Written by Richard Brown
Kishin Heidan deals with a period Japan is still coming to terms with, and which most fans would rather ignore, the Second World War. With mecha. What could possibly go wrong?
As Europe rips itself apart, a shadow war is being fought in the pacific region, over alien artefacts that allow for the creation of powerful new weapons. Taishi is a young Japanese boy, who soon finds himself drawn into this war, as the various factions attack the train he’s currently on. With his parent killed in the crossfire, he soon joins the Kishin Heidan, against the invading aliens, Nazi Germany and rogue elements within the Japanese military.
Kishin Heidan’s main appeal lies in its artistic design and setting. The four Kishin robots are creations of immense character, combining the ugly military style of the time with amazing detail. For example, the use of a launch sequence in the mecha genre is often just an excuse to create stock animation to save money. In this anime, and for Kishin Thunder in particular, these are moments of animation excellence. The anime looks distinctly old fashioned, but not aged. It successfully captures the feel of the 1940’s, and the character designs are very old school and often exaggerated in the manner of Astroboy and Giant Robo. Clearly somebody did their research, and the artistry of the series is of very high quality. Pacing is quite leisurely, thanks to a format of 30 minute episodes, which covers much of the war, breaking down into three segments. In the first segment, which sees Taishi is caught up in a fight over an alien control module, is strongest. There’s a good selection of action sequences, the best being a chase involving 3 trains. The second and third however, start to falter, in part due to the skips forward in time between them. There are plot holes, and characterisation can be patchy in places, which detracts from a fairly involved and well thought out plot. Let your attention wander, and you’re probably in for a hard time with this one.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to me, as my tendency to nitpick really started to hamper my enjoyment of this series. The only time giant robots make any kind of sense is when they have something similarly nasty to fight against. As the aliens use mostly German issue guns, and a notable lack of big things, the Kishin robots are overkill. The German forces don’t fare much better, with their robot Panzer Knight looking like a rejected design from Escaflowne and therefore very out of place. Suspension of disbelief is always required when watching mecha anime, but this becomes increasingly difficult as the series progresses. However in making these complaints you miss the point of the series, in that’s its more pulp fiction adventure than mecha show. If you can imagine the Indiana Jones films, but with science instead of religion, you’ve got the feel of this anime. This brings us back to the comment about World War Two I made earlier. The anime is a mythic rather than realistic depiction of that time. While it does take the surprising step of having the main villain being a rogue Japanese general, it is not a deep analysis. That having been said, there’s little actually bad in the anime, just a feeling that an opportunity has been missed.
Mecha animes which are well made and different in some way, usually rate highly with me, but I was a little under whelmed by Kishin Heidan. Its concept is original as mecha animes go, and the visuals are surprisingly good given its age. However, its particular style of storytelling does not suit modern tastes.