Pilgrimage to Mecha 03: Dai-Guard (TV)

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Join us for our Pilgrimage to Mecha – where I go back in time and catch up on some of the classics and hidden gems of the mecha genre. Whether it was before my time or I simply missed out on them, it’s time for me to watch them and let you know why you should too!

This time: Dai-Guard

Terrestrial Defense Corp. Dai-Guard

1999-2000
TV Series (26 Episodes)
Directed by Seiji Mizushima

Premise

The world is attacked by a mysterious otherworldly being known as a Heterodyne. When conventional arms fail to stop it, the giant robot Dai-Guard is created by the 21st Century Defense Security Corporation to combat it. However, the first Heterodyne attack is also the last, and Dai-Guard is relegated to being a PR mascot. 12 years later, Shunsuke Akagi, Ibuki Momoi, and Keiichirou Aoyama are employees at the 21st Century Defense Security Corporation and Dai-Guard’s official pilots. In the absence of Heterodyne attacks, they serve as typical salarymen. However, when the Heterodynes return to Japan, it’s up to them to fight off the new threats, avoid excessive collateral damage, and deal with all the bureaucratic red tape that comes with piloting a company-sponsored giant robot.

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Thoughts

Like Patlabor, Dai-Guard is an anime that isn’t particularly concerned with a total adherence to its premise. Rather than acting how some might think it should act, it walks to the beat of its own drum, and as a result, it’s a fun ride the whole way through. Relying heavily on subverting the typical tropes of mecha anime, Dai-Guard ends up being a surprisingly smart piece of work. But despite those subversions, Dai-Guard never forgets that no matter how much you want to subvert convention or be witty, a show about giant robots beating up monsters must be fun. And I think that’s what seals the deal for Dai-Guard.

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Dai-Guard is hands down one of the most optimistic mecha anime I’ve ever watched. Sure, Gurren Lagann is willpower incarnate, Patlabor is so lighthearted you almost forget they’re police officers, and G Gundam is just delightfully insane, but compared to the kind of unwavering good attitude Dai-Guard has, few things come close. It’s almost ironic that a show that explicitly skewers and subverts the standard mecha tropes should end up being so earnest in its love for the genre. Even its overall message is unyieldingly positive. Sure, people might be selfish, cowardly, or even antagonistic, but at the end of the day, most people are good, and as long as people continue to do the right thing, humanity as a whole can prevail. And that it’s not just about saving the people, but saving their happiness. What good is beating the monster if everyone’s homes and livelihoods are destroyed? It seems like an oddly dated and simple message in our current heyday of grim teenagers and convoluted plots, but it makes Dai-Guard feel fresh and relieving in a lot of ways. It’s an anime that reminds us what a proper giant robot is fighting for.

And it’s that exact sense of optimism and good-natured fun that makes Dai-Guard such an easy show to root for. Gurren Lagann fans will know that deep down, Gurren Lagann can get pretty ridiculous and stupid at times, but it does an amazing job of making you care, and as a result, you still end up shouting and cheering. Dai-Guard might point out how dumb giant robots are, but it does it so earnestly that when the chips are down and the day seems lost, you still cheer and cry when the Dai-Guard shows up to save the day.

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Why You Should Watch

Mercilessly skewering what’s accepted as normal in other robot anime, Dai-Guard asks questions like, “Who pays for the damages after the giant robot saves the day?” or, “Do you know how much it costs to repair this damaged robot?” and even, “What exactly is the jurisdiction of a giant robot that belongs to a civilian corporation?” Falling over is a minor catastrophe, paperwork needs to be filled out, and in general, it’s quite a hassle dealing with one. Similar to Patlabor, underneath its comedic veneer, there’s a wittiness that pervades it. In a variety of ways, the titular Dai-Guard itself is almost an antithesis of the Evangelion. Sure, they might both be about deconstructing the concept of sending giant robots to go fight monsters that look like abstract shapes, but they couldn’t be more different. And whereas Unit 01 and its peers are super robots wearing the dressings of a real robot, Dai-Guard is very much a real robot that just happens to look like something you’d see in a 70s mecha anime, which it never lets us forget.

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Released in 1999, Dai-Guard exists in an interesting time. Surrounded by the likes of Turn A Gundam, Big O, Gasaraki, and GaoGaiGar, Dai-Guard represents yet another example of the variety of mecha anime around this time. The late 90s and early 00s ended up being a surprisingly diverse time period for the genre, as both super robot and real robot anime seemed to flourish side by side. And then you have Dai-Guard, which somehow ended up being a little of both. while Dai-Guard itself clearly harkens to the mecha of the 70s and 80s, its real world sensibilities are very much a product of the turn of the century.

As a result, I can’t simply say Dai-Guard is the comfort food of mecha anime. While it’s undeniably one of the most lighthearted and enjoyable things I’ve watched in a while, there’s a real sharpness to it beyond what it wants you to believe. Like the earlier featured Patlabor, Dai-Guard is one to watch if you’re the kind of person who feels that the current landscape of mecha is lacking heart.

3 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to Mecha 03: Dai-Guard (TV)

  1. I miss the late 90’s/early 00 period of mecha. Sure, we got oodles of Gundam in the years previous, but there was something I just truly love about things like Dai-Guard. I mean, the backstory of the “ultimate anti-alien weapon” getting finished “after” the threat’s been eliminated is both silly, and realistic (to a cynical person like me). So what do they do? Sell it to an insurance company.

    Because.

    I love that every time there’s an alien threat, it’s less about, “Oh god we’re being invaded killitkillitkillit!” and more, “Okay, so, did we finish form C-3 in triplicate? Are the finances secured for this?” The insurance company that fights the robot has to pay for the damages, yet their robot is so clunky and prone to outlandish weaponry that it will wreck half the city before its done (plus, it costs, what, a ten thousand dollars just to start?).

    The whole series is kind of an extension of that one little bit of the first episode of The Big O, where Big O shows up, and the policeman (I forget the name), goes, “YEAH, KICK HIS ASS!”, then O gets knocked into a building, destroying it, and he goes, “NOOOOO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” And it’s wonderful. In a time when shows were trying so hard to be another Eva (God, remember the angst-fest of Blue Gender?) it was a breath of fresh air.

    • Yeah, Dai-Guard ended up being a very smart show despite trying to convince everyone it was just a simple comedy. Enough mecha shows at least briefly mention the kind of collateral damage that giant robots cause, but Dai-Guard focuses on it and it works surprisingly well in its favor.

      And for me, it’s that despite how much it points out how dumb the concept of a giant robot is, it’s still so optimistic about the whole thing. Like sure, this robot costs a bunch of money, causes untold amount of collateral damage, and everyone wants to either steal it or put it out of commission, but it’s doing good work and saving the people. And at the end of the day, thats what matters most.

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