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Scope Dogg’s Mecha Showcase: Armored Trooper: VOTOMs

This is part of a series of reviews I plan on doing on various mecha franchises. The only rule is that I’m not touching the three franchises I think are the most well known (Gurren Lagann, Evangelion, Gundam) in an effort to spread the love towards some series that I feel fly somewhat under the radar for non-mecha fans. Any spoilers will only be very minor and will typically only concern the very beginning of the story.

Why you should watch it, in brief:

Intrigue and mystery in a hard-nosed, gritty sci-fi universe, intermeshed with a different take on mecha combat.

The setting:

In the far-flung future, two space empires, the Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation, have been locked in interstellar war for a hundred years. The chief weapon of the conflict is the VOTOMs, (Vertical One-man Tank for Offense and Maneuvers) better known as the Armored Trooper, or AT for short. Wherever conflict blooms in the Astragius galaxy, Armored Troopers are guaranteed to be at the front lines. Mercifully for the wartorn galaxy, the conflict is finally coming to a close. However, for Gilgamesh soldier Chirico Cuvie, a whole new secret war is about to begin. He is unknowingly enlisted into a secret mission with a renegade unit who stage an attack on a secret asteroid installation - belonging to Chirico’s own Gilgamesh faction. There he sees something he wasn’t meant to - a mysterious and beautiful woman, sealed away in a glass tube and immersed in a strange glowing blue substance. He is betrayed and left for dead by the renegades, but Chirico is nothing if not hard to kill. He survives and is recovered by a Gilgamesh warship, only to find himself in the hands of cruel interrogators who refuse to believe his story and believe him to be one of the rogues. Escaping from captivity, Chirico is now an outcast, on the run from his former military. However, he is fated to cross paths both with the mysterious woman and the shadowy organisation that orchestrated that fateful attack once again. His journey will take him across the galaxy, and will haul him back into the jaws of conflict once again in his quest for answers.

Why you should watch it, in full:

When Mobile Suit Gundam arrived in 1979, it represented a branching-off of the mecha genre. Up until then, most mecha shows were Super Robot affairs, followed in the influential shoes of Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, amongst others. They typically featured a lone hero in their outlandish and unrealistically powerful machines against an unambiguously villainous antagonist - one way to think of Super Robot shows is to think of the “super” as being the same kind of “super” as in “Superhero.”  Gundam’s Universal Century setting represented something different, where the machines, rather than being super-powered titans of justice, were nothing more than tools of war, used by both factions in a desperate solar-system wide conflict. While the story followed protagonists fighting for the Earth Federation, their adversaries in the principality of Zeon were far from unambiguously evil. Instead of glorifying the battles, there was a strong focus on the human cost of warfare, and instead of indestructible fighting machines, the mecha on both sides were specialised into distinct roles, just as they might be in a real military, and while powerful, they typically were far from invulnerable (With the series’ namesake machine serving as something of an exception.) It was the birth of a new subgenre, known as the Real Robot genre, defined by greater nuance and a larger focus on plausibility than the Super Robot shows of old.

When Armored Trooper VOTOMS rolled into town in 1983, it represented the concept of the Real Robot genre evolved to one of its logical conclusions. However, at the same time it’s so much more than just that - more after the break.

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