural-appropriation”-y if I mix giant robots into my Divine Comedy allegory.

Akayama DanJay contains LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration, which will draw from Gurren Lagann (which itself borrows from other giants of the genre). Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, or “Heaven-Piercing Red Face,” is a popular 27-episode giant-robot anime made by Studio Gainax in 2007. Spoiler alert: it’s rad. The main character Simon starts as a mopey digger in an underground cavern and eventually pilots a robot larger than the observable universe in a fight against another, bigger robot. You will never need another over-the-top anime; TTGL is famous for walking the line between ridiculously cool and just ridiculous.

Simon uses a drill to dig and his robot Super Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fires a giant drill at the evil robot. That’s why I want Akayama DanJay to tie TTGL to the Divine Comedy. Purgatory is a giant drill, literally piercing the heavens! Look at this:

Image result for dante purgatory

I could see Simon shooting that thing at the Anti-Spirals. That’s a great image—one worth building a book around.

To make LLSTA ring true I’ll need to carefully handle the tropes of the genre. Besides the obviously necessary giant robot, the Zephyr, the cast contains Japanese names like Akayama and Daisuke next to English names like Lucia and Bojack (just like TTGL contains both Kamina and Simon). Interesting hair colors abound (gotta have blue hair). The story reflects the importance of teamwork, a common theme in anime of all genres. Bojack is a lot like Kamina from TTGL in that his spiky, flame-like sunglasses and rambunctious teenage attitude don’t quite mesh with his position as a high-ranking space-robot pilot. Lucia, the inexperienced but talented Princess, echoes Simon, while her firing the “Super Heart Beam” brings to mind the idea of a magical-girl anime, another popular genre. The superficial characteristics of LLSTA borrow from the lexicon of TTGL and other anime.

When we play these traits straight the odd bits stick out. Why doesn’t the Zephyr have legs? It must look like a genie, or djinni, shooting steam out its hips. That’s cool, but it seems incomplete. By the end of the book the Zephyr will have legs, contributing to the images of improvement and growth. Of course, before then it will be reduced to just a head…

We won’t watch another episode for a while, but before the book ends we’ll see a lot more LLSTA. 

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