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.