I can’t help but want to call the anime series Argevollen, “Argevo-run-run” because in Happiness Charge Pretty Cure, which aired the same season as Argevollen, the girls would say before transforming, “Kawa-run-run.”
I enjoy science fiction a lot. Yet, in my many years of watching science fiction anime I’ve found the protagonists are generally obtuse. Granted, these series try to grow the character, but many seem to fall short and I am stuck listening to characters who have delusions of grandeur with little perspective on the events happening around them. In late 2014 when I first laid eyes on the series Argevollen (白銀の意思アルジェボルン Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen) I had a feeling of dread that I would be watching a series where the protagonist acted, or rather thought, like a child. However, an odd thing occurred as the series progressed. The protagonist became a well-developed character by the end of the series. It’s almost insidious how the production team did this, but it’s a testament to the writing staff for the series. By focusing on how the characters spent their time between combat rather than the combat itself, we were able to get a better perspective on their motivations and personalities. This made for a more interesting protagonist compared to most other protagonists in the science fiction genre of anime. But, despite a heavy focus on non-combat scenes, there were plenty of action sequences that were stimulating. What piqued my interest in the series, though, was a midseason narrative twist that fundamentally altered the character dynamics.
I understand there are times in fiction when authors include characters who are loathsome. One of the best examples comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with the character Daisy Buchanan. I’ve heard arguments that we were never supposed to like her as she represented the carefree nature of the incredibly wealthy. As such, the purpose of loathsome characters isn’t just to incite the ire of the readers or viewers, but to make us think about the nature of the society the author is commenting on. Yet, anime characters who were repugnant weren’t objectionable because they were a representation of humanity’s foibles and follies, but rather they were there just to make viewers dislike them. Oftentimes, it’s the villains, but every so often there would be a protagonist who brought my blood to a boil. Most notable of these was the protagonist from Mobile Suite Gundam Seed: Destiny, Shin Asuka. Over the years, though, I’ve come to terms with his deplorable nature and after viewing the series multiple times, I believe I may have found what the production team wished to accomplish with him. However, that doesn’t mean he was any less loathsome. But, that’s a subject for another article.
These types of protagonists can certainly make an anime series difficult to stomach, but I’ve often found other enjoyable aspects of the given series to pardon this. Argevollen was similar in this regard. That is, the series was quick to address the issues and tropes about the protagonist, Tokimune Susumu, and found a good avenue to develop him as the story progressed over the course of twenty-four episodes. For example, when he was introduced in the first episode he appeared to be the standard protagonist seen in science fiction anime: a hothead, lacking discipline, and, as my uncle who was a navigator in the U.S. Air Force once described fighter pilots who take unnecessary chances, a “cowboy.” While I find these character traits offensive for a pilot of a giant robot, let alone a member of the military, they were nonetheless traits teens could latch onto—seeing as teens are generally rambunctious. However, unlike other anime series these personality traits were on display for the first three episodes before taking a secondary position to character growth and development. This came in part from Jamie Hazaford, the engineer for Tokimune’s robot Trail Krieger, in that Jamie was someone Tokimune could confide in. Considering that both these characters had to work closely with each other, it made it easier for the two to bond, not romantically, but as co-workers and friends. The seventh and eighth episodes of the series captured this quite well by forcing Jamie and Tokimune to spend time together during their squad’s short leave for rest and relaxation.
The bond between Tokimune and Jamie was achieved through some wonderful moments of dialog between them during the two above-mentioned episodes. As I said, the two were forced to spend time together, and though they were hesitant at first, by lowering their guard we saw a bond develop between the two, as well as coming to understand what motivated them. With Jamie, as a consultant rather than a member of the military, it appeared she only wanted to advance within the company she was employed at. However, beneath this there was a sense she was hoping for the best for Independent Unit 8 and Tokimune. Tokimune, on the other hand, had a far more interesting reason for joining the military. On paper it seems ridiculous—he believed the military buried the circumstances of his sister’s death and wanted to find out the truth—but suffice it to say, it played out quite well over the course of the series. These moments where we had the opportunity to glean the characters’ personalities made Argevollen far more interesting to watch than most other science fiction anime, and I greatly appreciated the production team for doing this. Action may drive the events in a series, but if a series never stops to address core issues, such as the characters’ personalities, motivations, or the larger scope of the narrative, the atmosphere of the series can quickly become stale.
