Home > Anime > Check-out Station: Rinne no Lagrange (don’t mind us, we don’t have anything else to do)

Check-out Station: Rinne no Lagrange (don’t mind us, we don’t have anything else to do)

I’ve sat through some classics in years of anime watching. Gunbuster, Diebuster, Evangelion, Eureka Seven, RahXephon, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, I may even include Star Driver in that list. A list of classic “god” robot anime that have made an impact, or at the very least been intensely devoted their own style of storytelling and atmosphere. Rinne no Lagrange is not one of those shows. There’s nothing intense about it. Matter of fact, despite its dressing as a mecha show with powerful robots and interplanetary intrigue, its really a sheep in wolf’s clothing. And that’s what I think is this show’s problem. It attempts to meld genres unsuccessfully, and to the point of making you wonder why one element even matters in the presence of others. And it trivializes the events in the story and its eventual conclusion.

My viewing of Rinne no Lagrange has been a long, and at times trying journey. It didn’t take me long to hate it, but I saw the potential for good things. For one, the show was unique. It seemed to combine elements from slice-of-life comedies with the lessons of perhaps a mahou shoujo series, all wrapped up in the dressing of a “god” mecha show. Any of the three Vox machines, Midori, Hupa and Orca, had immense power.  And Midori had the ability to destroy the world. I thought it was ambitious, if not a bit trendy.

For years anime has been melding different, very often hard to mix genres into series with varying success.  Shows like Code Geass and Bakemonogatari showed that you could appeal to audiences in different ways with different elements. A mecha show could hide a political drama. A harem could be hidden or played with behind fantasy and occult elements. And sex appeal for a long time has been shown to be an outstanding way to introduce viewers to unfamiliar concepts.  Mecha and the mahou shoujo/sentai genres have been melded for years with great success. Nanoha as a classic example, and Vividred Operation and Strike Witches as more recent ones.  So Lagrange‘s very existence is more than justified. You don’t have to say that it’s a well thought out experiment, it should work very well if done right.  My problem is that it isn’t done right. It’s not done well enough.  It doesn’t take enough risks.  And it doesn’t commit to anything, or if it does commit, it’s to the blandest parts of its core and structure.

What Lagrange commits to is the slice-of-life element of the show.  It makes great effort to show off Kamogawa and its waterfront and people. Much time is devoted to the characters, and their every day lives. And anything important is rolled into that. Where this works is in some very nice low key scenes and cinematography. The importance of these years for the lead character, Madoka is never lost in the scenes. This is paradise, and she’s living a dream life in it. Even scenes that take place in an epic setting, among dying starships and crystallized corpses, there is still a beautiful area around where characters can converse about their feelings.

This technique seems to ensure that not a drop of character interaction and development is missed. Everyone seems to get a chance to air out their feelings towards the necessary person, even if that person is deemed dead (more on this later). It can be a bit refreshing when often entire shows are dedicated to just that not happening. Though at times, I wonder why this thing happens, because it seems that some characters are just retreading old ground. But at least it’s realistic how the characters don’t always solve their problems just by talking, nor can they simply come up with solutions to age old problems by talking to someone knew for three minutes.

This technique also allows the most important elements of any show, the characters, to shine, too. When it comes down to it, the show has five really important main characters. The greatest of all being the hyperactive, hyper-positive Madoka. The dainty and naive princess of Le Garite, Lan (“woof!”). The buxom and spunky street urchin Muginami. The King of Le Garite and Lan’s older brother, Dizelmine. And season one’s antagonist (somewhat), Villagulio. I think I’m going to try to address my problems with this show by talking about them through these characters.

Madoka, the hero, the glue, and the catalyst for this whole story is really a character that is a good prism to view the show through. The show’s main goal is her main goal. It is to bring everyone together in happiness. And she does this through good deeds and volunteering most of all. I’ve heard a lot of talk comparing her and her friends to the the three main pilots from Evangelion. Though if that’s true, they’re all bizarro, or negaverse versions of those characters.

If Madoka is Shinji, open to the world, surrounded by healthy relationships and people, and bursting with confidence. She’s definitely the anti-Shinji. Though my main problem with her at first was that she was just too confident, ambitious and assertive. It was kind of annoying seeing this character with only one volume, one speed, one emotion. But she grew on me the more she got beat down and faced adversity. There would be moments where that shell that she uses not only to protect her, but to power herself, would just crumble away. I liked seeing that to be as happy as she was, she had to conquer some demons to do it. She was more than just some “genki” character that got what she wanted through charisma, obstinacy and plot necessity. Sometimes it was through diplomacy, sometimes she did it by b*tching out the person who was causing trouble, and sometimes she just did it with the brute force of her machine. Though the brute force in this episode was a real problem I was having with the series.

Lan could be thought of as the Rei Ayanami of the series.  She was definitely quieter and less assertive than most of the characters, but she still had a much more pronounced voice than Rei ever had in Eva.  And that would make Muginami the Asuka of the show.  I just laugh at that thought.  I’d sooner compare Madoka to Asuka.  Regardless, these two are the rocks and strings of fate that connect the two “alien” worlds to Madoka.  They do great jobs as friends.  Though I find them less interesting when their “men” get involved.  At times I thought Lan borderline worshiped her brother, and the same could be said for Muginami with Villagulio.  A relationship that was just abusive for awhile.  It always made me feel awkward in the second season when everything when back to normal.  The most annoying part of that relationship was at the end of the series where Villagulio had been good to her all second season, and she says goodbye to him while he’s broken and in a hospital bed.  What the hell woman?!  You wait until now?

