For those looking for a new anime to watch during these trying times (I know, I know), I recently came across Obsolete. YouTube Original seems to be a weird place to catch the Obsolete anime, but it turns out sometimes you can find something special among all the crap on the platform. In short, Obsolete is a mecha-anime, but one inspired by current events and geopolitics.
Created by Gen Urobuchi, who anime fans may know for season 1 of Psyscho-Pass and Madoka Magica, and scored by Skrillex, Obsolete offers something unique among anime series. For one, it takes a hyper-realistic approach to what would happen if our current world was upended by radically new technology. Within the series, aliens (who we never see) offer up highly advanced exoskeletons to all humans, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. These can be obtained provided that the human in question give the aliens a certain amount of limestone. While we don’t know the aliens’ motivations for wanting the limestone, it really isn’t that important, and it’s roughly analogous to Europeans trading with Native Americans.
However, what is important is the effect that introducing exoskeletons to our world introduces. At first, the exoskeletons are used by so-called third world countries for farming, construction, and other forms of manual labor. While this is going on, the West (namely, the United States) refuses to adopt this technology despite its availability to all. This is mainly due to entrenched capitalist interests, and construction firms like Caterpillar (which is cited specifically), as well as automobile manufactures and the military industrial complex, band together to form a pact for Western nations to not use exoskeletons.
But what the US military does not anticipate is that terrorists and a nefarious paramilitary group will start putting exoskeletons to use in a military context. This creates a great equalizer and destroys United States military hegemony. In 6 short episodes (each under 15 minutes) we see US military might (namely tanks, helicopters and drones) get destroyed by exoskeletons piloted by everyone from African child soldiers and Pakistanis. Each episode is very action-oriented (and the action is great!), but also full of philosophical musings on the state of the world, and the effects that the introductions of the advanced exoskeletons have had on society.
What’s interesting about the Obsolete anime is that it firmly takes place in our world. In the first episode, a massive South American military conflict ensues, and we hear about war occurring between Ecuador and Peru, and how the US military’s involvement is seen by the various nations in South America. Each episode (aside for the opening one) revolves around a specific character, which enriches our understanding of the world of the Obsolete anime and shows how the exoskeletons came to be used in a military context. Although we do see the US military deploy exoskeletons in the first episode, subsequent episodes jump back in time and show us how these developments took place. In one episode, a Japanese US liaison officer (who pretends to be a a part of the Japanese Defense Force) is sent to work with a scouting regiment in the Indian Armed Forces who have recently deployed military exoskeletons, but actually seems to be spying on them.
Other episodes explore the ethics of private military contractors (who have, of course, deployed military exoskeletons with no regard for human life), as well as the lives of African child soldiers whose lives are as cheap as the exoskeletons are to obtain. While the show doesn’t have enough time to develop too many original characters aside for the child soldier, Jamal, there is a sense that there is more to come. A season 2 has already been announced for Winter 2020, with episodes 7 to 12 airing during that time.
While the Obsolete anime certainty lives up to its namesake, it holds its cards close to its chest, and doesn’t reveal too much in the way of plot. There is a conflict brewing between the US military and the paramilitary group Outcast, but we don’t know their motivations or the specifics behind it. That being said, there’s a lot of meat in this anime, and it’s surprisingly prescient given the ongoing harmful effects of globalization. While there are some issues with the animation, as this is a full 3D animated series and the human models are somewhat clunky, the mech fights look fantastic and there’s plenty here for plans of mecha and action.
Overall, I highly recommend checking out the Obsolete anime if you have a spare couple of hours. Its themes and reflection of a fractured society due to technological imbalance is thought-provoking, and it definitely deserves more attention than it’s currently getting.