Majestic Prince, a character-driven mecha anime

One of my favorite shows of this season, as well as my favorite among the mecha shows currently airing, is Galactic Strike Force Majestic Prince. It has good action, well-designed mecha, and a fun mix of quirky characters. It takes me back to a time when mecha wasn’t obsessed with reliving its past glories and franchises, because this show has its own voice and is actively trying to do something new.

Perhaps the real strength of the show rests on its main characters, a team of five young pilots collectively dubbed the Failure Five. While they are individually competent, their  personalities clash in a way that renders teamwork impossible, a fact that everyone else feels keen on reminding them. What’s interesting is that they are issued advanced and powerful mechs in spite of this, because their abnormally-high survival instincts ironically make them the best-suited candidates for the role.

This is a shift from the traditional plot progression of real robot anime. Usually, the main character learns his mecha in a short amount of time, allowing him to dominate the enemy quickly until he is faced with increasing challenges, which necessitates an upgrade in the form of a new ability, a new weapon, or a new mecha entirely. In Majestic Prince, it’s quickly established that the main characters’ mechs are already strong enough, and it’s the pilots’ deficiencies that prevents them from winning handily. Therefore, their sorties are desperate battles with overwhelming odds stacked against them, and they only survive by the skin of their teeth.

The problem with the traditional approach is that it places the role of the battlefield trump card on the mechanical element–it is the new weapon or mecha that wins the war, which makes the conflict a mere arms race between opposing factions, which can easily fall into the trap of reaching incredulous levels of power that render the initial setup all but unrecognizable. For instance, in Code Geass, the mechs start off as exclusively land-based with simple ballistic weapons, but by the end they boast advanced flight capabilities and beams that can decimate entire squads. At worst, it becomes a brazen ploy to sell toys, with pointless variants or recolors introduced to fatten up a mecha product catalog. It has now become taken for granted by mecha fans that a stronger mech or upgrade would appear in the middle of the story to escalate the conflict to its conclusion.

In contrast, Majestic Prince tries to engage the viewer through its characters–they are the rightful stars of the show. It succeeds by portraying its characters as people, instead of a mere set of traits. The Failure Five may all have their quirks, but they are also hurt from their failures and try to find meaning in their lives. The audience is made to care for them, because the payoff of a successful battle rests on their shoulders. We want them to master themselves and their mechs, so that they could fight more gloriously and win. Thus every episode is an exercise in character development, which is treated sincerely and honestly.

Of course, there’s no telling if the show would give its mechs a mid-season upgrade, but the anime shows us that every victory should be hard-fought, won not by mecha but by human pilots instead, and that keeps me watching.

PS: My favorite character is Kei. Despite her no-nonsense attitude, she doesn’t feel like she’s above her teammates when they goof off. I also like the idea of a support mech being the eyes and ears of the team.

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18 Responses to Majestic Prince, a character-driven mecha anime

  1. lostty says:

    You have convinced me to give Majestic Prince a try!

    • schneider says:

      I hope you enjoy it! This show does a bunch of things surprisingly well that doesn’t sound much on paper, I actually like the Hisashi Hirai character designs and there are neat science-y stuff like zero-gravity spherical pools.

  2. omo says:

    Nice point on the progression/plot device based on the people rather than the machines. I guess one thing that was not clearly defined was the relative tech levels between the two warring factions, so it’s kind of confusing as to why someone wins or not. Especially since the protagonists were piloting first-time-revealed new weapons that are supposedly awesome or something.

    Also, the two girls and the nerd pilot support vehicles! Oh well.

    • schneider says:

      The aliens are pretty much a cipher right now, I mean, there are a whole lot of shows this season that have made-up languages (Gargantia and Hataraku Maou-sama). I’ve heard that Crunchyroll has taken to translating the alien dialogue by itself while Japanese TV broadcast doesn’t have subtitles… All will be revealed in due time, I guess!

  3. Celeste says:

    Likewise, you’ve convinced me to give Majestic Prince a try.

    Interesting note: as most character-driven anime live and die by their scripts, the scripwriter for Majestic Prince, Reiko Yoshida, was also in charge of series composition for K-ON! and Tamako Market – two other highly character-focused series (as most KyoAni shows tend to be since they’re all more or less devoid of overarching plot) which were incredibly endearing.

  4. squaresphere says:

    I was fully expecting slice of life with GOD MECHA given to teenagers with no experience, but was happily surprised about how much more grounded the show actually is. We get some decent character development and the suits are not as OP as I feared.

    Coupled with decent pacing I currently the show as a solid #2 behind Gargantia and well ahead of the twitter vampire Valvrave.

    • schneider says:

      here’s my ranking:

      Majestic Prince > Valvrave > Gargantia

      Majestic Prince is top because of the reasons I put here, and Valvrave is second because it’s immensely entertaining despite being a derivative, idiotic mess (I make no apologies for this, like Guilty Crown lolololol). Gargantia is at the bottom but still above a lot of non-mecha shows this season, but it’s more of a proper sci-fi story that hasn’t quite gotten its groove yet. Also, that unnecessary swimsuit episode.

  5. r042 says:

    Good article! It really gets, I think, what’s so endearing. Go beyond the pretty robots and the dopey faces and MJP is a show that’s far nicer in how it presents its characters than Nadesico. But then again its intent is different – it’s not trying to use the mecha genre to tell the viewer they’re a horrible person for wanting a robot anime. Instead it’s just using the mecha and SF stuff as a backdrop to fairly universal jokes (as the porn video joke in the latest episode showed), while telling an equally universal mecha-show story.

  6. While the squad-based combat necessitates that the scrappy, inexperienced teens learn how to efficiently use their machines together tactically, I enjoy the fact that there is just as much emphasis on them learning to function together as a group of people. Both in and out of battle, the characters are learning to relate to each other, and this counts as much or more toward the successful outcome of their battles as does what they learn about mecha combat.

  7. kudosforce says:

    One thing that I find impressive about this series is the fact that it used the original manga’s plot as a foundation, but otherwise does its own thing. That it manages to be firmly-constructed in spite of this really shows the strength of the series composition. Having character designs that are universally considered superior doesn’t hurt, as well.

    Needless to say, I’ll certainly give this one a fair chance later on.

  8. xerohourgt says:

    What!?! This is one of the worst anime I have ever seen. The plot is sub par is not just bad. The art is not very good. The thought of hey lets take the worst pilots we have and put them in the newest best machines we have and send them on their way. WTF is that. It wasn’t even like there was some emergency and they HAD to pick the worst group. They just went. hmm should we send our best for this important mission. Nahhhh…. Lets send the worst because it sounds like fun. The only thing that is good in this show is the CG and Battles. But that alone does not make a show good. You just proved to me your reviews aren’t worth the time to read.

    • schneider says:

      I’m sorry if you didn’t like this post. However, this isn’t a review, because I usually put that in the title, and I don’t review a show that isn’t finished.

      I agree that CG and battles alone don’t make a show good. And while plot isn’t the best thing going for Majestic Prince, it has some heart in it that many mecha anime don’t have. And you will understand if you’ve watched as much mecha as I have. Believe me when I say there many, many worse anime out there than Majestic Prince.

    • If this is one of the worst anime you’ve ever seen, then you are a lucky boy.

  9. Ray Trace says:

    Agreed – it isn’t ‘bad’ imo but it never really got that exciting for me – of last year I much preferred Gargantia overall.

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