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Armored Trooper VOTOMS Complete Collection SDBD Review

21 min read
A sprawling classic that still struggles in some ways to cement its status.
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A sprawling classic that still struggles in some ways to cement its status.

What They Say:
VOTOMS (Vertical One-man Tanks for Offense & ManeuverS) units are light and maneuverable on the battlefield, but in the hundred-year war between Gilgamesh and Balarant, they’ve essentially become expendable cannon fodder and pawns to be sacrificed.

The right pawn in the right place can change the course of the game forever, and when VOTOMS pilot Chirico Cuvie is mysteriously transferred from his elite unit to a top-secret mission behind his own side’s lines, he quickly learns that something is very wrong. Betrayed and branded a traitor, Chirico finds himself on the run from both sides as he seeks to unravel the truth behind the conspiracy and learn the secret behind the beautiful woman who seems to hold the key.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only but it’s in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is what you’d expect from this period in that it’s a pretty basic stereo mix that’s more center channel and mono than anything else. But once you get into it just a bit it’s not noticeable at all. There isn’t much of anything in the way of real directionality or placement like we expect with shows today but it works overall with the highs and lows to give it some variety and appropriateness for various scenes. The lossless codec certainly works well for the opening and closing songs and some of the incidental sounds come across better as well, especially since all we had before were 192kbps lossy encodes. I do still kind of wish that this would get dubbed some day for fans but what we get is solid and there aren’t any dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing back in 1983, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 480p using the AVC codec. The fifty-two episodes are spread evenly across two discs while the third disc has six hours of compilation films. I’ve watched this property several times over the years from multiple distributors and I’m hard pressed to think any of them look good. This standard definition on Blu-ray release is probably encoded the best since it’s using better tools and understanding than what we got on DVD well over a decade. But this is a show that’s reflective of the time in which it was made, which means that what’s most noticeable throughout the print is either the grain or the nicks and dirty on the print. The grain for me was less of an issue since I like how it gives it a more film-like feel but it can be very distracting since it’s so present throughout. The nicks and dirt on the print, which is very much cleaned up overall from the earliest of DVD releases, is still there though and can certainly be a problem for some. Like the grain, I have to admit that it almost adds a certain charm and it’s something that I do expect to see on something in the anime world that’s from the early ’80s. A cleaner print would definitely be better but I can’t begrudge this one for how it looks much. While it is on Blu-ray and encoded with the AVC codec, it is, in the end, still a standard definition show that has low-quality source material to begin with.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with two discs on a hinge and the third against the wall. The front cover uses some really good artwork that’s well-massaged here to really work the red and darker tones well, giving it a strong and menacing look as we get some armored unit material and the whole pilot uniform aspect. It’s wrapped in some good military style pieces to give it a bit more weight, which the logo itself ties into nicely. The strip along the top makes it clear that it’s a standard definition show on Blu-ray but I’m sure that gets overlooked with some purchases, but there’s only so much you can do. The back cover lays out just how much material there is here along the top and we get a solid summary of the premise. There are a number of good shots from the show that highlight the style of animation as well, giving it all a little color. The breakdown below highlights the movies included and we get a small but legible production credits slot and technical information in the grid that makes it clear how the show is encoded. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this is pretty nice as it has to cover a lot of material. The future-military style gives it a hard edge but with some nice angles that works in its favor where the left third is the menu navigation itself. It’s here that we get the blue block that has the episodes by number and title in an easy to read font and a green selector that makes it clear where you are. It breaks out episodes into three pages with a 10/10/X for the 52 episodes so you can move around easily. The rest of the screen is given over to a rough and worn green background that has the logo along one side while the other changes out the armor aspect with each disc, giving us a little more variety. With this being an SDBD release, there is no pop-up menu and quick way to check out which episode you’re on, which has me wishing the end credits would list it during playback. The set has no extras on the discs so it’s just episodes and moves, making it easy to move about since there are no language selections either.

Extras:
While they’re not really listed as extras, I’ll talk about them here as they make up the third disc. What we get are the four compilation movies for the arcs as well as two different types of compilation pieces. The four arc compilations come in at about an hour each with a little variance to the running time and it does the best it can to basically cram a twelve episode arc down into essentially just under four episodes. You get the gist of it but it is why I dislike compilation movies. The Stories compilation provides some character arc pieces but feels a bit more like a hodgepodge from what I skimmed of it while the Highlights film is what really felt like taking all the next episode previews together and running that as a compilation, which works in its own strange way. As I said, I’m no fan of compilation films but I’m very glad at their inclusion for those that want them.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’ve had an odd history of sorts with VOTOMS over the years. I had initially picked up a couple of the VHS tapes ages before DVD kicked in and had seen a handful of episodes that way. When the first set of DVDs came out via a sublicense to NuTech, I had ended up picking them all up but between the hard subtitles and the sheer length of the show, I found it hard to get back into it and had one of the other reviewers handle it. I had taken the show in fully when Central Park Media brought out a really fun tin for it and gave it a proper release and that’s where things clicked for me more. Now, Maiden Japan has licensed the show since it had lapsed for some time and they’ve brought it out with the previously unreleased movies in one collection and on Blu-ray. But it is, as clearly stated, a standard definition version on Blu-ray so the advantages are having it on fewer discs and better tools to do so. It is a show from 1983 and there can be only so much help in standard definition. One thing I do like about the show is how it’s structured, which makes for a better way to look at it.

