17 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Shinmaru /

Armored Trooper VOTOMS – Upending Expectations


I’m still making my way through the wide world of VOTOMS (I finished Armor Hunter Mellowlink recently and am continuing through broadcast order), but I finished the original TV series quite a while ago and finally have the time to write about it. For those who don’t know, VOTOMS is about a soldier, Chirico Cuvie, who gets caught up in a conspiracy involving super soldiers and secret societies. Basically, everyone wants to kill Chirico. The general description of VOTOMS falls along the lines one would expect: It’s a grim, gritty series, quite dark and morose. It is often just that, reinforced most of all by the visuals, which look just good enough (on the remastered DVDs) that it’s not offensive to watch because of OLD, but also still have a rough look and feel to them. My favorite visual detail is the embers that accompany every explosion. It adds just the right touch of horror and devastation to each battle.

But VOTOMS is not simply relentless grimdark, at least not in the way I expected. There are some key ways in which the series subverted my expectations for better or worse. (Although even in the parts of the series I am not so sure I liked, they are at least still interesting.)

(P.S. I have taken care to avoid spoilers as much as possible.)

The main point of interest about VOTOMS is that it’s like four series in one. It’s not that there’s no continuity or that the story doesn’t flow in a coherent way; rather, it’s that each arc has a specific theme, tone and (I would argue) genre all its own.

VOTOMS starts out in a normal manner: Chirico is on a routine mission, but he finds out that this mission has a different, more clandestine purpose than he initially believed, and because of that, he is a wanted man. Chirico then finds himself in Uoodo City, and it is here where the first shift in tone occurs. I expected hardcore science-fiction mecha WAR; what I got, at least in the beginning, is more of a gangster flick. I wouldn’t go as far as to call the Uoodo arc mecha noir (though that description is undoubtedly enticing, and also brings with it the potential for adorable drawings of Scopedogs dressed like Humphrey Bogart), but it’s not far off. Corruption seeps through Uoodo. The cops are rotten, and the biker gangs that run roughshod through the city aren’t much better. To survive on the mean streets, Chirico finds himself allied with a weapons dealer, a black marketeer and a brash, loudmouthed orphan, all of whom attempt to take advantage of him at some point. There are mecha gladiator battles, with the seedier denizens betting on them all the while, of course. The arc’s climax is straight out of a heist film.

The tone and feel surprised and delighted me. It is definitely quite dark and mean, but seeing this world developed in this way made it feel all the more real to me, even as I was thinking the entire time, “This is SUCH a gangster movie!” With the power of hindsight, I can see what a great stage-setter Uoodo is: It’s the perfect grimy representation for VOTOMS.


Then Chirico finds himself in Space Vietnam.

What? Yes. In the time between arcs, Chirico has enlisted in a unit that is quite blatantly fighting the Vietnam War. (One of Chirico’s fellow mercenaries is named Pol Potaria, which amused me greatly.) After the Uoodo arc, my first thought was, “This is totally a Vietnam flick!” but it goes a bit further than that by showing two prominent groups using the warring factions to fight their own proxy war. This was where I really started enjoying how VOTOMS would take this obvious concepts and conceits and spin them just a bit to make sense in its own world. Seeing the Vietnam War play out (along with all the usual Vietnam War imagery, including boat rides and attacks on villages with straw huts) could be quite silly, but somehow it makes sense in this world.

It’s also an interesting spin for me, personally, because it’s a different view of Vietnam than I normally get. Because I am not nearly old enough to have fought in or lived during the Vietnam War, my (limited) view of it is gleaned through the pages of history and all the media that has been produced regarding it. American cinema about the war tends to focus mainly on one soldier or a group of soldiers and their scarring experiences. Although the general opinion is that the war is bad and should never have happened, there never seems to be much to suggest any sinister motivation on the part of the U.S. The war itself is a sinister enough enemy. But in VOTOMS, both groups pulling the strings are up to some gnarly shit. The people doing the battling are the exploited, and those on top scurry away when the fight goes awry.

This is more like the VOTOMS I expected, but the manner in which it is delivered is entirely unexpected. However, I am saying that from the point of view of it being decades since the affair. In the early 1980s, this still weighed heavily on people’s minds. Perhaps it was not so unexpected then.


