A self-proclaimed mecha junkie extraordinaire, I like to think I stay in the loop when it comes to anime titles coming down the pipeline involving the genre. Proving me wrong and completely taking me by surprise was FUNimation's North American release of Gonzo's LineBarrels (of Iron). Not only are we talking about massive mecha battles, a bizarrely addicting cast of characters, nudity and a bit of comedy, the material comes from none other than the character designer from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and the director of Pokemon of all things. Before I get ahead of myself with the incredible genius behind the show, let's first take a moment to discuss the hard facts.
Released across two discs, Linebarrels of Iron comes packaged as a pair of thin packs within an outer cardboard slipcase and consists of episodes 1-12. The show comes in at a total runtime of 300 minutes and wears an appropriate TV MA (mature, 17+) rating due to animated violence, a little bit of rough language, female topless nudity, and implied sexual encounters.
Language options are standard sub & dub with both an English dub and original Japanese soundtrack (either in Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround) & the choice of English subtitled if so inclined to turn them on.
Extras include a commentary by the English cast & staff, Promotional Video, Japanese TV Spots, Music Video: Proud, textless opening and closing songs, and a host of fresh Funimation trailers on the second disc.
The story, which isn't overly complex or poorly edited to appear deeper than it really is, goes something like this: Set in 2019, we follow along on the exploits of junior-high school student Kouichi Hayase, who spends his days being bullied at school while reluctantly relying upon the physical protection of his childhood friend, Hideaki Yajima.
His life is forever changed when traversing a nearby park on his bicycle while running an errand for the class bullies and an artificial satellite falls from orbit. Crushed, presumably to death, it is later revealed that the accident was not in fact a fallen satellite, but rather the Machina mecha, Linebarrel's out-of-control entry from earth orbit. Lying next to the downed robot and bloody young man is a fully naked beautiful woman (Emi Kizaki), the apparent pilot of the machine.
Through a fairly interesting explanation, it is revealed that in the moment of contact, young Kouichi became a "Factor"; the name given to Machina pilots who possess a physical link with the robot itself. Since the link works both ways, Kouichi discovers that he possesses incredible physical strength as a result of the merger as well. Before long he decides to follow Emi's advice and join JUDA, the world's largest medical equipment maker, which happens to secretly own several other Machina robots for the purpose of protecting humanity.
On the surface you may believe that this prose is nothing unique among the mecha genre: the secret organization, the regular school-aged kid with the ability to be the savior of the human race, fan service galore, a requisite beach-episode and so on and perhaps in some capacity, you would be correct. However, what makes this piece unique is a pair of elements that go a long way toward interesting entertainment: 1) Pacing- It is so nice to encounter a mecha property that doesn't attempt to be Evangelion. The story builds on a linear, episode-by-episode basis (rather than jumps all over the timeline in effort to appear deeper than it really it is), and existential themes are not forced down the viewer's throat in the process. 2) Unpredictability- This is a tale that succeeds on its own merit: characters you like die, the good guys don't always win, the world isn't fair. Here's a show that likes to toss plot twists into the mix! Viewer interest is never forced and the surprises just plain work.
Visuals deserve praise as well with many smooth computer-generated sequences per episode providing a fantastic scope of size and sheer devastational power of the machenas. When blended with that unrivaled sense of pacing mentioned above and it's clear that Masamitsu Hidaka, perhaps most well-known as the director of Pokémon, takes his craft very seriously!
Japanese band Ali Project provides the opening and closing themes as well as several of the scores throughout and just nails the mood of the anime with catchy, upbeat vocals atop musical themes that hint toward a slightly more sinister depth: A metaphor for the innocence lost in the show's main story arc itself perhaps.
In all, I found the first 12 episodes of Linebarrels to be delightfully entertaining. The blend of elements and near-perfect pacing provide much to be excited about and the tight visuals only further compliment the storytelling. Whether or not any more episodes will follow is yet to be determined but I, for one, certainly hope so and eagerly await such news.