An examination of gender politics and cultural divisions played out as a Space OperaMecha Show. No, really.In the far-flung future, there are a pair of colony worlds: Tarak and Mejale, locked in a constant state of Space Cold War.Tarak is the Orwellian, industrial, militarized planet of men. All food is synthetic, flavorless pills.All public gatherings are related to sports, marching, and being manly. Everyone wears a uniform. Babies are made by merging your genes with those of your buddies in a factory, and they are raised by dedicated orphanages-schools.Mejale is the Awesome but Impractical planet of women. All things are polished and shiny. All military uniforms are excessively flattering. Appearances are all important. The citizenry form couples, of the lesbian top/bottom variety, called the "Oma" and "Fama" in the native vernacular (probably derived from homme and femme), and make babies by merging two eggs and implanting them in the Fama. They eat real food and celebrate real holidays, like Christmas.Naturally, the two worlds hate each other.The story follows a young man named Hibiki Tokai, a factory worker from Tarak who wants more than anything to be a mecha pilot. When his attempt to steal a Humongous Mecha get him thrown into the brig of reconstructed battleship, things seem to be looking down...until the ship gets attacked by Space Pirates, and Hibiki, a bishonen doctor, a cowardly officer and a malfunctioning robot wind up as prisoners on a ship full of women. Things couldn't possibly get any worse.That's when the pirates find themselves stranded on the far end of the galaxy, with a mysterious alien force out to kill them. But, as a result of some serious Plot-Technology, the pirate vessel merges with the men's starship, and one of the "Vanguard" mecha and three of the pirates' "Dread" fighters are altered. The Vanguard, piloted by Hibiki, can combine with any of the three Dreads into a form with amazing abilities.All of a sudden, Hibiki's the focus of three girls with different personalities who all want to try and "merge" with him. Of course, none of them have any concept of heterosexuality, and Hibiki doesn't even seem to know about any sexuality. They clumsily rediscover their biological imperatives as they fight a mysterious shadow enemy across the universe.Most of the crew fit dual roles for both a madcap, romantic-comedy and a military story. The Captain is also a wise grandmother, the medical technician's a naughty loli nurse, the local Wrench Wench is a Meganekko and a Gadgeteer Genius, while the communications officer is friendly and pregnant. The first officer's essentially the Harem Nanny, and the quartermaster's the wise Cool Big Sis.Over time, the three men and the enormous gang of women come to an understanding, and they work together to unravel the bigger mysteries of the universe, like the origin of their robotic enemies and the fate of the other human colonies. A very funny and enjoyable dose of Martian Successor Nadesico meets Love Hina meets Star Trek: Voyager.Can be watched legally online here.
The closest thing we have to real aliens are a bunch of psychic Navajo expies who border on Homo Novus. It runs into Human Aliens with Ma-Ger and Tarak, the inhabitants think the people on the other planets are evil aliens, when they're really just male and female humans trying their damnedest to be One Gender Races with genetic engineering.
That our hopes should not lie in ourselves, as we are mortal, but in what we can do for others; those who survive us, and those who follow and respect or follow our 'signposts.' Or maybe that life means change, sometimes death but also the end of what was. (Meia's reply to the ranking officer in the final episode.) It's a little confusing, actually.
The rulers of Tarak and Mejale were in on Earth's harvesting operation the whole time. It is later revealed that they were not willing to lose any natural children (i.e. conceived and delivered the traditional way)of the rest of the original colonists — the vast majority of whom still remain secretly secured in cryo-stasis, guarded over by the man who raised Hibiki — hence, the reason for the genetically-engineered sons and daughters of Megere and Talark respectively, who were secretly considered to be merely ExpendableClones, and thus sacrificeable to the Harvester Fleets of Earth.
Armor-Piercing Slap: Meia delivers one to Hibiki after he angrily denounces Gascogne for acting calm, cool and sarcastic because she doesn't understand the pain, pressure and suffering that the front line fighters have to face. Shortly after we get to see exactly why Gascogne acts the way she does...
