There are plenty of reasons why mecha anime is intriguing to audiences. From collecting models of each machine to telling an heroic narrative with futuristic technology left to the imagination, mechas are often given a commercialized feel to what is often a replication of classic storytelling.
My main concern when discussing a mecha series (especially a drama like this one) is to address the aspects of the human condition, as it is superimposed by a human-shaped fighting machine. And while there are many different directions that can be said about it, I believe that this series is designed not as a glorification, but a criticism of modern warfare. When it comes to the relationship between human and mech, Argevollen strips the Human of autonomy to make way for the Machine.
Argevollen (Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen, literally “Silver Will Argevollen”) is set in a world at war, where two dominant factions fight for control over territory (the typical war scenario). Here, the technology and tactics seem reminiscent to something out of a WWII narrative. However, this series offers mechs as the primary artillery weapon and takes away aircraft and naval units. In other words, the battles are fought entirely on land!
While that is one of the more disappointing premises of this original animation, all it means is that the focus will be on the army as it relates to warfare as a whole. And besides, that just means there will be plenty of screen time given to the mechs!
The main perspective we get of this war is from the Arandas camp’s Tokimune Susumu, a young soldier who happens to be Argy’s exclusive pilot, seemingly by accident. That’s because Argevollen is an exclusive prototype of a mech designed to turn the tides of the war, allegedly putting things in Arandas’ favor.
Unlike the average mechs that are practically expendable in this war, Argy has the potential to grow with the abilities of its pilot. Those abilities can be realized when the pilot and the mech raise their “linkage depth,” a measurement of human-machine synchronization. In order to realize the mech’s full potential and take control of battle, Tokimune and Argy must essentially think like each other. Or to put it another way, Tokimune must make Argy an extension of himself. But that assumes that he is in fact in control of Argevollen’s will!
On the surface, Argy seems to be merely another weapon at Arandas’ disposal, but every time Tokimune pilots it into battle, he loses control of himself in the process. A similar occurrence happened to Tokimune’s biological sister Reiko, who had tested one of the earliest mechs that use linkage depth technology. I won’t spoil the details of what happens, but I think it’s safe to say that Tokimune experiences a psychological breakdown similar to his sister’s.
While other mecha anime may revere the main characters as heroes who grow with their mechs, Argevollen appears to destroy Tokimune’s character on a mental level. From being a young recruit on a quest to find out what had really happened to his sister, Tokimune’s mind is slowly consumed by Argy, as if his mental state becomes more machine-like. In this way, Argy doesn’t become more human, but rather Tokimune becomes more machine. Had it not been for the lovers’ quarrels between him and Argevollen’s dedicated engineer Jamie Hazaford, I think he would become less human at a faster rate!
Despite their lackluster approach, the purely platonic romance between Tokimune and Jamie provides subtle humor in this series, and I think ultimately saves them both from losing their minds completely by continuing to participate in this war. However, other people on either side of the conflict were not so lucky.
Tokimune may be losing his mind every time he pilots Argevollen, but he’s not the only one suffering. In fact, it seems that everyone is slowly being consumed by this war. There may be casualties or advancements from either army, but the war on the whole is at a standstill. And since neither Arandas nor Ingelmia wish to end the conflict, there seems to be no way out of it either. To that extent, there seems to be no beneficiaries, other than the companies that produce weapons for it. In fact, the series shows that the developers of mechs like Argevollen have been funding both sides of the war, as if the entire war was in the hands of corporations the whole time!
In that sense, all the soldiers aren’t participating in a war between nations, but a sick game constructed by powerful corporations, which in this case happens to fall under the gaze of a single entity. And every intelligence officer who comes even close to realizing that truth is killed before investigating it any further! Furthermore, prototype mechs like Argevollen were delivered on the promise of turning the tide of the war, but they actually come with the effect of silencing any form of resistance even further: by turning their pilots into killing machines.
Political conspiracies aside, Argevollen suggests that there are no heroes in war, only expendable soldiers and weapons of varying ranks and abilities, who can easily be manipulated to continue fighting without end. And the longer one participates in war, the less likely they are to question it.
But in this grim setting of humans becoming more like machines, what keeps people like Tokimune, Jamie, and all the other players in this war human? It seems ironic for me to say, but I think it has something to do with how they fight. They aren’t fighting merely to survive or to become heroes in an endless war, but perhaps on the promise that they will live another day. And when I say “live,” I don’t mean by giving in to being more machine-like.
There may be plenty of dialogue in this series and occasionally a battle scene, but I think what ultimately saves all the participants of this war are the casual moments. I wouldn’t say that little things like drinking parties and hot spring trips are ways to build friendships (that’s the message from some other anime), but perhaps to maintain sanity: something one might call boosting morale.
There may not be an end to the war between Arandas and Ingelmia, but perhaps there is something that can be said positively about Argevollen’s protagonists, Tokimune and Jamie. Maybe they are just players in a much bigger scheme not in their control. Maybe they will never see an end to this war. But as strange as it sounds, I think that their constant bickering at each other served to maintain their humanity in the midst of war, instead of concealing emotions as others had done. To have someone else to express one’s feelings to, no matter what those feelings are. That seems reason enough to live.
So if you’re looking for a mecha anime that’s more critical about war and less beautiful in presentation, watch Argevollen.