Godannar Anime Review
Shinkon Gattai Goudannaa!!
God Soul Combination Godannar!!
US Release By
2003-10-01 - 2003-12-24, 2004-04-05 - 2004-06-29
What's In It
- Giant Robots
- Giant Monsters
- Giant Breasts
- Giant Mecha With Giant Breasts
- Robots That Jiggle
- Sacrificial Pilots Who Don't Actually Die
- Married Pilot Teams
- Bondage-Themed Mecha
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 3 (significant)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
When the Earth was under attack by mysterious alien invaders known as Mimetic Beasts, Goh Saruwatari and a collection of other top pilots from around the world piloted giant robots to defend their home. The war was won, but Goh lost his wing-woman and combat partner to battle.
Five years have now passed, and wounds have healed. So much so that Goh is marrying Anna--current high school student, budding mecha pilot, and the daughter of his boss. When the Memetic Beasts return, Goh will again stand up to defend his loved ones, but his young bride isn't about to sit the fight out. Individually, they're deadly on the battlefield; together, their mecha can combine to form the mighty Godannar. That's assuming they can get their marital issues worked out first.
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Somewhere between a playful parody of classic mecha action and a retro homage to it, Godannar toes the line between the two closely enough that you could almost take it seriously if you tried. It's full of over-the-top drama and equally over-the-top old-school mecha, but the mecha fanservice is fighting for the spotlight with the girl fanservice. From gravity-defying, spring-loaded breasts (heck, even the mecha jiggle), to costumes that aren't physically possible, the fanservice is so overboard I found it funny, but depending on taste you could enjoy it for a completely different reason, or it could just ruin the whole thing for you. If you do look past the fanservice, the show has a large, colorful cast of characters backed by quality Japanese voice acting--lots of mecha-battle gusto--and a tweak on expectations with the focus on romance as an ongoing team effort. It also manages a backhanded feminist undercurrent, eventaully casting testosterone-charged bluster as more of a villain than giant monsters. That subversion of the emotional core of about half of all anime may or may not have been intentional, but it's fun either way.
Godannar is one of those shows that successfully toes the line between paying homage to a classic genre and parodying it, and it's either smarter than it lets on or gets lucky with its role-reversing of a classic genre. I'm pretty sure that if you have any love at all of old-school overkill mecha action you'll enjoy Godannar's loving (if fanservice-drenched) tweak on it.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Godannar is somewhere between a playful parody of classic mecha action with a subversive twist and a retro homage to it, but so loaded with fanservice (of both girls and robots) that it can be hard to pay attention to anything else. The combination of the three makes it hard to tell whether the genre-subverting plot is smarter than it looks or clever through dumb luck, but in any case I enjoyed it.
I'll come back to that subversive twist later. For the most part, Godannar consists of three things: Fanservice, overblown drama centered around equally overblown giant robots, and situation comedy. In that order.
The broad comedy is well-timed and moderately amusing, but for my sense of humor it does best with the offhanded jabs at genre cliches. Among my favorite running jokes is a pilot who is repeatedly written off for dead by his teammates after doing something dramatically sacrificial, despite not actually dying.
The drama is a tougher call; since a hallmark of old-school mecha action is screaming, weepy, in-your-face, over-the-top theatrics, the line between parody and homage is a little vague. So, when Godannar launches into a bout of histrionics, you could laugh at it or try to get into it. I was laughing, personally, although I suppose you could enjoy the series either way.
It puts enough effort into filling out the characters that there's a threat of it devolving into bathos, but fortunately threat is as far as it goes. It helps that the drama is just far enough overboard to laugh at without feeling bad. It helps more that the plot pulls just enough completely random twists (particularly at the end, when it leaps willfully into "Wait, what?" territory) to keep you from getting too wrapped up in it as a coherent story. What helps most, though, is eye-grabbing girl-fanservice even more extreme than the flaming (literally1) mecha fanservice.
It's almost as if somebody wrote the script for a classic giant robot show and handed it to animators who decided to draw it as a fanservice-drenched parody. The characters will be waxing dramatic with no particular hint that it's supposed to be funny, and then the camera will start staring at somebody's chest at length. "Yeah, this is getting boring, let's draw some boobies."
And honestly, if there's anything that's going to get your attention in Godannar, it's the gravity-flaunting, spring-loaded boobies. The chest sizes, with a single pubescent exception, start at about a double-ridiculous and go up from there. Subtle, it's not. Mildly embarrassing, almost certainly. Titillating, that depends on taste. Fortunately, it works as a source of humor regardless--even some of the mecha jiggle, and there's a great throwaway joke early on where the most-ridiculous of the ridiculously-stacked cast peppers the room with buttons from her undersized blouse.
