The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Armored Troopers VOTOMS: Red Shoulder Document: Roots of Ambition

Title: Armored Troopers VOTOMS: Red Shoulder Document: Roots of Ambition aka Soukou Kihei VOTOMS: Yabou no Roots
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Sunrise
Format: 1 OVA
Dates: 19 Mar 1988

Synopsis: Astragius Calendar 7112, the 100 years war between the Gilgamesh Confederation and Balarant Union is reaching its end. However, as this blood stained war drags on, Confederacy Colonel Pailsen is on the search for the ultimate soldier to compliment his elite combat force, the Red Shoulders. This ultimate soldier is the enigmatic VOTOM pilot Chirico Cuive, a young man with an uncanny knack for survival. Sure of his choice, Pailsen pushes Chirico to the limits in a virtual hell, and as he gets closer to finding this power, he begins to understand how much he fears it.

The Highlights
Dirty, gritty, and fits well.
Mechanics: Perhaps the most believable giant robots.
Conspiracy, deceit, and betrayal: Takahashi Ryouske’s specialty.
Violence and Horror: Tangible.
Standalone Capability: None; makes you want more.

With the 1980s came the first Golden Age of anime… well, at least for mecha. Directors like Tomino Yoshiyuki, Ishiguro Noboru, Takahashi Ryouske, and the late Kanda Takeyuki all made their marks by stressing greater levels of maturity and realism. I know that many people refer to Ishiguro’s Macross or Tomino’s Zeta Gundam as the pinnacle of all this; however, between these two series, director Takahashi created what is perhaps the most realistic of the real robots, VOTOMS. Now personally I haven’t been lucky enough to see the original, but I have had the opportunity to see its prequel OVA Roots of Ambition.

The beauty of VOTOMS is how unbeautiful it actually is. Rather than aesthetically pleasing machines piloted by pretty boys, the stars are quite unattractive men in function-over-gloss machines. Don’t get me wrong, the Scopedog is one cool robot, but on paper, it looks like a stubby Zaku made out of scrap metal. As for the characters, the protagonist Chirico is no looker, but in comparison with the rest of the cast, he is quite easy on the eyes. This sense of sheer ugliness is further intensified by the fact that this OVA takes place mostly at boot camp with not even a single woman in sight. Altogether, these qualities create the realism of VOTOMS. There is nothing fancy about it. The military needs the best of the best and this is how they’re going to find them. Regardless of the lackluster visuals, once you see an AT in action, your action jones will be satisfied pretty quickly.

Of course, no anime would be a Takahashi Ryouske anime without some government corruption and military espionage. And baby, this one is chock full of it. The military is suspicious of Pailsen, Pailsen is suspicious of Chirico, and of course, Chirico has no idea what’s going on. All of this paranoia is not without grounded suspicions. The mock battle at the beginning shows all the moral boundaries that people are willing to break in order to train the perfect army. It’s an awesome battle, but you can’t help but feel sick at the same time. As for the main character, Chirico, he is not a very sympathetic or even remotely likable, but you do end up feeling sorry for him. In the end, he is a dog of the military, and also Pailsen’s guinea pig.

Being a prequel, this anime can be appreciated without having seen VOTOMS. Unfortunately, if this weren’t one, it would be pretty disappointing. Any mecha, action, or conspiracy enthusiast will be hooked on to the VOTOMS universe, and will not let go until they are satisfied. If you find this to be an interesting series, go watch the original. If the idea of a 52 episode pool of grit seems like too much of a commitment, I would suggest the recently made prequel Pailsen File and side story spin-off Merowlink. Sure over the years, real robots have become synonymous with effeminate men, “naked girls, and not so naked lolis.” There was once a time when the word real meant “real,” and this OVA should give you a taste of what that truly means.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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