Linebarrels of Iron (TV)

GONZO is a troubling studio by all accounts. They have a truly rocky history of sub-par releases, even more than most studios, due to their terrible budging practices. Many of their shows barely have any funding available because it all went into another project. For every Full Metal Panic! or Afro Samurai, there's a Hellsing or Samurai 7 not far behind. Thankfully, Linebarrels of Iron was a series GONZO truly cared about and put plenty of effort in. Despite some writing issues and overabundance of indulgence into bad humor, Linebarrels of Iron manages to be one of the most explosive action series I've ever seen, with an absolutely stellar premise. The story is simple; What happens when you give a giant robot to someone who lacks any maturity to use it properly? More importantly, could that person learn to use that power properly and back up their words about being a "hero of justice?" I can tell you one thing; Linebarrels does not make that redemption easy, and it pays off all the more for it.

Our "hero" is Kouichi Hayase, a kid with a serious inferiority complex who wants to gain power and become a hero of justice, in his own words. He does end up getting that power he craves, however, it just costs him his life. A living mech called the LINEBARREL falls on Kouichi while he's running to get lunch for some bullies, and lacking a pilot, or "factor," the machine decides to revive Kouichi and have him act as its pilot, giving him superhuman powers in the process. A mysterious woman named Emi Kizaki falls with the LINEBARREL as well and decided to help Kouichi understand his new power while trying to regain her memory. She quickly realizes that Kouichi may not be the right person to own a giant robot; all of his fights cause more damage than the enemy force, and he attacks whomever stands in his way indiscriminately while getting revenge on the bullies who made him feel so weak. Kouichi is brought right back down to Earth when JUDA, an organization protecting Earth, interferes and forcefully takes the LINEBARREL, with even Emi leaving in disgust. Things just get worse from there, and after Kouichi manages to summon LINEBARREL once more through his sheer will in a fit of righteous anger, the head of JUDA decides to give him a second chance and prove his words correct. However, nobody is going to make it easy for the kid.

Linebarrels of Iron's premise is a brilliant one. Right off the bat, it sets up a lot of agency for Kouichi and a clear path for his development. That arc acts as the show's backbone, keeping the series focused and moving at a proper pace, never straying too far from the central character. This is good, because Kouichi's development from a pride driven idiot into a real deal hero is both powerful and the source for plenty of drama. This is not a show that hands the main character everything on a silver platter; Kouichi has to suffer every step of the way to start earning the trust of others, thankfully forcing such an unlikable but relatable dolt into being humble and growing into confidence properly. The show does play around with those always unwelcome harem tropes, but it never goes far enough with it to be particularly annoying, and said tropes actually lead to some solid character development for a lot of the supporting cast. This is what makes Kouichi an effective main character; he helps everyone around him grow as they help him. I love it when there's balance like that in a good cast of characters.

The supporting cast is solid, but rarely really get to shine. This is very much Kouichi's show for the most part, even if much of it is him losing against stronger enemies, and a few characters get pushed a bit too far to the side (the Endo twins become pretty meaningless in particular). However, the second half remembers to give everyone a solid moment to shine and do their best for the team, which I appreciate. Satoru and Reiji are two major exceptions among the factors, with Satoru getting a strong arc related to Reiji, who has much more depth to his character than first appears. Domyouji also manages to stick out as the one normal guy among the cast who's able to stand side by side with factors and their machina pretty easily. He makes for fantastic comedic relief and really shines a nice light on every scene he's in. It's a shame that Kouichi's childhood friend Risako is pretty unimportant, while his best friend Yajima does something particularly stupid upon his re-entrance into the story, restarting an arc that was finished earlier. Kizaki, the girl who gets Kouichi involved in the bigger plot, also stands out due to how dark her back story turns out to be and wraps around back towards how she treats Kouichi.

