['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers a recent TV anime series where the skill of one gamer literally saves the human race.]

overmanad.jpgThe real robot revolution led by Yoshiyuki Tomino had a pretty bleak narrative outlook for most of the eighties and nineties. All the series he created invariably had the entire cast summarily bumped off, to the point he was given the nickname of “Kill ‘em all Tomino”. He also went a bit weird towards the end of the nineties.

Exiting that chrysalis of weirdness into the new millenium, Tomino started to create real robot shows that were markedly different from his previous apocalyptic visions (for a start a lot less people died). If anything Tomino became more innovative and open to newer ideas from the younger generation. One recent series in particular, that of Overman King Gainer, actually went so far as to have a super hardcore gamer as the nerdy protagonist.

Naturally, this crossover of contemporary gaming pop-culture into the world of robot related anime is something that warms my black heart.

PDVD_005.jpgFrom the eclectic opening with bizarrely futuristic mecha performing a dance move known as “the monkey” and the dulcet tones of Yoshiki Fukuyama accompanying the surreal aesthetic proceedings, Overman King Gainer is a show that makes its mark quite quickly.

The narrative precept is that the future is environmentally ravaged and one where the planet is undergoing a mild ice age. The remains of humanity live in domed cities under an autocratic rule. However, many wish for a better (and warmer) life on the shores of a mythical land called Yapan. As such, many attempt to go on an exodus to this so called land but few actually make it, either due to the harsh weather conditions or the fact that their government has a habit of tracking them down and shooting them in the face.

king_gainer_mecha.jpgThe series starts with Gainer Sanga achieving a 200th consecutive win on an online mecha game (obviously), to which he is crowned as King Gainer. However, on the outskirts of Gainer’s domed city, called Wulgusk, is a man by the name of Gain Bijou who has been drafted in to help with a secret exodus. Gain is an expert sniper and generally a bit of a tough lad and it’s intimated that due to their similar names of Gainer and Gain, both are imprisoned due to Gain’s seedy past. So the Tomino narrative tumble begins, where Gainer (the nerdy gaming kid) is roped in with a bunch of exiled misfits and inadvertently responsible for piloting a super futuristic mecha called an overman (which Gainer naturally calls King Gainer, after his gaming moniker).

Over the course of 26 episodes Gainer proves his gaming worth by thwarting the various government troops (sent by London IMA and the Siberian Railway Patrol), only to face the real menace behind the environmental catastrophe that befell our meagre planet in the not too distant past (hint: it's an ice spewing super robot that looks like a pig).

PDVD_022.jpgJust prior to Gainer's inevitable date with a Tomino narrative climax, there are a few points that are relevant to the contemporary gaming cause. For one Gainer still plays the game that crowned him in the first episode and throughout the series his rival, that of Cynthia Lane, plays an important role. Not only is she an ardent gamer but also an equally potent overman pilot (her overman is inspired in terms of design and almost gleefully embodies gaming functionality in an animated form).

The truly interesting aspect of Gainer's gaming addiction is when he blurs the line between the real world and the virtual.

Now, before you roll your eyes this isn't some kind of hellish misinterpretation of gaming culture (a la Virtuosity, which is a truly awful film if you are ever subjected to it) but something actually quite insightful and profound.

PDVD_001.jpgIn one of the final episodes of the series Gainer is tasked with pushing his senses to the limit, he needs to strengthen his oversense to tackle a particularly potent foe (the demon ice pig in case you're wondering) and he approaches the task by improving his gaming skill within the context of piloting his overman. This means Gainer ends up competing in a worldwide tournament whilst fighting real world overmen forces. This translates to him having a video console open in his cockpit as he is slaying multiple actual opponents.

This is very interesting for one very good reason; that gaming is understood well enough to be something that is regarded by the mainstream audience (at least in Japan) as something that expands the senses. This chimes in rather wonderfully with several psychological studies which espouse the cognitive virtues of gaming (you know, the ones that equate gamer reaction times to that of astronauts and athletes).

ace3_jacket.jpgThere's even a nice nod to the older generation as the grandmother of Cynthia is astounded that an overman pilot is resorting to gaming as a means of improving their oversense, though thankfully one of the cast regulars is on hand to diffuse the situation by stating that it's perfectly fine and that's how kids today go about "relaxing".

Naturally, if I was a self aggrandizing ponce I'd be pontificating about the post modern ramifications of something like that but instead it just fills me with cautious optimisim. Tomino is definitely from an age were tolerance, let alone understanding, for gaming would be a cultural insult. Yet, he has embraced the contemporary generation's passion and enthusiasm for this burgeoning medium. To the extent that he's structured an entire series around the premise that personal enlightenment can also include the pursuit of ninja gaming skills.

Tomino also went out of his way to really sculpt the visual aspects of the series as well. All the traditional mecha designs were admittedly handled by Kimitoshi Yamane but all the overman designs were created by none other than Akira Yasuda (of Capcom fame). In addition, Tomino and Yasuda worked closely to create each of the overmen's "overskills", with some of them being truly inventive (such as being able to locally control time).

So why care about an anime series from 2003? Despite the narrative connection to gaming, King Gainer will be appearing in the upcoming Another Century's Episode 3 this September. This is the first time any of the overmen will actually make it into a game, unbelievably they have yet to be featured in a Super Robot Wars game. As such, the series has come full circle; where a fictional gamer became a mecha pilot and saved the world, we'll now be able to tread in Gainer Sanga's footsteps and do likewise (well, kinda).

king_gainer_op.gif[Kurokishi is a humble servant of the Drake forces and his interests include crushing inferior opponents, combing his mane of long silvery hair and dicking around with cheap voice synthesisers. When he's not raining down tyrannical firepower upon unsuspecting peasants in his Galava aura fighter he likes to take long moonlight walks and read books about cheese.]