Add in costumes that run the gamut from too-revealing to not-physically-possible, plus an ongoing string of mecha-related innuendo and risque visual gags, and it works out that the visuals won't let you take anything else seriously. Depending on your taste, you could enjoy this for either (or both) of two very different reasons, or it could send the whole thing down in flames if it rubs you the wrong way.
If you do manage to look past the fanservice, Godannar has a large, amusing cast of characters in a relatively coherent, internally-consistent world.
There's too-serious, studly-but-approaching-middle-age Goh, who's effectively the hero of a standard mecha series ten years later. He's appealing mostly for his relative powerlessness in the face of the strong-willed women who run his life, in spite of his testosterone-charged bluster.2 His mate, energetic young Anna, is about what you'd expect from an anime heroine, but gets points for being fairly competent and not too annoying when it comes to lack of self-confidence. (The actual plot point is more about Goh being overprotective and trying to downplay her skills to keep her out of combat.)
The central relationship of married mecha pilots is a nice tweak on formula, but the combat-related symbolism is as much innuendo as analogy of married life. The interesting emotional stuff instead comes from Goh's old flame (and combat partner), Miria. When she returns from the dead as an infantilized amnesiac being "raised" by the newlyweds, the series does all sorts of entertainingly awkward things with the dynamic. Later, when she comes to her senses, things get even messier, if somewhat less funny.
The theme of partners on- and off-duty is repeated in the colorful collection of other pilots (and mecha) from around the world, resulting in a wide variety of romantic-team pairings who each get at least one episode in the spotlight. There's a Chinese couple who are essentially a less-angsty version of Goh and Anna, and a lesbian couple from the US, who are the most straight-faced of the cast. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Russians, a flamboyant dominatrix and her taciturn manservant (who of course have fittingly bondage-themed mecha)--they make for some good deadpan comic dissonance whenever they're onscreen. The Brits supply a brother and sister with an apparently-inappropriate relationship that the series never does much with.
The most complex, or at least most blatantly angsty, character is adolescent Lou; she looks initially to be the pseudo-daughter, but ends up being as close to a surprise as anything in the show in a secondary plot about her quest for vengeance.
The main antagonist, notably, isn't the giant monsters. The beasties are big and ugly and provide something to blow up repeatedly, but Ken, a silent Ronin type, gets all the spotlight as Goh's competition for who's the biggest, baddest alpha male on the battlefield. He doesn't have any personality, and it makes no sense whatsoever that he's got an uber-mech (with a giant sword and earrings), but again, it's all about the overkill drama.
And that brings me to one of the two unexpected things in the plot: The finale doesn't end up playing out at all how I expected it to. Partly because of some completely out-of-left-field plot twists (which were just funny), but almost as much because it turns the villain, essentially, into testosterone. I loved that subversion of the stock rage-powered protagonist, who only really starts kicking butt once he gets into roaring, now-I'm-really-mad mode. Goh (and other masculine counterparts among the hero teams) try to do this, but it becomes a liability instead of their superpower.3
That's the other surprise--a sort of backhanded feminist undercurrent. All of the mecha temas are just that--romantic teams, composed of a male (or male gender-role) and female member, and none are effective without both working together. Goh, in particular, is used to being in the spotlight, but he's kept in check by his stronger-willed female superior and is forced to come to grips with accepting Anna as an equal on the battlefield (in traditional Japanese style, she's the boss at home from the beginning).
Basically, Godannar contradictorily combines unrelenting fanservice with indirect condemnation of testosterone-charged bluster, and casts estrogen as the savior of mankind (again, literally). It's hard to tell if it's a dumb comedy that happens to hit some remarkably intelligent notes in the process of role-reversing a generic classic, or a dumb-looking comedy with more brains than it lets on subtly subverting the emotional foundation of about half of all anime. (Either way while remaining marketable to the apparently-very-profitable breast-leering crowd.) I'm inclined to believe the former more than the latter, but, even if it wasn't entirely intentional, it still works.
Visually, there's not much to complain about (unless you're offended by ogling overendowed women, in which case there's not much you won't complain about). Leaving aside the robots with breasts, the mecha have the right retro-cool balance--big, colorful, flashy, and a bit ridiculous. The action is also appropriately big, colorful, and flashy, with plenty of ridiculous special moves and giant gooey monsters. Basically, fans of the sort of shows that Godannar simultaneously pays homage to and parodies should have lots of fun. The character designs are also appealing (with a number of pleasingly mature women), and the animation is smooth and relatively expensive. Also: so much bouncing.
