You’re not yourself when you’re hungry. Have this Sni-… generic candy bar I have on me for no reason. I’m going to break a bit from how I usually format these posts and dispense with the notes I usually have at the end. Why? ‘Cause I didn’t actually take any notes. It’s kind of hard to have anything to say during an extended action scene anyway. What am I supposed to jot down? “Yes, very explosive. Shiny robots. Cool.” Nah, that sort of thing just doesn’t work for me. Anyway, we’ll start off with the episode summary before I go into my thoughts about what I just saw.
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Episode summary: When we last left off, Hina sent Aoba flying into the unknown future. Our hero finds himself right dab in the middle of a major battle between two warring sides fighting over a research facility. More importantly, Dio’s here and he’s luckily one of the good guys. Naturally, the world has been divided in a way so that Japan is aligned with the countries in North America — hint hint: the USA — while everything to the immediate west of Japan is evil. In any case, the bad guys seem to have the upper hand until the good guys realize that Aoba’s mecha has perfect compatibility with Dio’s. With their powers combined, Aoba and Dio fight off their attackers.
Afterwards, nobody buys Aoba’s story that he’s from the past, but they sure would like to keep him around because A) he knows too much and B) that coupling thing is too useful! What’s strange though is that no one’s ever heard of time traveling, and Dio claims he has no clue who Hina is. Meanwhile, the bad guys are looking to attack again because they want those juicy new mechas that just defeated them, and it looks like Hina is amongst them. Dun dun dun…
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Hmm, I don’t know what to think of Buddy Complex. First, let’s get the action talk out of the way since there’s not really much I can say about it: to put it simply, the action scenes are passable. It’s not poorly animated (yet), but then again, is it anything we haven’t seen from Sunrise? Nah. Plus, I’ve never been one to find mecha combat to be very… well, elegant. Two giant hunks of junk clashing at one another until one clumsy robot thing manages to move faster than another clumsy robot thing (somehow) and wins the battle.
But mecha choreography aside, the thing that puzzles me more is how I usually find it kind of arbitrary how one mecha happens to be stronger than another mecha. As a result, it’s really hard to establish any sort of rising tension in these battle scenes that would, presumably, lead to a satisfying climax. Basically in Buddy Complex, Dio and Aoba “couple up,” become supermegastronk, then pwn some newbs. End scene. The crucial element that I find missing in a lot of mecha series is the journey itself. You almost never see a Son Goku-like moment where a mecha pilot puts in the hard work to go from a novice to an expert fighter. The characters, whether or not they happen to be heroes or villains, are almost always instant prodigies.
I’m not saying we should waste our time with something ridiculous like a five-episode mini-arc where Aoba is training on the moon or undergoes a 1000-g simulation in his mecha. No, nothing like that. It’s just that as much as we don’t like to admit it, most experts in any field work very hard to get where they are. People are talented because they put in the effort to be talented. I mean, c’mon, no one is born with the a priori knowledge of how to, say, play the piano like a virtuoso. Oh sure, someone like Bobby Fischer has a brilliant mind, but do you think that brilliant mind would’ve amounted to anything had he not spent every waking moment as a child immersed in the world of chess?
All I’m saying is that I want to see the journey. Why? So I can relate to the action. In the end, it’s all comes back to storytelling. One of the reasons I’m into really into sports is because you can construct a narrative throughout any given year. Maybe Team A has always gotten the upper hand against Team B during the regular season, but after a good bit of training and strategic preparation, who knows if B’s fortunes will turn themselves around in the playoffs. This is just one very simplistic example, but nevertheless, it’s the sort of narrative I can’t really construct when I’m watching a show like Buddy Complex.
Who really knows why Dio is good at piloting a mecha? He probably graduated at the top of Mecha Harvard or something like that, which is usually the case for the sidekick character. In Aoba’s case, however, he’s just some random, basketball-loving high schooler from 70 years ago. He should have no clue what he’s doing. Maybe he’s an anime fan and have watched his fair share of the mecha classics, but piercing the heavens hardly translates to practical knowledge. To an extent, the guy does have no clue what he’s doing, but here is the crucial difference between how I would’ve told the story and how anime usually does it: I would’ve let Aoba get his ass handed to him. Really. It’s the second episode; it’s okay if the hero eats the dirt early on in the story.
So by “connecting with Dio” because they have “maximum compatibility” through their “Coupling,” this allows our two buddies to pool their mecha piloting knowledge together for the benefit of all. Not only that, both mechas undergo a bit of a transformation, presumably acquiring enhanced capabilities out of nowhere… fueled by the power of a thousand feverish fujoshi imaginations or something, who knows! Essentially, however, Aoba has no knowledge of how to fight in a mecha, so he’s completely dependent upon Dio here. And using said knowledge, Aoba not only ends up holding his own in a fight, but he actually manages to kill some random dude by the name of Mihailov. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not questioning the logic behind Buddy Complex. It can come up with any silly gimmick it wants to hand wave away any potential flaws in its construction. I just think it’s too convenient; it’s a cop-out.
Yes, we could have Aoba borrow extensively from Dio to win his very first fight ever in a mecha, but why? Aren’t we being a little hasty? Bear with me here… isn’t it enough that Dio, now equipped with an enhanced mecha, goes on to save the day by himself. In this example, Aoba would actually have to face impending death only for his buddy to swoop in and pluck his ass from the fire. Then as a part of his character development, we can watch as Aoba slowly learns how to pilot a mecha on his own like a pro, allowing him to turn around and save Dio in later conflicts. In future battles, we would thus wonder if Aoba has learned enough. We’d wonder if he’s truly prepared from the training that we’ve been seeing. Wouldn’t this add more drama to the narrative as we track Aoba’s progress? Wouldn’t this allow for us to relate to Aoba’s journey from, well, pretty much nothing to a partner that Dio can actually depend upon?
Rather, Aoba finds himself in a mecha, magically borrows knowledge from Dio through some magical gimmick, then proceeds to kick ass like any typical shounen hero. Even when I think back to previous shows, I’d be hard-pressed to name very many examples of a main character starting out from nothing — y’know, despite his love and passion for piloting mechas — only to slowly rise up and become a mecha god. Even Batman had to take his licks in the League of Shadows, y’know. Of course, I get that the whole coupling nonsense is the gimmick behind the show. I get that the gimmick is even built into the show’s title. I just think it doesn’t have to be this easy.