Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Armored Trooper VOTOMS

I don’t know if this precisely qualifies for Finally Checking It Out.  On the one hand it came out in 1983 as part of the giant robot craze, on the other hand I only just found out about it.  I did an album & comic about giant robot pilots a while ago, so it got me re-interested in the genre & it’s early roots.
Now I’m not sure I can 100% say, “This is good,” but I can 100% say, “I liked it.”  It’s 52 episodes plus some specials & it’s subtitles so I couldn’t multi-task while watching it & I feel it was worth the 30 hours I invested in it.  I think by the end of the first episode, you know whether you are going to want to watch the whole thing or not.  The plot is paced X-Files style with each episode solving a little bit of mystery while discovering more things that you don’t know.  Spoilers below as I actually discuss the show.
The series opens at the end of a hundred year galactic war.  The two sides are indistinguishable from each other; they look the same, use the same war machines (15 foot tall piloted robots (VOTOMS – Vertical One-man Tank for Offensive Maneuvers)), neither side knows/cares why the war began, & in one of the spin-offs they reveal they both have the same religion.  The hero of the series, Chirico, has been in the special forces & is serving on one last mission after the cease-fire.  The mission is of course illegal & centered around stealing jijirium (seems like a cross between uranium & diamonds) & kidnap a girl who is actually an experimental war machine.  Chirico is meant to be killed at the end of the mission, but his survival sets him up as the fall guy & Chirico spends the whole series trying to evade the authorities & the first half trying to find out who/what the girl is & make her his girlfriend.  It ends up the girl is engineered to be a “perfect soldier” with heightened reflexes & healing abilities & all that jazz.  The first of her kind, but her meeting with Chirico during the kidnapping corrupted her programming so they make a male perfect soldier to be her brother/lover.  When Chirico beats the perfect soldier mate in battle, the evidence starts to point to Chirico as a perfect soldier himself & the question is, who made him?  Which is where this series starts to get really weird.  It ends up the hundred year war was orchestrated by a god that rules the galaxy.  He made the war because adversity & difficulty cause personal & biological evolution (is this based on Ayn Rand or Nazism? I guess they’re the same anyway!).  The weird crap that Chirico has been going through his whole life has been orchestrated to test if he’s worthy to be the replacement for Galaxy God because he’s the next step in evolution.  Chirico tells the weakened god he’ll take his place, but pulls the old switcharoo at the last minute & just kills Galaxy God instead.  Meanwhile the authorities are even more after Chirico than ever.  Chirico decides the galaxy isn’t ready for him & his lady friend, so they get frozen in a capsule together left drifting in space & the series end (though some spin-off stuff picks up the story from there).
This cartoon is from the early 1980s & does have the animation quality of that era (which I actually like) & they do occasionally do some recycling tricks (using the same five second clip here & there to get episodes done in time) & all of the incidental music from the whole series might add up to ten minutes.  But I’m okay with the recycling, I find it an interesting concept for a way to build narrative & it’s a shame it’s not acceptable more places.  VOTOMS is still looked at as “the most realistic giant robot cartoon” (funny idea in itself) & I feel it is better than any of the other’s that I’ve seen because it doesn’t get too complicated with having too many characters or weird politics to follow & it has a decent amount of action with well placed comedic bits to alleviate tension (& thus allow building of tension).  I can only think that I’d be a better person today if I’d grown up watching this with Robotech, Galaxy Rangers, & Thundarr.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime II

A few weeks ago I reviewed Operation: Mindcrime on Nostalgia Equals Distortion.  To be honest I had no idea this sequel existed until I was trying to get a copy of the original to review.  A sequel to a rock opera 18 years & 7 albums later?  Weird idea.  Strangely the album takes place 18 years after the original album with the lead character (Nikki) who went to a hospital in the first Mindcrime (after murdering politicians & killing his girlfriend & having a mental breakdown) getting out of jail.  The story is darker than the original.  I guess when you get out of prison for murdering politicians & members of religious orders, it’s hard to get your life restarted; so the guy falls in with drugs (he’s a drug addict recruited as a revolutionary soldier in the original) & goes on a hunt for the leader of the revolution from the first album (Doctor X) who is now just a random wealthy businessman (I guess we all lose our ideals somewhere along the way).  After killing him he really starts to miss his nun girlfriend that he’d killed 18 years ago & her ghost appears & tells him to kill himself, which he does.  Then the dead ghost lovers chat about how the only time they were happy was together.  Pretty bleak, even by my standards.

Granted this doesn’t have the nostalgia aspect of the original for me, but this album just doesn’t seem as good.  There don’t seem to be any songs strong enough to stand alone on this & the music suffers for the story telling.  The blaring 1980s keyboards are gone, but I guess I actually kind of miss them.  I mean, I am not really that into Queensryche or the type of heavy metal they make, but that genre was doing more interesting things in the 1980s than it was 20 years after that.  In the 1980s theatrical glam-metal was still a bit experimental as far as figuring out what was allowed in the genre.  Maybe because at the time trying to be pop bands rather than cater to a particular demographic.  I guess that’s true with all genres of music.  It starts off as just music or as pop music or rock & then it gets pigeonholed until the good bands in the genre have their legacy obliterated by imitators.  & of course unfortunately if a band stays around long enough, it ends up that they are a bit of a parody of themselves playing it safe.  Bands like Kiss or Aerosmith come to mind, together for 40 years with clearly most everything of value in the first half of their career.  So maybe this was Queensryche trying to go back to their roots & kickstart something, which I guess could be condoned; or maybe they were trying to update their ideas to sound more 2005, which is just a bad idea.

Also I’m not sure this is a story that needed to be told.  I think one of the things that really makes the story of Mindcrime work is it starts & ends a bit in the middle of things without trying to straighten every detail.  I don’t like the idea of telling all the details.  I don’t need to know what happened after Nikki went into the hospital & I don’t need to know how the stage was set for the revolution (if they ever do a prequel album).  Leaving things open-ended leaves space for interaction & play in the listeners mind.  It leaves space for conversation (either actual or mental) about the art.  This ends with everyone dead & nothing to say.

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