Martian Successor Nadesico: Volume 1

It's been a while since I tackled an Anime series, so I checked back to my recommendations post and decided that I should try Martian Successor Nadesico next. It gets good reviews, it seems to be recommended for newcomers to Anime, and it meets the requirements I laid out in my recommendation request (said requirements won't stay in place forever, but I've got to start somewhere). The only drawback is that it's out of print and Netflix is missing disc 5 (of 6 total) in the series. But I was able to find a torrent of the series and downloaded the episodes on that disc, so I think I'll be alright. I just finished the first disc and wanted to give some of my initial impressions.
  • So far, things seem to be pretty engaging. The characters are interesting and the story seems to be moving along well enough. The only thing that is a little strange for me is that there appears to be a ton of references to other anime series. Not having watched a lot of Anime, I can't really say for sure, but it seems pretty obvious to me that this is at least partially a parody of older Anime series. For instance, one obvious source of parody is how some of the characters become obsessed with a 100 year old series called "Gekigangar 3," which features a giant fighting robot that looks to this newbie's eyes like a version of Voltron or something. I'm positive there are tons of references going on there (it just feels referential, the way you'd be able to tell Family Guy was being referential even if you didn't know what they were referencing). Also, several of the characters tend to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, a sure sign of parody. Again, I'm finding the series engaging and funny (I laughed out loud several times) in its own right, but I wonder if I'd get more out of it if I was more familiar with the giant fighting robot genre?

    Voltron?  Is that you?
    This mecha looks so familiar...

  • Considering that I've pegged this as a parody of your typical giant fighting robot genre series, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that almost everything about this series reminds me of Vandread and Vandread: Second Stage. Lots of things, from the characters and their stories (for instance, Akito is like Hibiki in several ways: they've both got a mysterious past, they've both got a ditzy girl chasing them around, and they're both pseudo-untrained pilots.), to the enemy (the Jovian Lizards also seem to use robots to do their fighting, just like the enemy in Vandread - the ships even have similar designs), to the combinging robot fighters (which, granted, don't happen in the same way) are similar. MSN came out before Vandread so I can only assume that they're both borrowing from a common set of archetypical anime characters and conventions. In any case, I'm guessing that I'll be using Vandread as a point of reference to all anime in this genre going forward.
  • I was somewhat shocked by the end of episode 3 and start of episode 4. Something surprising happens to the character I had pegged as a cross between Bart and Hibiki from Vandread, and, well, I just wasn't expecting anything like that this early in the series.
  • The extras on the DVD are actually helpful for once, particularly the Translation Notes. At one point, a character who had stowed away in a shipping container makes her entrance, and one of her friends tries to push her back into the container. In response, she says "Don't put me back in... I'm not a mackeral that has to be canned." Inexplicably, she starts laughing hysterically. At the time, I remember thinking it was an odd thing to say, and that there must be some sort of translation problem with a Japanese idiom or something. According to the translation notes, I was close. It turns out that the character in question can't stop herself from making horrible puns, and the Japanese verb for "packing in" and "preparing mackerel" is the same (shimeru). Apparently, the translater pulled out his hair all throughout the series trying to come up with ways to translate the puns. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of this sort of thing really makes it through, and it makes me wonder how much I'm missing whenever I watch a foreign language film (I've recently written about this subject as well).
  • Speaking of translations, is it me, or do the subtitles on this get ridiculously difficult to read at times? They use different colors to indicate background speech and foreground speech, but they're sometimes inconsistent with it and in a couple of cases, the text takes up more than half the screen! For the most part, it's fine, but I was having a little trouble at first. The translation for the dubbing seems to be similar (not exactly the same, but not as different as some other shows I've watched). I guess I'm still on the fence about whether or not to watch with subtitles or dubbing...
More thoughts and screenshots below the fold. Some even more random notes and screenshots:

So far, the series has two ditzy female characters that appear to be going after the lead male character (i.e. playing the role of Dita from Vandread). The first is Yurika who is ditsy when it comes to social graces, but she's also the ship's captain and she seems to perform well in that role. She has a thing for Akito, who seems to be making every attempt to ignore her advances (the first couple episodes made me think that this would play out almost exactly like the Hibiki/Dita relationship, but buy the end of the first disc, I can see things are progressing differently). The other ditsy character is one of the pilots, named Hikaru. By the end of the first disc, I'm not sure she's actually interested in Akito, but her introduction mirrors Dita's pretty strongly. She falls on top of Akito (giving us the apparently common and awkward trope of having a female character's breasts smooshed on top of an unsuspecting male character, though in Vandread, this is given extra juice because of the whole male/female war thing), then they sit and talk and the scene is framed almost exactly the same way (well, the background is more complicated in Vandread, and their positions are reversed, but the whole sequence is still very similar).

Hibiki and Dita   Akito and Hikaru

Later, the aforementioned pilot introduces herself to the rest of the crew thusly: "Hello, I'm Hikaru Amano, another pilot! My blood type is B and I'm 18 and among my favorite foods are pizza crust edges, and slightly soggy rice crackers. Nice to be working with you!" She then pulls a tube to her mouth, takes a deep breath, and blows, activating... well, I've never seen one of these before. It appears that she's rigged some birthday noisemakers into a device that she's attached to her head. Its... awesome? Eccentric? I don't know, is this something common in Japan?

What's that thing on her head?

What's that thing on her head?
What's that thing on her head?

For some reason, I tend to like these ditsy characters. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's that they also seem to have a professional side to them. One is a captain, and by all accounts a brilliant tactician. The other is a pilot. So even though they're ditsy, they've also got to have some smarts, right? Same thing for Dita in Vandread. Lots of reviews mentioned that her ditsyness was annoying, but I was fine with it, perhaps because she was also a pilot...

That's all for now. I'm sure I'll have more to say as the series progresses. I already have disc 2 and will probably watch that today. I should get disc 3 later this week, though disc 4 has a status of "very long wait" on Netflix. I may have to just download those episodes too...