Nostalgia is a powerful thing; although some like to write it off as the reason people continue to adore media that is otherwise highly flawed, it’s recently become a big money-making avenue for many creators from video games to anime. What was once old and no longer relevant, is now being reborn for the grown-up fanbase and a new potential younger audience with great returns. Crash Bandicoot, for example, had its original trilogy from the late 90s on PS1 remastered and re-released for the PS4 and sold exceptionally well, to the surprise of the publishers. This has also happened in the anime world with the likes of Evangelion continuing to have massive success with its Rebuild films. Dragonball shows no signs of dying down in popularity thanks to the remastered series Dragonball Z Kai, and, of course the likes of Cowboy Bebop and Revolutionary Girl Utena still receive Blu-ray and collector’s editions of the original series long after they finished their original runs, and are regarded as some of the greatest in the genre. Martian Successor Nadesico was originally released in the late 90s, however when discussing the greatest anime of all time or talks of rebooting older anime, this series very rarely (if at all) comes up. Why is that? Is it an underrated gem that demands another look, or is it one that can only be appreciated through ‘nostalgic goggles’? Thanks to Anime Limited’s lovely Blu-ray collector’s edition, we can now find out.
It’s the year 2196 and war has begun between planet Earth and mysterious alien invaders known as ‘Jovian Lizards’. With the moon and Mars completely taken over by the enemy, it’s up to the company known as Nergal to unleash its privately funded spaceship ND-001 Nadesico, with a crew consisting of talented but ‘oddball’ people. This includes a pilot/cook named Akito Tenkawa, a boy with PTSD from having been the sole survivor of the Jovians’ attack on Mars. He just so happens to be a childhood friend of the Nadesico’s captain, Yurika Misumaru, a ditzy girl who’s totally in love with him. From former voice actresses to perverted technicians to ex-military, the crew set off to save Mars, stop the Jovians, and somehow all make it out alive in the end.
Martian Successor Nadesico is a sci-fi comedy; however being set in a time of war, when death and political conflicts are likely to happen, there’s also a lot of heavy themes across the series, and when Nadesico manages to find the right balance between the dark plots and humour, it really sparkles. For example, in Episode 5, the ship is in mourning over a recent battle and there’s back-to-back funerals across several days; however to save on funding the hiring of priests from multiple religions, they rope Captain Yurika to perform ALL of them and see to everyone’s final wishes. It’s done without diminishing the finality of death and has quirky comedy timing that not many series could pull off. The series, however, is not just a comedy, it’s also a stealthy subversion of the sci-fi/mecha genre as a whole, using the series-within-a-series Gekiganger 3 as a tool. At first, the self-made-anime looks like the butt of otaku jokes with the likes of Akito being totally obsessed with it, but in key episodes it’s a cruel mirror reflection of what’s happening on board the Nadesico. The most famous example is in Episode 3, where in Gekiganger 3 a character dies and it’s portrayed as heroic, monumental, a grand sacrifice that’s drawn out for emotional effect to influence the main characters – in Nadesico it’s anything but that – it’s unceremoniously senseless, cruel and comes right after a comical moment, making it a very stark contrast. This divergence from one mood to another can be a very effective weapon to shock an audience, but it’s not a weapon to be used lightly. However, since Nadesico is a series that’s so full of energy that’s just so happy to be on your screen and keep you watching it, they pull that whiplash of moods far too many times with swiftly diminishing returns. As a result, the balance of comedy and seriousness goes off the rails more often than not as it constantly fights itself within the show; one episode, it’s not wanting to take itself too seriously, then the next, it’s struggling to make you feel that what’s on screen is really super important. The same goes for the plot itself; it does try hard to have a cohesive story with much blink-and-you’ll-miss-it foreshadowing across the series even as far back as the pilot. The first arc when the ship heads to Mars and the final arc of the series have the clearest progression and end goal, but everything else is super messy. The typical ‘filler’ episodes such as the season recap and beach ones aren’t to blame, it’s the actual episodes that are supposed to be progressing the story with the Nadesico crew and ship constantly chopping and changing sides (first they’re with Nergal then they’re not, they’re on the moon, then the Earth, etc.) alongside the tonal whiplashing. It all adds up to aimless plot direction with an ending that eventually goes against its subverted beginnings and fails to give it a proper conclusion, despite having 26 episodes in which to do so.
Along for the ride is the 20+ crew members of the Nadesico, and to give credit where it’s due, despite not having not watched the series since my first viewing when I was 13 years old and it was broadcast on Sci-fi Channel’s Saiko Exciting, I could still recall the majority of the characters. Admittedly not always by name, but visually at least and the part they play in the plot/comedy of the show. Some of that is due to talented and well-known voice actors such as Spike Spencer as main male Akito and Tiffany Grant as feisty co-pilot Ryoko, but a large part is also due to the huge likeability of the crew; they all bring their own spark into the show, whether it be Izumi for her quiet but stealthy puns or Goat Hoary being a man of very few words or the exposition blonde scientist Inez. The show does try to make them all feel like a huge family, no small feat considering that the majority do not actually get any character development. Akito, Yurika, Ruri and to some extent Megumi get arcs, but the rest are mostly relegated to a few scenes in a sprinkle of episodes to give their character a moment to shine before fading into the background again, or in regards to higher-ranking personal such as Inez, Nagare and Erina, who appear and re-appear when the plot needs exposition to keep going.
