Over the course of this season, there were times when I felt that, aside from intrepid fansubbers and dedicated subscribers to The Anime Network, I was the only foreigner watching Busou Shinki. Few prominent anime blogs covered it beyond the first episode, and week after week passed by without comment, except on certain Shinki-centric fan sites and forums, some colleagues' personal blogs (Hi Jeff!) and of course, from yours truly.
And I wondered exactly why that was the case. At the base level concept Busou Shinki isn't that much different from anything else in the sci-fi/non-rom-com reaches of a typical season. Not as slick as a Moretsu Pirates or as absurd as a Girls und Panzer, but more novel than an Infinite Stratos or a Strike Witches or a Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne, and in roughly the same wheelhouse as all of the above. And yet Busou Shinki was overlooked, as if the show itself was, like its Shinki androids, a mere six inches tall.
What went wrong?
In light of its uneventful passing, it seems to me that Busou Shinki was the sort of show to prove that there is, still such a thing as being too niche a product to succeed (or at least gain attention). Even in an age where the internet has enabled nearly every subculture, no matter how niche, to flourish as a community, there really is a way to be too small and obscure to meet with success.
First off, Busou Shinki as a brand has virtually no presence outside of Japan, without the power of Gundam or Transformers. It has no manga or preexisting anime to sell it. It has no light novel to attract fame and fan translators. Battle Masters, the one remaining game, is only really successful among people already into Busou Shinki, so it's preaching to the choir.
There are no Shinkis of famous anime characters in the manner of Revoltechs, Figmas and Nendoroids, the sort of thing most folks pay attention to. Shinkis are all original, and the barrier to entry for enjoying them already requires that would-be fans be receptive not just to robots and buying imported toys, but also to the concept of swimsuit-wearing dolls wearing mecha bits. It's a narrow audience, to say the least.
Suffice it to say, Busou Shinki lacks the fundamentals for an effective base of support, so it's not unusual that interest would be low initially. Then again, these are just minor branding issues. Anime fans will watch pretty much anything once (Hi, Infinite Stratos!), and as I mentioned earlier, Busou Shinki itself had all the qualities needed to attract a certain type of fan (read: me) even without brand recognition.
Unfortunately, 8-Bit had to go and actually do what they did with the show, which in restrospect is both admirably brave and pathetically foolhardy. Whether intentional or not, they elevated Busou Shinki into the pantheon of my favorite anime of 2012, but what they did to do so also doomed it to obscurity.
To paraphrase a certain Hollywood blockbuster, 8-Bit, for whatever reason, felt that it needed to go deeper, a niche within a niche within niche.
In a word, they went full Toy Story on Busou Shinki, making not a battle anime about six-inch-tall lady robots and the masters that Pokemon them, but an everyday-life anime starring plastic dolls and the master they adore.
I love the angle. I absolutely adore what 8-Bit did, just on principle. Taken as a whole, the adventures of Ann, Lene, Ines and Hina very much answer the question of what we'd get if they ever made an anime out of Toy Story. The kinds of questions it raised about its world, simply through implication and matter-of-fact treatment, are the nerd catnip that powers endless forum discussions.
Add to that the fact that I was reading Robot Ethics at the time, and I was practically having dreams about living in a Shinki-filled world.
Sadly, even an eagerly receptive fanboy like myself must acknowledge Busou Shinki's sins.
Just as the Busou Shinki brand lacks the fundamentals necessary to give it strong recognition, the Busou Shinki anime series ended up lacking in the fundamentals necessary for it to make a strong impression on people that would otherwise be receptive to its premise, those that, had they stuck with it, might have discovered its other virtues.
For one, our own protagonists, Shinkis designed to fight and compete in battle, were a group that was absolutely uninterested in doing the very thing most Shinki fans want to see their Shinkis do in the first place! The proportion of the show's runtime given over to inane daily life antics makes that kickass CG action sequence in the first scene of episode 1 seem almost deceptive.
Sure, there were fights, and by the very end there was a last-gasp burst of plot, but for Chrissakes, even I got exasperated with the imbalance.
It's easy to tell that 8-Bit made the show they wanted to make, and to hell with folks' expectations, but in this case it's like ordering a burger and getting a hotdog. Both are good in their own way, but the hotdog isn't what you wanted, and you can't be blamed for wanting to send it back.
Busou Shinki tried something different, and I'll love it for that, but in the end, I can't help but be unsurprised that it didn't do so well.