The emotional logic of that arc flows logically into the next, which is part-PTSD nightmare and part-post-apocalyptic insanity. (I have heard it compared to Dune, but I am unfamiliar with either the novels or David Lynch’s notorious film adaptation, so I am not the right person to comment on this.) Of all the arcs, this pulled the rug out from under me the least, although it makes up for that by being terrifying and claustrophobic in the beginning. This is where Chirico heavily questions his place in the universe and what all his butchering amounts to. Does he exist purely to kill? As a soldier, is he simply a tool to be used by those who do not wish to stain their hands with blood?

All this doubting happens while Chirico is on a ship speeding away from everyone trying to kill him. He’s got nowhere to go and is cornered quickly. It’s not a fun time for the poor fellow. This arc does an excellent job of communicating the sheer emotional stress Chirico endures, even as he tries to be stoic about it. Of all the arcs, I found this one the least interesting to think about, but it makes up for that with how intense and harrowing much of the action is. I would say more, but this is the point where I have to tread carefully because of GIANT SPOILERS.


The final arc surprised me the most, and not always in good ways. Honestly, I’m still not sure how I feel about it, even weeks after I have completed the series. The events feel far removed from the rest of the series in tone and feel, though they are actually quite entertaining in and of themselves. This arc is blatantly a riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey, though again, done in a way that mostly serves VOTOMS rather than being shallow aping. Much of it is tough to swallow, but I can partially manage it because I never totally deluded myself into thinking VOTOMS is Total Ultra Super Realest Real Robot. It is real robot in that the robots can be junked pretty easily and don’t have superpowers and shit. Otherwise, the characters often do crazy things that would get them killed a million times over in reality. I don’t particularly care about that point, though. As long as what happens feels like it could happen in this particular world, that’s enough “realism” for me.

Here, though, well . . . I hesitate to bring this up, but this arc brings in some mystical explanations for things, but they don’t totally jive for me. Maybe there’s a metaphor I am not quite grasping. (This would not surprise me.) Maybe it’s a commentary on action heroes surviving all sorts of nonsense and insanity. Maybe the creators just could not think of a better way to close the book on the conspiracy angle. Who knows? It just does not feel quite right to me, although it does admittedly lead to several entertaining moments and a fun sequence of “Will he or won’t he?” with Chirico possibly allying with or destroying this new, mystical presence.

Whatever the case, VOTOMS kept me on my toes until the very end, and that’s such a rare feeling that I can value it, even when it’s not totally satisfying. I enjoyed it enough to wade through the rest of the OVAs and movies and whatnot, so that is something. I enjoyed my time with VOTOMS.

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  1. Shinmaru
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Some other thoughts, because this post is long enough already: I quite enjoy Chirico’s companions and how they show up in the most ridiculous situations. Scopedogs make my heart all dokidoki. I love loathing those awful twins who show up in the second half. And I especially love Chirico’s rival, Ypsilon. So fucking moe.

    • Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      I was going to mention how in all your talk of how gritty Votoms is, you had forgotten to mention that the Three Stooges always come around to lighten things up. The Heavy Laser episode from Uoodo is one of my favorites.

      I got into a discussion with my friend the other day about what our favorite anime robots/mechs were, and after painfully eliminating the rest of my top 5, ultimately decided on Scopedogs. They’re just so perfect!

      • Shinmaru
        Posted May 5, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        Basically. Scopedogs stole my heart pretty quickly. They’re just so adorable!

  2. Nazaren
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    “I have heard it compared to Dune…”

    Sold! I’m a huge Dune fan, and a mecha fan, so I’m down for this. Playing fast and loose with genres sounds interesting, too. Thanks for avoiding spoilers! Also, do you recommend broadcast order?

    The Dune movie, btw, is gloriously good and bad… a true product of the 80’s. It got me to read the books, so it did its job.

    Plus it has naked Sting, of The Police fame.

    • Karry
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      What the ? I’d venture a guess, that most people alive today, have no idea who “The Police” are. Everybody knows who Sting is. What a weird thing to say, “of The Police fame”.

      • Nazaren
        Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        “Fame” was sorta tongue-in-cheek. Well, the whole sentence was, as if Sting BUTTS was an actual selling point.

    • Shinmaru
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Well, it’s just the one arc, and I don’t know how accurate or deep the comparisons are, so obviously take it with a big grain of salt coming from someone simply relaying the thought.

