On ridiculous and contrived anime plots: an interlude (or, a review of MADOX-01: Metal Skin Panic)

Taking time aside from weightier matters of faith and morals, I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on a short and rather silly anime I just picked up on Amazon recently. (Yes, I’m getting into anime at the moment and, just because I’m even more insane than you thought, I got it on VHS.)

First, a short quiz.

Let’s assume for a moment you’re a young Japanese guy named Koji Sujimoto, you live in Tokyo, and (if I recall the plot right) you’re engineering student with a part-time trucking job to pay your way through college. One evening,¬† just as you’ve done your rounds for the day and are about to go on a big date with the girlfriend you haven’t seen for a while (seeing as Daddy packed her off to old Blighty to study) and are still crazy about after all this time (h yes, and she’s going back tomorrow), you and your friend discover a mysterious piece of military hardware which inadvertently found its way into the back of your truck. As far as you can see, it could be any old junk, not¬†necessarily a cutting-edge mechanised battle-suit capable of dispatching whole squadrons of tanks with ease, but then again, you’re curious to find out. What do you do?

a. Inform the authorities straight away like the responsible citizen you are, and wait for them to pick it up. After all, you don’t know what it is, or what it’s capable of- all sorts of trouble could happen if it fell into the wrong hands. Don’t worry about the girl- she’ll understand.

b. Leave the thing in storage, and go off to see your girl. Tell the authorities later. It’s risky, but you won’t see her again for a while and the relationship may go cold on you…

c. Have a tinker around with the thing- go on, you might as well. Then get trapped inside because you’ve only barely read the manual and don’t have a clue how the thing works, and then go off on a mad rampage around the city leaving a trail of destruction in your wake; because despite the fact you’re trapped in an unwieldy hunk of metal which you’ve no idea to operate and have the military on your tail thinking you’re a potential terrorist, it’s been three years and you’ll be darned if you don’t make that date!

Guess which option our man Koji-san chooses.

Despite the fact any truly sensible chap would have chosen option a. or b. (depending on whether the safety of the world or your girl is more important), Sujomoto opts for the last one, given he’s young, foolish and curious, not to mention the audience has been promised some crazy badass mecha-mayhem and the running time is only 41 minutes long.

Off he goes destroying half of Tokyo, smashing straight through numerous shops and trying to grab something to eat (try that in a bulky battle suit? Doubtful…) and literally cutting up someone’s car when he gets stuck in traffic. All the while being pursued by mad Lt. Kilgore who sees this as his opportunity to destroy the MADOX just to prove he can, it having been able to defeat him in tests, the police, JSDF and US Marines (if I recall right). And eventually, in a complete reversal of traditional gender roles, he ends up getting rescued by a woman named Elly.

No, this is not a surprise, I’m just having you on- she’s the designer and test pilot of the thing, also the one who beat Kilgore in the tests, and this has already been well established in the plot at the start. As such, she’s pretty much the only one who can get a real handle on the situation and seems to be the only sensible main character in it- but for the possibly fanservicey brief hint of nudity and the fact she gets taken out of action later, one might almost be forgiven for thinking it’s a feminist deconstruction especially given the two main male characters are a hapless fool and a crazed psycho.

Having given away most of the plot already, I won’t spoil the ending.

Of course perhaps it’s not too difficult to see how a young man with interests the way Koji does would be curious about some strange new tech, and get more than he bargained for, and perhaps when you’re in love you do crazy things. Though how something falls off the back of one truck and conveniently into another I don’t know, and one might have thought top priority when you’ve a military force trying to hunt you down might well be, well, survival, I don’t know. Or the fact that Koji is bound to spend half of the rest of his life in jail is barely touched upon. But there you go.

I’ve seen worse contrivances, which I seem to be making a much bigger deal of in this than is really necessary. It’s just a thought that struck me. I could get onto Jeeves and Wooster, but that’s a whole ‘nother post in itself.

Anyway, onto the serious review bit.

At the end of the day this is a fairly entertaining though disappointingly short feature which perhaps leaves you feeling like it’s a bit lacking. The character designs are a little unrealistic compared to many more modern productions, but pretty well animated I guess. The story is fairly believable compared to some I’ve heard of, and the sort of mechs we’re talking about seems realistic enough- whether it would be so much better than tanks I don’t know. And a mech story that doesn’t involve war for once. Does it need more room for character development? Maybe, but I didn’t see it. The characters are developed enough for the story to do what it needs to do. Could there have been more successful attempts at humour? Perhaps, given the crazy situation (hapless guy trapped in battle suit without a clue) described in the blurb. Is it forgettable or an underated gem, unjustly forgotten in Japan? Probably aiming more towards the former, quite understandably, but worth a look.

Maybe I’ll try to review some more stuff, when I actually bother to watch any. (Out of all I’ve got I’ve seen Patlabor 1 (realistic mech stuff without much action, more police drama/political/techno thriller, somewhat slow and philosophical), part of Patlabor 2 (more of the same), Space Adventure Cobra (somewhat puply, daft sci-fi fare, entertaining but with a bit of a bittersweet ending and too much artistic nudity), Millennium Actress (a bit different, about an ageing movie star’s recollections and futile search for lost love) and parts of Project A-Ko episodes 5 and 6 (very silly comedy/parody type thing which doesn’t follow on from the previous episodes, which I’ve not seen-¬† this will probably go out) and Bubblegum Crisis episodes 1-3. To go: Metropolis, rest of Patlabor 2, Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo and a couple I borrowed off my sister (Steamboy and Voices of a Distant Star). Also got something called Key the Metal Idol (story sounds vaguely Pinoccio-esque, but with a female robot?) coming in the post, when the Royal Mail or appropriate courier ever decides to deliver. Maybe I’ll even get around to watching Arrietty as well (yes, my tastes are pretty eclectic) and one or two other Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli ones in my sister’s collection again. Anyway, enough rambling.

DISCLAIMER: Anything meant relating to gender roles was purely a joke and does not constitute anything to understanding of the plot. Or anything to do with my views on feminism (just wait, I’ll get onto that soon enough).

Also apologise for any misuse of Japanese honorifics, though I don’t think I’ve done this.

And yes, I did go on about nudity as if it were a bad thing- maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps a hypocrite in some areas given my past- but let’s not go there!