Disclaimer: This was an article I wrote for an old blog I did during my time at university a few years ago. I’ve since changed a few things around from the original article since people can get all of Armored Trooper Votoms on Blu-ray in one set thanks to Maiden Japan (i.e. Sentai Filmworks). So this article will talk about a little bit of everything including what’s in the Blu-ray set.
If you were to ever to go to your local science fiction convention these days, weaning past the die-hard fans of past and current science fiction novels who often fight over panel space big enough to fit their hover round scooters that their overweight bodies can’t seem to support, to listen to Harlan Ellison (RIP) ramble on about whatever would piss him off in his old age then maybe there is a curiosity into finding out their definition of “what is science fiction?” I’d imagine you would get a plethora of answers, ranging from Clarke to Doc “E.E.” Smith novels to read before you end up like them later in your lifetime. Despite their old man grumbling opinions of their fandom, I think they would mostly agree that general science fiction should never mix with those “Japanimation cartoons.”
But how could anime mess up a long-lasting and credible science fiction series? What would be the worst that anime could do to a Doc Smith or a Heinlein series? I think their answer would be the nagging of how Japan messed up Lensmen and Starship Troopers with their adaptations in the 1980’s. If you add a nugget of truth to that, they might have a point to their argument since Lensmen was denounced as being canon to the Smith novels because those who control his estate hated them and the Starship Troopers OVA could have been done a little bit better. So where does that leave science fiction for anime fans to watch? Is it just for the old, decrepit hunks of decaying flesh that wander the halls of science fiction conventions with portable iron lung wards to enjoy?
The answer lies back in 1983 with Ryosuke Takahashi Armored Trooper Votoms. To anyone who would be interested in seeing this Votoms series for themselves, any spin-off series that is tied to Votoms as of this article is now available to the American public (aside from another OVA that didn’t make the cut, which I’ll talk about more down below). To simplify Votoms down to its core background story, it can be summed up that Votoms is about one man trying to survive the aftermath of an intergalactic war that’s waged on for the past century. The story centers around a former Gilgamesh Confederation soldier named Chirico Cuvie, as he goes on adventures from one end of the galaxy to another with a companion of people who somehow get mixed up in his conflicts as a strong bond of friendship is established between the two parties. There is also a woman that Chirico meets in the first episode that makes up part of his fateful adventures throughout the galaxy. Votoms is an expansive series that has been well treated by its creator and director over the past 30 years.
The director of Votoms, Ryosuke Takahashi, has been in the anime industry since 1965, with his first works in anime being on the Osamu Tezuka production staff for Wonder 3, Princess Knight and Dororo before he got his first directing role with Yoshiyuki Tomino in Zero Tester. It wasn’t until about 7 years after Zero Tester ended that Takahashi got his first original series on Japanese television with Fang of the Sun Dougram. After Dougram ended, Takahashi would put out Votoms on television on April 1, 1983. Since the airing of Votoms, it is still a highly regarded science fiction mecha series to this day, with several OVA spin-offs being made and the most current one released as of 2011 titled on Blu-ray in the states as Chirico’s Return.
Votoms are made up of a couple of main characters along with numerous other side characters throughout the series. There are also main antagonists that Chirico must either kill off or may die in their quest for vengeance against Chirico for events that he was directly or indirectly involved in during his time in service for the Gilgamesh Confederation. Chirico is a hard to read, battered, and stone-cold soldier throughout the series. He also has an impeccable ability to survive the conflicts that he encounters, always coming out on top despite the odds against him. It should also be noted that Chirico’s past as a skilled soldier goes back to when he was in an elite fighting group called the Red Shoulders, which would explain his god-like fighting style in the series. Chirico’s past is better explained in the future OVA’s that came later after the series ended, which involves his former commander Col. Pailsen and how he has studied and assisted in Chirico’s progress. Depending on which arc Chirico is in, he always has needed allies by his side in the battles he is faced with.
It is said that behind every good man is a good woman to support him, and this is where we see Chirico’s support character come into the series. “Perfect Soldier” Fyana is introduced in the first episode of Votoms as being in a glass cryotube of some kind, and Chirico is both confused and shocked in seeing this bald, naked woman in a glass tube. Between certain events that happen throughout the series, Fyana falls for Chirico and fights alongside him, even to help him get through parts of his dark past in the third arc Deadworld Sunsa. Her skill is on par with Chirico, which makes her a valued asset in Chirico’s life than just as a soldier. She too has a past that Chirico also assists in solving in the series.
Supporting characters to Chirico include junkyard hustler and businessman Gotho, broke smooth talker with a yellow afro named Vanilla, and the red-headed tomcat after Chirico’s heart named Coconna. These three seem to go where the fighting is, which is always where Chirico ends up in the series to also make a living since that is all he knows how to do. These three, despite their complaining at whatever trouble Chirico gets himself in, are always there to bail him out no matter what. This of course ends with a few scenes of them bickering over losing money to help them make a living, but then come up with the next “quick-cash” scheme to follow in the next story arc of the show. In the last arc, Chirico spends time with a fellow soldier from the second arc named Shako in helping him find more about his past on the planet Quent in the last arc God Planet Quent.
