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December 29, 2000

Top Gundam

A "name" (label) involves for a given individual a whole constellation or configuration of labeling, defining, evaluating, etc., unique for each individual, according to his socio-cultural, linguistic environment and his heredity, connected with his wishes, interests, needs, etc.

The Role of Language in the Perceptual Processes - Alfred Korzybski

When I first heard about Megami Kouhosei (The Candidate for Goddess), it was just a name, amongst a list of several anime coming out in the recent anime season. Some of the titles had capsule descriptions, others just a date and airtime. I don't really remember whether this series had a description or not, I only know that I made a note to try to see it in the future.

Time passed, and I forgot about it. Then Tom and Dan asked me if there were any anime I wanted to see (they each trade heavily in fansubs). The title The Candidate for Goddess sprang from my lips. But the image in my head was a cross between Card Captor Sakura and Ah, My Goddess.

You have to understand that I have a five-year old daughter, and much of my anime diet at home is of that genre lovingly nicknamed 'magical girl'. So the title took on a rather literal interpretation for me, and I had fuzzy notions of a young girl being given magical powers which made her a goddess.

Nothing, as it turns out, could be further from the truth...

Welcome to GOA, the Goddess Operator Academy. In the next three years, you and your four classmates will train in simulators (Cuarvals) and limited Automated Humanoid Weapons (AHW) known as PRO-INGs, to master the skills you will need if you are to become Pilots. Each cluster of students numbers five, which is the number of Ingrids fielded against the enemy. Each Ingrid is a full-capability battle robot, or AHW, piloted by one of the graduates of GOA.

Each Candidate Pilot is paired with a Candidate Repairer. Your success or failure depends on the success or failure of your Repairer, and vice versa. This pairing has been made for you. It is not negotiable. Life is not fair. This is war. Deal...

GOA orbits Zion, the last human-occupied planet (no Matrix jokes, please). It is the backdrop of this coming-of-age drama, and yet it remains an anonymous symbol throughout the series. We never see it's people, though it's possible we see the surface itself in some visionary dreams. This is the golden paradise for which the young men and women of GOA strive. So it is fit that they can only see it as a jewel suspended against the backdrop of stars.

Each Candidate is admitted because at a minimum they have the rare bloodtype EO, which sometimes indicates latent paranormal powers known as EX. Because of the demanding conditions of piloting the Goddesses against the enemy hordes, and the spiritual link which seems to exist between Pilot and Goddess, EX is a requirement. [As an aside, I find this EO-blood-factor especially amusing due to the Japanese propensity for treating blood type in the same league as eye color and zodiac sign (see Megumi Hayashibara's entry on Hitoshi Doi's Seiyuu pages for an example)]

Candidates are drawn from the slowly dwindling numbers of Colonies, space habitats preserving the terrain and lifeforms of old Earth. From one of these colonies comes Zero Enna, determined to become a Pilot at all costs. At a young age, his colony was nearly destroyed by the enemy, and anyone not in the shelters when the dome was shattered was sucked into space. Zero was one of these unfortunates, but he was saved by the White Goddess, Ernn Laties, and lived to see his colony dismantled, beyond repair. It is the sight of the noble Goddesses saving even a few which launches him on his quest to become Pilot.

So now he is at GOA, partnered with his Repairer, Kizna Towryk, a young woman with, inexplicably, cat ears! Given the discomfort she shows when they are mentioned, I at first assumed that they were some sort of genetic mutation. But Kizna also inexplicably wears dungarees with one leg cut off high on her thigh, while the other reaches regulation sneaker-top. So I guess she deserves to be taken about as seriously as anyone who wears one glove, or changes their name to an unpronounceable symbol.

Seeing his colony destroyed, witnessing the deaths of hundreds of people, have done nothing to dampen Zero's enthusiasm, or improve his tact. Within hours of entering GOA he has managed to send Kizna away in tears (quite unintentionally), make an enemy of his classmate Hiead Gnr, and nearly earn himself a demerit at the hands of his instructor, Azuma Hijikata.

