Explanation of the Vault series
Originally published on December 31, 2001. I have, of course, seen the rest of the series as well as season 2 by now. But this is a look at what I was hoping for.
Heh, I just managed to snag episodes 1-5 of the new Gainax TV anime series, Mahoromatic. I wanted to see what the crack animation studio, the makers of some of my most beloved anime ( Evangelion first and foremost, as well as Karekano and the recent FLCL), were up to this time. This show is directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga, a veteran and founder of Gainax studios we haven’t heard from since he directed their very first feature, The Wings of Honneamise.
Briefly, this show is about Mahoro, a battle android who has only a short time left on her lifespan. To extend her life, she goes out of battle mode (she has been fighting aliens) and instead applies to be a maid for Suguru, a junior high school boy who is an orphan (his father was killed in the alien wars and his mother also passed away). They go through wacky adventures together, at least so far. You never know about Gainax and how they end their shows, though Hideaki Anno isn’t in charge this time. :)
Speaking of Anno, the iconoclastic director of Eva and once the head creative honch at Gainax has decided to return to the anime industry (YAY!). He directed the opening sequence of Mahoromatic, and it shows. His love of trains, seen in Eva, Kare Kano, and various other shows he’s directed, is again evident in the beginning of the sequence. There is also one very telling shot which is quoted from the outstanding second half of Evangelion, which I take as a big hint about where this show is going. There are also very fluid flight sequences very akin to his early years as a key animator for SDF Macross and the Daicon IV short–so it looks like he’s gone back to his roots. Yay Anno! Let’s get another anime going, shall we?
The show itself: the budget is obviously not as high as that of their last production, the OAV FLCL, but it’s more than acceptable. This is a very cute show! Mahoro is very sweet and kind, very motherly, perfect for a lonely young orphan like Suguru. Suguru is shy and unsure of himself, but he’s no Shinji (not yet anyway) . . . in the very first episode he stands up for himself. The voice actors and actresses do a charming job of conveying their emotions, and while the story is really not all that original, it is executed well. Note: there is a LOT of fan service in this show–suffice to say that after a long hiatus since the second half of Evangelion, the “Gainax Bounce” is back. I thought it was a bit overdone in spots, especially with the disturbing 25 year old female teacher.
This is especially disappointing since there actually does appear to be a serious subtext to this show, even in these early episodes where it’s relatively light and happy. One scene dealing with Suguru’s late father is handled very well, and it is becoming clear that one theme present in the grim Evangelion–the longing for parental care, especially for that of Mother–might be a big theme in this show too. The more I think about it, the more Mahoro seems to be a mother substitute for Suguru. There is also a military conspiracy plot brewing in the background, which I expect will be played up in later episodes. Certainly all is not as it seems, and it doesn’t look like this show will be sweet forever; at the end of every episode, a stark black screen with white kanji informs us: “Time until Mahoro shuts down: xxx days.” How poignant and disturbing after such a light, happy episode. Video Girl Ai was another show that used a similar idea to great emotional effect.
This is the studio that gave us such great catharthic anime like Evangelion and Kare Kano, and I am prepared for some emotional trauma down the line. It may not necessarily be as brutal as it was in the hands of Anno’s Evangelion but if it can match the emotional intensity, then Mahoromatic may end up being yet another Gainax show that starts as fluff and ends up being valuable. Perhaps a show about an android maid with a lot of fan service can join the ranks of a show about kids piloting giant mecha in being about much more than it seems.
I look forward to finishing this series on fansub, and perhaps purchasing it when it is released in the US.
Rating so far: 3.5/5
Michael is on hiatus for the remainder of August. The Vault series resurrects entries from his personal blog about anime, written from 2002-2006. Entries will appear in the series every other day.