Even for the main four who do get character development, a lot of it is inconsistent and largely dependent on the writer of each particular episode, especially when it comes to Akito. As well as being a sci-fi comedy, the show also has a harem sub-plot going on with Akito being the unwilling magnet for anyone with two X chromosomes. It’s the spark of internal conflict for Akito, Yurika and Megumi for a large portion of the show, however it isn’t very satisfying, mostly due to Akito’s changeable treatment of the ladies going from hot to cold, from episode to episode. Granted; considering how emotionally and mentally broken he is, it’s understandable he’s unsure of his own feelings but it really makes you question why any of the ladies on the ship consider him desirable. I will give props for this however; we actually get not one but TWO kisses (including one very early on in the show), ‘I love you’s in the final episode AND the show is not afraid to talk about sex, with two female characters being very forward in their desires without being slut-shamed. Considering this was originally released in the 90s, and much modern romantic anime these days doesn’t go as far as ‘hand holding’, it’s a refreshing development, however brief and small it is.
Then there’s the motion picture, Prince of Darkness, a.k.a the franchise killer. Released back in 1998, it was meant to serve as a reunion for the original cast as well as a conclusion to the series. Instead it kills any good-will the anime had by stripping its comical themes and turning the movie into a dark, serious science fiction that leaps ahead to two years after the series, not offering any clear explanation as to how any of the character got to where they are now or a satisfying ending to its own story. There’s not even any emotional conclusion as it decides to strip Akito of all his likeability and personality, Yurika’s now a damsel in distress with very few lines, and Ruri’s void of all her dead-pan snark – the key reason she was so popular in the first place. It’s a movie that clearly had disrespect for the series and ends the whole franchise and this Blu-ray collector’s edition on a really bum note.
The only thing the movie has going for it is the animation, but that’s not exclusive to it because, to be frank, the animation may look a tad dated but whatever budget they had for the main show was spent very wisely. There are several scenes where faces look squished and multiple Nergal logo’s on uniforms look uneven within the same shot, however it’s the sci-fi battles that matter and really shine with fantastic combat from the mechas to the spaceships that blast beams across space. They never look cheap or hold back on the exciting action when it counts, combined with the great backgrounds and character designs, such as the insectile look of the Jovian Lizard robots, are unique and memorable. Overall, across the movie and series, the animation still holds up by today’s standards, especially with the upscale Blu-ray conversion.
The collector’s edition comes with a set of art cards, a collection of cute stickers, 4 Blu-ray discs containing all 26 episodes of the series on the first 3, and the movie on the fourth disc. The set also comes with an additional DVD with a bunch of extras including tv/promo spots, and interviews with the original cast that play mini-interludes into the episodes. There’s also 2 specials\; ‘Welcome to Belle Equipe’ is a documentary-type special that summarises the story, provides a mini-music video of the opening theme, and has the voice actress of Yurika interviewing the majority of the voice cast including the side characters and Gekiganger voices. ‘Nadesico Sorekara’ serves as a plug for the movie, mostly consisting of a live Q&A with the cast and production staff talking about the movie, which at the time was still in production. And last, but not least, the DVD contains the Gekiganger 3 OVA, the first time it’s been made commercially available in the UK. The first half of the OVA contains scenes that were shown in the anime series itself with no link between them or coherent plot, just scenes randomly dumped together. The second half serves as a CliffsNotes version of the Gekiganger movie that Akito and friends are experiencing in-universe; this half has more of a flow to it but still feels like scenes the animators decided to randomly throw in there just to fill up the run-time. It’s a shame because a full single episode of Gekiganger 3, allowing the creators to go full pelt with the cheese and passion could’ve been a fun experience to show why the Nadesico crew love it so much.
It’s easy to see why we were avid fans of Martian Successor Nadesico when it was first debuted due to the energy and passion of the show combined with likeable characters, which in some ways anticipates the likes of Gurren Lagann. However, unlike series released the same decade, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop, Nadesico has not aged well nor still stands as a true classic in comparison. Its whiplash of tone, poor storytelling and lack of conclusion provided at the end of its very long running time has not done the show any favours and the very glaring flaws prevent it from being as fondly remembered over the passing years. If you’re an already made fan or at least have nostalgic feelings for this series, this is a delightfully put-together box set that can provide a fun ride, but for everyone else it’s a risky investment of money and time that is not guaranteed to be worthwhile in the end.