Did I say this was a coming-of-age drama? Sorry, not for Zero. He is good-natured, but really shows no signs of maturing in the course of the series. I could fall back on Kizna, but she seemed quite mature from the start.

So humanity is at war, a war of survival, and it's best hope (as has always been the case when war beckons) is the cream of it's youth, a collection of emotionally immature, hyperactive, scheming hormone cases who, left to their own devices, would be hanging out the windows of their podracers shouting suggestively at young women as they buzz down the strip, flinging empty psychotropic beverage bulbs behind them while... Sorry. But it is a bit like Zion Hills: 90210.

Who is the enemy seemingly driving mankind to the edge of extinction? They are a mysterious assortment of CGI space creatures, owing their greatest resemblance to stingrays, jellyfish and squid, but of course spiffed up, armored and equipped with electron beam weapons. Nothing in the series suggests that they actually target human colonies, but if you are in the way, look out! To save the day, GOA quickly dispatches the Goddesses, and much splatting ensues.

For reasons not explained in the series, the alien enemy is called Victim (control panels in the show sometimes display the characters VKDM). For the longest time I thought this was intentional foreshadowing, and that by the end of the series it would be revealed that humankind had located most of its habitats on the migratory paths of Space Salmon, Space Geese, and dare I say, the venerable Space Moose?

So instead of being caught up in a war of extermination, it would turn out that we were a bunch of clueless nobblies building our stick hovels on those nice level patches of ground leading up to the watering hole, and we kept getting trampled by those damned evil pachyderms! Alas, it was not to be. At least not by the end of the series.

But shouldn't the end of the series be the definitive point when all is settled, once and for all? Of course not, you touchingly naive soul! This is anime! And the fact that The Candidate for Goddess was based on a manga which had not yet run it's course leaves this twelve-part series feeling more unfinished than some others I could name. Perhaps once Sugizaki Yukiru has finished her manga, they can get writer Okeya Akira to render another twelve episodes, and director Hongo Mitsuru will take the cast through another series of pimply angst and misplaced enthusiasm.

In the meantime, Victims are not the only strangely named participants in this drama. GOA's populace is divided into three classes, the 'cadets', the Pilots and the Staff. Among the cadets and their partners we have such shimmering monickers as Clay Cliff Fortran, Ikhny Allecto and (amonst the upperclassmen, next in line for Pilot) Force Wartlliam, Sure La Card, Erts Virny Cocteau, Una Kleik -- stop me if you're getting dizzy.

Let's skip the Pilots and go right to their vehicles, the Goddesses. We have the White Goddess, Ernn Laties, then Eeva Leena, Luhma Klein, Tellia Kalisto and Agui Keamiea. Is it just me, or does this begin to explain Kia and Corolla? As you can guess, it doesn't pay to watch this series without a character list. But does it pay at all? After twelve episodes and no strong resolution, do you just want to fling that tape against the wall?

I can only speak for myself. I'm not a big mecha-head. I actually enjoy the 'magical girl' shows I watch with my daughter. But when I discipline myself to sit down and watch a show like this, start to finish, I have to admit that the mecha are just window dressing, a substrate on which the body of the story is built.

This is really why Gundam works, though I've never been sucked into that 'endless waltz'. Another mecha show, Votoms, is heavier on the mecha eye-candy than Candidate, and in the Armor Hunter Mellowlink side-story, the repetitive deathblow kinda lowered the bar. But real stories do happen in mecha shows.

Sitting in this august company, The Candidate for Goddess is a typical ensemble piece, drawing strength from the interaction of the characters, while the focus centers on Zero Enna. So even though few of the characters can be said to grow, I wouldn't mind seeing them butt heads a few more times.

copyright (c) 2001 Donald P. Wakefield

Posted by dpwakefield at December 29, 2000 10:24 AM