Martian Successor Nadesico

(Neo, Uncooked Media)

2196: the Earth is under attack from the mysterious “Jovian Lizards”. A new ship is launched against the enemy, the Nadesico, with the most eccentric crew imaginable. But they’ll learn that everything they think about the war is a diabolical lie…

Broadcast in 1998, Nadesico is unique among anime space-operas. Over its 26 episodes, it’s mostly consistently epic and always consistently funny, keeping this balance in a way that’s far more spectacular than its mecha space battles. Indeed, even in the battles, you don’t watch for the robots or explosions but for the characters, who argue endlessly on little screens that pop up in mid-air in front of the people they’re arguing with. Then other people’s screens pop up at the sides or barge before each other, and images and dialogue overlap dizzily.

Like any good sitcom cast, the Nadesico spaceship’s crew do a huge deal of arguing. It’s also increasingly obvious they couldn’t live without each other (proved heartwarmingly in the last episodes). This ship of fools is saved by their quasi-family ties, as the characters go into space to save Earth from the mysterious Jovian Lizards. Their story borrows from Yamato, Gundam, and Macross, though Nadesico synthesises them with a less spacey series shown months earlier – Evangelion
So this is a series whose hero, Akito, is a traumatised wreck (in part one, a crowd watches fascinated as he screams and shivers like Shinji). Nadesico’s bridge crew includes a little girl, Ruri, who’s an obvious Rei parody, though she’s actually more like a petitely resigned Bill Murray as she and the series outgrow spoofs.

An early episode shows the aftermath of a terrible battle, with one character credibly shocked by the sudden mass death in space. But then Nadesico’s girl captain Yukira must buckle down and deliver dozens of customised memorials for all the victims, rushing between funerals like an actor in a stage farce. It’s a sophisticated joke – about, among other things, the Japanese work ethic! – delivered in a deceptively silly way.

Again, the show generates comedy just by giving Yukira and Akito two different “scripts”. Yukira is convinced she’s in a love-story, and that she’s predestined to marry her childhood sweetheart. That sweetheart is Akito, who’s convinced he’s in a dark psycho-drama a la Evangelion. Nadesico also responds to Evangelion by coming up with one of its greatest ideas; it invents an imaginary 1970s-style anime hero robot show called Gekiganger 3. Glimpsed all through the series, Gekiganger is more than a wonderful retro creation, becoming central to Nadesico’s story and outlook.

Nadesico’s comedy licence can’t excuse outrageous story problems in later episodes, especially a cross-war romance between supporting characters that comes out of nowhere. Yet Nadesico’s too loveable to be locked down by logic.

Extras on this edition include the Gekiganger 3 video film, mixing old and new footage, and the cinema Nadesico sequel, Prince of Darkness. The latter is a poor film, but it’s interesting in showing how the TV show could have gone wrong. It has overcooked, hopelessly confusing action scenes, a rudimentary story told terribly, and a “shock” central character transformation that doesn’t start to work. We don’t rate it as canon.