The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Martian Successor Nadesico

Title: Martian Successor Nadesico
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Action
Company: Xebec
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 1 Oct 1996 – 25 Mar 1997

Synopsis: Tenkawa Akito is pulled into the war against the Jovians after his home on Mars is destroyed and he is mysteriously transported to Earth. He meets with a girl from his youth, Misumaru Yurika, who has been appointed the captain of the Nadesico, a privately-owned ship whose crew is jumping into the war. Akito enlists as a cook but is time and again coerced into piloting against the enemy.

The Highlights:
Comedy: Nadeisco‘s satire still has bite, and the sillier moments are a lot of fun.
Drama: Surprisingly good, although the ending isn’t quite satisfactory.
Characters: A great, memorable cast. Even those who are essentially archetypes are used well.

Martian Successor Nadesico is one of the most intelligent comedies to come from anime. It may not seem that way at first, given how silly the mood often is and how delightfully weird the cast is. What makes Nadesico stand out from the pack, however, is how the series effectively uses its drama as an all-out assault on the myths that drive people to war.

The show within a show Gekiganger 3 is at the heart of Nadesico‘s satire. On the surface, it’s a simple super robot for children that expounds the usual virtues: courage, friendship and loyalty. The joke, though, is that innumerable people take it so seriously that it is practically the basis of their ideals and values. Snippets from Gekiganger 3 episodes are often used to mirror plotlines and provide context for actions taken by certain characters. This series intended for children is propped up as a piece of propaganda — no different than the dozens of movies made to glorify World War II. To mention how far the Nadesico creators go with the meta commentary would be a spoiler, but it’s wicked satire with a bite rarely seen in anime, especially when the target is anime itself.

Not all of Nadesico‘s comedy is so serious, however. Basically every episode has many moments of broad, lighthearted comedy that work because the writers and animators have such a thorough command of the characters and how they interact with each other. Hoshino Ruri, for instance, could easily be a one-joke character who simply calls her compatriots fools while the audience imagines canned laughter erupting after her beloved catchphrase. There’s always a keen eye with Ruri’s observations, though, and her point of view of the Nadesico crew subtly shifts as the show goes on. Akito and Yurika’s friendship could also be mined for similar jokes endlessly; however, the parameters of their relationship are constantly redefined. Sometimes this happens through convoluted coincidence, but the result is usually funny enough to forgive.

And despite the show’s criticism of the nature of mecha series, Nadesico also acts as a love letter to the genre. Concepts, character types and classic plotlines are commented on and parodied lovingly. The show also uses the audience’s knowledge of these common tropes and turns them on their head to create interesting, often ironic drama, although it still works well even if one has limited experience with mecha. Nadesico is known mainly as a comedy, but it possesses solid dramatic chops because it’s so easy to care about the characters. The only misstep is the ending, which is messy and dips into some somewhat convenient solutions and explanations for events. It’s not bad enough to negate everything to that point, though.

One of the toughest things for a show to get right — especially comedies — is cast balance. Nadesico does right by its cast. Even those who are basically one-note characters like the tsundere pilot Subaru Ryoko and the pun-loving pilot Maki Izumi are used exactly as they should be. They’re given enough room to breathe without using them so much that they get worn out and tired. With a cast as large and varied as Nadesico‘s, it would be easy to let it spiral out of control. The usual solution is to focus heavily on a few people at the expense of the many, but Nadesico achieves a great balance by giving the supporting players enough to do so that they’re almost always involved in something interesting.

Martian Successor Nadesico is a classic ’90s series that shouldn’t be forgotten. The show’s strong writing, intelligent comedy and well-drawn characters (in an artistic and literary sense) guarantee that it still holds up now and will continue to hold up for years to come.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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