Itty Bitty Robots Smashy

January 24, 2014

“Super Plasma Burst… you were the one who taught me that skill, Lex.”

Yamano Ban, Danball Senki

Danball Senki - Miniature War

I remember Medabots back when I was airing on a local network many, many quads of seasons ago. I was about… fourteen, then? About the age where Gundam SEED was also in vogue in my country. With SEED on primetime weekend slot, and Medabots ready every day at five-thirty, small wonder I turned out a machine freak.

Of course, when I heard of Danball Senki, I immediately knew I had to check it out. In the time since the English-dubbed Medabots, first series, finished its run, I never chanced upon something as big as it again; of course, Medabots did continue on with a few sequels, if I recall, and did decently enough, but eventually, it, too, fell to the wayside of nostalgia and old-timers. So you can imagine all the cool imagery when I first heard of Danball Senki. It’s robots, dammit. Big or small, I love ’em all!

‘Course, real-life events and my habit of watching shows based on first impressions sort of put a dent in that plan, as well as an introduction to start watching Hell Girl (I enjoyed it on its own merits, but that’s another tale for another day), and also putting time aside to pick up Japanese to enjoy more of Muv-Luv; in the end, I only really started on Danball Senki in the last two months.

Danball Senki is a story where the invention of a new wonder-material, the Fortified Cardboard, has allowed a different industry to take flight; that of battling robotic toys, known as LBXes. While the Fortified Cardboard “revolutionized the delivery industry”, whatever they meant by that, the material was also making great headway as the primary composition of a Battle Cube, a self-assembling containment-type table arena that allows the LBXes to fling weaponry around like mobile suits at A Baoa Qu without shooting out some kid’s eye in the process. The LBXes might be palm-sized, but the firepower they tote around is enough to injure the unwary.

The story features mainly three children in the city of Tokio in the year of 2050; the main character, 10-year old Yamano Ban, Kawamura Ami, and Aoshima Kazuya; like any other kid of that era, their love of LBX battling is what drives them on.Unfortunately for Ban, however, while he’s not only inherited his late father’s hair, but also his love for LBXes, his mother forbids him from owning an LBX. That’s not going to stop him from visiting the local hobby store, of course, not when the shopkeeper is kind enough to loan him an LBX for his joy time, but it’s a constant dent in his happiness.

I mean, at least Ikki could own a Medabot, if he saved up for it. Poor Ban couldn’t have a toy fifty times smaller than Metabee even if he had 7 years worth of savings.

However, when a mystery woman hands a mysterious suitcase to Ban before running off, and within it is a LBX core frame, Ban’s life dramatically changes. Like, LBXes turn up to wreck his house on the same night! But for the moment, Ban’s happy that he’s got an LBX, and nothing’s going to stop him from enjoying it to the fullest.

Danball Senki is pretty much your standard merchandising show, with a few genuinely surprising moments in there to keep thing spiced. It’s the counterpart to the Danball Senki PSP game, which was made by Level 5; the people who did Professor Layton, Inazuma Eleven, and perhaps more infamously, Gundam Age. To be fair, Age had some cool robots too, but I digress; if you’re only looking for shows that surprise you, then you might want to consider giving Danball Senki a miss no matter who holds you at gunpoint to watch it. Apart for a few moments, the story is stock-standard fare; not amazingly good, but not disgustingly bad either.

Where Medabots played its own characters for laughs, Danball Senki is more plot-focused, with few comedic moments in-between the characters, and virtually none of the face-stretching, fart-blowing tsukkomi you might expect from the first Medabots series. This had a unfortunate effect of somewhat tripping up Medabots when they started bringing in more serious backstory fare like the Week of Fire, but Danball Senki establishes early on that it’s got its settings grounded in its own world. The overall feel of the Danball Senki world is one of the near future; not flying cars yet, but close. The robots are also tied more closely into the plot itself; while Medabot’s hanky-panky style allows it to dodge all the logistic questions, Danball Senki takes its LBXes quite seriously, with story plots tied in with assassination attempts, bombings, and firepower you wouldn’t bear to unleash even on the Rubberrobo Gang. That’s not to say that Japan is a hellhole in Danball Senki, but when they say that the robot can snipe someone from a few building blocks away, you better believe it.

There is a fair number of machinations going on in the story, with a few twists and turns that I can say honestly did catch me off-guard; a lull of a day or two in-between episodes due to time constrains and personal schedule issues didn’t help me in keeping in all the details of the past episode, for that matter. Ban himself is a pretty strong fighter, and his rivals are properly portrayed, at least in the moments that matter, that they’re not pushovers, either. It’s not much, but it helps in its own way. Of course, these kind of stories have a guideline of cliches to follow, being intended to sell toys for pre-/grade-schoolers, so don’t expect too much out of it. I am honestly surprised that they had that much of a backstory to give; I’m almost willing to close an eye on the various times they missed out on a loophole, like how Fortified Cardboard isn’t more widespread despite being able to stop missiles, bullets, and beams (Seriously? If they can drop a Fortified Cardboard box from a few hundred meters up in the air and the plasma TV inside isn’t even scuffled in the least, I think that’ll make a pretty good material for law-enforcement personnel, delivery industry or no!)

In terms of design, the LBXes use the same concepts you’d have seen in Medabots before. The difference is that while Medabots relies heavily on animal concepts or people concepts, Danball Senki uses a more vague approach for their robots; their names help make the design, but don’t represent it. You have the protagonist design, Achilles, obviously inspired by the hero of the same name, or LBX Warrior, meant to represent the generic Greek hoplite, but at the same time you have Kunoichi, which doesn’t really look specifically like a kunoichi, as much it looks like a generic speedy thing; this is further exemplified by designs like Amazoness, which uses the same frame as Kunoichi, or Hunter, which is obviously a wolf; but what kind of wolf walks on two legs, toting a sniper rifle and wearing an eyepatch, or LBX Egypt, which looks more like a Madness Clown design from Soul Eater? The LBXes rarely have inbuilt weapons, instead bearing a wide variety of weapons apart from their own default loadout, but as is the norm for a children’s show, main characters, recurring cast, or rivals of the arc plot get special attacks.

The animation is generally okay, since the characters don’t do much moving; the robots are the ones in the thick of it, and while it’s done in CG, they look and move positively good, too. As something you’ll expect from Level 5’s character designs, the most complicated-looking people you can see animated is the one with the most wrinkles.

Still, with a plot that doesn’t screw up too badly apart from playing its cliches too hard, and a whole slew of robots that, in all honesty, are perfectly designed for their plot roles, Danball Senki isn’t half bad. It had a solid everything; not too well done, but it’ll make some someone’s childhood full of cool robots without all the NU GANDAM WA DATTE JA NAI or CONGRATULATIONS.GIF.AVI.SWF, that’s for sure.


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