Set in a far flung medieval-looking world of Arst, Prince Jordy Volder takes up the fight against the ambitions of the conqueror Marder. Jordy uses the legendary giant robot "panzer" Galient, which is one of many panzers that have been preserved underground for thousands of years. Using an army of advanced robot panzers, Marder is conquering all of Arst in preparation of his plan for dominance of the Crescent Galaxy.
Genres combined, high fantasy and sci-fi stitched into the fabric of a sword-and-sandal epic, creating a sense of fullness. Something lavish. A sense of scale, setting, space, tangibility. A tapestry woven together from the scraps of many different influences. Some recognizable, others just on the tip of the tongue. A culture that's deep-rooted in particulars of a far-off time period. Fauna that adds domestic quality. All these attributes being joggled simultaneously. The likes of which can be drastically altered in the absence of finesse. There's a culminated purposefulness to Panzer World Galient. A chemistry of fine-tuned planning stripped away of any additives that might dilute
the formula. A formula that was unfortunately rushed. The unforeseen tampering of corporate mandate. The kind of external meddling to a precise algorithm that causes genuine harm to the work in question, yet plays a vital role in its inherent ability to fascinate the unexpected viewer.
For behind this tarnished work, the gem of what could have been shines through—a diamond in the rough. Unpolished and forgotten by many. Buried. Just another date on a calendar. Another entry of yesteryear. But thankfully, one still worth unearthing. For Panzer World Galient has an advantage not allotted to others. It isn't just the brainchild of a nobody. Galient was the work of an industry veteran, guaranteeing that one day, no matter if that day was undetermined, It would be rediscovered by devotees. Steadfast followers, driven by an unspoken understanding that anything orchestrated by this man would yield an interesting artifact. Even if the title in question has suffered from deep-rooted issues—this one certainly has its fair share.
That man in question is Ryosuke Takahashi, an auteur within the industry who's held a steadfast existence within the realm of name relevancy and the thin membrane that makes up the cult fanbase that religiously consumes his works.
For those familiar with his trademark style, a penchant for mechanical detail and world functionality is a must. A kind of hyper-obsession that leads to fantastical constructs. Environments and characters that are highly rendered—tactile. This is a constant for Takahashi, almost done on impulse; autistic even. The kind of obsession he's demonstrated with the lesser appraised "big 3" of the mecha genre, Armored Trooper Votoms, and even more so with his smaller passion projects. From hard sci-fi like Flag to the mystical political drama of Gasaraki, when it comes to methodical plotting, in-story elements that maintain constant plausibility, and malleable characters that retain believable attributes, there's not that many that could rival him. He's a mad scientist toiling away in his lab. And this time around, the result of his tinkering bears something that's unlike his usual.
Panzer World Galient is an anomaly in Takahashi's canon.
Transient glimpses of Tolkien rendered topography flickering through in the way it builds upon itself. A world seemingly grafted by stepping forward in any direction. The kind of storytelling where landmarks and casual name drops sweeps over every corner of the foreseeable map, each feeling every bit as significant, whether it has immediate ties to the plot or not.
Takahashi's work is usually composed of stark realism and hyper world functionality; a well-oiled machine, characters equally adjusted to operate within it. Seeing his type of penmanship homogenized into a genre that requires flexible renditions of escapist elements makes for an interesting watch. A painterly looseness, the boundless freedom of coloring outside the lines. Magic. Fatalism. Pure imagination. Core aspects that grant high fantasy its freedom to operate like a lucid dream.
It's a kind of lackadaisical sensibility that goes against the grain of everything Takahashi stands for. And yet, here it is, the tangible form of what is in all likelihood the mixture of oil and water. Only bested by Mamoru Oshii's ability to pendulum swing from the casual lightheartedness of the Patlabor TV series, to the muted cynicism of the movie installments that proceeded it. Thankfully, the collision of these two worlds was met with success. A collision that I find intriguing, not only as one of the aforementioned devotees of this creator but equally so as an avid fan of the medium. Because for all intents and purposes, this was a precursor project to the much more appraised Turn A Gundam and Escaflowne, or for those stuck on the hamster wheel of seasonal viewing, Rage Against the Bahamut. A true patriarch. Panzer World Galient, or Galient, as I'll refer to it going forward, was one of anime's first successful mixtures of high fantasy, mecha, and sci-fi.
Planet Arst, home to a civilization stuck in the Middle Ages, comes face-to-face with a foreign enemy; their technology otherworldly, their invasion methods ruthless. A destructive force governed by a tyrannical ruler named Marder. A man every bit as mysterious as the weapons he deploys. It's the natives vs. the colonists. Historically, the colonists are usually victorious, for the people of Volder's kingdom, their first encounter against Marder and his empire was no different. They stood there, transfixed in the face of utter defeat. Twelve years later, Marder still sits on the iron throne; his reign met with contempt. Jordy Volder, the forgotten prince of the fallen kingdom of house Volder, fights back. The fate of Arst held in the balance, while a bigger truth looms over it all.
