Burst Angel or Bakuretsu Tenshi
The animes Burst Angel or Bakuretsu Tenshi is produced by the usually reliable Gonzo, directed by Koichi Ohata and written by Fumihiko Shimo. This is essentially science fiction, set at least fifty years into the future and featuring two interlocking story arcs. The first is the battle for Tokyo which will determine the fate of Japan. The second is the personal story of Jo, a biologically engineered soldier who has escaped her training camp without losing her enthusiasm for fighting.
The primary battle is between RAPT (the Recently Armed Police Task Force), a renegade military outfit that aims to take over the country, and a dissident faction of the White Orchid Clan (Bai Lan) led by Sei. Acting on the advice of her grandfather, she recruits a team, including Jo, to fight for truth, justice and the Japanese way. The other members of the team are Amy, a teenage hacker, Meg an orphan who occasionally uses a really big gun, and Leo Jinno who maintains the fighting machines used by Jo. When they rescue Kyohei Tachibana, he’s immediately bullied into becoming the team’s chef. He pays the same penalty as the other recruits. If you’re talented, you get an immediate battlefield commission into the team.
This serial allows me to start talking about one of the classic themes in anime: that of the armoured suit. In most military science fiction, we have what you would describe as traditional technology. Human drivers relate to the technology in much the same way as soldiers do in today’s tanks, i.e. they sit there and drive the vehicle to its maximum mechanical potential. One of the clichés of submarine dramas is that moment when the captain orders the helmsman to take the sub below its design depth. The crew sweat, the seams groan, the odd rivet pops and a pipe is suddenly likely to burst, allowing a spurt of sea water or a cloud of steam to emerge. But the old rust bucket hangs together and, as the sub manoeuvres at previously unexplored depths to escape the hunting ships above, the Captain smiles and remarks that engineers always build in redundancy.
Well suits like Django exploit the psychic ability of the drivers in a direct symbiotic link. Here, the driver becomes the suit, instinctively relating to the mechanical body and able to inject bursts of “adrenalin” into the mere metal to make it go way beyond its design specifications. For these purposes, the suits are designed with an interface that picks up and amplifies the intellectual and emotional power of the driver. Since Jo has been designed as a supersoldier, her abilities enable the suit to become extraordinary. More importantly, Jo is continuing to accept and grow into her powers. Her development is encouraged by the constant need to rescue Meg — she’s the clichéd damsel in distress along the literal lines of Pauline in the old silent films — always in peril and tied up by villains. The relationship between Jo and Meg is faintly homoerotic, which makes Jo highly motivated to rescue Meg.
More generally, all the prepubescent and adolescent girls are drawn in the usual sexualised way, emphasising breasts and pudenda. We are even given the usual more revealing scene in a swimming pool where breasts and curves can be more lovingly explored. Obviously, the anime is aimed at men with a taste for younger girls wearing as little clothing as decently possible. When another female supersoldier from the same training establishment appears, the competition with Jo fuels even faster development. Their resumption of hostilities is presented in a directly genre-bending sequence where Jo appears to be transported back in time and, as fantasy, must relate to an enigmatic samurai trying to defend his village from a dragon. Except, of course, the dragon proves to be another suit like Django. The result is that Jo becomes the ultimate fighting machine when paired with an upgraded Django.
What lifts the sfnal elements out of the routine is the political and urban fantasy context for the fighting. The trigger for the militarisation of Japanese cities has been its Americanisation in one specific respect. As a culture that values some of the traditions of its samurai warrior past, the decision to allow the ordinary Japanese citizen to carry a gun has had a profound effect. Once the genie is out of the bottle, the use of violence has gone beyond epidemic proportions and has necessitated the introduction of specialist policing units to cope. Hence the formation of RAPT and its association with the mainstream White Orchid Clan. This pairing gives enough muscle to impose a form of martial law on the major cities. Criminals, both individual and in gangs, are simply shot down. The urban fantasy element is the appearance of strange creatures, somewhat zombie-like in behaviour, with glowing brains. This is actually better than it sounds and feeds back into the emergence of new technologies capable of controlling and, if necessary, eliminating humans.
This is not so much an original or groundbreaking anime as one doing all the basics reasonably well. Jo’s slow growth from manufactured soldier to human being is handled well. It’s not unlike Orson Scott Card’s seminal series of novels describing Ender Wiggin as he goes through Battle School and then tries to atone for his destruction of the Formics. The problem comes at the end when the linkage between Jo’s development and the creation of the shining brains is fudged. At a slightly different level, Kyohei grows into his role as catering officer for the troops — once actually getting into the action with Jo. The two male roles are significant. Kyohei is a desperately inexperienced adolescent and frequently embarrassed by girls, but he manages the rite of passage with increasing confidence. Leo Jinno may be the ultimate mechanic but, socially, he acts like a spoilt child, perpetually throwing tantrums when Jo damages his latest toys. The fighting is interesting, particularly as the new creatures emerge, first from the tunnels of the underground and then from the skies. Eventually, the real confrontation is one between the human symbiote and the shining brains in their machines. Both are, in a sense, new species fighting for the right to survive. Darwin would have been proud of the ideas as circumstance and direct intervention lead to the evolution of new lifeforms which then compete.
Overall, Burst Angel is just about worth watching through to the end.
Thanks are due to Autumn Rain for the screenshots.