      And, yeah, broadcast order has worked fine for me. Here it is, in a nice, simple picture: http://0-media-cdn.foolz.us/ffuuka/board/m/image/1277/57/1277578874017.jpg

      So far I’d say my preference is VOTOMS TV > The Last Red Shoulder > Roots of Ambition = Mellowlink > Big Battle. Everything from Shining Heresy on I’ve yet to see.

      • Nazaren
        Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        Yeah I understand that… this season is leaving me with a lot of free anime time, so I’m willing to dive in based on that, and the rest of your review.

        Thanks for the response/pic!

  3. Karry
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    ” this arc brings in some mystical explanations for things”

    What kind of explanation is D.E.M. that comes out from nowhere and doesnt actually explain anything. At all. No explanation is given for the whole affair, be it mystical or otherwise. As far as i’m concerned, the last few episodes dont actually exist. It never happened.

    • Shinmaru
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this is basically where the big disconnect comes from. It doesn’t really fit with everything else in the series. I enjoyed parts of it, so I’m not going to pretend it never happened, but it’s not a satisfying ending, to say the least.

  4. Madu_Scientisto
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    VOTOMS sounds interesting, only “problem” for me is that the length is somewhat daunting. Especially so since I’m currently watching Gintama (201 episodes, yikes) and Cross Game (50 episodes) and recently finished Eureka Seven, a most excellent show by the way. I really need to watch an actual anime tv-series from the 80’s; most of the good stuff from the 80’s seems to consist of OVAs and movies. Anyhow:

    * Adds VOTOMS to Plan-to-Watch-List

    • Shinmaru
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      The arcs being so distinct from each other helps. You could watch them in discrete chunks if that helps out. They’re all around 10-13 eps each, with like three recap episodes fit in along the way if you take a while between arcs.

  5. Posted May 4, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    “My favorite visual detail is the embers that accompany every explosion.”
    I’ll admit, the beautiful explosions in the first episode (along with how moe Scopedogs are) were pretty much the driving force in getting me to watch the show to begin with. I later fell in love with the story (and of course, with Chirico and pals), but it was those uniquely satisfying yet horrifying explosions that first won me over. Also that overly-dramatic narrator with his “Chirico has tasted the coffee of Uoodo, and the coffee is bitter indeed.”

    One other detail I really appreciate about Votoms is how it’s such a departure from the usual show about there being one ultrasuperpowered robot that the main kid can pilot to victory every episode despite being unskilled. Scopedogs are mass-produced and quite replaceable, and all of the skill and power comes from Chirico himself. He doesn’t need to summon his personal Gundam or Mazinger or what have you every time he needs to fight, he can just hop in any random Scopedog he sees and have at it.

    Which is a very useful skill given how deliciously destructible Scopedogs are. Watching Scopedogs get their limbs blown off and holes put in them feels a lot more brutal and real than in many other mech series.

    It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in being disappointed, yet still intrigued, by the ending. I thought it was pretty out of place with everything else that had happened so far, so it felt like it didn’t quite deliver in the way that it should have. It was still fun to watch, and I really loved that enormous-scale fight scene near the end, but on the whole it didn’t feel quite “Votoms” enough for me. Maybe if they’d built up to it better in the earlier arcs somehow…

    We both know that Ypsilon is super-moe, but what were your thoughts on Fyana? I didn’t mind her too much at first, but by the end of the series I had really grown tired of her and the fact that the writers couldn’t seem to think of anything for her to do other than scream “CHIRICO” over and over again. I think that a particularly cute Scopedog would have been a much more suitable love interest for Chirico in the end.

    • Shinmaru
      Posted May 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      I basically share your thoughts re: Fyana. The show does interesting things with her character in the first half, but once everything focuses more on Chirico and the endgame, she’s pretty much tossed by the wayside. It’s pretty disappointing.

  6. TheOgre
    Posted May 5, 2013 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    The last arc of Votoms TV is flawed, compared to the earlier heights of the show, but I felt the actual conclusion of Chirico’s story arc was very well done. It gave him enough closure.

    In addition, I’d say the varios side stories are pretty cool (despite introducing some plot holes and retcons) but the sequels that take place after the TV show are just completely unnecessary and undo the neat way the finale had wrapped things up.

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    Posted May 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

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    [admin edit] this was a spam comment, but I found it so amusing I let it through anyway and got rid of the hyperlinks

    • Shinmaru
      Posted May 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      I approve of this.

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