Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspector, or How I Finally Realised What Other Anime Fans Must Feel
Let me first start by saying that I cannot, will not, approach this series in a vacuum. As a Super Robot Wars fan who got into the franchise through the Original Generation series I have an emotional investment in writing about The Inspector and, admittedly, my mind will be filling in a lot of gaps in the material. While I may be viewing the show through rose-tinted glasses I believe that my perspective also affords me an opportunity to see what could have been done better, in keeping with my mission statement for this blog. Where this knowledge is applicable and has enhanced my appreciation of the show, please forgive me for lapsing into the realms of Super Robot Wars trivia.
Picking Up Where We Left Off
I understand that I am a latecomer to blogging the series. It has been on for the better part of two months now, with the 7th episode right around the corner. Thus far we have seen the introduction of the returning characters from the ATX and SRX teams, newcomers Lamia Loveless and the School children Arado and Seolla. That, along with the whole slew of disparate villains (Neo DC, Shadow Mirrors, Einst) with their interlocking subplots, sounds like a recipie for a headache if I ever saw one and quite frankly, I applaud any non-SRW fan who is still watching this now. Therein lies one of the biggest problems with adapting Super Robot Wars to the TV screen: the sheer scope of the thing.
Wheels Within Wheels
I am reminded of a discussion with a friend of mine who tried to play SRW Original Generation 2, the game that The Inspector is based on, in a vacuum. He had no previous experience with SRW, not even the original OG, and came back to me with the following complaints:
- There were too many plot threads going on at the same time.
- None of these plot threads were explained. They literally came out of nowhere.
- Overuse of tired mecha anime cliches.
I can agree with all three of these points. Without giving too much away, OG2 attempts to compact the plots of at least 4 different Super Robot Wars games into one coherent story. Each of these games has at least 60 stages, 100 in the case of Super Robot Wars Impact, the game that Kyosuke and Excellen originate from. This is over 200 hours of material and they’re trying to compact it into 13. No matter how you slice it, that sounds like a recipie for disaster. This also directly relates to the cause of the second complaint, that the plot threads are never really foreshadowed or explained.
This too is an artifact of the Super Robot Wars franchise. You see, Super Robot Wars is a crossover franchise. It takes popular mecha anime and fuses their universes together to try and create a coherent plot and excuse for giant robots to beat the stuffing out of each other. OG is like a crossover of the original character plots from other SRW games, created for the fans of those games, so a certain amount of background knowledge is assumed when the writing starts. We need this foreknowledge to truly know or care about what is going on. If I were to break down the past six episodes of The Inspector down, it would sound something like:
“Okay, so there’s these guys and they’re hunting down the remnants of a massive global rebellion who is secretly receiving backing from these scientists who specialised in creating enhanced child soldiers, and then there’s these other guys backing the rebels as well who have super technology from god-knows-where and a mysterious spy called Rose who seems to be playing both sides off against each other. Follow me so far? Good, because that doesn’t even begin to go into the plot about the ancient chinese giant robots in the shape of animal gods…”
I don’t know about you but when I think about it and try to imagine what an ordinary person would think, I reckon they’d tell me I was out of my bleedin’ mind. Essentially, these are the barriers that a person who does not play SRW on a regular basis faces to enjoying The Inspector. On top of that is the already high barrier put into place by the presence of so many “cliched” characters. I don’t like that word, cliche. It means something is trite, hackneyed, tired and overused and therefore inherently bad. All the characters in The Inspector are based on popular mecha “cliches”, it’s true, but this is where I’m going to defer to the “there’s nothing new under the sun” argument. In other words, I don’t have a coherent argument against that point. I know why people say they’re overdone or tired and yet I enjoy them anyway.
I’m reminded of a quote I read on the Bioware forums, but that’s going into a discussion of cliches, which could fill an article in its own right and is beyond the scope of this one.
A Glorious Mess
Bearing all of these challenges in mind, The Inspector has managed to get a few things right. I admire the ability of the anime to stay true to its source material. They dive straight into the story without the logistical nightmare of trying to summarise everything that came before. If you want to know, just watch Divine Wars. I was a little skeptical about the character designs when they were first unveiled but now they have somewhat grown on me. Even if you don’t like the character designs, they certainly got the mech designs spot on.
So far, the anime seems to be covering every plot from the game and I can respect that, but it leaves me with an ominous premonition for the future. Between all of the different faction fighting each other, I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Inspector falling into the same trap that Divine Wars did regarding battles with major villains. People like Bian Zoldark and Levi Tolar, who had a major impact on the storyline, were given all of half an episode’s worth of combat action devoted to them. In fact, I can already see it happening. The engagements thus far have been 5-10 minute affairs that do not give the impression of having accomplished anything in particular. Once the fangasm of having seen the Thrudgelmir try to carve the Shirogane in two with The Gate of Magus playing in the background has worn off, what really happened? In fact, the only two things of note that have been accomplished in combat were the Wildfalken getting stolen and Lamia receiving a replacement transmitter.
The future is clouded and uncertain. I hope that what I am predicting doesn’t come true.
I have never truly understood some people who get upset when the anime diverges wildly from the manga. For me it has always been an opportunity to experience two different worlds, two different interpretations of the source material and for me, the fact that an adaptation would never be as good as the original is par for the course and nothing to get angry over. At the same time, I also acknowledge that I have never really been emotionally involved in following a production in the same way that I am with The Inspector. I wait in hope that it will be good while a small voice in the back of my mind tells me that it will never be anything more than an average show, not worthy of remembrance at all. I feel that I have a new understanding of how others feel regarding adaptations of their favorite stories. I don’t agree with them, but on some level I can accept their point of view. I hope I never have to go through the anger and disappointment.