The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Armored Troopers VOTOMS

Title: Armored Troopers VOTOMS aka Soukou Kihei VOTOMS
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Nippon Animation/Sunrise
Format: 52 episodes
Dates: 1 Apr 1983 – 23 Mar 1984

Synopsis: After a hundred years of conflict, the now meaningless war that has ravaged the Astragius Galaxy has ended in a hollow cease-fire. But with such an artificial end, thousands of military projects persist, and one such happens to come upon the eyes of soldier Chirico Cuive. Caught in the middle of an illegal operation, Chirco finds himself as public enemy of the universe, and the only way out is at the center of a three thousand year old conspiracy that threatens to tear Astragius apart.

The Highlights
Animation quality: Crude and dirty, to both the show’s benefit and detriment.
Characters: Generally more effective the less likable they are.
Soundtrack: Atmospheric and haunting.
Narrative: Farfetched at times, but fares worthwhile realization.
Scopedogs: Have an almost industrial charm to them.

When it comes to a series like VOTOMS, one thing must be addressed. It’s old. And as should be expected, the animation is beyond rough and the music, repetitive. The individual tropes have since become old hat in anime. And as intricate as the plot may get, it pales in comparison to the level of detail found in some of the more modern giants. However, what VOTOMS lacks in polish, it makes up for in atmosphere, and it’s enough to make it as strong now as it was over 25 years ago.

Taking both budget and vision into consideration, I keep wondering whether the look of the show was due to the necessity for animation shortcuts or a conscious effort to make it look as dirty as possible. But regardless of why VOTOMS ended on the low end of attractiveness, it’s stayed there for good reason. Simply put, it works. For taking place in a galaxy far, far away, VOTOMS is certainly not magical, and at times is just depressing. The color scheme is drab, and the music somber. The environments stress that nothing is sacred, even (and perhaps especially) on holy ground. This is not to say that there isn’t a beauty to the whole thing. For such a dark series, it’s surprising how much the music working in conjunction with the visuals can make 12 minutes of walking across an airless wasteland truly heartfelt.

Much of the atmosphere is no doubt due to the VOTOMS themselves. They are crude, industrial, and offer little in terms of luxury. And yet even with their less than attractive veneer, they are at their most ugly also at their most beautiful: in the midst of bloody war. Granted, unlike a Gundam, no AT will be at the center of the kind of epic sortie that they write poems about. However, a Scopedog is the kind of machine you can ride with dignity in the kind of hellish place where a stylish Mobile Suit like the Strike Freedom would just come off a garish and pompous.

Like the other early real robot anime (Gundam, Macross(1,2), Dunbine), VOTOMS had a lack of similar material to draw from in terms of formula. Luckily it ignores the practice of borrowing from super robots, and instead goes straight for the classics. I can only imagine monsters of the week and breast fire working for VOTOMS as conspiracy and angst worked for Star Wars. There are noticeable allusions to Vietnam films, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and even 2001 A Space Odyssey. It’s not enough to say that VOTOMS transcends other mecha anime. But it does help give off the feeling that each individual event is part of something greater.

Unfortunately, the way the story bridges itself together can be a jarring experience. I hate to admit it, but much of this has to with the characters. Admittedly, they are more fascinating than the average anime character. They are nihilists, completely unapologetic, and utterly willing to play dirty. This makes it so much harder to take their compassion seriously. Chirico’s friends can be justified to some degree as they have selfish motives behind their companionship. But some of his allies during the Kummen arc seem just too kind for their line of work. Though I suppose when you live that close to hell, you take what you can get.

Story transitions have much the same issue. In the context of the series, less disbelief must be suspended for Chirico to survive being burned alive, twice, than for him to run into the same three people on three vast and distant environments, especially considering that they are the only truly chaotic element in Chirico’s life. Many of these gripes, however, are alleviated by the end of each of their subsequent arcs, always in the most satisfying manner possible. And as fulfilling as Uoodo, Kummen, and Sunsa are, I was still not prepared for Quent where the way things ultimately come together is so goddamn brilliant that I actually felt the synapses firing in my brain.

Much like the other early real robot shows, just about every mecha series from the past 25 years owes itself in part to VOTOMS. This was the anime that scaled back the giant robot, reconciling the fantastic with the mundane. And yet while it shrunk the machines, it also helped expand the genre. Even anime linked to other franchises like Gundam 00 show signs of this as much as its original source material. Sure VOTOMS made its place in history on dirt and scrap metal. But it’s a place in history it oh so well deserves.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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