The villains of the series, Katou-Kan, really fit in well. They're a group of eccentric terrorists with mecha whom go on and on about imagination while trying to change reality to fit whatever they imagine. In other words, take over the world. Each and every single member of the group is so silly that they stand out upon their first appearance, with exception to their leader. Named Katou, he makes the absolutely perfect foil to Kouichi; confident, focused, intelligent, charismatic and ruthless. His plans and strategies are incredibly intricate and clever, almost to the point of ridiculousness, and he simply oozes ambition. He's an ultra classic supervillain aiming for world domination, so lacking in flaws that he manages to constantly be an effective threat. This would normally be a problem, but since the series is based on Kouichi's growth, it makes more sense to have him constantly going up against someone who truly is his better. My only complaint with him comes from a third to last episode twist that is so idiotic and rush that it nearly ruins the series. It's truly an idiotic turn that really betrays Katou's entire established character.

The show divides itself into comedy, drama and action. The comedy is really hit or miss, revolving around wacky happenings at JUDA headquarters or Risako trying to devise a new way to get Kouichi's attention. Neither are particularly entertaining to watch, especially because this is when the series starts playing with harem tropes. Notable exception to the series beach episode, which goes off the rails and has so many bizarre events in it that it's difficult to forget it. All this said, comedy bits are also where the series fits in cheesecake moments, and they're very out of place with the rest of the show. When drama kicks in, the show takes itself completely seriously and plays every single character completely straight, and there's usually life and death situations or entire cities at stake. The more lighthearted moments just don't work very well alongside dramatic scenes, although that contrast is sometimes cleverly used (the Yajima arc in particular).

The action is absolutely fantastic. I normally hate CG animation in anime due to just how bad it often is, but GONZO did a fantastic job with the technology here. For a show from 2008, it looks absolutely fantastic when the CG mechs start fighting. The CG animation is occasionally too fast, but it's hardly noticeable because of how speedy and agile all the mechs normally are. The LINEBARREL and Reiji's VARDANT are especially cool to watch in combat, the first fighting with a traditional sword and using a lot of charges, while the second almost teleports around at insane speeds with a lot of spinning motions and mixing in defensive moves with its wings. These mechs all move very organically and are just a joy to watch in combat, reminding less of the usual Gundam standard and more of the lively animations of the Zone of the Enders mechs. There's clear definition of where everything is at nearly every moment, and a focus on in the moment movements over super moves or superior weaponry. It's all pure explosive entertainment, and the type of mech fights I want to see more of. The music matches perfectly with all the chaos and bombast as well, with loud orchestral arrangements you'd expect to see in a 80s or 90s Hollywood blockbuster. There's even a few theme remixes in there that really pack a punch, especially in the final two episodes.

The series first half is good character focused stuff. Kouichi's transition from oblivious asshole to optimistic hero is given a lot of time to develop, taking several episodes form him to finally join JUDA. It also does a great job of setting up Katou-Kan as major threats, with them effortlessly winning plenty of battles in quick succession. It builds the stakes well, and then lets the second half go absolutely nuts. The halfway point has a sudden and shocking twist that completely changes everything, and the show runs with this dark turn perfectly for nearly the rest of its run. There are so many amazing moments, even finally giving the other factors a chance to shine, up until that third to last episode. Another twist kicks in, and it's a simply awful one. I read up on some of the events of the manga and get what GONZO was trying to do, reflecting events from said manga with a new plot for a quicker ending, but the idea pokes a ton of holes into past plot points. The good news is that it's not enough to ruin the grand finale; the final two episodes show off one of the single biggest battles I've ever seen in any anime, with a heavy atmosphere of despair and a horrifying new threat. It had me on the edge of my seat and left me with fists in the air. Linebarrels of Iron makes a lot of mistakes reaching the end, but once it's there, it gives the mother of all sprints and blows that finish line apart. Much respect for that.

I had trouble deciding how I felt about this one. The last minute twist is really one of the worst I've ever seen, but I kept thinking about just how much the series gripped me episode after episode. Linebarrels of Iron has a lot of problems, mainly a lame sense of humor and a failure to really use its huge cast of characters properly, but it manages to engage constantly. It's exciting and entertaining at every turn, with an incredibly strong main character arc and some of the best mech action I've ever seen. It's loud and grand, and it is just endlessly fun to watch. Despite the problems, I adore this series, and I want to see the manga get another anime once it finally concludes (which will probably be in ten years at this rate). The main idea that Linebarrels of Iron is built around makes for an incredibly sturdy base, and it never forgets that main idea. GONZO knew exactly what type of show they were making from the beginning and made it the best they could, and the final product was pretty incredible.


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