On the surface, Martian Successor Nadesico seems like anime that everyone has seen before. Yes, you have the Lone Earth Ship going against the Alien Invaders, with Hot Shot Pilots making war with their Impressive Mecha (capitalization all mine). But the devil is in the details. Martian Successor Nadesico is both an homage and a parody in relation to its predecessors and, since its initial release in 1996, it has become a high watermark for other series to strive towards.
The story starts off in the year 2195 with the invasion of Mars by the bad guys of the series, the Jovians. We see the main character, Akito Tenkawa, as he is caught on Mars during the attack. Leaving him in a climactic face-off with the invaders, we quickly jump forward one year as the Nergal Corporation recruits an odd assortment of characters as they build their battleship, the Nadesico, to defend the Earth from the Jovian incursion.
Nergal operates outside of the normal military, which leads to a main point of tension throughout the series. One of their chief recruits is the captain of the ship, the beautiful and ditzy Yurika Misumaru, who literally runs into Akito with her car as she reports for duty. As she drives away, he realizes he knew her when they were children on Mars. He impulsively follows her and ends up signing on as a cook on the Nadesico. All of which begs the question: How did Akito end up on Earth a year after nearly being killed on Mars?
But there’s no time to dwell on the question as, in the inevitable typical anime comedy mix-up, Akito suddenly finds himself in one of the ship’s mecha, called an Aestival. Due to a cybernetic implant, he is the only one in position to pilot it to save the ship from a sudden Jovian attack. Only after success of the engagement does he get to know the actual pilot, Gai Daigogi, who sees himself in the same mold as the heroes from his favorite anime show, Gekigangar III. Gai’s otaku obsession soon rubs off on the otherwise-unwilling pilot Akito.
Gekigangar itself plays a pivotal role in the series, affecting both the Nadesico crew and, as we find out more about them, the Jovians. Nearly every episode references it, and often we see the characters watching the show itself, animated in a faux-seventies style that will bring smiles to old-time anime fans of shows like Getter Robo and Gatchaman (known in the U.S. as Battle of the Planets). In a surreal twist, the typical mid-series synopsis show flips the situation, as the characters of Gekigangar watch and comment on the Nadesico series.
And that’s what makes Nadesico stand out. It is at all times very self-aware, with characters often breaking the fourth wall to comment on their situation as the plot line advances, adding lots of humor in what would otherwise be a very stereotypical story. It has a huge cast. Besides Akito and Yurika, standouts include sarcastic scientist Inez Fressange and the “Electronic Fairy” Ruri Hoshino, a child prodigy who runs the ship’s computer. It would be a fun game to see how many times Ruri calls the rest of the crew “idiots.”
Besides the Gekigangar scenes, the animation of the rest of the show is incredibly polished, and might be one of the best examples of the slick animation style that many shows attempted in the nineties, done with verve and flash by the animation studio Xebec. The character design of Yurika and Remi in particular are incredibly appealing, and Akito’s shows just the right mixture of wimpiness and determination in his body language. The vocal performances match pace with the animation, the Japanese cast recording refurbished in digital 5.1 sound, and the English dub taken from the excellent earlier A. D. Vision release. If reluctant pilot Akito sounds a wee bit familiar in the English version, it’s probably because he’s voiced by Spike Spencer, who portrayed the even-more reluctant pilot Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
There are also some nice extras in the set, including the movie that follows the series, and a wonderful Gekigangar OVA that includes all the Nadesico scenes as well as an original ending, all done in the slightly-silly seventies-era animation and acting. Overall, the series holds up extremely well, and Right Stuf/Nozomi made a smart decision to release Nadesico for a new generation. There is hardly any objectionable material, with typical space battles and dramatic non-gory off-screen character death. It is a perfect fit for the Young Adult shelf, where young anime fans will love the action and older ones will know it’s the same old story, but done with a wink and a nod to what has come before.
Martian Successor Nadesico: Complete Collection
Right Stuf/Nozomi, 2012
directed by Tatsuo Sato
740 minutes, Number of Discs: 7, DVD
Company Age Rating: 13+
Related to: Martian Successor Nadesico by Asamiya Kia