Mecha anime has a few legends that nearly everyone knows about and nearly every anime creator tries to emulate. Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion are timeless classics and every time you try to watch some other mecha anime, you can’t help but feel like they try too hard to capture their magic instead of trying something new. Of course that’s a generalisation, there’s been some cool standout series like Gurren Lagann but not every mecha anime dares to be so unique and daring. Aquarion was a fairly ambitious project to create something that would become a legend in its own right, and while the sands of time haven’t been as kind to Aquarion as they have been to Gundam and Neon Genesis, Aquarion still manages to deliver a mecha anime that stands out in its execution. Gundam was all about overarching politics and technology, Neon Genesis was very much character driven and placed the onus on the mental condition of its cast. Aquarion feels like a mix of the two, as there is a self aware world (none of the heavy politics, but a lot of mythology) and a great deal of focus on character development and relationships. In fact, the character progression runs parallel to all the mecha action, and they both complement each other quite well.
Aquarion is about a legendary mech that is powered by relationships between its pilots, and the love and passion they exude. In fact, when the three Vector fighter jets merge together to form Aquarion, the merge and transformation isn’t badass like it is in Voltron, but rather it is depicted to be… sensual. The sensation that the pilots feel when they merge together is damn near sexual and often described as something akin to an orgasm. The interesting thing is though, Aquarion has all these heavy yet subtle sexual innuendos without having to resort to any of the ecchi fan service… now that takes a lot of talent. One of the episodes deals with a character becoming “addicted” to merging, with his condition being treated as a sex addiction in every sense. In fact every time the characters talk about merging to form Aquarion, they’re really just talking about sex. It’s silly but it works.
The reason why a mech powered by love, sex, and puberty ends up making sense is because it ties nicely with the character’s personalities and their relationships. After all, a mech being piloted by three people requires teamwork, and nothing says teamwork like intense,fiery passion between three people. Sexual undertones aside, the various forms and attacks of Aquarion are a reflection of the bond and connection between its pilots. This makes things interesting, as the emotional conditioning of these characters tie nicely with Aquarion’s combat prowess.
The cast of Aquarion are a neurotic bunch for sure, each being a bigger head-case than the next, but a great part of their training as the chosen Elements of Aquarion often involves learning about themselves and each other, rather than combat. Some of these learning exercises can get weird though, such as the one involving feet. These characters go through the trials and tribulations of growing up and finding their place in the world, and more importantly overcoming their anxieties and existential angsts. The lessons they learn about life and relationships tie in nicely with the combat sequences where they apply what they’ve learnt on the battlefield.
Now speaking of battlefield, I can’t believe I forgot to talk about the main adversary in Aquarion… the inter-dimensional Shadow Angels that break into the human world to abduct the souls of the innocent. Still, as frequently they’re reinforced, they are pretty much overshadowed by the intense character development. That’s not to say that the Shadow Angels are swept aside, they’re just there to serve as a catalyst that drives everything else. In fact, as character focused as each episode is, there is almost always a mech battle, even a short one, usually thrown in towards the end of each episode.
Now speaking of characters, I couldn’t help but find them irritating since they are basically going through puberty in maximum overdrive. Still, there was one episode later on in the series where there were a ton of inside jokes and I couldn’t help but laugh. I was shocked by how much I laughed during that episode, but that made me realise that over the course of the 26 episodes, these neurotic and love-crazed idiots left a lasting impression without me even noticing. It’s a huge cast for sure, and by the end of it all each of them manage to get themselves noticed.
It’s nicely produced show for sure, the character designs are mature, the music is great, and the pseudo 3D mech battles are fun to watch. However, Aquarion suffers from the curious case of having one horribly animated episode for reasons I’m not sure of… budget cuts? guest director? Whatever the case the animation quality took a major hit in that one episode. In fact, Gurren Lagann too is guilty of this curious anomaly with its infamous Episode 4.
Aquarion isn’t anything remarkable or legendary, but it tried its hardest to be something memorable and succeeds in some respects. The nice selection of extras featured in this complete collection highlights the creation process of Aquarion and some really good selection of uplifting music. Aquarion was followed by a sequel called Aquarion EVOL, which is set 12,000 years after. You don’t really need to watch both, and personally if you had to choose I would recommend EVOL (another review for another day). Aquarion at the end of the day doesn’t evoke the qualities of something legendary, but you rarely see character relationships tie in so strongly with mech combat like you do in Aquarion.