Then there’s Villagulio and Dizelmine, the classic hot-head and cold as ice character relationship that plays out in this series.  These guys are a mess.  They can’t seem to decide between being friend and being leaders.  But considering they were the two strongest people in their worlds, they could easily have been both.  Instead, because of sh*tty communication, and an unwillingness to compromise they become bitter enemies, then friends.  And at the end of the series Dizelmine damn near kills Villagulio.  Honestly, he should have been dead, but that again is a later complaint.  The two seem like interesting characters, but when it comes down to naming good attributes, I just think of how Villagulio abused Muginami, and how Dizelmine abused Lan and tried to kill his friend.  They’re kinda crappy dudes to be honest.

Now for the rest of the cast, and most of the other series elements, they’re a waste.  The best supporting character is Madoka’s cousin, a scientist who generally doesn’t do much aside from stand around, cock block, and occasionally punch people in the face (which is awesome).  Pretty much everyone else is just there on the sidelines offering commentary.  The crew on the Pharos; the people of the town; all the dead pilots in the show  even the trio of useless idiot guys that showed up at the very beginning of the show, and did nothing of consequence the rest of the series; they all just were kinda wallpaper.  I mean all this talk about feelings and friendship and no one gave a sh*t about the soldiers.  They were dying horrible deaths left and right and it hardly felt like anyone cared.  Only the trio of idiots got any significant time, and they just hung out and bemoaned their situations for awhile until they saw their beloved princess again, then they went back to hanging out around Kamogawa as waiters and crap.  Ugh.

But what really annoyed me was just how pointless the mecha and the battles seemed at times.  The Vox mostly just looked ugly to me, but with beautiful eye popping colors on each of them.  The other mecha were even uglier and less inspired.  They just appeared to be rigid pieces of machinery, but without the artistic merit and beauty that made me accept such a style from the machines in RahXephon.  But the battles worst of all, entailed no skill, not tactics, even the gimmicks in the early battles were forgotten.  Fights just ended up being unspectacular dances between machines shooting pretty lights at each other.  They were boring uninspired affairs that made me wonder why they were even animated.  Half the time the Vox machines would freak out and we’d get a pretty, but distracting display of lights and effects.  And everyone just stares in terror until the end of an episode.  I just found this unforgivable for any show with mecha in them.  The point and appeal of using the the genre seemed to have been missed in animating them.  It really seemed to be pain to watch a show where the scenes that were supposed to be intense weren’t intense.  It was just too simplistic for a mecha show veteran like me.

This problem is well illustrated to me in the last battle between Dizelmine and Villagulio.  The battle just appeared to be two machines banging against each other, guided by the invisible hands of a child.  Nevermind the fact that careful characterization was just thrown out the window by having Dizelmine go mad throughout the battle and quickly throwing his values and self control aside, despite the fact that he and Villagulio had earned a peace between them.  All the while, their space fleets just kinda lined up and fired lasers at each other from a distance, hardly hitting anything.  If it’s boring for the mecha fans, and the people who watch this show for the characters and the slice-of-life aspects don’t like it either, I don’t see the point in spending much time showing it.

Instead they could have spent more time explaining why things happened in the series the way they did.  I never really understood Moid’s motivation throughout the series, and even when it’s revealed that he just wants to experience something only the rinne can bring, I’m still not terribly convinced,and it doesn’t explain jack about his background, or why the hell he or Queen Maycun are still alive after twenty thousand years!  I could attempt to go on about how the show spent so much time on Jersey Club crap and generally bland comedy to its detriment.  Or how I was really annoyed at how they settled a battle at the end of the show with a tea party and throwing a powerful nemesis once.  Or how the show seemed so short on a good explanation for anything, but I think anyone reading this gets my point.  The show actually spent way too much time showing off its characters, and not nearly enough time being genuinely entertaining or using all its elements properly.

To be fair, the series has wonderful animation and a stunning and dazzling color palette.  The way the Voxes fly through the air and leave their respective colors in the sky is gorgeous!  The music is very good, and often used very well.  These are things that helped pull me through the series. And if the action could have lived up to it, and the show could the atmosphere to go with it, this may have been something.

In requiem, I found Rinne no Lagrange to be a watered down series.  Too light to be memorable, too safe to be exciting, and too happy with the day to day life it portrayed to commit to showing how wonderful the other worldly aspects of this series could be.  I couldn’t recommend this over anything from any genre it’s been inspired by.  Instead I would just tell you to find a good slice-of-life recommendation and go with that.  Think Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, K-ON, Ichigo MashimaroNichijou, Toradora and even The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya if you want cute girls doing cute things creatively.  And if you want badass exciting mecha, go with any of the recommendations I named at the beginning of this post.  You’re not gonna get a badass mecha series with cute girls doing cute things with this title.  Instead you should look towards modern mahou shoujo titles like Precure series or Nanoha.  Lagrange is a subpar series that I believe makes itself less than the sum of its parts.

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