DRAWN & QUARTERED
Reluctant heroes take on task of saving the world
It's tough to have to save the world. But when you're faced with some supernatural being telling you that you're the world's last hope as destruction is raining down upon Earth, what are you going to do, say no?
Often, that is the first thing that comes to mind, especially if possession and giving up your identity come into play.
Forced or destined heroism is a common enough theme, and the paths the heroes take are similar in two older mecha-centered anime from U.S. Manga Corps, "Guardian of Darkness" and "Detonator Orgun."
In the three-episode "Guardian of Darkness," high school student Koichi and his family live in a temple near the Dragon Shrine. Legends tell how long ago, great dragon spirits devoured the people. The warrior Susa, also known as Susanoo, came to the land to fight the dragons.
Koichi's childhood friend, the timid Terumi, has always been teased by other girls and finally heads to the forbidden dragon cave to make a wish for beauty. She enters the cave and passes out -- and the next day, her face is so beautiful that it makes her classmates, including Koichi, stop and stare.
Terumi doesn't realize that the dragon spirit is now using her as its host and is waiting to develop its full power before it again explodes onto the land.
Soon afterward, Koichi hears a voice saying it is the spirit of Susa, returned to defeat the dragon, and possesses the boy. But Koichi is unaware of it until a priestess, Sayoko, explains Susa and the dragon. He finds Terumi, and Susa suddenly manifests to deal the killing blow -- only to be halted inches from Terumi's face by Koichi's powerful will. The dragon escapes.
Now the boy must grapple with the prospect of being forced to kill Terumi to destroy the dragon.
Koichi is the typical emo hero who feels he is simply a tool for others and refuses to do anything just "because it's destiny." That helplessness against fate spreads out into anger against everyone around him.
His reasons are so feeble after everything that's happened that we get disgusted with his unwillingness even as we can relate to the injustice. But his inner struggle is obviously much stronger than it appears, and it's never explained what exactly he's afraid of.
This angry shell that Koichi becomes would have made "Guardian of Darkness" an immediate throwaway if not for the focus on the other characters. We learn of Sayoko's past, and we see Terumi push on despite her guilt over the destruction and deaths.
Koichi is the reluctant hero to the bitter end, but that end is somehow satisfying, with the feeling that he's finally made peace with himself.
Still, there's something lacking in "Guardian." First there's the muddled telling of the dragon legends. Then there's the anachronism of an ancient warrior appearing as a robotic armored space fighter (I couldn't stop shaking my head over that). And it's not easy to summon any sympathy for Koichi. Just leave "Guardian" alone and avoid the devouring dragons altogether.
THE PROTAGONIST is only a little more willing in "Detonator Orgun." In the 23rd century, college student Tomoru Shindo is just one season away from graduation. While his friend is excited about passing exams and earning the ticket that will virtually ensure a high-paying job, Tomoru couldn't care less. Rather, he wonders what else there is in life aside from embarking on a career.
He's also been bothered lately by dreams of him and an unknown woman being pursued by guards. These dreams always end with the pair being forced to leap to their deaths off the roof of a building.
Meanwhile, the brass of the Earth Defense Forces are following up on a project in which scientist Michi Kanzaki and supercomputer I-ZACK have worked to decipher pulses of data that have been constantly transmitted over the past year from an unknown source -- data that they discover is instructions to build a strange suit of armor. The armor is nearly complete, but Kanzaki has qualms about finishing it.
Soon Tomoru's usual dream is interrupted by a voice calling his name, telling him he must fight, and a white suit of armor piloted by an unknown person saves him in his dream. The voice is from the armored person -- a creature named Orgun, who is part of a merciless race called the Evoluder that has set its destructive sights on Earth.
Orgun is now a deserter, having traveled for millions of years (that's what the anime says) to reach Earth, drawn by a powerful emotion he can't pinpoint. Orgun is also the source of the data pulses. When an Evoluder makes it to Earth in search of the traitor, Orgun transfers his consciousness to the armor that Kanzaki is building. It suddenly awakens and seeks out Tomoru as its pilot, responding only to him.
Now Tomoru, in control of the suit's advanced weapons and having access to the memories that Orgun held, is the last hope against the approaching Evoluder.
"Orgun" is an intriguing anime because of the focus on the Evoluder. Throughout, it's clear that Orgun is on some kind of quest and that what he seeks, although he himself doesn't know what it is, is on Earth. The intense battle scenes give that quest a sense of urgency.
While Tomoru's reasons for not fighting -- and the reasons why he ultimately does -- are nearly the same as Koichi's in "Guardian of Darkness," here the story is more on the mystery of the Evoluder and is not simply about an unwilling human hero. The past and the future meld into the other, and both races come to face them in their present day.
There are the usual discussions about finding a purpose to fight, but "Orgun" becomes a treatise on what it means to be human and what people do for each other. And it is Orgun who makes the ultimate sacrifice for what he so strongly believes.
While "Detonator Orgun" won't really set any wheels spinning, it will serve as a reminder of the power of compassion.