Anime Review: Buddy Complex

Through out time and space, I will still protect you!

Time travel in fiction is a pretty common trope, where characters get transported to either the future or the past. But we rarely see that in mecha (compared to Isekai), due to all the paradoxes it can cause. But of course, that’s not to say it can’t be done right, and there are some mecha series that tackled it quite well. One of the more prevalent mecha entry with time travel is Sunrise’s experimental modern original Real Robot series: Buddy Complex.

At first glance, many call Buddy Complex a Gundam series with time travel. And you know what, it’s not entirely wrong. It has the usual teenage protag (2 of them even), a super prototype with the ability to flex on every other units, a war between human nations with some political scheme behind it, and we cannot ignore the staple character angst and emotional rollercoaster we usually see in a Real Robot series. But that’s not to say it’s boring and done to death, because Buddy Complex does have some unique merits to the series by mixing some conventional tropes together well.

Buddy Complex is a 13-episode tv series and 2 OVA episode produced by Bandai, with CG animation by the god-like studio Orange. The story start out in present day and focus on our ordinary teenager Aoba Watase. The world Aoba lives in is basically our 21st century world where everything’s peaceful and he’s just enjoying his everyday life. But one day, a giant robot attack the school and target Aoba particularly. Much to his dismay, another giant robot appear and protect him, and inside of it is his classmate Hina – whom he had never interacted with much before. She saved him and told him that “Dio is waiting!” and then she disappears, and he is also sucked into a vortex. When he comes to, he is already in the future decades later, right in the middle of a war, and Aoba is in ANOTHER giant robot! And Aoba’s fight in the future begins!

In terms of settings, aside from the time travel shenanigans, Buddy Complex is pretty much a Real Robot war series between human (pretty much a Gundam). We have 2 huge nations at war with each other for control of the world, and special prototype mechas carried by a battleship throughout the battlefield. It’s pretty much a very basic premise to develop from. And instead of going in a pretty bonker direction, Buddy Complex stick to the basics of a war story and focus on the adventure of Aoba in this new world that he literally have nothing or anyone to protect. It is actually a good idea for Aoba to “discover” what he need to protect, as this new world has nothing familiar for him nor any reason for him to fight for anyone’s cause. In addition, the person that left the deepest impression on Aoba – Hina – is nowhere to be seen in this time, and later on she appeared as an enemy pilot. That certainly give you some Gundam 00 and The 8th MS Team flashback, which is again, not an uncommon thing, but combined with Aoba’s character setting create a somewhat refreshing take for new generation to mecha fans.

For the other protagonist – Dio – this is basically Aoba’s anti-thesis. He has huge chips on his shoulders, fighting in a war for his country and some personal reasons as well. A stickler for the rules and all sorts of regulations, and absolutely ZERO sympathy for the enemy. It’s even more interesting that the gimmick they used to “give” Aoba his piloting skills is by linking him and Dio together, making them share each other skills and memories through “Coupling”. It’s a super convenient and lazy way to give Aoba his ability but a good way for both of them to “understand” each other’s perspective. Dio is very much a foil for Aoba to grow as a character in a world that has nothing to do with him.

The supporting cast of the series is pretty much the White Base’s crew or any other battleship crew you’ve seen (maybe except Nadesico). We got a Captain who seems relaxed but can toughen up when needed, a Vice Captain who is strict as all hell (but obviously like the Captain), a tech engineer, the bridge operators and the pilot team with 1 senior officer and 2 regular dudes. It’s quite basic and simply straightforward, they even have a star pilot join later as if he’s Sleggar Law if he was a bishounen. All the tropes in the world and Sunrise stick to their tried-and-true methods. It might actually be boring for veterans who’ve seen dozens of these, but for a newcomer into mecha, this is still a good play.

It also applied to the opposing nation. We have the assholes who just want to dominate the other side and take whatever they want. But then we get the Char-ish clone commander that actually has a pretty good brain on his shoulders. Then we get the rival pilot team. And I think this is where Buddy Complex make a very good decision to have Hina be one of them.

