This is a season absolutely spoiled for mecha series, which makes this entire cour a unicorn in the modern landscape. While the discourse around the “death” of the subgenre itself is tiresome and myopic, it’s undeniable that the options for cool robot fighting have been pretty limited in the last few years. That’s not to say this season’s offerings are all top shelf, but there’s at least a more varied selection than usual. You’ve got high-flying, goofy action with Sakugan, Chibi-fied super robots with Rumble Garanndoll, and whatever the hell they’re doing in Muv-Luv Alternative. That leaves AMAIM, an original and decidedly more “hard” sci-fi series, feeling a bit of the middle road with only its 2D robots to help it stand out.
That was a problem in the first episode, and it remains one through the following two. From its awkwardly-considered political setup (more on that later) to its character and robot designs, you can see the fingerprints of other mech franchises littered across this show’s shiny 2D chassis. That’s not inherently a bad thing – you can create something familiar while still executing your story and characters well, after all – but it does leave these early episodes feeling a lot like going through the motions.
Amou is your typical moody teenage mecha pilot, more or less tripping his way into a war he has no business fighting in. The only real quirk to him is that he’s a bit of a gearhead who likes taking apart and rebuilding machines – that’s how he builds his signature AMAIM, and in his mock battle with Gashin he holds back because he doesn’t want to scuff up the mech’s new paint job. That’s a fine little bit of personality, but if this kid’s going to carry the drama of this series, he definitely needs a more defined character arc. And to be fair, episode three gives some hints to where he might find one. Probably the best sequence that isn’t a robot fight is when he’s just sitting alongside Risa, talking earnestly about why she joined the resistance group and admitting that while he’s faced tragedy in his life, it’s never given him the drive or purpose he sees in others. It’s a sweet little moment that gives us a much better understanding of who Amou is as a person, and I hope we see more of it going forward.
Otherwise our cast are pretty standard and functional. Gai is a fun foil to Amou, and it’s legit funny to see this little Digimon tell our hero there’s no harm in adding larceny to his list of crimes, but I think the pair both need other personalities to bounce off of in order to really shine. On that front, Gashin is in his brooding rival mode, not yet acknowledging Amou’s skills as a pilot and being all business – though he’s also proactive enough to start training his new teammate rather than just browbeat him for not being a born avenger. There are building blocks here that could potentially congeal into some interesting and meaningful character relationships, but we’re still early in and there’s no guarantee they will. But hey, potential is better than sucking from the start, so here’s hoping.
The one thing AMAIM definitely does start off strong with is its action. Part of that is just the novelty of having 2D robots in a TV production, but there’s just strong action fundamentals here. Gai provides a believable aide to put our inexperienced pilot on the level with rank and file enemy robots, while still leaving room for Amou to improve in his own right. The production itself has been relatively conservative with the action so far, but each episode has still featured at least a couple good shots or cuts of big metal bois smashing against each other. The wasp-ish waists and hourglass figures of the manned AMAIMs are a bit of an acquired taste, but so far the show’s managed to use strong posing and well-directed fight choreography to make them work in motion. In general this isn’t going to blow your doors down, but it’s rock-solid, grounded action nonetheless.
Then there are the neat little worldbuilding details included in the mechs themselves, like how each army has DRM for their robots’ guns, preventing them from being used against them in the heat of battle – unless your opponent’s a teenager who decides to just club you with the rifle instead. The detail that most other AMAIM models are remotely controlled is both sensible and provides a way to make them consistent threats to our heroes without also bringing up any thorny questions about our teenage leads mowing down other humans. Plus that leaves room for escalation going forward by introducing manned enemy AMAIMs to ramp up tension. Again, it’s a bit of a wait-and-see element, but with the number of established mech creatives on this project, I imagine they have some sort of plan to keep these fights engaging.
As for the rest of the worldbuilding, well, it’s hard to say exactly how much thought should be put into picking it apart, when I can’t tell how much actual thought was put into it in the first place. The actual premise of multiple world powers essentially occupying Japan is a potentially loaded one – just ask Code Geass – but the sparse details our opening narration gives us are questionable at best. While Japan’s declining birth rate and aging work force, along with the accompanying economic decline, are political concerns, it’s a pretty big damn leap from that to a quartet of opposing military forces taking over and segmenting the whole country. So it could just be the show misguidedly trying to add in some poorly-considered contemporary talking points to make its Red Dawn-esque premise sound more relevant than the fantasy it is. Or it could be dogwhistles for an equally poorly-considered but far more noxious distrust of foreign influence on an imagined prelapsarian Japan. For now, I err on the side of the former, if only because the latter is rarely subtle enough to scoot under the radar, but even then it’s still a clumsy decision that the show would be largely better off avoiding. And if time proves me wrong and this does turn into some bizarre morality play about how Japan’s teenagers need to stop playing video games and start having babies, well, I’ve already watched DARLING in the FRANXX so I feel prepared to handle it.
For now though, it’s just a lot of speculation. AMAIM has plenty of potentially effective parts to it, and if put together properly it could make for a fun, engrossing sci-fi spectacle. But so much of it is up in the air I can’t really form a firm opinion on it as a gestalt. It would certainly be nice to have a good 2D mech series to follow for a while, so here’s hoping there’s a good mechanic at the helm.
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline is currently streaming on