Birthday Episode: Episode 21 revolves around the resident Stoic Meia's birthday. The problem is, she is an avid Birthday Hater and the rest of the crew goes to ridiculous lengths to rope her into at least some kind of celebration—which doesn't go well. Suffice to say, she almost performs a Heroic Sacrifice before it is over.
"Blind Idiot" Translation: Misty calling Meia "dear sister" in the both the dub and sub, confusing the hell out of everyone. Including Meia. That said, the literal phrase ("big sister") wouldn't have been any clearer to someone who didn't understand the phrase as it's meant in Japan. "Dear sister" was close enough. "Miss Meia" would still fit better.
Blue with Shock: Happens to Dita when Misty takes Hibiki's First Kiss. Pyoro, while he doesn't change colors, also seems shocked by it.
Birthday Hater: Meia. Episode 21 is entirely devoted to the rest of the crew's efforts to lure her into attending the birthday party they throw for her, which she skillfully evades (like in all her previous years in the crew). Needless to say, said episode gives her a great deal of characterization beside that.
Bart; the poor guy never catches a break. No one gives him any respect ever. When he is piloting the ship he suffers damage when the ship gets shot. When they get back to Tarak and neither he nor Duelo will renounce their female friends, he is the only one tortured. He also gets a stream of constant verbal and physical abuse from people. Most of whom he has done nothing but good for.
Hibiki is this when it comes to Dita, to the point that practically the entire ship teases him about it.
Clingy Jealous Girl: Dita usually doesn't like it when Hibiki combines with anyone other than her. She also takes an immediate dislike to Misty when she first shows up and hugs Hibiki in the second season. Made worse by Hibiki apparently not objecting to it, at least not in the same manner that he seems to do toward Dita's hugs.
Compressed Adaptation: The manga adaptation is way shorter than the anime, and changes several major plot points. Here are some differences between the two.
Bart & Duero only appeared in one page.
Many characters are absent (Ezra, Gascogne, Pyoro, even the pirate leader).
Cool Starship: Nirvana, obviously. Not to mention the massive and terrifying Harvester motherships.
What a Piece of Junk: The Nirvana is also loaded with quirks. The crew barely understands what the Paksis actually is, more less what it's actually capable of; Add to that the fact that it was created by fusing a pirate ship full of looted tech, and a 100 year old colony ship that had been refurbished into a warship. Early episodes were spent just trying to get the darn thing functional, and it's pretty much a hodgepodge of Jury-rigs, ad-lib modifications, re-purposed modules, state-of-art tech, salvaged tech, and black-boxes. Sections of the ship are so old that the crew can't even use them, and it's not unusual for things to break down or fall apart. Hell, the events of one episode were kicked off when the men's dorms were flooded due to a plumbing problem.
Cosplay Otaku Girl: Celtic wears a costume even while on duty, but that's just to protect herself from nasty boy germs. However, this is only in the first season. In the Second Stage she is in a different costume each episode, none of them terribly "protective" because it's more-or-less stated that she's gotten used to the guys by Second Stage.
Couch Gag: The First and Second Stage openings have clips of the current episode in their opening sequences.
Crowning Momentof Heartwarming: At the end of the final episode, as the shuttle is preparing to leave, Misty drags Dita up to Hibiki, insisting that Dita has "a favor" to ask of Hibiki. What Dita wants is for Hibiki to call her "Dita" again, like he did when she came to his aid against the Big Bad. Hibiki develops a Luminescent Blush, gets flustered, and turns her down flat, telling her he can't do that "for no reason." Hibiki trudges up the gangplank to the shuttle. Dita turns away with tears in her eyes, and suddenly Hibiki shouts, "Dita!" Dita stops, turns around, and there's Hibiki grinning, with his hand outstretched toward her. "Come on!", he shouts. Dita blinks away her tears, shouts back "Yes!", and runs up the ramp to join Hibiki, jumping the final distance to grasp Hibiki's hand as the first opening song, Trust, swells and the credits roll.
Cry Cute: Both Dita and Misty in episode 7 of Season 2.
While they're not on a date per se, a lot of the girls on the ship seem to like spying on Hibiki anytime Dita or especially Misty is with him.
