“Pandering” tends to get bad rep. It’s often easy for people to dismiss an anime for being “otaku-pandering,” for instance, implying cheap appeasement to the shallow interests of a narrow group of fans instead of presenting a universally meaningful artistic expressions. However, when we think more of the fervour that can go into those “pandering” visual media, we may be able to get a more understanding look of a group that’s so passionate in engaging with the things they love. And that is something that we can take from the mecha anime Knight’s & Magic, which was aired as part of the summer 2017 season.
Knight’s & Magic is adapted from a web novel series by Hisago Amazake-no, which has been published by Shufunotomo’s “Hero Bunko” imprint with illustrations by Kurogin. The adaptation is produced at studio 8-bit (Aquarion Evol, Infinite Stratos) under the direction of Yusuke Yamamoto (Aquarion Evol, Sgt. Keroro), with scripts by Michiko Yokote and Noboru Kimura. Kenichiro Katsura (Macross 7) adapts the character designs, while Hidetaka Tenjin (Aquarion Evol, Macross Frontier) adapts the mecha designs.
The opening scenes of Knight’s & Magic anime introduce us to Kurata, a mecha otaku and talented programmer who died in a car crash after making his latest purchase of mecha plastic models. However, he was reborn as a boy named Ernesti Echevallier (Rie Takahashi) in another world where humans use magic-powered giant robots called silhouette knights to combat malicious demon beasts. Thus, the story begins in the typical manner of the reborn in another world (isekai) stories, down to the obligatory traffic accident and to how the protagonist gets reborn in a world where his interests and skills prove to be very convenient for him. But making an appraisal of the so called isekai genre is not the intention of this review. What we will mainly discuss is how the anime uses its setup in ways that can reveal how the male otaku’s love of mecha operates.
How to Raise (Build) Giant Robots
In the chapter “A Face on the Train,” Thomas Lamarre (2009) draws our attention to the gendering of toys commonly practiced in society. Boys allegedly prefer toys that can be built and dismantled like train models, accustoming them to mechanical thinking and engineering works; while girls are said to prefer toys that induce affective responses such as dolls, accustoming them to nurturing and caring works. Lamarre disrupts that gendered narrative of toys and technology by bringing the scenario of machines with human face, mainly through the figure of the gynoid, or robots that resemble human women, which blurs the line between engineering and affectionate response. In Knight’s & Magic, however, we can see how the of male otaku’s love towards giant robots may have also blurred that line as well.
In his new life in the giant robots-filled world, young Ernesti, of course, pursue the path to become a silhouette knight pilot (called a “knight runner” in the setting). But not before long, his childhood friend in this world, Adeltrud (Ayaka Ōhashi), inspired him to also create his own unique silhouette knight. Customising a unit for his own use is the best means to fully experience giant robots. Thus, Knight’s & Magic also presents a lot of Ernesti’s pursuits in developing new silhouette knight designs. We are treated to his devotion to the labour of building, dismantling and rebuilding giant robots (as he did with plastic models and computer programs in his past life). This is an engineering attitude that is to be expected from boys, as mentioned earlier.
But aside from that, Ernesti actually also shows affective responses to the silhouette knights. He refers to them as “partners” (aibou), treat the completion of a silhouette knight’s construction as its birthday, and quite often displays his excitement for silhouette knights with expressions that pretty much make him look like he’s horny. An artist on pixiv even joked that the heroines of Knight’s & Magic are actually the silhouette knights!
In this scenario, then, engineering thinking and affective response do not stand in opposition to one another, but can be considered one and the same. For Ernesti, building, dismantling and rebuilding giant robots to the image of his liking is the expression of love towards them. To nurture giant robots is to (re)build them; that is how you “raise” giant robots, so to speak. Hence we can also understand, then, why Lamarre (2013) remarked that, “While some wish to establish a definitive break between the eros of moé otaku and techné of mecha otaku, … mecha and moé are inseparable.”
Perhaps it’s also only fitting that Ernesti, as the main character, is designed as an androgynous young boy (shota), with voice actress Rie Takahashi giving a splendid performance in voicing his spirited speeches of his ideals with the voice of an over-excited young boy. Not only it accentuates Ernesti’s blurring of mechanical/”masculine” and affective/”feminine” modes of response when it comes to giant robots; it also highlights how, despite Ernesti’s own assertion that giant robots are “a man’s romance (otoko no roman),” the obsession for giant robots is really, actually, childhood dream. But that doesn’t make the dream any less valuable.
Next page: Robot Soul