Tiny ladies, doll joints, and mecha bits are a man's romance
Perhaps the most distinctive thing about this Busou Shinki anime isn't its mecha musume designs. Those come courtesy of the figures, so the show doesn't get the credit. Nor is its top-flight CG fighting. Those come from 8-Bit, who made Infinite Stratos (another mecha musume anime) and helped out with Macross Frontier (a mecha anime with musume in it).
It isn't its moe moe character traits, some of which are straight out of Hand Maid May. Hell, it isn't even in its small-creatures-arena-battle premise. That comes from the likes of Danball Senki, Custom Robo, Beyblade, and Pokemon.
Well, everything I just listed does help make Busou Shinki fairly distinctive, but the real interesting point is actually one that doesn't have anything directly to do with the show itself.
What's most distinctive about Busou Shinki might only be apparent to folks who watched Busou Shinki: Moon Angel, a series of shorts animated by Kinema Citrus (who are making Code:Breaker this season) and released on the PlayStation Network video store to promote Busou Shinki Battle Masters, the PSP-based hybrid raising-sim/ game.
Back when I watched it, I remarked that the show felt a little bit "wrong", mainly because of the setup. In Moon Angel, a young ten-year-old named Tsubasa comes across his very own Shinki and thanks to it, can participate in the hottest new sport among all the kids: using Shinkis in arena battles for fame and glory.
That was weird and felt wrong to me because - and I'm dealing in generalities here - no self-respecting ten-year-old boy would be caught dead playing with a Shinki. For one, there are no male Shinkis. My nephew can't even bring himself to play female characters in fighting games, and mocked my choice of "FemShep" in Mass Effect.
Also, without its armor (the "Busou" in Busou Shinki) a Shinki is basically a 6-inch-tall, doll-jointed girl wearing what could generously be called a swimsuit. Exposed midriffs, tramp-stamps (tramp-decals?), cleavage windows, underboob, Absolute Territory, animal ears, tails, and all manner of things no tween should be allowed to see are standard practice in Shinki character design.
Moon Angel was basically an unfortunate side effect of Konami trying to expand to the wrong audience (the kids on trains playing Monster Hunter), rather than the actual people buying Busou Shinki figures (the grown men who also buy Figmas), and I honestly can't blame them for trying, despite the unintentionally creepy result.
Busou Shinki - this one - harbors no such misconceptions. It knows exactly who is supposed to be watching it. It has its sights on the otaku market, the people who will watch anime that air at 2AM, and have a surplus of disposable income to spend on hobbies and interests that regular people would regard as "somewhat deviant".
View the show through that lens, the lens of a newly-enlightened, more marketing-aware Konami, and it all makes sense. The outfits, the personalities, the characters, the setup, the OP and ED sequences, the everything.
Our new male protagonist, Rihito, is a high schooler this time, and one that can afford his deviant hobbies, and alongside his childhood favorite "Ann", an Arnval Mk.2 (first seen in the PSP game), owns two more Shinkis, one "Aines", a Altines, and "Lene", an Altene. In terms of personality, Ann is The Earnest One, Aines is The Spunky One, Lene is The Ditzy One Who Says "Desu" A Lot, and the soon-to-be-introduced Strarf, "Hina" is The Serious One With A Warrior's Soul. All are (or will be) utterly devoted to his service, and call him "Master".
Besides some cool CG action bookends, the first episode is spent daily-life-ing it up, as the three unpack his stuff, complete with comedic montage and shenanigans. A lost letter leads to them leaving the house and encountering a Eukrante model at practice, as well as an impromptu challenge.
And now we come to the "real interesting point" I mentioned many words ago. I like the show in the same way I liked Upotte! and The Idolmaster. All three of those shows are, on the surface, superficially inane, devoid of irony (unlike, say, Humanity Has Declined or The Daily Lives of High School Boys) and as far from art as one can kick the discs. And yet, the possibilities for nerding out over them and appreciating them beyond their intended context are great and wondrous to explore.
There are so many angles to read into Busou Shinki from, not all of them positive. Besides the intended moe moe mecha musume angle, there's the expected marketing-a-toy-line-to-grown-nerds angle.
You can even regard it as a creepy example of how otaku might view an "ideal woman", i.e. unquestioningly devoted, domestically capable, heavily armed, willing to share, six inches tall. And available at your local hobby shop. Then there's the angle that this is a strangely pure-hearted take on the harem trope. After all, you can't sex a girl that's smaller than your hand. Well, not without considerable effort, at least.
And don't forget the sci-fi/technology angle, though this is probably the most disappointing one, thanks to the arbitrary nature of Busou Shinki product introduction. This, and the game, are about as close as the line has gotten to having actual lore. Still, them robo-girls fighting is cool. And doubtless there'll be a plot involving Shinkis used as military weapons. Imagine these moe moe musume hunting terrorists in their caves.
Then again, there's the societal development angle, where one wonders how exactly civilization came to a point where playing with heavily armed moe dolls became the world's premiere sport. Or maybe how, with so many Shinkis in production, our protagonist managed to stick with a single Arnval since his childhood, resisting the siren call of the many new and better models that come with every wave (i.e. the Pikachu effect).
And there are more angles, more subtexts, more ways to unironically enjoy "bad" stuff without having to feel guilty about it.
In short, Busou Shinki has struck me as one of those things you can force yourself to appreciate on many levels, causing your friends who didn't watch it because they have "better" taste in entertainment to wonder how you could possibly like that sh*t.
[Risk losing your friends over at The Anime Network]