The ENTIRE ship gets a reality show-like view as Jura has cameras focused on Hibiki and his antics with Misty and Dita in episode 7 of Season 2. Practically everyone stops what they're doing to watch after Jura locks Dita and Hibiki in a room together. The only that thing that "saves" them from this is a Harvester attack at the end of the episode.
The Nirvana has some as well. While fairly strong, sometimes enemy attacks do breach it.
Designer Babies: On Tarak, genetic engineering lets two males have a baby who's born in a factory. While on Mejere with two females, one of them carries the engineered baby to term in the normal style. In a way, Cloning Blues ensues.
Didn't See That Coming: Captain Mango quietly bemoans the situation and wonders how her crew of pirates has become a government sanctioned babysitting group to help reintegrate men and women back together.
Discount Lesbians: It seems actually pretty safe to figure that most of the Mejale women are lesbians (or Bisexuals with no other option); the one who is after Hibiki seems to be drawn to the...novelty of having babies that way, sort of the equivalent of a modern lesbian asking a guy to be her sperm donor. Besides, it'd be a rather different sort of series if it spent much time on the sexual implications of One Gender Races.
Earn Your Happy Ending: The crew of the Nirvana go through quite a bit, and have to constantly adopt new tactics in order to defeat the Harvesters who also try to develop new counters.
Earth That Used to Be Better: The enemies homeworld was reveled to be Earth it self, which has been devestated by pollution, and is covered by huge gears to maintain a livable environment for the humans left there.
Enemy Mine: The men of Tarak and the women of Mejale, along with various factions/planets that the Nirvana interacted with throughout the series, end up all fighting together against the Harvester fleets from Earth.
Applies to the main cast as well, at least at first.
Hibiki to Akito, Gai and Tsukumo. Hibiki is basically Tsukumo in Akito's shoes;
Dita is an even ditzier Yurika;
Jura is a less tame expy to Maki Izumi;
Meia to Ryoko Subaru and Ruri Hoshino;
Barnette to Ryoko;
Parfait to Hikaru Minato;
Duelo is a gentler Akatsuki;
Bart to Jun and Gai;
Misty is a straighter lost-and-found space-girl to Yukina;
Gascogne to Howmei
Also, in many respects, the two series have various themes in common:
The protagonists think they are fighting aliens when they fight their common enemy and eventually find that everyone is human.
Everyone in both ships knows that the two main characters are meant for each other.
Both the Nirvana and the Nadesico are ships that are rogue and are in between wars that they are trying to diminish.
The Nirvana's Pragma Paxis is the equivalent of the Nadesico's Omoikane.
Only a handful of people in both series are capable of "supernatural" enhancements due to special circumstances: the few surviving Martian humans in Nadesico are capable of teleportation due to terraforming nanomachines present in Mars; Dita, Meia and Jura are capable of combining their Dread fighters with Hibiki's Vanguard due to the meddling of the Pragma Paxis
Everyone is in love with Hibiki and Akito.
Eyes Always Shut: Ezra. Save for when she opens her eyes once after giving birth for a few seconds.
Eye Catch: Usually shows Jura, Dita, Meia, or Hibiki and their respective mechs. Season two usually shows their combo forms along with the respective pilots.
Fantastic Sexism: Due to their upbringing, the men of Tarak and the women of Mejale have been led to believe that the other is a demonic monster hellbent on destroying them.
Forgotten Birthday: Subverted. They TRY the whole "pretend everything is normal"-thing on Meia. She sees through them instantly, and when Misty ask why everyone is acting funny, Meia explains that tomorrow is her birthday. So, instead, they they start making plans on how they manage to keep her from hiding from the party...
Gainaxing: Bras? What bras? Besides the gravity defying movement, the only thing that the Mejares choice of clothing stops short of betraying altogether is that they are remarkably clingy.
Gender Bender: Telling who it is would be a spoiler, of course. (It's BC) If you read the spoiler without seeing the show, you now have anti-zen: knowledge without understanding.
In the Christmas Episode, everyone except Dita had this reaction to the video showing a man-woman couple and their daughter.
Everyone except Dita and Hibiki. Hibiki was more subdued than Dita, but you can tell he liked the idea.
