I need a King Gainer …
King! King! King Gainer!
Metal Overman King Gainer!
Overman King Gainer can be put on record as featuring one of my favourite OPs in the history of anime. Much of the cast, including designated “villains” and robots alike, go-go dance to the rocking tune. It pumped me up so much that most of the time I didn’t skip it. I would dance around the house singing the song even when I wasn’t watching. Thanks to the wonders of the multimedia review age, I can share that OP with you right now:
Unfortunately, you’d be harder pressed to find the series itself by legitimate means, as it has been out of print for the English world for a fair while now. Why you can pick up something not particularly exciting like Lost Universe thirteen years after its screening but not this 2002 piece is beyond me. The two of them bear comparison because they represent two different generations of anime: Lost Universe the awkward transition from cel work to digital animation with some clumsy CG, and Overman King Gainer the confident application of digital with smooth results.
Overman King Gainer also has the distinction of being a mostly good series, but it’s not without its faults. I think that I noticed the flaws so intently because I enjoyed the series so much. When that happens, any let down is magnified far more than disappointments in shows that weren’t particularly good to begin with.
In the far flung future, mankind is recovering from a cataclysmic event of their own device, and have been forced to live in domepoli spread across icy wastes, leaving the remaining verdant lands to animals and agriculture. The domepoli are supplied with their goods by the Siberian Railway, who abuse their monopoly. Periodically, some cities attempt to Exodus: to travel in convoys (cities are sectioned on wheels) to their ancestral homelands.
Overman King Gainer is an anime series about a convoy heading to Yapan while fighting off the advances of various portions of the Siberian Railway Patrol forces and the never explained London IMA.
It’s like Macross on a train!
The back of the cover claims that Tomino Yoshiyuki (of Gundam fame, and Brain Powerd infamy) was going for something new and exciting here, but Overman King Gainer works largely because it is a reinforcement of what people love about this sort of anime: large supporting casts written in effective shorthand, robot battles, and good concepts.
Of course, good concepts don’t mean a lot if they’re never expanded on; by the end of Overman King Gainer we’ve got a lot of implied backstory for Gain, the Exodus specialist, but never really enough to go on. This is a problem in a series such as this, where the protagonist role is split between two characters and the younger one – the one whose name is in the title – wins out as the audience’s focus. It’s a shame because Gain feels like a refugee from another series, infinitely harder and cooler than this one.
Gainer is a high school student and game champion who hates Exodus because he believes that Exodus agents murdered his parents. Because he has access to an Overman (this series’ brand of super powered robots, not to be confused with the lower class silhouette engines), Gainer ends up defending the Exodus anyway.
Given that the Exodus literally takes your home with it, once it has started it is very difficult for a resist. It’s rare that we’ll see people discontented with their experience; the city is underdeveloped and a character deeply entrenched in the community would have gone a long way to fleshing it out. Gainer’s resistance to the idea of Exodus is understandable but ultimately unexplored, making him one of the weakest entries in the “reluctant hero” canon. He’s a good character, but not good in that particular role. The way he eventually seems to shrug off the murder of his parents is disturbing; after the 21 episode mark it’s clear that lead writer Okouchi knew he was running out of time, and subtlety is no longer called for.
When subtlety flies away, so too does all sense of one of the characters, Koyasu’s Asuham Boone. A character with his own motivations up until that point, he gets shoehorned into another role solely to provide much of the final drama. I would not go so far as to say that none of the series’ climax makes any sense, because most of it does after a fashion, but his involvement simply can’t be explained. Other characters are introduced throughout the series, including Yapan’s own Minmay, Meeya, of whom nothing comes. It’s like that all the way: introducing things that might pay off later, though no promises are made.
It also becomes clear that the light tone, while welcome, should have been compromised at some point. There is constant talk of ruthless sacrifice needing to be made for the Exodus to succeed, but it never really happens. The Five Wise Men, elected leaders of the Exodus, are painted as if they should be a damn sight more sinister than they actually are.
I’ve front loaded this review with most of the series’ negative aspects, but it’s truly mostly a force for good. The Overmen themselves are interestingly designed, somewhat animalistic and – according to Tomino – like “plush toys”. King Gainer itself is frequently referred to as “hair bastard” and, to the best of my knowledge, is the only mech ever to feature white dreadlocks. Surprisingly, the show is actually near its best when it deal with the “Overskill of the week” format under the leadership of the bizarrely fey Kashmir Valle. These are concept episodes, and among the few that do consider the psychology of the people on the Exodus. It gives rise to one of the most weak plot resolutions on offer, but otherwise they’re very strong character pieces. The fact that one piece of hardware can exhibit new abilities long after its inception is never explained but it doesn’t strictly matter.
While the cast could have been fleshed out more, and Asuham could have standed not been ruined, for the most part they’re a joy to watch and get their own moments. Yassaba only lasts the first few episodes, but he makes an impression that pays off by the end. Professional defector Adette, once her character has been buttoned down, is a lot of fun, and the supporting cast – particularly the Siberian Railway triumvirate, are among the best I’ve seen in a long while. “Princess” Ana Medaiyu and her three ferret things run away with the show and, if it had gone a different way, she could have been a political force. She also leads everyone in dance, and so holds a special place in my heart.
Overman King Gainer is an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite succeed. It’s mostly highly enjoyable and has a lot of good ideas, but it attempts too much and can’t help but disappoint by the end. The disappointment isn’t enough to derail overall enjoyment, but it’s always a shame when something aims for lofty heights and falls just short of them.