ARMOURED TROOPER VOTOMS Retrospective Part 3: BIG BATTLE (1986)

Craig’s Note: This article may not make a lot of sense if you haven’t read the previous two parts or you’re not familiar with the series. To go to the first part follow this link. ARMOURED TROOPER VOTOMS Retrospective Part 1: The TV Series (1983)

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It’s been a while since I wrote about the world of Votoms. Originally I had intended to follow up the second article with this one shortly afterwards however I got pretty busy in the winter months so it’s been a long time coming! So much so that I originally watched this in October but I’ve ended up re-watching it so it’s fresh in my mind for the review. Anyway without further ado, here’s what you should have been reading months ago.

Big Battle is another Armoured Trooper Votoms OVA released in 1986, the year following the end of the TV series. It is the second OVA of the saga and the third piece of Votoms anime produced after the TV show and The Last Red Shoulder. Chronologically this takes place just before the very end of the TV series. In the final episode of the show Chirico and Fyanna were put into “cold sleep”: a state of suspended animation. This story takes place at an undisclosed time before that, possibly weeks or days, but certainly during the off-screen one year period of skipped time in the final episode.

Chirico and our heroes find themselves in the city of Akoba, a place well known for “Battling”, a bloodthirsty sport where people in Armoured Trooper suits engage in battles to the death. If you’ve seen the TV series you’ll know that Chirico’s friend Gotho’s greed is quite legendary. Of course he wants Chirico to participate in a battling match so they can make a lot of money. Chirico is having none of it but then Gotho runs into an old acquaintance from his fight promoter days named Cherokee.

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Cherokee tries to convince Gotho to get Chirico to fight since having one of the legendary “red shoulders”in a battling match would drive ticket sales up considerably. He asks him to work on Chirico and try to get him to fight however he is secretly working for the Balarant.
The Balarant are now trying to create their own version of the genetically enhanced Perfect Soldier using different technology involving cybernetic implants and mind control. The man behind it is none other than Jean Paul Rochina, the antagonist of the Votoms series. He’s the man pulling Cherokee’s strings to arrange a fight between Chirico and his test subject, a brutal cybernetically enhanced madman called Neeva Rada to see who comes out on top. Knowing Chirico’s incredible skill already he sees it as the ultimate test for his new weapon.

Because Chirico’s love Fyanna is one of the genetically enhanced Perfect soldiers her body needs a substance called Jijirium to survive and it’s running out. To solve this problem Chirico and Shako set off on a mission to steal some but run into some trouble along the way. Thanks to Gotho and Vanilla following close behind (seeing another opportunity to make some cash) Fyanna is left unguarded and is kidnapped by Cherokee’s men. They use her as bait to get Chirico more “invested” in the battling match.
The battling match they’ve arranged is no ordinary one on one deathmatch. It’s a fight against a gigantic tank-like “land battleship” controlled by Neeva Rada using psychic implants, hence the titular big battle.

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Big Battle is a curious installment in the Votoms franchise. Story wise it’s kind of unnecessary since it doesn’t really add a great deal to the overall Votoms mythos post TV series except for showing us that Rochina still hasn’t let go of his obsession with Chirico and uncovering the secret of the perfect soldiers. Some may argue that this is a kind of “soft reset” of the TV series since it allows some major plot elements of the TV show to return briefly only to be resolved and tied up at the end and still allow the continuity of the show to remain intact.

For example the early portion of the show featured Chirico chasing Fyanna in an attempt to save her and her being forced to fight him against her will. There’s very much a retread of that in this OVA as well as Chirico being forced back into his red shoulder persona which he had previously seemed to have left behind for good. However it also shows the great resolve and growth of his character that he would return to being something he grew to hate in order to save the woman he loves. At the end of the OVA when the battle is won he makes a decisive effort to shed that part of him forever throwing his military dog tags into the wind.

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Gotho has always been a dodgy mo-fo, a swindler and a greedy bastard but not completely without conscience. Doesn’t he go a bit far in this OVA though? Getting Chirico into a battling match that is about killing rather than incapacitating the opponent? I guess he knows Chirico will win but still……

Many of the same pieces of classic music from the show and previous OVA return and the whole thing is animated beautifully much like its predecessor The Last Red Shoulder.

Neeva is memorable enough but he’s not exactly the most well developed or complex character. He isn’t given a lot of characterisation, he’s basically just a crazy gurning, wide eyed psycho who’ll even kill his own comrades given half the chance. The most insight we get into his character is a nightmarish flashback to the time before he was cybernetically enhanced. We see him in the chaos of battle as his men all get cut down around him by the mythical red shoulders. Here the red shoulders are shown as “reapers of the battlefield” killing people left and right, their scopedogs marching in unison on a path of destruction. The palette of this scene is all grey and blue with the painted red shoulders of the scopedog mechs shining in the darkness. Neeva jerks awake as he remembers being stomped on by one of the scopedogs which is presumably what led to his current predicament as a Balarant military experiment.

There’s some great action and some good character moments and the world is as well realised as previous installments, really giving the feel of a “lived in” universe. The climactic battle against the land battleship is spectacular as well.

In conclusion Big Battle is pretty much just an excuse for more of the same however if you loved previous installments of Votoms as much as I did then you’ll probably be fine with that. It’s a shame it doesn’t try to do much new but I guess creators Takahashi and co thought if it ain’t broke why fix it? As pieces of unashamed fan service go there’s a lot worse out there. It may not make a huge impact on the series overall, but it’s still fun, has great production values and seeing all these great characters again is a bit like slipping into a hot bath.

Thankfully Votoms still had some serious life in it and many more important stories to tell……. Join me again soon when we take a look at the third OVA Roots of Ambition.

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