That’s not to say there weren’t any action scenes in Argevollen. In fact, a good portion of the series was centered on action, be it social interactions or combat. For me personally, though, the social interactions were far more interesting because one party almost always had ulterior motives and seeing each party try to gain the upper hand through rapport was mesmerizing. Please don’t misunderstand me, though, because the combat was also spellbinding in its own right. This came from how Independent Unit 8 seemed to lack many of the restrictions faced by a standard army battalion. As such, they were consistently placed in situations where the odds were stacked against them. Hence, when compounded with the episodes that examined and built upon the characters’ personalities and dynamics, each sortie became riveting to watch. The fourteenth and sixteenth episodes displayed this rather well as they showcased Independent Unit 8 working with other squads, but Independent Unit 8 still had the most developed combat capabilities of any of the units involved in the action.
What made these two episodes interesting, though, wasn’t how well the different units worked together but how Independent Unit 8 almost singlehandedly defended an outpost against a bogey, the Strum Alpha, and its pilot, Schlein Richthofen, as well as aided with the retreat of the personnel stationed there. This was because the Strum Alpha had similar technical specifications and combat capabilities as the Argevollen, making it outclass many of the combat-ready Krieger’s. However, because the odds were stacked against Independent Unit 8, this culminated in a climatic battle in the sixteenth episode when the Argevollen and Tokimune came head-to-head with the Strum Alpha and Schlein Richthofen. As with Independent Unit 8 defending the base to the bitter end, what was interesting about this scene was how both pilots lost themselves to the operating system of their respective machines. While going into depth about the operating systems could upset the narrative twist, suffice it to say, seeing the two characters in a battle frenzy was one of the memorable moments of the series. As a viewer, while it’s not difficult to watch the scene, it’s still an intense action scene as far as the series goes. However, it was seeing the reaction of the members of Independent Unit 8 to Tokimune during this episode that gave us wonderful insight into the changing dynamics in Argevollen.
Those two episodes helped reinforce the character dynamics of Independent Unit 8, but it was the midseason twist to the story that was fascinating beyond belief. It’s quite shocking to say the least and created and interesting dissonance between Tokimune and the unit’s commander, Ukyō Samonji. Again, going into great detail about this could ruin the narrative for some, but it came relatively out of the blue and added a great deal to the narrative of the story as well as the character potential for the members of the unit, especially Tokimune, who I’ve already said was hotheaded. The twist actually shaped the series as a whole to be honest, and without it many of the events in the final episodes of the series wouldn’t have felt as earnest as they did had the twist not been introduced when it was. While I feel other series have revealed narrative twists far better than Argevollen, for the story the series was presenting, it was a welcome change of pace.
Argevollen is definitely one of the better science fiction anime I’ve seen in recent years. The production team at Xebec did a wonderful job in taking a character who could have been rather frustrating to listen to and kept him as a two-dimensional caricature. What’s remarkable about this as well was how the production team toyed with our perception of Tokimune very early on by eschewing the temptation to present him as the standard civilian who, by happenstance, became a pilot for the military and was coming to terms with war. The focus on quieter episodes also helped buttress the action, be it social or combat, and gave the series a depth I often find lacking in other anime series. It was disappointing how the series quickly wrapped up, though, as it left a few gaps in the narrative. However, this is a common practice in the anime industry so production companies can potentially create a second season. This may have been my only real qualm with Argevollen, but it’s trivial enough to not overshadow the entirety of the series. I recommend fans of the giant robot genre watch Argevollen. Those not partial to science fiction or giant robots should give the first five episodes a chance, though. You never know, you may find you’ll enjoy it just like I did.