Vandread is one of those animes that is pretty much forgotten, but shouldn’t be. While it joins the glut of crazy-plotted Japanese animes, it is no slouch in the storytelling department.
In a nutshell, Vandread is set in a universe where mankind has reached out to colonise the stars. In one of these colonies, for reasons unknown, men and women live on separate planets in the system. So, for generations, a literal gender war has been waged between the male homeworld of Taraak and the female homeworld of Mejere.
The story follows Hibiki Tokai (Hiroyuki Yoshino), a third class citizen of Taraak, who is out to prove himself on a bet that he could steal one of the Vanguards, the mechs that the Taraak military pilot, from a newly built warship. Due to an oversight, the warship launches with Hibiki on it.
There is a great deal of introspection that, even as adults, we have to deal with on a daily basis.
Simultaneously, the warship gets attacked by female pirates. In an attempt to prevent the new warship from falling prey to the women, the men attempt to destroy the ship after leaving Hibiki and another two male soldiers behind. The ship mysteriously teleports itself, along with the female pirate’s own ship, to another part of the galaxy in an attempt to save itself. As both male and female ships begin to fuse together to form a new one (eventually named Nirvana), the remaining men and women must work together in order to defeat a dangerous enemy and make their way back to their respective homeworlds.
Despite the heavy premise, Vandread manages to weave well-crafted writing with classic Anime fanservice, while not overly pandering to both. To that end, the 18-year-old story still holds up tremendously, and I dare say, reverberates more today than it had when it first came out.
One of the reasons why Vandread is such a good anime is that, at its core, it is a character-driven story. While the main protagonist, Hibiki Tokai, is flanked by a ship full of women, the story isn’t entirely centered around him as is common among the harem genre. The overall story arc is dependant on several other characters growing and developing throughout the course of the series. This means that in a ship full of teenagers fighting for their life, there is a great deal of introspection that, even as adults, we have to deal with on a daily basis.
You can’t get any lower than being captured by the enemy and scolded like the kid you literally are
Who are you? What does it mean to be you? What defines you? What could you achieve?
These are questions that Vandread doesn’t mince at its most critical moments. To top that off, the show deals in issues about trust, loneliness, fear – the emotions that fail us in our most important moments. Watching it as a teenager, Vandread reflected the insecure, rebellious moments that I struggled to come to terms with. Rewatching it recently as an adult made me see the show’s wisdom that one may only appreciate at an older age (like thinking before you act, or accepting your own weakness before you can do something about it). Some of the hardest-hitting episodes remind me that I still have some ways to go before my insecurities are resolved.
Vandread runs on rebellion, which makes sense since 80% of the cast are teenagers. After all, the female crew are pirates who defy the their homeworld’s matriarchy rule. Hibiki himself is portrayed as a hotheaded rebel. Despite the other two male members being raised on the patriarchal mindset of their male-only homeworld, they and the rest of the female pirates joined forces and break generations of indoctrination that men and women are enemies.
Wise words cut sharper than knives
This eventually segways to the show’s climax – both factions return home to convince their respective rulers that their archaic ways are over, and that they need to work together in order to defeat the forces of Earth who intends to destroy all of them.
Vandread uses both character development and revelations to show that the old ways aren’t always the best ways. While the old guards (of both male and female homeworlds, and Earth) may have had the best intentions in the beginning, the new generation has outgrown the need to stick to the rules that held them together. It’s up to these new blood to make choices of their own if they want to live in a future that they can be happy for.
Interplanetary broadcasts are more effective than Twitter
It’s hard not to draw parallels between that kind of subtext and the world we live in now. Youths today commonly rise up in defiance of their country’s older leaders, in order to fight for a better future that they believe in. Vandread gets that hope right.
(Gender) Difference Is A Real Thing
Perhaps the most controversial and in-your-face concept about the show is that differences between men and women are real. There is no going around this. Vandread depicts what would happen when men and women literally live on different worlds. They fill in the gaps by compensating for what each side lacks (e.g Men are literally grown in vats while women fortunately fuse genetic material from both eggs to create a baby).
It then highlights the problems of a single gender society by taking stereotypes to its functional extreme (Majere, for instance, has catastrophic power failures because there are women who overtax the power grid in order to one up each other’s decorations).
Vandread is best Darling in the Franxx
The crew of the Nirvana learn throughout the series that it’s unnatural for men and women to be apart, but they don’t do this by playing up the stereotypical shortcomings of each gender. They do one better. They show what it would be like for people to work together in spite of their differences as men and women.
They learn that regardless of their differences, perhaps they have more things in common than they would admit. Ultimately, they learn to compensate for the strengths and weaknesses of factions separated by ideology and time. More importantly, they learn that trust in others is dependant on the security of knowing yourself. Overcoming differences starts by recognising that it’s there, and everyone becomes the better for it.
It’s standard practice these days for declarations of love to involve dramatic life-saving feats
Vandread is remarkably multi-layered. A coming-of-age story in a lost-in-space opera set amidst a gender war. While its CG scenes have aged terribly over the years, what holds it up is the brilliance of its writing. It’s a shame, though, that the anime has been mostly lost in time, but it remains a must-watch classic in my book. Sometimes a crazy premise hold a great tale, and Vandread does not disappoint.