Content Warning: nationalism, anti-immigrant dogwhistles, police brutality
What’s it about? When Japan was on the brink of collapse from economic crisis and low birthrates, it began accepting aid from foreign nations; these countries “deployed a vast number of people, slowly expanding their territory.” Eventually, an armed conflict known as the Boundary War broke out, resulting in Japan being “virtually divided up and ruled.” In the year 2061, Shiiba Amou becomes a government target due to his hobby of tinkering with old weapons of war, the mecha known as AMAIM.
Put on your earmuffs, because we’re headed square into dogwhistle territory. I came into this title with some suspicions of where it would go—maybe it’s the War on Terror memories, maybe it’s remembering Build the Wall literally two years ago, but I have an instinctive fight-or-flight reaction to titles that proudly include the phrase “border warrior.” But…holy shit, y’all. Like, holy shit.
I used a criminal number of scare quotes in the summary just so that I convey the baldness of this show’s premise. To whit: when Japan reached a point of crisis (including the grimly memetic Declining Birthrate), its requests for foreign aid resulted in immigrants coming into the country. Those immigrants then began “expanding their territory,” which eventually led to war. Not, “other countries saw Japan was weakened and attacked/conquered it.” That would still have some nationalist undertones (hello, Code Geass), but this is a great deal more insidious.
To translate it more baldly: “we let foreigners in and they outbred us, and now the True Japanese People are being subjugated by the foreign powers they heralded!”
This is an anime about fucking “anchor babies.”
We are, naturally, told this backstory as the camera pans across scenes of Japan’s landscape and historical pagodas; the ending credits see our protagonist engage in traditional arts like flower arrangement. Obviously love of cultural traditions isn’t an inherently toxic thing: look at Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju or hobby shows like Let’s Make a Mug Too. What’s fucked up is when you make them into symbols of what our heroes are trying to protect, because it raises the question of why they need to be protected and from whom. Then you end up with an anime version of Red Dawn with narrative logic that would be at home in a Ben Shapiro novel.
Its production cycle and airing also coincides with recent conversations in Japan about immigration policy reform, the exploitation of foreign visa workers, inhumane conditions at foreign detention centers, and abuse of immigrants by officials. There’s no denying that this is an extremely topical series, and one with pretty stomach-churning implications. Hell, I’m barely scratching the surface of the nuanced conversation that ought to be had here, and I highly encourage folks with expertise to pitch us.
But as was the case with Darling in the FranXX, I doubt we’re going to hear about it for a while. That’s because AMAIM looks quite pretty, and mecha fans have been quite excited about its return to 2D-model robots designed by some of the Gundam franchise’s greats. The action scene that rounds out the episode is good stuff, in abstract, with choreography and animation that lends a real sense of kinetic weight and impact to the giant robot fights. And in my jaded experience, I find that even when a work has confidently stated its thematic intentions, the only thing that will turn the tide against it is technical incompetence. The human cost of Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t matter, just the glitches. Darling in the FranXX could do no wrong amongst a certain audience of chuds until the second cour fell apart visually.
My goal is absolutely not to tell anyone not to watch AMAIM, or that they’re a bad person if they like the well-executed cool robot fights. I liked the cool robot fights. But I hope that this can be a series where enjoyment of the animation doesn’t mean quashing critical discussion of an eyebrow-raising-at-best premise that may or may not grow more troubling as the show progresses.
And while I’m at it, I’d like a pony.