Martian Successor Nadesico presents the tale of the individuals who are selected to man the titular ship in the year 2196 as the Earth is under attack by an enemy that are sold to the public as “Jovian Lizards” though they haven’t been seen by the public as all contact to date with them has been with their automated weapons and ships. The enemy so far has managed to push the expansion of the Earthlings back as they decimated the Earth colonies on Mars and have been challenging the fortifications of the Moon as well as having managed to get some of their ships inside the defense barrier of Earth itself. With the military being forced backwards their popularity and influence has waned allowing one of the largest conglomerate, Nergal Heavy Industry, the opening to create their own battleships of which the Nadesico is the first in this new line. Given that the ship isn’t part of the military the company is free to choose the most talented people it can scout though there is a down side here for them as the crew is brilliant but eccentric.
This dual nature is possibly most personified by the ship’s captain, Yurika Misumaru, whose grasp of military matters may only be outmatched by her rather scattered personality, particularly when it comes to her childhood friend and love interest Akito Tenkawa who winds up on the ship mostly by chance though Yurika may find herself being out shined by 12 year old prodigy Ruri Hoshino. As the crew enters the fray, the situation will fall apart around them as the military has designs on the Nadesico once it proves to be the most advanced that Earth currently has which often places the crew in a position of having a terse alliance with their supposed allies while fighting what they have been lead to believe to be their true enemy. When the true face of their enemy is revealed as well as the true reason for the current war will the crew of the Nadesico be able to rise to the challenge that the future will demand or will they be swamped by the machinations of those powers that surround them- and who may have placed operatives already aboard the ship?
Probably the best way to sum up Nadesico is by pointing out the obvious- the show is equal parts love letter and loving parody of the giant robot series that came before from the 70s and 80s (primarily) and that it is willing to both lavish praise as well as tweak many of the ideas and concepts as it goes about its own tale. The most obvious example of this concept is seen in the preoccupation many of the characters have with the (in series) animated show Gekigangar 3 which is about as stereotypical a giant robot show as one could imagine comprised of three youths who pilot a combining robot to fight off an alien menace in the kind of over the top “hot blooded and manly” fashion that the era reveled in. That certainly is far from the only reference as there are numerous homages found throughout the series including nods to current anime series and a nod to a (then and still) major star as the ship’s communication officer, Megumi, was an anime voice actor who had trained as a nurse before joining the crew- a clear reference to superstar voice actress Megumi Hayashibara who trained and became a registered nurse before breaking through into VA work.
The show isn’t all humor though as along with laughs it does attempt often to show some of the horrors of war. The male lead Akito is often seen early in the series suffering from symptoms that appear very close to PTSD as he was a resident of Mars before the Jovians attacked and wiped out all the colonists which when combined with the suspicious deaths of his parents and his complete failure to protect a young girl named AI when the assault began. These events leave him in a form of conflict as all he wants initially is to be a cook but circumstances keep placing him behind the controls of one of the series robot battle machines, a role he turns out to have no small amount of skill at which in turn leads him to have even more conflicts with his own psyche. As the series progresses the crew has to deal with both the joys of coming together as a type of family but also the horrors of war when they have to face death both somewhat predictable in combat but also one that is shocking in its senselessness and out of the blue appearance.
Where the show runs into issues though is that it doesn’t always rise up to the occasion of being able to live up to the heights it attempts to set for itself. The series writers do a fantastic job at times of handling the humor that they are aiming for and even manage to bridge the gap to include moments that create a sense of mystery and drama but the follow through isn’t always handled as well as one might hope. Throughout the series events often build to the climax in a given episode and then don’t get carried over to the next with the kind of natural fluidity one might expect or hope for as some incredibly powerful and important moments seem to move to the background, being brought up from time to time to show the audience that they weren’t forgotten but not dealt with in a manner that makes the events carry as much power as the short little reappearance seems to want to make the viewer believe it should convey. This plays into a sense that the series seemed to get away from its creators as other than just these moments there are characters who are built up early on just to be relegated to the background as events move forward. Even more tellingly, a mystery that surrounds a couple of key characters including Akito doesn’t have the most natural follow through and this lack of organic building of tension creates an ending that feels a bit rushed and not as natural as it should given the lack of progressive developing and highlighting events to create a feeling that the mystery is important to the overall show. Combined with these writing elements one of the things that really stands out is that at times some of the characters are animated in a rather off model way which the high level of production that was obviously used to animate the series causes to just stand out even more so. The negatives are mostly not terribly noticeable through the majority of the episodes but they combine together to create an almost series of paper cuts that serve to keep the series from becoming one of the recognized all time greatest series and leave it standing “merely” as very outstanding…which in retrospect is a goal no small number of shows would kill to get to.