Have you been in a desk job at least once in your life? Lived through the rigors of an 8-to-5 job? Been underpaid and overtime? Think your life sucks because you have nowhere to go even with that college degree you’ve slaved for a lot of years? Then watch Dai-Guard (subtitle: Terrestrial Defense Corp.). It can change your life. Or not.
I’ve watched a lot of mecha shows for more than half of my life, but Dai-Guard takes the cake for the most ridiculous–yet frighteningly possible–premise ever. In the show, the Japanese military develops a giant robot to combat the Heterodyne–that is, an array of Evangelion Angel rejects minus the sentience. Sadly, just when Dai-Guard is completed, the Heterodyne disappear, and the army is left with a huge chunk of metal and bolts to take care of. It just won’t do, so they sell it off to a civilian corporation that does insurance. Humiliatingly, Dai-Guard is relegated to the role of a company mascot.
Of course, just as you predicted, it’s just when the Heterodyne do come back. And it’s up to a trio of office workers to man Dai-Guard itself and deliver the pain on the monstrosities. Or not.
In fact, there is nothing special with Dai-Guard. It’s completely powered by conventional technology, needs half an hour to combine all the parts together (and with using scaffolding to boot), doesn’t even have air-conditioned cockpits, and has no built-in weapons to speak of. So Dai-Guard is a super robot by aesthetics, but doesn’t shoot Stoner Sunshines or Giga Drill Breakers. It’s real by design, but it has none of the functionality of a variable fighter or the versatility of a mobile suit. Hell, it can’t even leap over a building with a single bound! So why the hell should we even watch this?
It’s the characters. With a mech so lovably ordinary, it couldn’t be the main star even of its own show. Dai-Guard’s strength lies in the awesomeness of its pilots. Shunsuke Akagi is a mecha otaku who’s memorized everything that’s related to Dai-Guard, being one of the dudes assigned to maintain it. He fancies himself as a HERO OF JUSTICE and prefers trademark super robot attacks like ROCKET PUNCH (I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how he does it when Dai-Guard doesn’t even have detaching arms). Ibuki Momoi is an irritable woman with a vendetta towards the Heterodyne that killed her father 12 years ago. Being OC and all, she’s the navigator and decodes Heterodyne data on the fly. Keiichiro Aoyama is the engineer and controls the engine output of Dai-Guard, and is both a playboy and a mama’s boy. And of course, as any good show with group dynamics does, Dai-Guard’s pilots rarely get along, but they complement each other so damn well that not even a trained crew of military pilots could best them at what they do. And there’s also the by-the-book tactical advisor Mr. Shirota who’s always at odds with Akagi’s grandstanding antics, but the really good part of the show is portraying a developing sense of trust between these two completely opposite personalities, in a believable manner.
Let me dig deeper on this. Akagi, Ibuki and Aoyama are ordinary office workers like you and me. Other than their quirks, they can pass off as your officemates! And paradoxically speaking, they’re the most motivated pilots ever. Others have Spiral Power, Getter Rays, COURAGE, Hard Work & Guts, Love, Hatred, etc, but Dai-Guard’s pilots are motivated by the power of the paycheck. If they don’t fight, they don’t get paid, they don’t get to eat, and they don’t get to pay the hospital bills for mommy. In a very normal world by anime standards, our not-so-grand heroes struggle in capitalist slavery, and endure the dangerous job of piloting a giant robot, because it’s a job. Not because Akagi wants to play hero, Ibuki wants revenge, or Aoyama wants to stop running from responsibility. Those are just personal reasons. At its very core, piloting Dai-Guard is a job, and nobody does it better than these three people. Isn’t that a good enough reason to live your life? Find something you can do well and stick to it? Not everybody can kick reason to the curb, or transform their shades into star-shaped ones. Akagi & Co. are the embodiment of the everyman, us, and we can connect and sympathize with them in a lot of ways–being normal people with normal jobs, they’re also prone to office gossip, overtime with no compensation, boring paperwork, etc. But they are just as inspiring as their more fantastical counterparts.
The supporting cast is just as lovable. Mr. Shirota is a don’t-screw-with-me type of guy who actually gets character development, and Akagi’s officemates are just varied like in an actual office department: there’s a gossip girl, a snarky joker, a big sister figure, a meganekko with a crush on her officemate, three fat guys who’re always with each other (random fact: one of them is actually Kamina!), and an incredibly incompetent but lifesaving supervisor.
The action is also exciting, for a mech of Dai-Guard’s capability. Most of the show is monster-of-the-week, sometimes using plot points to extend the lifespan of the current Heterodyne enemy to a few more episodes, but that’s basically it. But Dai-Guard doesn’t fall into the trap of “use attack 1, use attack 2, then use special attack” rut that other super robot shows fall into. It arms itself with different weapons, from mines to drill arms (which is entertainingly useless as real-world physics tells us that a drill of that scale is a massive gyroscope and therefore is horribly unstable!) to a two-arm pile bunker (which looks awesome for a no-nonsense weapon).
This is a unique super robot show that you should just watch. Not just because it’s groundbreaking for its time, but because it’s also hellishly fun. Being a salaryman never felt so good.