His Quirk Lives On: When it looks like Gascogne dies by Heroic Sacrifice, Barnette volunteers to take over her job, and adopts her signature clothing style and some mannerisms.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The earthlings really believed that the colonies would just subject themselves to being harvested. Every elder in Tarak and Mejare agreed to be organ fodder for them until Hibiki showed up and blew everything in their faces.
Real Robot: The unmodified Dreads of Magno's pirates are not too implausible from a space opera standpoint, though compared to the usual star fighter craft, they're MUCH larger, having more of a size gap between it and a Vanguard compared to a human and large jet fighter.
Vanguards, too. Notably, they are much smaller than the usual anime mecha.
Super Robot: The titular Vandreads, on the other hand...
I Just Want to Have Friends: Misty is understandably lonely considering she's been in stasis for a long time (the anime mentions she's 14 years old and was in stasis for 63 years) and is only survivor left from her family. When Hibiki runs after Dita, shes feels rejected, and tries to play off her wooing him as "being bored" and letting him go as to "not making enemies of Dita's shipmates/friends". But a few moments later, she begins to cry alone in the park bench, and Meia tries to assure her that she has friends here.
Instant Expert: Characters seem to be able to pilot completely unfamiliar ships and mechs flawlessly despite having no experience in their operation.
Subverted (albeit briefly) when Hibiki first pilots his Vanguard.
Or when the Woman first pilot the Vanguards, or when Hibiki uses his Vanguard on a planet's surface (with gravity) for the first time, or when he first combines with Jura, all giving them at least some problems for a few scenes.
Subverted with the Tarak as well. They are remarkably bad at handling their brand-new Vanguards. It's not until the Nirvana returns to the planets a year later that they have gained a grip at piloting the things. And they became very adept at it..
It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Gascogne wants you to know it's pronounced "Gas-Co-NYU". It may also refer to the fact that "Gas-cone" sounds like "Gas-Co", which was her older sister's nickname for her, and doesn't want her memory of her sister to change. In the original Japanese, it's not so much a pronunciation issue as her refusing to accept her nickname of "Gasco-san".
I Was Quite a Looker: An old photograph of the captain and her family illustrate this trope. It is also revealed that she still has a head full of beautiful golden hair.
Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: While the series largely uses energy weapons, during episode 4 of Season 2, when Jura tries firing an energy weapon at the harvesters invading the inside of a space station, it doesn't do anything to it. Barnette suggests that she use the guns she brought, which uses regular bullets, and are quite effective against those things. At least while they have ammo for them.
Tarak in general seems to have retained the use of projectile weapons compared to their female counterparts.
Lampshade Hanging Pyoro in episode four of Second Stage: He can smell the sexuality!!
Magical Native American: The telepaths on the planet in the middle of the magnetic storm on the way to the Tarak/Mejale system all have a definite southwestern Native American vibe, and they live in pueblos. The elder even does a sand painting while Hibiki's finishing his trial.
Marshmallow Hell: Hibiki in one episode bumps in Jura's breasts while she is telling him to combine with her.
No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Probably why Hibiki is put off by Dita's advances. Although it is unusual that Misty averts the trope, as he doesn't seem to mind spending time with her, much to Dita's chagrin.
The three men and the women aboard the Nirvana gradually learn to get along with each other, and then they learn the truth about the Harvesters and Earth. Granted, the men did not get along too well from the start, seeing that Duelo is a hyper-competent member of the elite in a state of ennui, Bart is a spoiled brat who is the heir to a food capsule empire and Hibiki is a third-class citizen with a big mouth. Likewise, the women pirates appeared to be a lot more strict and way less understanding to each other before the three guys showed up.
The Tarak and Mejare are not so different either. They are driven by similar prejudices, superficiality and though apparently it's not the case, the Mejare are by no means less militaristic and bellicose than the Tarak.
Old Soldier: Tarakian General Kummel Ohzeki has been a soldier for years and has the scars to prove it. His skill and technique is good enough to take down at least one Dark vandread and a speed ship that took Vandread Meia to destroy the first time.
Onion Tears: The crew actually mutinied in the season one finale and tried to get rid of the male crewmembers because Hibiki allegedly made Dita cry, when the tears were due to the fact that they were slicing onions at the time.
