Buddy Complex implicates two dramatically different ways from its setup. We get a normal high school student named Aoba Watase with friends, a smile on his face, and like most kids, likes to play sports when they’re bored. Then, it quickly shifts to a mysterious girl coming from the future to apparently save Aoba, giant mecha dropping from the sky to terminate him, and a time travel phenomenon that changes his life forever. Sounds complex right? That’s just the tip of the iceberg as the show doesn’t reveal much in the beginning. Everything comes out as cryptic and plays you around like a jigsaw puzzle. The only clues from the beginning are from the mysterious girl named Hina. Let the complexity ensure.
As a show produced by Sunrise, the classic genre of mecha comes to mind. It doesn’t waste any time in the beginning as we witness several of those causing chaos and havoc at Aoba’s school. The confusing part is not only the HOW but also the WHY. It’s no surprise that the audience will have many questions. But for what’s worth, we do know that Aoba Watase is a loyal friend. Despite having no military experience in the beginning, he listens to every word that Hina has to say and even attempts to save her like the way she is trying to save him. But this initial setup also identifies itself as cliché in the beginning with its gimmicky characters. Taking a look on the surface, the story itself adapts a supernatural device (time travel) and forwards 74 years into the future. But the more complex part is what goes on in that future. For instance, there’s two sides that are seemingly begrudged in a war – the Free Pact Alliance and Zogilia Republic; two sides existing opposite of each other sharing the common goal to win through absolute victory.
Events that does come together may sound typical but what happens in the future really ticks one’s mind when characters forwarded in time are seemingly different. For instance, Hina is almost nothing like the high school girl she debuted as. Instead, we are introduced to a Hina fighting for the Zogilia Republic as a loyal soldier. There’s little explanation in the beginning as to why her character went so much change and how she is there in the first place. But nonetheless, we also find out a character (Dio) that was mentioned by Hina as someone significant and possible benefactor to this futuristic world. Of course, Aoba remains clueless about everything goes on, probably in the same state as the viewers. Luckily, Aoba doesn’t change much and still maintains his characteristics as a loyal friend. Taking on the promise to find Dio, we quickly discover that Aoba has a special ability, the skill to perform the ‘coupling’. Again, this comes as a mystery because we know little about Aoba’s background besides his time at high school. What we still hope for are answers to these questions. The show itself explains in packages, little at a time. It does this first with the mechanics involving what ‘coupling’ is and how it’s performed. Then, it goes on explaining the two nations and its backgrounds in diligent yet unnerving ways. While all this makes sense, there’s a lack of interest because the big mystery still remains to why Aoba is involved with all of this. But do take time to familiarize with this show’s concepts as it does take patience to get through. After all, these concepts are complex by origins and even with cliches formulates a story for thought.
Tossing theories aside, there’s something innovative about Buddy Complex with its character dynamics. Initially, the three main characters (Aoba, Dio, and Hina) have little to nothing in common with each other. Yet, they all somehow get connected in the story not through a coincidental match up but rather through fate. It brings back the time travel trope with the story as the show likes to pander around with secrets and revelations. At the apex of the story, we also find the mysterious pilot that came from the future to kill Aoba. Of course, Hina is there again but this time is seemingly confused by her own identity. And seemingly enough, identity is another issue as Hina doesn’t seems to know exactly who she is beyond her outer persona. As mystery would have taken hold at the core, Buddy Complex slowly yet vividly reveals little by little of its purpose. Whether it’s done through conversations, flashbacks, or just what’s there, the show does actually attempt to pull this out concisely. It also allows viewers to formulate their own theories and see if their predictions are valid in this typhoon of complexity.
Despite the serious nature and warfare dedication of the series, there are moments for lighthearted scenarios. Although it sheds away some of the more tragic moments and brings out a different side, it follows a standard direction of witless context. For instance, the romance subplot between Aoba and Mayuka, another member of the alliance, often comes out as cheesy. It’s not just the dialogues but execution with the usual blushes, misunderstandings, and tawdry interactions. Then, there’s Aoba himself who stands out as nothing really appealing besides his dedication to his friends. Furthermore, we also have Fromm, another supporting character that exploit the princely figure that people seems to idolize. And although Fromm proves himself to be quite a capable player in the war, there’s little characterization besides his initial skill. The series also lacks a bit originality with the classic deserted island encounter, Zogilia’s conception relating to bigotry, and even Gundam Seed-esque installations. What we also do have is clash of ideologies and what the two sides are fighting for – Zogilia’s ambition to conquer the world and Free Pact Alliance fighting for freedom. It’s essentially a duel of wits to bring about a legend to be foretold; a crass legend but nonetheless.
The action battles, in general, are outstanding with the rapid pace and intensity. One of the most mysterious device is the ‘coupling’ system, a weapon that can essentially turn the tides of the war. And while some of the battles lacks integrity, the show has strategy from both sides that demand teamwork, innovative maneuvers, and technological demonstration. Each mecha has its own specifications and designs with key elements. The results often serves as evidence to its performance. Whether successful or failure, it creates a sense of credibility with how technology has involved in the future. Even when not in a mecha suit, the characters also show various degree of military experience such as usage of firearms, explosives, and art of deception. On the other hand, the environment as well as the battlefield of the series can feel to be quite stale and generic. It negates a sense of embellishment for what the war has already created.
Visual quality is courtesy of Sunrise, a studio no stranger with mecha themed shows. Therefore, expect similarity with some of its previous works in terms of mecha designs. Although most of them seems standard, more prominent mecha such as Aoba’s Luxon and Dio’s Braydon are featured with showcase moments. Character designs are also typical with Hina being the most mysterious with her beauty and secretive backgrounds. On the other hand, Aoba stands out as dull with nothing distinguishing to write home about. Fan service is minimal although poorly coordinated when the time calls for it. Nonetheless, it is consistent by Sunrise standards with its portrayal. Nothing earth shattering but acceptable.
Soundtrack plays various roles throughout the series. While some of the OST undermines the serious nature of the atmosphere, there are also moments when it creates variety. In other words, it can shift quickly and simply depending on its scenario. For what’s worth, the OST makes sense whether it’s for emotional scenes, aerial warfare, or climatic moments. The OP song also plays on a decorative way of presenting nearly all the main and supporting characters with decent coordination. And technical wise, most of the characters’ voice mannerisms works well. I do criticize a bit for Aoba’s voice tone as he sounds dull and sometimes forced. The only moments his voice seems to come to life is during arguments he has with Dio and concern for Hina. It’ll take time for the ears to get used to so patience will be key here.
Buddy Complex isn’t a mecha series that will influence future generations of mecha on what’s to come. After all, the term ‘mecha’ has a long history with the anime fandom. Sunrise built its studio on this foundation and presents Buddy Complex with a mixture of its ideas. Yet, to dismiss it entirely as cliche should be an overstatement. The show does offer a hook, to draw viewers into its story especially with so many questions. Whether this is an appeal to you or not will differ but simply put, the show isn’t just about robots fighting mindlessly. Just do be aware of its repetitive gags and some episodes that seemingly serves little development or characterization. It isn’t rocket science to understand Buddy Complex but neither is it that simple. Hopefully the second season will answer questions of complexity in the eye of the hurricane.