The quality Japanese voice cast deserves a good chunk of the credit for the humor and likability of the characters. There's good chemistry in most of the teams, the comedy is sufficiently overboard, and they do a good job of screaming attack names in battle with enough gusto to sell it--throwback mecha action just doesn't work without that. The standout member in a cast full of big names is probably Takayuki Kondou as Goh--studly and heroic with an air of middle age creeping in.
The soundtrack is perfect, from the straight-out-of-the-'80s intro song by Akira Kushida through the overblown closing ballad duet. The spot-on bombastic instrumental score in between is by mecha-music veteran Chuumei Watanabe (who in fact recycled themes from other shows), and there are periodic insert songs (the Godannar, of course, has its own theme).
Godannar is one of those series that successfully toes the line between paying homage to a classic genre and parodying it, though I'm not sure how much of the subversive twist on the emotional core of the genre was intentional. Regardless, I'm pretty sure that if you have any love at all of old-school overkill mecha action you'll enjoy Godannar's loving (if fanservice-drenched) tweak on it.
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For similarly fanservice-heavy semi-serious mecha action with a lot less brains, quality, and logic, Gravion is about as close as you can get, although it's much lower quality and you're laughing at it more than with it. Full Metal Panic is another mecha action show with a lot of comedy, but the two moods are more compartmentalized and there's less focus on the mecha. Shinesman does the same sort of offhanded parody with color-coded sentai teams, while Dokkoida goes even farther over-the-top with superheroes. Finally, The Daiichis has a family of four defending the Earth from invasion in humorous fashion with superpowers.
Notes and Trivia
Godannar was an original concept by director Yasuchika Nagaoka, probably best known for directing all of the Crest/Banner of the Stars anime, plus New Cutey Honey. In addition to the two TV seasons (which originally aired with a one-season break between them), there is also a PS2 game.
The two main mecha, the Dannar and Okuser, are puns on the roles of their pilots--"danna" is the word for "husband" and "okusan" is the word for "wife." The title is also a pun; it includes the word "shinkon," which means "newlyweds," but in this case written with the characters for "god" and "soul." On the topic, the first character in Saruwatari (Goh's family name) means "monkey."
ADV's DVD box art ranges from standard to eyebrow-raising (due almost entirely to the ridiculous costumes). The insert cards, however, go from mildly dirty to downright lewd. More disturbing is that Lou features prominently in several of them; Anna, being 16, is already uncomfortably young for pin-ups, but Lou hasn't even finished puberty. The series itself, mercifully, mostly stays away from that, apart from the awkwardly-angled cockpit shots (all the cockpit shots are awkwardly angled).
Footnote 1: As with every other "literally" in this review, I do indeed mean literally flaming--the combined Godannar is on fire for no readily apparent reason.
Footnote 2: Speaking of testosterone, screaming seems to be a major component of Goh's piloting technique. There's a great bit at one point where he's clearing trees in the background while some other characters talk; he's bellowing away--presumably at the foliage--the entire time.
Footnote 3: This is kind of a spoiler, but I liked that the final showdown turns into trying to save two testosterone-blinded alpha males from themselves. On the other hand, it's incredible that the series established a semi-credible reason for a world with nothing but straight female mecha pilots and didn't actually use it apart from the epilogue (that twist ending was the only thing in the show I didn't see coming, and I liked it a lot).
US DVD Review
ADV's DVDs are about par for their later work. The video looks great--clean, sharp, bright, and in anamorphic widescreen, while the audio is stereo in Japanese and 5.1 in English. The subtitles are also reasonably accurate. Bonuses include clean openings and endings, quite a bit of detailed data about the robots and monsters (completely irrelevant, but it's a giant mecha show--fans love the tech specs), and some additional production material depending on the disc. You also get some fairly racy pin-ups on the chapter cards in the discs, and the set version came with a nice, sturdy artbox.
It's never explicit, but the in-your-face fanservice and rampant innuendo pushes it into the 16-up category.
Violence: 3 - The body count isn't high, but there's a lot of dramatic injury and some casualties.
Nudity: 3 - While there's almost no "naughty bits" in the strictest sense, the volume of skin and undersized clothing is spectacular.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Nothing much physical, but there's blatant innuendo throughout.
Language: 2 - Nothing serious in ADV's subtitles that I remember.
Available in North America from ADV Films as a bilingual 7-disc thinpak box set. Was available prior to that on seven individual volumes that also came packaged as a set with an artbox. While technically out of print, stock is still readily available.