Subverted; Who the hell sets a password to the sound of a baby's cry?
Subverted again with the minefield (it had to be spoken by a high-ranking official).
Parodied with the Nirvana's lockdown, when Barnette set it to something that crew members should be able to guess easily, but Hibiki still had no idea what it was. Though that one was justified, since it was in a language the captors couldn't read (and they only had the ship for a day, tops). The answer: Gascogne's password "smile."
The Plague: The heroes come across a planet in the second season which had this done to them by Earth. Everything from the people to the plants and ground are tainted. While the crew cannot cure everyone, they do provide a means of giving people a safe place to give birth and avoid being contaminated for life with the disease.
Which, despite its sexual symbolism, has quite the degree of Narm to it.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: The men from Tarak are generally portrayed as this: the commander of the Vanguard unit even goes out of his way to say "It is a good day to die" before drawing first blood in the most badass way during the final battle
Rags to Royalty: Hibiki's in fact the son of the leaders of Tarak and Mejale. This allows him to have a say in regards to how both worlds should forge their own destinies instead of being cattle for Earth.
Redshirt Army: Hibiki runs into a Space Navy one in Episode 11. Despite their actions, they get wiped out pretty easily. Perhaps they shouldn't have shared their backstory with him...
Refuge in Audacity Lampshaded by Gascogne about Bart when he was exaggerating his role in their adventure to the Littlest Cancer Patient. She stated, "When someone like him lies that audaciously, I don't even feel like scolding them."
The Reveal: In episode 22, Hibiki is of the First Generation and he was on the Nirvana back when it was a colony ship.
Running Gag: Pyoro constantly referring to Ezra's baby, Kahlua, as "Pyoro 2".
Screaming Birth: The Second Stage, Ezra finally delivers her baby while trapped in an elevator in the middle of an attack and with her only help being Hibiki and Dita, and the advice of Duelo and Magno.
Screw Destiny: The crew of the Nirvana tries to do this for every planet/space station they pass by whenever the Harvesters show up to gather the people living there. Some are thankful for their help, others slightly less so.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Hibiki launches into an epic speech near the end, hoping to rally support against the Big Bad that Tarak and Mejale's planetary governments have denied the very existence of. As a result, there's massive defections from the military of both planets, to form an impromptu defensive line against the forces from a degenerate Earth. It works.
Sentient Phlebotinum: The Paksis is eventually revealed to be this, explaining a lot of really weird events earlier in the series.
She Is Not My Girlfriend: Hibiki vehemently invokes this trope anytime others mention how close he is with Dita. Dita likes to think otherwise however.
When Dita first meets Hibiki, she does the Curwen hand gestures from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (goes with the Bah bi bah bom baaaaaaa). Also, there's a poster for the show on the wall in her room.
Hibiki's hair, bandana, clothing, and cluelessness with girls (but not his size) are all reminiscent of a previous anime character named Hibiki.
The doors aboard the Nirvana open with the "Star Trek" door sound effect.
Shrine to the Fallen: The captain is shown to have a cupboard of women who presumably all died. It is seen when she adds Gasconge's picture after her death.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: When The Harvesters communicate, they use fear, doubt, and intimidation to disrupt the thoughts and spirits of the heroes. The only way to not be influence is for someone, usually Hibiki, to give one of these.
Sitch Sexuality: Most of the women hate men as the enemy, but as the series progresses, many of them seem to have been in same-sex relationships due to a lack of options rather than preference. It also seems as though none of the men on Tarak pair off (this is, after all, a seinen fantasy show, not a shonen-ai vehicle).
Possibly justified by the Tarakians' hat being over-the-top manliness, making Ho Yay, with the possible exception of Hard Gay, unlikely.
Unless they model themselves on other warrior societies such as Samurai, Spartans, Romans, Athenians, the Big Nambas from Paupa New Guinea, the Vikings, Pirates. Actually almost all warrior societies come to think of it.
There is some idle chatter in the first episode where some random Tarakian soldiers muse on making a baby together (in pretty much the same tone as going out for a beer).
