I guess I’m both surprised and not surprised that Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince seems to have generated relatively little following among mecha fans. Among all genres, mecha seems to be as much of a closed circle as any when it comes to studios – fans are very particular about that side of the equation – and Dogakobo simply isn’t a member of the club. It also played like a satire for the first couple of episodes, and the characters designs are if not ugly, at least very odd (though they sort of grow on you – like toneails). It’s generally not that impressive visually at first glance either. In short, there’s not much about the show that really makes it stand out.
The funny thing, though, is that on a schedule crowded with science-fiction Majestic Prince has turned out to be probably the most traditional mecha series of the bunch. It’s self-evident that Gargantia is deliberately antithetical to the genre, to the extent that it’s a mecha show at all, and Valvrave – while very much defined by the cliches and tropes of mecha and sci-fi generally – reaches a sort of meta status by jumbling them all together until the end product is a bewildering suicide cocktail. GKMP, by contrast, now feels very much in-line with timeless chestnuts of the genre. It’s often somber, filled with big space-based set piece battles, and primarily focused on the exploitation of teenage pilots and war between sentient species. In short, more than any other mecha series this Spring this one is playing by the rules, for better or worse.
For me it’s mostly better, as I’ve come to quite like this series. As the plot has grown more and more complicated I’ve gotten more interested in it, not less, although I’ll be the first to admit that it (like the rest of the show) is solidly within the mainstream of historical precedent for mecha anime. Majestic Prince has also succeeded in the crucial step of making the enemy an interesting one – the Wulgaru are quite fun to watch as they interact on their home world, and Jiart particularly comes off as a compelling character. It’s fascinating to watch him interact with his brother the King, as each seems to be putting on a performance – pretending for the court’s benefit as if Galkie is in charge when it’s clear Jiart is the one truly in control (of himself, at the very least). He’s arrogant, dangerous and probably reckless – but there’s a sense that he could end up being either mankind’s greatest threat or their surprising ally.
The link between Jiart and Theoria isn’t explained in this episode, though Kei does come right out and ask why she and Jiart look so much alike (Kei, of course, has ulterior motives in wanting to take Theoria down a peg or two). What Theoria does explain is that the Wulgaru are a very ancient race whose genes are degrading, and who effectively seeded themselves throughout the universe in an attempt to give their genetic code a chance to evolve in greener pastures – one of which was Earth. Once the genes have taken root to a sufficient extent they go “hunting”, annihilating their descendants and absorbing their genes back into the Wulgaru collective – “food” if you like – and now it’s our turn. That’s why Theoria came to Earth along with companion Daneel (Suzuki Chihiro), to warn us (her mother seems to have been a dissident) and to share their technology with us before the invading Wulgaru arrived.
The biology of that premise can be debated, but in dramatic terms it’s one that I think serves the series quite well. One gets the sense that Theoria was only allowed to tell Team Rabbits that much because she insisted and Simon was unable to deny her, but there’s clearly a lot more here – she even answers Izuru’s question about why he remembers her by telling him that they were once “very close”. Her story certainly seems to make a liar out of Simon for telling Rabbits that humans and Wulgaru were “completely different species”. This infodump undeniably serves to complicate the lives of the kids on multiple levels, not least because Izuru is clearly infatuated with Theoria, Kei is almost literally looking daggers at him because of it, completely unaware that her transparent fixation on Izuru is making Asagi (more) miserable.
Much light is made of Tamaki’s hapless crush on Daneel – I enjoy the way GKMP is still able to seed these somber episodes with comedy from time to time – but it coincides with the revelation that while Izuru, Tamaki and Ataru are adapting well to the JURIA system, Kei and Asagi are struggling. It’s the two thoughtful and introspective – some might say brooding – members of Team Rabbits who’re falling behind as the more seemingly carefree ones adapt and flow. Kei has a way of seeing the bleak side of things – she decides the team name is what it is because the team are in fact lab animals in a grand experiment, and while she’s more right than wrong it certainly isn’t making her any happier.
This dilemma is really at the heart of Majestic Prince and its classic mecha plot from the genre’s earliest days, one which developed as a metaphor for the alienation teens feel and their frustration at not having control of their own lives. For now, Rabbits’s assigned role seems to be to draw the attention of the Wulgaru away fron where the MJP would like the real fight to be – and the Wulgaru seem content enough to play along, as Jiart especially is more interested in the “most dangerous game” style of hunting, stalking his prey (Izuru) one on one. It may in fact be the destiny of all of Team Rabbits to see one of the elite Wulgaru battle council choose them as their personal lamata – though he’s already decided to call them “Earthlings” now, as a token of respect.