Uoodo City:
The first of four main arcs, the Uoodo City stage covers the first thirteen episodes and sets up much of what’s to come. I’ve been a fan of the director, Ryosuke Takahashi, for several years now after “discovering” him via the Gasaraki series and then his work on Blue Gender. His appeal for me is in providing some distinctly military style shows with very different kinds of mecha involved than you get in most other shows. There’s a definite theme to them as seen in both of the previously mentioned series and you can see their origins, and other aspects as well, in VOTOMS.

The VOTOMS series takes place at a time when two sides of humanity have been warring in space for over a hundred years. Each side has fought for so long and so hard that they no longer remember why they’re fighting but they know that they must continue to do so. The series picks up just as the war is apparently ending between the two sides and we see the last mission that one of the groups of Armored Troopers is dealing with. Breaking into a secure facility on their own side, the initial goal appears to be that of wealth as the soldiers celebrate finding a huge room filled with gold. But one of the troopers, eighteen-year-old Chirico Cuvie, finds himself wandering into another room while unsure of the mission only to find a large canister that contains a mysterious woman in it whose completely shaven. She’s asleep in the liquid but wakes up just enough to make him skittish before his comrades arrive. While Chirico is sent up top to keep watch so the rest can get the apparent real prize, an outside attack causes everything to go to hell and the place appears to explode, sending Chirico out into space where he’s eventually picked up by ships from his own side.

Chirico’s being on that ship and being picked up has put him in a precarious position as he’s taken down to his homeworld of Melkia to be interrogated. The planet has become a hell over the years of warfare, it’s a barren place with small metallic walled cities where dangerous red rain falls more than not. Chirico’s heavily questioned about what he was doing on board the ship and his interrogators believe he knows more than he does about the woman he stumbled across and are trying to figure out exactly what the bigger picture is. But Chirico wants nothing to do with this and just has a strange attraction for this woman he’s come across and escapes into the city of Uoodo. His life becomes one of being constantly on the run at this point and Uoodo isn’t a safe place to begin with. The city has an unhealthy understanding between the police and the big biker gang that runs the rest of it as each side looks the other way to certain incidents while the bikers haul in massive amounts of Jijirium using forced labor camps.

Chirico stumbles into this arrangement which is close to falling anyway as one of those on the police side in a high position is involved with the mysterious woman, someone that they only name as the Prototype. Chirico’s time in Uoodo isn’t just him on the run though, as early on he comes across a junk section where he’s able to put together an armored unit that he can use to achieve his goals. Along the way he picks up an oddball assortment of friends, such as Pops who owns the junk place and tries to get Chirico to use his skills in the battle games that get played in the arena. Another friend of sorts is Vanilla, a conniving scoundrel whose ulterior motives are hidden for a bit but he sees real potential in Chirico’s abilities and tries to get him to be a revolutionary of sorts. And of course, there’s the obligatory female sidekick in the form of Coronna, a red-headed girl whose attracted to Chirico and seems to always find herself in bad situations.

The Uoodo City arc is done in a way to establish just what kind of crafty and capable person Chirico is, though his real military credentials don’t get revealed until close to the end of the arc which is interesting as those speak volumes about him. Being eighteen, it sometimes has that feeling of being hard to believe but when taken in context of this being a civilization that’s been at war for so long and is essentially breeding new fighters, believing that young boys are brought in and trained early isn’t a surprise nor that someone at eighteen could be a veteran or highly skilled operative. At the same time, Chirico does do some stupid stuff and ends up in classic bad situations but for the reasons above as to why he could be skilled could also easily explain his lack of “social” setting situations. Though he may be quiet a lot of times, following him on this adventure and those that are drawn to him, his eyes speak volumes about his intent and desire to find this Prototype woman and figure out what’s really going on and why he’s been blacklisted.

With the show being as old as it is, the animation quality is certainly nothing compared to the other series mentioned earlier or anything else out at this time. The older animation doesn’t bother me and other than some odd designs here and there with the characters, VOTOMS reminds me easily of many other shows from the period that I continue to enjoy. Chirico makes out badly depending on how you view him from behind as his pants are a bit, uh, wide, but in general, the designs for not only the characters but the city and its setting are standard for the time. The animation has some really good fluid moments at times and I love the old traditional method in how it gives it something of a better life in some ways. The movements of the mecha at times is a bit quirky and angular but it fits right in with the designs and feels like it belongs.

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