ARMOURED TROOPER VOTOMS Retrospective Part 2: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)

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Released in 1985, two years after the original series, the OVA The Last Red Shoulder shows a previously unseen chapter of Chirico’s story that takes place between the first and second arcs of the Armoured Trooper Votoms TV show (Uoodo city and Kunmen Jungle wars). I chose to review all parts of the Votoms anime series in production order (not chronological) as I feel this gives newcomers to the show a bit more history and perspective as to how the series has progressed over the years.

Upon watching this OVA for the first time a few years ago I wondered why this part of the story wasn’t present in the show and why they chose to release this storyline in OVA format instead of just adding another two episodes to the TV show’s episode count. Recently when rewatching it I asked someone I know who is a much longer serving Votoms fan to give me an answer. According to a Japanese friend on Twitter called “Little Mucha”, an interview with creator Ryosuke Takahashi stated that it was always the intention to tell this part of the story later since the overall plotline they envisaged for Votoms was too big to tell in the TV show alone. That’s kind of what I guessed but it was nice to have it confirmed as there isn’t a great deal of official information about the show in English. In fact only one book I know of was ever released: a Votoms role playing game sourcebook. While it contains a lot of info on the Votoms universe and different Votoms media, it does not include any sort of production background info or any cast/crew interviews at all.

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The OVA shows Chirico reuniting with former members of his deadly special forces unit the red shoulders in an attempt to hunt down their old traitorous boss Sargeant Palisen. The OVA reveals that not only was Palisen in league with the secret society but that he killed several members of the red shoulders in an attempt to create a completely natural version of the manufactured “perfect soldier” seen in the TV series. As a result, Chirico and his remaining comrades have taken it upon themselves to track him down and exact their revenge.

Meanwhile we learn more about Ypsilon, his “birth” and also why his connection to Fyana is so strong including the origins of his love for her. I didn’t really discuss Ypsilon in the original article because I didn’t want to get too heavy into each individual storyline’s plot. There is so much to discuss with Votoms it could’ve easily became a plot synopsis rather than a review.
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The animation feels a little smoother than the TV series and the character design, tone and look of the OVA is one hundred per cent in line with the original show. Some of the same music returns including the oft-used jazz action music and the iconic opening theme.
My favourite thing about The Last Red Shoulder is that we get to see Chirico’s surviving comrades for the first time. The writing does a really good job in presenting a quite realistic portrayal of people who are still suffering from the effects of war and their betrayal. I love the fact that rather than being portrayed as a group of  one dimensional badasses they are shown to be skilled and have a certain degree of bravado but also to be human and very vulnerable. It’s done in a subtle and well handled way that doesn’t hit you over the head.

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Though this OVA really serves to fill in the story gaps, give more depth to Ypsilon and explain more about the military’s role in the secret society and the red shoulders themselves the best thing about it is that it’s so focused on characters despite having a decent amount of action in it. In fact for a 50 minute production it totally nails the right balance between the two and makes for somewhat of a sublime viewing experience for fans of the TV show. Despite never having seen the other red shoulders characters before it does a good job of making you care about them. Speaking of previously unheard of characters, despite Palisen not appearing in the original series he doesn’t feel shoehorned in without good reason. I have no problem accepting that Palisen fits into the TV continuity particularly since the show outlines Chirico’s betrayal by the Gilgamesh; we just didn’t know who was behind the order to have him killed until now.

The armoured trooper action has an intensity about it despite the fact TV viewers know that Chirico must have survived this encounter since the rest of the show takes place after this. That I warmed to the other red shoulders and they were developed enough for me to care about them as characters helped the stakes of this OVA feel higher. Of course the title is a clue to their fate but the ending still affected me. Sometimes it’s not so much knowing something happens but how it happens that gives the emotional or dramatic beats of a story its intended effect.

All in all The Last Red Shoulder is a great expansion of Chirico’s story and you’d be nuts to want to watch the TV series without it, however…..

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Availability: Sadly The Last Red Shoulder never had an official video release in the west. The only place you can buy it on DVD or Blu ray that I know of is Japan. The only English language versions that exist are internet fansubs. I’m so glad that some dedicated fans put in the hard work to allow us to be able to watch some of these classics. So many older shows and OVAs go unreleased in the US, UK and all over the world. To these talented and hard working individuals I tip my purely metaphorical hat to you, I’ve seen 50% more classic anime because of you lovely people.

Please feel free to comment on this article. I love hearing your views on classic shows and your experiences with them.

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