Anime shows often influence one another in powerful ways. Much like other movies in pop culture, while something might not feel like it has lasting power, just the opposite might be happening.
Something along those lines happened with the 1982 series Combat Mecha Xabungle, licensed by Maiden Japan. The series ran for 50 episodes and even had a compilation film called Xabungle Grafitti that had tons of new footage and even a different ending to the series. Just in 2018 the series got a Blu-ray release, showing Xabungle is still alive and well.
The series spawned some promotional toys as well, helping solidify some sort of popularity with the public. And it isn’t that the series was really unpopular, it just didn’t seem remarkable.
Part of that is due to the man that helped create it. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the mind behind the series, is more often known for things like the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.
Yes, that Gundam franchise. Looking at Tomino’s vast accomplishments, it is easy to see how Xabungle might have slipped between the cracks for people. It was a more light-hearted series, devoid of a lot of the harder issues the Gundam series often approached.
The premise itself even seemed like something a little wilder than what was expected of Tomino at the point of its release. It was a mish-mash of a dozen tropes that both somehow worked really well with one another while simultaneously feeling like you were watching two shows at once.
The story followed Jiron Amos, a young man trying to hunt down his parents’ killer on a distant planet where only one rule really exists: you have exactly three days to enact justice if need be, otherwise the statute of limitations runs out. Within those three days, retaliation is more than fair.
But for Jiron, three days might not be enough. Not only does he have to hunt down the murderer, but he also has to do so on a strange planet filled with giant robots in a wild west setting.
It’s a sort of cowboy Gundam situation and can occasionally teeter back and forth from completely ridiculous to trying so very hard. The show is very aware that it’s the more casual and fun of Tomino’s expansive work.
Because of this, there is some leeway to the absolute bonkers story. While the animation for the series was nothing special, the cast of characters was fun enough that viewers could forgive some of the forgettable moments the animation created.
The characters fumble about trying to defeat one another but doing such a spectacularly bad job at it. It’s endearing, as they try their hardest but end up flubbing things occasionally. And while a lot of the comedy is at the character’s expense, it never feels mean.
It’s a classic ‘we’re laughing with them, not at them,’ type feeling.
The colors were the fever dream combination of giant mechas and barren deserts with a cast of characters that somehow blended in with their backgrounds but stood out at the same time. And they played to their environments, being the perfect example of sci-fi cowboys.
Tomino revels in the cartoonish anime, while somehow making it just as human as his other works. People struggle against not only the harsh elements of their environment but each other as well.
So Why Does it Matter?
It’s easy to forget through the hyper-colored world that we see that it boils down to a young man trying to get revenge for his parents. The stylized show is a nice aesthetic choice for the plot so that it doesn’t come across as a gritty, all too serious series.
While it might seem like the show was just a blip in Tomino’s career, it actually proved a lot more memorable than one would think. One of the most popular anime of recent years is Gurren Lagann.
A fantastic show by creator Hiroyuki Imaishi, it was a love letter to classic anime of decades past. In an interview with Ollie Barder for Forbes, the director mentioned the direct tie from Gurren Lagann to Xabungle.
It’s then that it makes sense, how the wild premise of giant mechas in a Wild West desert actually works better than some of us thought. And above all else, the show truly is fun. While casual viewers might not have a clue what the show is, they probably know its predecessors.
And they definitely know its successors. The show has staying power whether or not it was completely recognized at the time of its release. But that almost feels like part of the charm on a rewatch.
The series didn’t set out to change the genre, nor did it try to completely rewrite anything. It simply existed to be a medium to be enjoyed. It’s why the drama feels fabricated and why the fights almost feel comical.
It is simply meant to be enjoyed, and perhaps inspire even more new classics.