A little introduction so you’ll know what we’re talking about.
It can be scary to revisit an old childhood favorite. We’re easily impressed when we’re young because we haven’t experienced much. The first chocolate always tastes great, but it becomes ordinary the more types you try. Old favorites can have something cool in them, like battles and explosions but after a few years they made you glad you’ve grown.
I am a critical man who often tires people in discussions. How surprised I was that Medabots was as good as I remembered. Sometimes, it’s even better.
It’s part of the wave of shows that were one big advertisement, like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblade and Pokemon. Yet it tries its best to rise above it. This is not an anime that creates a battle system and a story that’s completely unrelated to it. Medabots‘ story is tied to its setting. You can’t tell the same story in Pokemon‘s or Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s world.
It often feels like Medabots was made by a bunch of guys who looked at battle shounen cliches, and decided to mess with them. Subversions are everywhere. The bad guys often make no sense at all. Their schemes involve building weird houses and a zoo full of penguins. It’s a response to the litany of dull villains who are evil because they’re evil. It points out how goofy the whole world domination is.
The RubberRobo Gang may not have an opposing worldview (although the series gets to that later). They remain evil for evil’s sake throughout the series, but their goofiness gives them humanity. They stop being villains, and become just a bunch of crazies who watched Digimon Adventure and thought they could be Miyotismon.
Ikki himself is a fairly different hero. He starts off as a loser, and remains a bit of one. He’s not given ‘sheer determination’ or ‘heart of gold’ for defining attributes. He’s defined more by his naive passion towards medabots (who are actually weapons). Sometimes anime love to give a quality like recklessness for a ‘flaw’, but it’s often one that ends up helping the hero and gives him charm.
Ikki is a narcisstic and brat who swings from adoring himself to giving up. He’s an average dude with dreams of glory but who actually has to go through hardship to gain it. He’s never truly heroic. He’s allowed to lose and to be an asshole. Ikki often loses not because he deals with a strong opponenet, but because he thinks too much of himself (or not enough about his partner). It’s the opposite of characters who shoot fireballs because they have enough faith in themselves.
Where the series truly outshines everyone else is when it questions its premise, and presents characters with alternative worldviews.
Rokusho is a pacifist. In a world where everyone is obsessed with shooting missiles at the other’s robots, he just likes to look at insects. A series of events lead him to a breakdown and eventually, to a robattle. This isn’t the fun battles of previous. This is a robot fighting because he genuinaly wants to hurt to destroy. This is also the moment when Robo-Emperor appears, who is classified as weapon-type.
This is when the series doesn’t just let the premise give us cool battles. It questions it. It forces the viewer to be reminded that, even though these medabots are cool they are in the end weapons. The whole final arc revolves around this theme. Unlike Evangelion, Medabots can explore its themes without having to resort to two episodes of inner monologues.
Its treatment of the subject matter is also very mature. It looks further than the pacifist/violence dichotomy. It’s a series where weapons are both used for fun sports and for destruction. It gives us various views – Rokusho’s pacifism, Ikki’s naivety, Victor’s cynicism and Aki’s greed. Even the way it ends is not by just getting stronger, but by destroying two giant weapons of war. Medabots’ view is that violence is fine, so long as its for sport.
The series doesn’t use this exploration to go slack on any other department. In fact, because everything else in the series is so good that it can be easy to miss this little bit of philosophy.
Before it goes deep, it’s a hilarious slice of life anime full of odd characters. It celebrates the characters’ goofiness. There is a running theme of narcissism here, where everyone thinks of themselves as bigger than they are. That sometimes ruins the halo of even the talented ones, like Dr. Aki. Spike remains a loser who doesn’t progress by becoming a winner, but by still trying. Karin is a love interest who refuses to play the role and remains oblivious to her admirers.
This is why the climax feels so powerful. The series establishes that all these people have a life of their own. These characters don’t just live for the journey. Rather, the journey is what happens between ordinary days. This is the role most of the lighter episodes. Some of them are pretty weak, but they’re an integral part of the experience. The climax wouldn’t be so powerful if the climax was the only thing there was.
The series also doesn’t forget to let us enjoy the coolness of medabots. Almost everyone of them is beautifully designed. Whereas most Digimon are just exaggerated versions of real-life animals and objects, Medabots has a style of its own. It creates a template and then forces various things – gorillas, beetles, kings – fit it. It’s always interesting to examine every medabot and see how they morphed the original subject to fit the style.
The action scenes are often brief, but intense. Despite the Medaforce serving as One-Hit-KO in many episodes, plenty of time rely on an actual startergy. The oppponent’s medabot has a certain style that Ikki and Metabee have to overcome. It means most opponents are defeated by just one missile, but first Ikki has to get them in a position where he could shoot the missile. The last robattle between team Japan and team Kenya also deserves an honorable mention. A fight so intense and beautifully animated it will keep me coming back.
There is also Mr. Referee, who teleports whenever there’s a robattle. It’s a complete absurdity that everyone is fine with. Then again, isn’t life absurd?
There are some flaws, of course. There are explorations that remain undeveloped, including a weird alien thing that doesn’t feel like it belongs. The battle system isn’t exactly well-thought-out in terms of specifics. There are some useless episodes and the Medolarian backstory needed more screen time. A series’ greatness isn’t measured by its lack of flaws, though. A series that just avoids flaws is like a food that avoids unpleasant tastes. More impressive is a series that overcome the flaws. It’s an anime that could be trimmed and polished on the sides, but the end result is full of fun characters, a deep exploration of a subject, goofy scenarios, intense fights and a fantastic. The last six episodes can only be watched in sitting. Despite the occasional flaw, it’s a rich anime full of many good things. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so popular. It’s far more experimental. Thankfully, the experiment is more successful than anything I hope an anime can be.
The Wu-Tang Clan logo appears a few times, for some reason.
5 medals out of 5