Heart-breakingly bad anime. Tomino, why did it have to turn out like this?
Tomino fans, anime fans, please heed these words.
After watching the first DVD, I was enthralled with the show; the characters, the world, the premise of the story, the attention to detail and not least, the art design, had drawn me in. The first disc carried the promise of a show that possessed a level of creativity and artistic excellence not seen in years. Starting out, "Gainer" tells of a future Earth in which the world government has forced all people to live inside gigantic, climate-controlled domes in otherwise inhospitable areas of the world, leaving the warm and fertile areas for food production. There are some people, however, who no longer want to live cooped up in the domes and decide to embark on arduous (and illegal) journeys to return to the warm lands of their ancestors. To the government and the railroad companies that draw their wealth from the captive consumers of the domes, the crime of "exodus" is the most serious offense imaginable, and so they maintain squads of heavily-armed soldiers to put an end to these ventures. "Gainer" begins at the outset of a massive exodus in which a well-equipped and well-organized group decides to pull out most of the modular city blocks from Wulgusk Dome in Siberia with powerful drays, and then drag them across the frozen tundra to the warm land of Yapan. The central protagonist is Gainer Sanga, a recently orphaned, teenage video game champion who gets caught up in the whirlpool of events, and who comes to pilot the bio-mechanical overman (the central type of mech in the show) "King Gainer" with which he defends the exodus. With a concept this wonderfully original and a director like Tomino, what possibly could go wrong?
As I said before, "Gainer" starts out great and it maintains its high quality until about mid-way through the third disc, when the pleasure ends and the pain begins; the show begins to introduce elements that seem totally out of place in the story, and that obviously can't be resolved within the remaining episodes -- namely the appearance of a gigantic, sentient, and very poorly designed monster/mech that looks like an unwieldy amalgamation of a walrus and a trilobite, and said monster/mech's connection with a previous incarnation of the world-famous superstar singer Meeya Laujin, who has barely appeared at all up to this point.
Soon after this, "Gainer" begins to ramble, and terribly. Just to clarify things, let me say that I do not regard thoughtful, slow-paced episodes that concentrate on character-development and have little to no robot fighting as "rambling"; on the contrary, I consider such episodes not only enjoyable, but a necessary element in any *quality* mecha anime. The second half of "Gainer," however, contains no such episodes -- only hackish, nonsensical rambling in which all attempts to maintain not only story focus, but the continuity of the world itself cease. For example, for the entirety of the fourth disc and part of the fifth (the entire show is 6 DVDs, R1), "Gainer" focuses on an effeminate and comical villain and his vaudevillian attempts to stop the exodus by employing a series of machines that shoot out mind manipulation beams. There is no attempt to advance the story, no attempt to even begin explaining the show's various mysteries, and almost no attempt to develop the many potentially fascinating characters save one or two forced and brief tries. Where all these things should be is an overlong showcase of mind manipulation machines and their comical effects. This might be excusable in a much longer show, but certainly not in one 26 episodes long.
Believe it or not, "Gainer" gets much, much worse after the mind-controlling robot ring-leader expires: mammoths that were freely killed and eaten earlier in the show are suddenly and inexplicably considered "endangered" and this new status has an impact on the "story"; a railroad tycoon who seldom appeared suddenly has a never-before-mentioned feces-colored and shaped flying fortress; and said tycoon, who is quite portly, manages to effortlessly beat the living snot out of a government special forces agent, who is now (also inexplicably) crazy, just to name a few continuity problems. Pretty soon, light starts shooting everywhere for absolutely NO REASON and with NO EXPLANATION, and a gigantic, evil cat/caterpillar/pig robot called the "Overdevil" suddenly becomes the show's focus, not the exodus, not the characters.
As crushing as it was to see a potentially wonderful show destroyed by incoherent nonsense, and as mad as I am at the director for not trying harder, I can't blame it all on Tomino. He's been fighting Sunrise and Bandai for years to let him include certain elements in his anime (he even told the director of Gundam SEED that Bandai is "no good"). Now, he's fighting young turks in the anime business who not only lack passion or creativity, but lack any respect for old hands like Tomino. In an interview with Tomino and the young episode writer for "Gainer" that is included on the second disc, the latter keeps talking about how he simply wants to make "a fun anime," and when Tomino says he's dismayed about how many standard anime practices have found their way into the show, the writer simply says "when trying new things, doing them 'half-way' is best." Even more light is shown on Tomino's situation in a letter posted on the official Japanese page for Tomino's (though I doubt he's really in control) new OAV, "The Wings of Rean," in which he remarks that the young staff forced him to change many things about the show, including the characters and time period.
In short, this is really bad anime, ESPECIALLY for Tomino. Take my advice and don't start it, because it will build you up and then slam you back down. Hard. And Tomino, I know you've fought for years and now you're tired, but can't you do better than this?
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