Chirico and the gang seem to make several enemies on both sides of the galaxy; by getting involved in military conspiracies, princes of fallen kingdoms, fighting other Perfect-Soldier characters, and of course clashing with galactic religion fanatics trying to take over the galaxy by the use of their space god. When it comes to the military leaders in trying to stop Chirico, it’s either to stop him for the sake of keeping peace with the galaxy or to get him out of the picture for a faction’s ultimate goal in a particular situation.
For a review about a mecha science fiction show, I should start mentioning the mecha. The acronym for VOTOMS is Vertical One-man Tank for Offensive ManuverS. The Votoms units in the series serve as they would any piece of military equipment, you use it till it breaks or you find something better. Most mecha shows before Votoms always praised the robot as the main character in the show just as much as the protagonist pilot. In Votoms, the mecha name is in the title, but Chirico and the gang use several different models in the series to fight amongst one another. It’s like having a war television series and calling it Combat Infantry Colt M-16. By that sense, the series would be about a soldier that would use different upgraded M-16 assault weapons throughout the series while taking on some Taliban or ISIS factions, all the while trying to survive with his unit. The M-16 in that analogy serves on the same level as the larger mechanized war machines in Votoms, they are there to be used by the human operator to complete or survive their mission, and are good until they are destroyed or till the operator finds something better to use.
So to give a brief overview of the different spin-off OVAs under the series name, I’ll mention all that can be seen in the recent Blu-ray release. To sum it up, they are usually there to add-on to the original plot of the Votoms television series. The four OVAs from the 1980s after the TV series are The Last Red Shoulder, The Big Battle, Roots of Ambition, and Armored Hunter Mellowlink (more on that down below). The first two involve more on Chirico’s backstory as his time being involved in the Red Shoulder unit, and one involves fighting a giant Sandcrawler from Star Wars in The Big Battle. In the 90’s we have Shining Heresy, a direct sequel to the TV series set 30 years after, which involves Chirico getting involved with the galactic religious faction in the series and his involvement with another super-soldier. In the 2000s Pailsen Files was added to the series as a prequel to the TV series as Col. Pailsen faces trial regarding his command of the Red Shoulder unit and his research into Chirico, this time placing Chirico in a unit with others who have a high survival rate like Chirico. In 2010 and 2011 the latest OVA’s were added to the series such as Phantom Arc, Case: Irvine, Votoms Finder, and Chirico Return. Two of these OVA’s involve new characters in the same universe. Phantom Arc takes place 30 years from the TV series where Coconna, Vanilla, and Gotho are involved in finding Chirico across the galaxy. Case: Irvine takes place in the universe with another AT pilot involved in the underground AT Battle scene. Votoms Finder is another OVA that involves different characters that work in a junkyard to help out a girl of high stature and to stop her kidnapper. Chirico Return involves the original cast to be united as a sequel to both Phantom Arc and Shining Heresy, which Chirico must fight off an AT unit attacking the home of Vanilla and Coconna.
The one different spinoff OVA that takes place in the same universe as Votoms is Armored Hunter Mellowlink. Mellowlink takes a unique approach to the Votoms universe, as it is man vs. machine, and man only has his portable anti-Votoms rifle to take out former commanders that left him stranded to die on a battlefield during the war. It’s a tale of revenge on the levels of Rambo II, which is probably why I enjoy Mellowlink so much, which has Mellowlink going against the odds and how he can achieve his objective while surviving the onslaught of the power of the Votoms unit before him. Mellowlink sadly was not included in the recent Blu-ray release of the Votoms collection, and that might be due to licensing issues (which is nearly always the case regarding soundtracks, dubs, and add-on series between anime companies and licensers). It can be found online and is worth the watch.
If this series seems to be up your alley in terms of finding something new to watch in the science fiction realm, then give Votoms a watch. I finished the 52 episode series during my Christmas break from university back in 2016, and I was rather pleased about how the show concluded, even if I had no idea what-the-hell kind of direction it was taking me towards the end. Over the past couple of years since Maiden Japan released the series on Blu-ray, I’ve been able to finally see every bit of Votoms that I can get my hands on. And if you are said science fiction old husk of a geezer I described at the beginning of this review, then give those “Japanimation cartoons” a chance with Armored Trooper Votoms. To note, I have never been to a science fiction convention, but it seems that the assumption I hear at those gatherings as I described in the beginning. I wouldn’t feel offended and bitter at me if I happen to be talking about you, because yours truly will be in the same boat you are in a few decades if anime conventions keep existing like they do today, which means I’ll still be going to them more than likely.