The definitive Real Robot anime of the 1980s
Armored Trooper VOTOMS is a franchise that I wish received more love in America. It’s mecha anime compellingly stripped down and thrown into some of the grittiest science fiction possible. As of 2018, VOTOMS has spawned several OVAs, tabletop and video games, novels, and plastic model kits. In spite of all the accolades, however, it remains relatively obscure in American anime fandom. However, thanks to HiDive’s streaming service, this is looking to change as VOTOMS has now joined the (growing) library of classic mecha anime.
Set in a galaxy far far away, the Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation have been deadlocked in the Hundred-Year War. Originally a simple territorial dispute, the conflict would involve more than 120 star systems, with planets practically wiped out in the crossfire. Though the war eventually ended, skirmishes, corruption, and civil unrest run rampant.
It is against this backdrop where Chirico Cuvie, a young Armored Trooper (or AT) pilot in Gilgamesh’s Melkian Army, finds himself. Working as part of a covert mission team, Chirico discovers a strange woman floating in a chamber of blue light. Upon reporting this to his teammates, he is marked for death. After torture and a dangerous escape, Chirico finds himself in the acid rain-soaked Uoodo City. From here, he must flee the Melkian Army that is desperate to silence him and a conspiracy that could very well change the universe.
Directed by Ryosuke Takahashi (Layzner, Fang of the Sun Dougram, GaoGaiGar) VOTOMS aired in 1982, right when the concept of the “Real Robot” was coming to fruition. Unlike the physics-defying, hot-blooded Super Robots of the 1970s (i.e., Getter Robo and Combattler V), Real Robot-based mecha factored in things like weight, fuel, and ammo. This approach comes off as a form of “hard” science fiction, a subgenre where authors strive for realism and more scientific accuracy.
That said, VOTOMS’ titular Armored Troopers took the Real Robot and boiled it down to the bare essentials. They are much smaller in size than your average Gundam mobile suit, not as easy on the eyes, slow-moving, and far from invincible. Even crazier, their arsenal is munition-based, with nary a beam rifle in sight. You’d think that the signature AT of the series, Chirico’s Scopedog, would carry some pilot armor. Instead, our hero ends up breaking and ditching several Scopedog ATs throughout the series. To him, an Armored Trooper just another disposable weapon.
The attitude toward the Armored Troopers reflects the world in which our characters inhabit. In the opening recap narration, Chirico tells viewers that he is tired from all the fighting. That pretty much sums up the series’ initial world of Uoodo City, let alone the universe at large that is still recovering from the Hundred-Year War. Corrupt, brutal, and desolate, the setting of VOTOMS evokes the wastelands of Fist of the North Star. (The irony is that Fist of the North Star wouldn’t come out until after VOTOMS began airing!)
In Uoodo City alone, the people are mostly in poverty and not going anywhere. The only escapes from the city involve either being kidnapped for slave labor or gladiatorial “Battling” with Armored Troopers to the death. Never mind the setting for VOTOMS’ second arc, Kunmen, basically a jungle world caught in a bloody power struggle akin to the Vietnam War. In this harsh universe, all the odds are stacked against Chirico. And through it all, you find yourself itching to see how our hero will turn each nightmare around. (Spoiler: The solution usually involves Armored Trooper combat and explosions.)
This past summer, Section23’s Maiden Japan announced plans to release the entire VOTOMS franchise (sans the spinoff Armor Hunter Mellowlink) to home video. Between that and the episodes being streamed on HiDive, I can only hope that a new wave of fans can finally get a chance to see what is easily the definitive Real Robot anime of the 80s.
Studio/Company: Maiden Japan/HiDive