Also, in the start of the second season, Paiway observed that the day started with Dita chasing Hibiki, to which she says "I can't believe Dita would want to chase a man, what a weirdo." This suggests that most women prefer to go after other women.
Jura, for all her attempts to combine with Hibiki and trying to have a kid with him, is quite obviously gay for Barnette.
The two live together, spend most of their time together and when Jura first starts going on about having a baby, Barnette thinks she means -with her-. Yeah...I think they're a couple.
...With an open relationship. At the series' end, it's shown that Jura has become just as male-obsessed as Dita (she asks the departing guys to bring back men — but only the handsome and powerful — from Talark when they return to Nirvana) and even appears to have now transferred her attentions to Duero (much to Parfet's violent jealousy). Meanwhile, Barnette seems to not mind at all.
Space Mines: Tarak's line of outer-system defense is an immense mine field that one must pass through to reach either planet. It takes a command-level code to allow safe passage.
Space Pirates: Pretty much the entire crew of the Nirvana, although they don't do it very much after the first episode. Rabat seems to play it straighter.
Spaceship GirlBoy - Bart, a rare male example of this trope. He is the only one the ship will allow pilot her.
Supporting Harem: While Meia doesn't seem romantically interested in Hibiki, Dita, Jura, and Misty all seem to want him at one point or another. Jura's seems more like The Tease, but Misty and Dita eventually butt heads about their rivalry regarding Hibiki.
Through His Stomach: Dita often uses this on Hibiki. It usually works, especially considering he only ate pills on Tarak. Misty does this as well in Season two.
Touched by Vorlons: Hibiki, Dita, Jura, Meia and Pyoro, due to the influence of the Paksis.
Tragic Keepsake: Hibiki keeps the handkerchief Saron used to cover his wound.
Tranquil Fury: Little seems to get under Duelo's skin more than seeing what Earth did to the plague planet all for some sick experiment.
Twelve Episode Anime: Originally, but then a second season was made which picks up right where the first left off and provides the real conclusion.
Unexplained Recovery: Gascogne, who supposedly died in a Heroic Sacrifice that no one could survive. She comes back not only alive, but somehow having managed to get onto, taken over, and piloted a giant enemy mothership.
In all honesty, this probably got dropped on EVERYONE.
Except the captain. She knew about it the whole time.
Technically, since homosexuality would seem to be the norm back on Tarak (well, put a bunch of guys together on a planet without any women, what do you expect?), this would be an inversion. The Bart/BC relationship seems to be the Vandread equivalent of the typical shoujo plot of a heterosexual guy finding out the guy he's attracted to is actually a girl (cue sighs of relief). Unless you want to apply heteronormativity to people who think they are a One-Gender Race.
Unusual Euphemism: If the proof of your existence lasts more than four hours, consult your physician.
Unusual User Interface: Bart's station is a green pool of fluid that magically strips him bare and suspends him in a 3D display, reacting to his motions and emotions. The other Paksis-modified ships similarly react to the user's desires and actions.
Vanity Is Feminine: The women of Mejale use their greater resources on vanity projects. Wasting energy for example to make their homes look nicer than their neighbours. This resulted in a sector where many of the pirates used to live blacking out. By stark contrast the men of Tarak have no room for vanity on a world were resources are too precious and few to waste needlessly.
Villain Forgot to Level Grind: Averted. The Harvester fleet seems to put out newer and stronger ships to face the Nirvana crew. Whether some were already in commission or not is unknown, but even the simple cube enemies learn to deflect the dreads lasers by grouping together. Then they can combine to create copies of all three vandreads and the Nirvana.
War Is Hell: While we never get to see Tarak fight Mejale directly (other than the first episode when the female pirates attack), as the show goes on, it shows how hectic and pointless fighting can be, and virtually everyone suffers from it in some way.
Wave Motion Gun: Features a lot of them, from Vandread Dita's twin shoulder-mounted cannons, to the Harvester motherships' main guns.
We Are Struggling Together: The crew of the Nirvana at first seem to have no luck convincing most of the groups they encounter about the imminent threat posed by Earth. But in the end, many of them show up to assist the Nirvana in the struggle when they all begin to realize that they in fact have a common goal, which is to not be used for parts by Earth.