Aoba – who was astonished by Hina saving him – have to struggle with the fact that she is an enemy pilot. We later on see this in Age and previously saw this in Gundam 00, but both sides were already used to war and battle, whereas Aoba was still struggling with his “identity” as a pilot in a new timeline, and Hina is the sole entity who represented a “connection” to his original life. Later on , during the OVA, it was revealed the truth about their relationship and why Hina protected him. And that was a beautiful story. There is a lot of plot holes and paradoxes introduced in that but the technicalities aren’t that important. The emotional reveal during that scene was amazing.

It also vindicated Hina from the time she was in the Zogilia forces. It also showed us the length that she went to to protect Aoba and the depths of her feelings for him. For series with space-time dislocation phenomenon like Gunbuster, Muv-Luv or Asura Cryin’, we often see a character going through a massive amount of ordeal just to protect one person out of billions, and it is some of the most impressive feat of willpower we’ve ever seen. While there are many holes to fill, the weight of their feelings have certainly reached the audience.

For animation, the 2D was handled by Sunrise, and you know how good they are with handrawn animation so that’s a no-brainer in terms of quality. For the mecha action, they are rendered in 3D with 2D background by Studio Orange, and this is one of their earlier series so it wasn’t up to the level of Fafner or Majestic Prince, however, they are still incredibly smooth and well done. Due to the mechanical style of the series and not “organic” like others, the Valiancers basically fight like mobile suit but in 3D. The main highlight is of course the Luxon and Bradyon – whose gimmicks turn them into extremely high performance mechs that dash through the battlefield and just wreck everything. This is where Orange’s dynamic camera works and smooth movement really help drive home the superiority of these 2 units. Overall, just think of it as Unicorn Gundam if the Unicorn can fire a lot more shots.

Moving on to the Mecha Design, at first glance, Luxon and Bradeon looks like your basic Real Robot prototype mecha, with more focused on rough and blocky edges rather than more rounded ones. The contrasting color scheme of Red and Blue definitely highlight the heroic feeling of these two. But of course, there is one thing that set these mechas apart from other series – and that’s the Coupling system. It’s a very unique and fresh concept to link 2 mechs together with a lot of benefit (and plot armor). When in Coupling mode, the face plate change and energy wings are deployed, which looks really really badass. Mecha fans love seeing the eyes on a robot flare to life, and the Luxon and Bradeon has 2 sets of them, which makes them x2 cooler. The energy wing also has a nice texture and is actually asymmetry in terms of deploying mechanism which makes it not boring. Overall, it’s a very great concept.

Other Valiancers are actually quite normal though, since they are pretty much the “grunts” of the series, but they aren’t GM-tier, and at least has some sort of personality to them rather than just boring mechs. For the opposing country side, only the aces has some good stuff, and their design is basically a mirror of Luxon and Bradyon, but with a more sinister and intimidating aesthetic and color-scheme.

The music is where the show shines! The opening “Unisonia” is upbeat and has a vibrance feeling even though the series is about a war. TRUE’s vocals managed to deliver the feelings between the relationships in the series – between Dio and Aoba, and Hina and Aoba. Furthermore, the insert song “Twin Bird” was an amazing track that really condense the development of Hina and Aoba, bringing their emotion and feeling full circle towards each other. Another track that really impresses me is “Coupling Mode” by Tatsuya Kato. Among all the OST, this song is one of the most epic – also because it sounds very familiar to the song “Heart of Courage” from Two Steps From Hell – which is also a masterpiece.

Overall, Buddy Complex is a very nice entry-grade mecha series for Real Robot. It’s short but still managed to tell a completed story (despite getting cut short by the producer). While it does stick firmly with the established basic that Sunrise has set out with Gundam, Buddy Complex still managed to added their own spin on things and created some refreshing concepts. Plus the quality of the animation and OST is still amazingly done, which really helps in a short series like this.

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