|Overall||Art||Animation||Character Design||Music||Series Story||Episode Story||Reviewer|
Soukou Kihei Votoms - Pailsen Files (OVA)
(All episodes watched):|
Two things immediately struck me about episode one of Pailsen Files: first was that the timeless Votoms theme song had been replaced. A lot of classic series have been getting remakes/sequels recently, and one common tactic is to modify the original songs, in order to both maintain a link with the original version and modernize them somewhat. I wish this had been done here, because I didn't particularly care for the new OP song (with time, I came to accept and enjoy it). The second thing I noticed was that the CG animation of the mobile suits in the OP sequence seemed kind of crude--or should I say so perfectly simple that it's clear that these are computer generated images, which makes it hard to suspend disbelief and get into the story. Fortunately, the animation of the bulk of the episode was different and better--nay, excellent. The first episode opens with an attempted amphibious landing by mecha, which ends in a bloody shambles. The thought immediately occured to me that whoever designed this scene must have been using Saving Private Ryan as a guide! The futuristic assault engineer techniques were pretty interesting, especially when they didn't work like they were supposed to. The CG animation of the mobile suits was quite three-dimensional and realistic, while the conventional animation of the characters themselves was little changed from the 80's. I realised that the style of character illustration reminded me of old made-in-Japan-for-the-US series like GI Joe. The story shifts to the court-martial of Colonel Pailsen, former commander of the elite Red Shoulders unit. It gradually dawned on me that this fellow was in fact the same man as Colonel "Peruzen" in Red Shoulder Document: The Roots of Ambition, which by chance I had just watched for the first time a week or so ago--nice timing! In fact, he's apparently being tried for offenses committed during that OVA, so this series seems like a direct continuation of the Votoms timeline. The mood of the ED song seemed ridiculously out of sync with that of the remainder of the show (but again, OK once I got used to it). All-in-all, however, Pailsen Files seemed surprisingly faithful to the style of the old Votoms anime, which is a relief (I especially liked the station break, which did retain the original music). It was too soon to be sure, but this seemed interesting and the only reservation I had about watching it was whether it would get too weird, too supernatural, about Chirico's skills as a "perfect soldier". The implication that a thousand men, each with a precious Votoms mecha, had been sacrificed as a test of Chirico's skill was difficult to take seriously. The theme seemed to be that Chirico and his small, five-man squad is repeatedly given reckless, virtually suicidal missions to see if he really is invincible. I was intrigued.
"This show is pretty damn cool!" I said to myself during episode five. A complex and sophisticated conspiracy was being smoothly unveiled in a skillful and intriguing manner--no wasted time, as I had feared early on (or at least not nearly as much as during the original series). The theory of an "Abnormal Survivor" is a little difficult to take seriously; how does one person's genetics prevent somebody else, with a completely different set of genes, from blowing him away? But it certainly doesn't spoil the story. The one thing that bugged me was that all the signs so far were that Chirico really was invincible and invulnerable. Obviously he wouldn't be killed, since this is a prequel to a lengthy series he appears in, but that would mean he was not really in any danger at all, which would spoil the excitement. As the saying goes, even Superman has Kryptonite. It was more a matter of wondering if his fellow squad members would survive. Still, this was a fascinating show, far better episode-for-episode, I would say, than the original series was.
Yes, the episodes of Pailsen Files definitely have a delicious tone of excitement, conspiracy and danger. No one can be completely trusted (except Chirico, of course), and the makers don't make it easy to tell who's on which side. In episode seven an airplane carrying the squad crashlands in hostile territory. You almost say to yourself, "ah, here's where the pilot and copilot get picked off, like red-shirted Star Trek guys", but in fact they play an important part in the story and one lives to fight another day--a sign of the makers having some respect for the intelligence of their audience, I'd say. The mecha action is done in an exemplary manner which restores your respect and fear of Mobile Suits even after all the lackluster series you have watched. This show is especially good at depicting fast moving mecha action in an exciting way; the only problem is that since the Votoms mobile suits are identical, it can be extremely difficult to keep track of who's who and who's doing what. Indeed, I certainly cannot claim to have seen all mecha anime, but I'd say anyone who would like an example of a good way to portray mecha in action should come here. I was surprised that so much talent had been devoted to what seemed a relatively little known series (in the US, that is). I am tempted to describe Pailsen Files as my second favorite mecha series of all time.
One thing which struck me about the conclusion in episodes 11 and 12 was that I wished that Chirico and the others in his squad had reasoned out what was going on more gradually. Basically, Chirico has figured it out, but he seldom speaks and it's not until it dawns on the others that maybe they are being used as lab rats of a sort that things come together. If this realization had taken place bit by bit over numerous episodes, I think the long term plot would have been more believable and intriguing. As it is, it becomes frustrating that these guys who are repeatedly sent on suicidal missions and keep pulling off incredible escapes don't at least feel that they enjoy a sort of inexplicable good luck. Maybe they were all subconsciously aware of this already; it isn't clear. The conclusion was okay but not great. There was a measure of closure, certainly, and some (but by no means all) questions answered. What happened to the "core" at Monad, and why? There were also a couple neat twists, though I was left feeling that these hadn't been played for all they were worth. I was left vaguely confused; for one thing, if some of the data on the survivors had been forged, who knows what makes sense anymore? Didn't the way things turned out kind of contradict the Abnormal Survivor concept?
I guess in the end it did run a little long. The arctic warfare arc probably could be dispensed with without harming the long-term plot; it might even improve it by tightening things up. Still, Pailsen Files has a lot going for it. Rip-roaring action (I especially loved it when mecha combat was at point-blank range), conspiracy and deceit, and the mystery of the Abnormal Survivors are the essence of this show. That, plus a touch of nostalgia for fans of the original series and the sub-genre it created. I liked it.
Buy it if you're a fan of mecha, but at least Rent it even if you're not.
Last updated Wednesday, September 17 2008. Created Tuesday, October 23 2007.