I like to consider myself a fan of mecha anime. Whether it's a super robot show or a "realistic" robot show, I'm willing to forgive certain tropes of the genre, such as young kids piloting weapons of war, if the action is good and the story is interesting.
What Gonzo's Linebarrels of Iron attempts to present is a mecha series in which the main character reacts realistically to receiving massive power. It's an interesting premise that hasn't really been addressed in anime before. Sure, they touch on how "sad" it is to have to fight and kill at that age, but let's be honest here: if you gave a kid a giant robot, he would probably be ecstatic.
It's a shame that beyond this gimmick, there is little to like about Linebarrels of Iron.
Linebarrels of Iron
Created by: Gonzo
Published by: FUNimation
Release Date: October 5, 2010
MSRP: $49.98 per season (two), $14.98 for OVA collection
Kouichi Hayase is a 14-year-old student who is cursed with a weak personality. He is often beaten up by bullies, who only stopped when chased away by his friend Yajima, which makes him feel weak in the eyes of his potential crush Risako. All this changes when a Machina carrying a young girl lands on him, instantly killing him. Because Machinas are special giant robots from another dimension, however, it has the power to instantly bring him back to life as its Factor, or pilot. Now, Kouichi finds himself with increased strength and the ability to summon a giant robot whenever he needs to, much to the displeasure of both JUDA, a Machina-using corporation trying to minimize his damage, and the Katou Organization, which wants to take his Machina for their nefarious deeds.
Linebarrels of Iron may be one of the most generic mecha anime I've seen in a long time. There is an evil organization trying to take over the world, and the good guys must enlist the help of this young boy who just happens to have the strongest Machina in order to stop them. Yawn. The only unique thing this anime brings to the table is the fact that, due to years of bullying, Kouichi is thrilled to finally have the power to be a "champion of justice." In the process, he ends up bullying those who used to bully him, scorning his friends' help, and just becoming an all-around dick so he can look cool. He is such an asshole that his friend Yajima looks visibly horrified at how he's acting.
It's intriguing to watch Kouichi become some twisted version of the "champion of justice" he believes himself to be. He thrashes about the town, ultimately destroying more than the villains he attempts to drive off and lashing out at potential allies. He is incredibly immature, which is drilled into your head by every character around him in case you couldn't see for yourself. The problem becomes that as interesting as this portrayal of a main character is, he is so detestable I almost wanted to stop watching for that reason alone. It may be more "realistic," but it is not something I want to see played out over and over again.
It doesn't matter as much as the series progresses though. While Kouichi is almost insufferable early on, a major event in episode four causes him to start growing as a character. The downside to this is that while he still remains somewhat immature by the end of the series, it begins to really dilute the one interesting element of the series. He becomes just another rash, hot-blooded mecha pilot. And once that one unique idea is gone, you've basically removed any real reason to care about the series.
The characters at JUDA are don't leave much of an impression. His fellow pilots are girls of varying sorts (except for one male twin paired up with his sister) that ultimately develop crushes on him because...plot. The head pilot is a cold-hearted bastard just to provide someone for Kouichi to play off of. The chief of JUDA itself is at first a by-the-book, competent leader and potential mentor for Kouichi, but soon reveals himself to be incredibly goofy, lecherous, and childish. Instead of endearing the character to me, it just made me disbelieve the character all the more. Who in their right mind would entrust a giant robot team to this guy? It's bipolar character design at its worst.
The antagonists are the cackling evil type of villains who desire world domination for some other dimension. There is nothing interesting about them. They all have their own personality quirks that we've seen a thousand times before - sexy woman, aggressive pissed-off guy, overly-calm killer. Until a late-hour discussion about the true nature of their goals, I couldn't believe that any real person would act like this; the best villains never think they're evil, or if they do, they are obviously driven by power. And even after that discussion of their true intent, it seems like they themselves don't really buy it.
They drive the plot though, which would probably go nowhere if JUDA had its way. Unless responding to plans the Katou Organization makes, JUDA seems content to just make content for comedy episodes that some people would claim are meant for "character development." Reducing already flat characters to their most stereotypical levels is the opposite, in my opinion. But the Katou Organization is determined to be the bad guys, and so they attack civilians, blow things up, and do everything you would expect them to do.
In one episode, they taunt JUDA that it would be the last Christmas they'd ever enjoy. They threatened to ruin Christmas. Really, now.
Let's talk about the more technical aspects.
The directing is mostly competent, if unimpressive. Some scenes that should have had more "pop," like one character betraying another, could have been done better. Instead, they fell flat because they seemed more random than they should have been due to my lack of connection with the characters during the previous episodes. The problem with the directing is that I never know how serious something is going to be. The comedy is so forceful that when it comes time to take a character (like the chief of JUDA) or event seriously, it doesn't hit home. Seeing innocent people die after fanservice shenanigans creates a strange disconnect. And this isn't impossible to do! Gonzo did it before with Full Metal Panic, and so did Sunrise's Code Geass, but it just doesn't work here.
Similarly, action scenes are average at best. They ramp up near the end of the series as it approaches its requisite dramatic conclusion, but there aren't very many memorable scenes. Part of the blame for the mediocre fight scenes lies with the 3D animation Gonzo decided to use. I'm putting it on the record right now: 3D robots on top of 2D scenery sucks. I think the only good 3D-on-2D animation I've seen was in Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, and even that was pushing it. The CG in this 2008 anime looks like it's over five years old. The mecha move smooth and unconvincingly, just computer animated models with artificial weight animated around them. And honestly, the designs are pretty ugly and unimpressive.
The 2D animation is nothing stellar either. They try to play up character designs by Hisashi Hirai (Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, S-CRY-ed), but like his other designs, they seem "off" in the eyes. In this case, his designs aren't even that distinctive, causing generic characters to look even more generic. The animators can't even keep these simple designs consistent, leading to shifting faces and breasts ballooning to various sizes.
The music is unremarkable besides a few appropriate battle themes. Voices are similarly fine, getting the job done in both English and Japanese. I'd say the dub injects a little more life into the characters, but it's a trade-off due to the looser translation.
Ultimately, Linebarrels of Iron serves as pure wish fulfillment for young, outcast boys. The main character has a giant robot and hot naked girl literally land in (or rather on) his lap from out of nowhere, granting him superpowers. He joins a secret organization of good guys out to save the world who are in desperate need of power only he can provide. He finds a group of one-dimensional villains to stop. No matter how immature he is, he overcomes other's criticism and beats the bad guys. More hot girls fall in love with him because he's a "champion of justice." In the end, everyone helps him save the world, which only he can do, and gives him tons of praise.
It's the perfect fantasy for a young boy who feels like nothing is right in his lonely life, that one day all these things will just happen to him and he will come out victorious because he will be the main character. For anyone with even a loose grip on their life, there is nothing here to appeal to you.
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