As a reviewer, there are some shows that you are more than happy to see finally come to an end. There are simply too many television series that look and sound great, yet have no heart or soul to keep you interested. I expected that with Votoms, a series dating back to 1983 that has some of the worst animation to be found in an anime release in the US. When I first bought it, I only bought three DVDS, not even the whole of the first story arc. However, as I started watching the first season of Votoms, otherwise known as Stage One: Uoodo City, I placed an order to get the fourth DVD in time for the review. By the time the story arc was done, I was combing the Internet to find a good price on the rest of this series. It's that good, friends. It may only be for those who can live on story without great artwork, but very few shows have been nearly as compelling as the start of Votoms.
The series begins with a foul betrayal. Chirico is a young pilot in a galactic war that's lasted nearly a hundred years and is finally looking to end. He is sent on a secret mission to assail a hidden base, but once there finds that he is actually attacking allied forces. He manages to find the cause of this strange mission: a unique woman in a lifepod who he believes must be the military's new secret weapon. As he discovers her, he is attacked in space by his comrades and is left for dead. He survives and gets as far as Uoodo City, now almost insatiably drawn to find out who the mysterious woman is and why she is so important. But Uoodo is an evil, violent town filled with a corrupt police force and bikers who rule the streets. Chirico manages to make some friends along the way, an odd threesome who are wholly selfish but find a strange affection towards him, despite his unwavering personal mission to discover the truth behind the mysterious lady that haunts him. Can they survive the onslaught that Chirico will bring from those who want to keep him silent?
I expected from the start not to appreciate Votoms, and from the opening screens of the DVD onward you expect a 70s-style cheesefest. There is no doubt that the series takes some getting used to. The music is certainly an old style, and it becomes very repetitive. The animation is crude, for the most part, with character designs that are essentially unattractive. Even the explosions look cartoonish and silly. There is no outer beauty here whatsoever.
It shows just how strong Votoms is, then, that I found myself compelled to watch more and more. The repetitive music starts setting a motif for each episode, and you wait for the themes to guide the action. The closing theme, which I skipped the first two episodes, is now one I unconsciously hum in the hallways at work. There is no room for a plot to hide in the animation, and the show's creators wisely don't try to do so--they've created a captivating story worthy of attention. Although there are certain logical gaps (such as the deserted feel that the city almost always has), the overall plotting and concept is executed admirably. What's also nice is that we have a group of people who are selfish, egotistical, yet capable of great kindness and compassion...in other words, real people. The show gets your attention because it feels right. There's no other way to describe it.
Many might find it interesting to compare this show to another that was popular at the same time, Fist of the North Star. Both shows center around young men (who share a similar look) wandering after a woman they cannot help but follow. Both of them are steadfast in their pursuits, putting all emotion and carelessness aside, and both get comic relief from their counterparts. Where Votoms succeeds and Fist of the North Star does not, however, is in the plotting of each episode. Fist became a "villain of the week" show, whereas Votoms has a long-term story in mind.
This brings me to my final point--if you expect to get into Votoms, expect that you will get into a serious time and money investment. Unlike some other shows, the story arcs in Votoms do not in any way signify the closing of any of the plot strands. In fact, Stage One: Uoodo City ends in such a manner that it is virtually impossible not to continue to the next stage. Absolutely nothing is resolved, and there are cliffhangers that may not be resolved in the near future. (I found this out the hard way, and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.) The show is 52 episodes long, and to buy the whole series on DVD will run you $200 wholesale on Ebay. (Because of this, you might get a deal on the VHS run that's left, but who knows...) If you start this series and enjoy it, you will want to finish it without question.
Votoms: Uoodo City gets a strong recommendation from me. If you really aren't sure if you're up for the weak animation and old-school delivery, at least try the first DVD. My guess is you'll find the trek inexplicably addictive.
Votoms: Uoodo City -- violence, non-sexual nudity, mild profanity -- A