Kunio Okawara and Yutaka Izubuchi are mecha experts. They give life to Takahashi's vision. Frankenstein mixtures of inhuman steel giants and fable-inspired entities. They don't take long to make their debut. In only a few minutes we're greeted by Marder's steampunk jousting centaurs; bodies coated in titanium, lances in hand, they gallop through the night like apparitions of an oncoming apocalypse. Swarming behind these imposing mechanical beasts are Marder's army; hooded figures donning executioner masks, mounted on the backs of armless velociraptors, electric battle axes in hand—a mixture of primitive and futuristic. The robust tank-like motion of a pitch-black battle armada leading the charge, standing several stories high, a monolith that shakes the earth around it—this is only the teaser for things to come.
A storm of metal, exhaust smoke, and bloodlust—their target, the common folk. Poorly armed farmers. Men with secondhand weaponry. Wooden bows and arrows, medieval swords, shields made of flimsy iron—child's play. A one-sided battle. Their determination to win being their only true asset, as steel meets with even harder steel. Fighting fire with fire proven futile when it's a flamethrower pitted against a candle flame. But victory isn't Marder's, not as long as Joldy is around to deny him the satisfaction.
For Joldy stands as the child of myth. A descendant of Homer's Greek Epic, birthed from the sands of Arst and ancient literature. His name and presence itself is a story simply waiting to be told. The honorary prince, protector of the weak, strength of his people. A pupil of sword-and-sandal adventures. Piloting a mech perhaps more distinguished than himself. A holdover from a forgotten time, hidden underground, only awakening from its slumber for a moment like this.
This is what Takahashi brings to the table: discipline, foresight, systematic control. A sense of causality for the usual carefree nature of high fantasy sagas. A fixation for detail demonstrated in the battle tactics adopted by the people of Galient. An unnecessary amount of planning to the way widgets function. The anatomy of machines. The habits of creatures that call this world home. The backstory to things not needed to be seen. Lively personalities, warriors and citizens, friends, and enemies alike, adapted to the machinations of their surroundings, each serving their purpose. Each comfortably fitting within their world—details matters. Context matters. Subtext matters. Motivations matters. Worldbuilding matters. Setting matters. Characterization matters. Nothing is shortchanged. Excuses are not acceptable when you enter this man's lab. This is the discipline of a creator that understands that art without purpose is no better than highly-rendered vandalism. And it's precisely because of this fixation—this commitment—that Galient was granted the chance to be seen in a whole new light when compared to its siblings.
All of this and I've only scratched the surface. Only addressed a handful of encounters for a story that spans into the stars. An epic, not only by name but by actual content.
Galient has a bigger truth hidden. The observable universe hinted at from the very beginning; expanding outward. People that treat this gargantuan war for Arst's future as a mere skirmish among ants. The world: their microscope. The war: the insignificant struggle of germs on a petri dish. World theater reminiscent of Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arrival, or any piece of fiction where mankind is observed, but with intentions far less caring. Far less honorary. When higher evolved beings, Gods in their own right, have to oversee worlds far beneath it, the act itself can become a chore. Their power ever-present. Unable to be challenged intellectually or technologically, eons of peace came at a high cost; complacency was inevitable. Individuality breathes conflict, it's the cyclical nature of mankind, these advance species abandons it willingly to maintain their superiority; The people of Arst doesn't.
The common hubris of "being too big to fail" only supported in the basic sense of the underdogs prevailing. Simply placed there to reveal the bigger truth of the matter; when removed from the high fantasy genre, when reality is given a door to seep in, more often than not, the ones with the "bigger gun" does indeed win. And with that truth in mind, the ideological framework of what high fantasy treats as its bread and butter has now effectually been called into question, an action that's pivotal to the kind of creator that Takahashi is. A man that favors stark reality, even when the lighthearted nature of the world it takes place in says otherwise.
In spirit, Galient was a product of its time, but one that was cognizant of what creates a timeless piece of fiction. It's the reason why Homer's epics are still discussed today, why Shakespeare's influence still permeates in works of literature hundreds of years later, why Tolkien is still cited as a source of influence for so many. Panzer World Galient was, and still is a work of understood legacy, a work of lineage. One that understands and homages the greats that came before it. Whether the public or the few that saw it are aware of it or not, this hidden gem will always hold a role—no matter how small—in the medium's ongoing pantheon.