Sunrise’s history in the ‘real robot’ genre has always fascinated me. As the studio that gets the credit for kicking the ball off with Mobile Suit Gundam in the first place, their docket since then has been loaded with all manner of other variations on the formula. Some trying to ride in Gundam‘s wake, others simply to make their own mark.
Some of these do pretty well for themselves and even manage to gain some franchise clout of their own (Armored Trooper VOTOMS comes to mind) others swing and miss, never meeting the full potential it feels like they’re hoping for.
Somewhere between those two extremes is the comfortable little valley that Buddy Complex finds itself in.
Set back in the then-present 2014, the show concerns itself with Aoba Watase – your classic average Japanese high schooler with an upbeat attitude. His day is going pretty well…until a giant robot arrives and tries to kill him. As Aoba tries to make sense of the situation, one of the girls in his class, Hina, arrives in another robot to save him. He hops into the cockpit with her and she defeats the opponent, only for the two to be pulled into a portal. Left with the last words ‘Dio is waiting for you’, Aoba blacks out.
When he comes to, he finds himself 70 years in the future in the cockpit of a different robot that he is strangely compatible with. He now finds himself casting his lot in with the Confederation against the forces of the Republic of Zogilia. His ability to control the robot Luxon, as well as his ability to synchronize with pilot Dio Weinberg and his robot Bradyon make him a valuable asset to the team as he tries to solve the mystery of what happened to him and where Hina went.
If you’re thinking to yourself ‘this sounds like a pretty familiar premise’, you’re not wrong. In many ways, Buddy Complex plays its story surprisingly by the numbers in terms of plot turns, characters and execution. Strangely enough, this isn’t as much of a flaw as you would expect. It certainly makes parts of this predictable, but at the same time, there’s an oddly charming feel to a series that is so earnestly presenting itself to form as this does.
For the most part, anyway. Where the series is able to make its conventional elements work in its favor by trying to avoid the script-flipping twist porn of shows like Code Geass or Valvrave the Liberator, its fairly short length serves to both help and hurt it.
A completely straightforward series like this naturally doesn’t need the full fifty episodes get its plot across, and the adherence to form would likely lose its appeal at that point. At the same time, the series feels crunched by its thirteen episodes (fifteen counting the two-part special finale), having to rush its last act to get in everything it wants to do.
Part of this may be the fact this is director Yasuhiro Tanabe’s first time helming a show, part of it may be that they were counting on an extension that never came. Regardless the reason, the show goes from a somewhat relaxed and kind of enjoyable pace for its first ten or so episodes to feeling like it’s scrambling to cover all of its bases in the last arc.
The finale special, in particular, is hit hard by this. Without giving too much away, all I’ll say is the series has a bit of a problem deciding who it wants its main antagonist to be, leading to the role being tossed around like Musical Chairs, only for the last person to take it in a shift that manages to be both expected and yet so completely out of left field in its execution. Besides that, the show’s time travel mechanics – while initially one of its more unique elements – become rather vaguely defined and clumsy in their execution when the time comes to answer questions and pay everything off.
Besides the story, much of the rest of the series can be described as ‘okay, not spectacular’. The acting is fairly solid, and features some veterans of the mecha genre in supporting roles as a nice touch (two standouts being Sho Hayami as the captain of the main ship, and Takehito Koyasu as a scientist in Zogilia’s employ). The music sets the scenes well, though I can’t really say I remember much of it shy of the series opener, which has a bit of a catchy tune to it (though the visuals that go with it play out like a bingo card of Sunrise mecha OP cliches).
Visually, the show again gets the job done, but never really makes a huge name for itself. The animation isn’t bad overall, and the fight choreography in some of the episodes is a welcome treat, even if it’s not across the full series.
The one thing that strikes me the most about the look of this show – despite the studio inviting all manner of comparisons to Gundam, the show looks and carries itself feeling like a Super Robot Wars original story and cast that never got greenlit for a game. The mecha and character designs in particular feel like they’d be right at home in the setting, and the entire Coupling gimmick Luxon and Bradyon have is one that can translate into game mechanics with surprising ease.
All in all, whether or not I’d recommend Buddy Complex largely depends on the person I’m suggesting it to. If you’re still fairly new to the mecha genre, it’s a fun and breezy little taste of what the genre can offer, albeit one that stumbles in its last act. If you’re already versed, it might still be worth your time, but realize going in, you’ve very likely seen a lot of this done before and better. It has its own likable elements to it, but it’s unlikely that it’s going to change the way you look at the mecha genre for much.
As far as the release itself goes beyond the series, I’m going to say this here and now – if you’re holding out for an English dub, you may be disappointed. Personally, I understand why companies have been making certain releases subtitles only, and can respect it. All the same, for those who tend to prefer dubs, just keep that in mind. Otherwise, this release is pretty standard. Besides the series and finale special, it also comes with some Japanese promotions for both the main show and finale, a US trailer for it, and the clean opening and ending sequences that are almost rarer to NOT see on an anime release.
Personally, I’d say if you really want to be sure, see if Funimation is still streaming this and check out a few episodes to see how you feel. In this day and age, it’s honestly one of the best ways to determine if this is the kind of show you’ll want to make a permanent addition to your collection or not. For my vote it’s a fun ride at least, and even with the shaky last act, it still manages to do enough right to be worth the fairly short time it asks for.
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
-Show carries its well worn story with an earnestness that’s strangely winning
-Some nice mecha action helps spice up an enjoyable, but pretty light first half
-Very rushed finale
-The time travel starts off as a novel idea, but never really comes together for much
-Lack of a dub could be a problem for some