This Week: Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01
The ultimate in prophylactic technology and personal security.
You know how one of the central concepts of Neon Genesis Evangelion comes out to be “Put an emotionally unstable teenager in a giant robot, and explore the psychological mess”?
MADOX-01 takes an older teen, wanting to see his girlfriend one last time before she goes to college abroad, and experimental military hardware falls into his lap. And making the whole thing an action comedy romp while he skedaddles through Tokyo and the brass try to recapture their expensive toy.
I will level with you: this is not a program you watch to ponder existential questions. Nor to explore the relationship of mankind with technology.
This is a forty minute OVA of a regular dude who cracked open a robot suit, careens through public baths and convenience stores, while the soundtrack pumps out metal and synthesizer chords. When the MADOX-01 unit first goes missing in a highway traffic accident, the military report provides accurate facts. A higher up officer finds the report preposterous and blames it on terrorists from the Soviet Bloc operating in Tokyo. And then claims the investigators just don’t know how the terrorists operate when they aim to correct him.
This is the kind of anime with a primary villain named Lieutenant Kilgore. You either roll with it, or you crash and burn.
Yet, this is not one of those cases of a “so bad it is good” affair.
The little piece is sincere in its attempts at humor, going for the situational and slapstick variety. It may not have much in the way of raw laugh out loud moments, but it is never overblown or groan inducing either. If you found yourself trapped inside of a robot suit, would you have an easy time eating a shrimp bento box with chopsticks? I would think not. Any given comedy bit tends to deliver the punchline and move on to the next step of our lead character’s journey, rather than overstay their welcome. This all results in it maintaining a brisk pace throughout, which is welcome.
As a fun little bit of trivia, the name of our leading man is Koji Kondo. If that sounds familiar, it is likely because that is also the name of Nintendo’s famed composer for many of their oldest and most acclaimed franchises. MADOX-01 was produced in 1988, a year by which the soundtracks for Punch-Out!!, Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda were already beloved by many. It seems reasonable to assume this was an intentional shout out. An animation team working in things they already liked into the construction of their silly direct to video robot suit film. Much like the military model kits and Apocalypse Now poster in the fictional Kondo’s apartment here.
With Artmic being the same animation studio who had already achieved notability for Megazone 23 and Bubblegum Crisis, their work here often seeks to achieve similar levels of visual complexity.
Much of this comes in the mechanical movement department and general layering or shading work. This was a team that enjoying the minutia of wires, screws, and the color coordination of computerized information panels. But, the work does tend to be choppier in the character animation area. Given the razor sharp jawlines of many characters, they could seriously hurt somebody were they to fall down the wrong way. As so much of MADOX-01 occurs within and around the confines of the mechanical suits though, this is more of an occasional eye quirk than something more devastating.
Were this a feature length animated movie, the audience would start to fidget around had it gone on for even another twenty minutes or so. Had it been a television series, it would not be able to maintain its level of technical quality, and would have hit a high risk of going stale.
The situational joke material we have to work with here just would not be compelling enough for it to be any longer than what it is. So it does not go on longer. It is an OVA that understands it had limited time to make your pricey 1980’s VHS tape feel like it got to the point, so it runs through all the greatest hits any extended version could have. In a way, this may have even doomed a sequel. The existence of a MADOX-02 unit is raised around the midpoint, but the machine is incomplete. This could be taken as a natural transition point for a followup. However, I can not think of much another entry could hope to accomplish outside of character writing, and we already aren’t here for that to begin with.
We get to see the robot suit do its action comedy thing in an apartment, various locations around ground level Tokyo, some of the subway underground, and even a multilevel skyscraper battle. Were this to have ever become a franchise in its heyday, where else could it go from there? Space? That is when the “so bad…” label would begin to get peeled off, without even the guarantee it gets finished with a “…it’s good.” It is a bit of a pickle to be in.
Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01 is like drinking a slushie at a responsible pace. The sugar water tastes good, even if there are only empty calories and synthetic flavors backing it up. It fulfills few if any parts of a healthy media food pyramid. By the time you are nearing the end the final bits are threatening to break down and melt, but it doesn’t have the time to. Content, the disposable container finds it way into the trash or recycling can of choice, and you move on with your life. You will not reflect back on it with long treasured fond memories like a momentous dinner occasion or once in a lifetime finely aged alcoholic beverage.
But I’ll be damned were I to deny slushies have a place at the table.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.