Rooster Teeth has the most unique history of animation production. I can’t tell you all of it, because I only know that before RWBY happened, that Red vs Blue existed. Between that and RWBY, I know nothing. As controversial and questionable as RWBY is, but their level of animation quality grew exceptionally well. That leads to Gen:Lock, Rooster Teeth’s ambitious mecha series. Something that feels a little bit of a love letter to a lot of mecha series with a lot of references to mecha anime series, but also bringing it’s own unique flair to the table. I thought it was enjoyable.
Gen:Lock starts out how a lot of mecha series do. We get some sense of technology available with all sorts of holographics when the protagonist Julian Chase and his current girlfriend, Marinda Worth, visit Chase’s family via holographic technology for dinner in New York. Chase’s sister has a holographic idol show connected with thousands of fans. Then of course, the enemy force, called the Union, attack and the protagonist has to go out to fight. Chase goes out in his fighter and Marinda in her western style missile platform mech. Tragedy happens when Union’s giant mecha releases micro machines to destroy all human life that aren’t Union and Chase sacrifices himself to take it down. Five years later following Miranda on a mission, strange mecha call Holons show up to save the day, Chase comes back in the form of a hologram, and Gen:Lock really starts.
The strongest thing and the weakest thing about Gen:Lock are it’s cast. Each character is either voiced by a voice acting super star or a high level television or movie star, so every single one of their performances is absolutely wonderful and believable. Let’s list some of the voice actors in question here: Michael B. Jordan, Dakota Fanning, Maisie Williams, Koichi Yamadera (Japanese Spike Spiegel), Monica Rial, and too many others to name. It’s very star studded, so it’s amazing. Since Gen:Lock runs eight episodes, it’s sad that some of the Gen:Lock program pilots only get hints about who they our or just having a very boring story and arc. Chase can be called the main protagonist of the story and while he has two arcs, one centered around his strange circumstance with his former girlfriend that goes somewhere maybe and developing team work and trust with the other Gen:Lock members. Chase has almost zero personality and sucks out the charisma from his voice actor (Michael B. Jordon) and the others right out of the room he’s in. So he is only their to drive the story and even then, I’m not sure he’s needed.
Luckily, the rest of the cast has something other problem they are dealing with or are just a lot of fun. I just wish they had some more time. In the show, two other characters came along with Chase’s reintroduction. The first is the doctor behind the Gen:Lock program, Doctor Weller. While I feel like Doctor Weller would have been a fun character if voiced acted by anyone, David Tennet adds an extra dimension to everything he does. Tenet just speaking makes Weller possibly the best character in this show. The total opposite of that is Yasamin. She is a former iranian fighter pilot that accidentally exposed her parents as intellectuals and defected to fight back and fix her mistake. Yasamin was introduced as this awesome bad ass pilot, but then the show never focuses on her much again and just sign her the adult role for the group. Kind of sad.
The three new recruits bring a lot to the table as well, though they feel kind of shafted as well. Maybe not with Cammie though. Cammie, the scottish bunny girl with robot ears on her head should actually be the main protagonist of Gen:Lock. She’s young, doesn’t have any combat experience, is afraid of her circumstances, has to adapt, is a good mechanical designer, and is a total weeb. Her finding her confidence to be in battle with her team mates in her own style should have been focused on so much more. The other two Gen:Lock members are also interesting and fun to have around as well. They just don’t have a lot of growing room. Kazu Ida is a transfer from the Japanese Military after his rank in said military because of insubordination. The show doesn’t focus on him a lot, but he does show off some of his personality when he hangs out with the team. Val/Valentina is gender fluid former Russian covert agent who changes gender whenever they feel like and it’s just great. Each of these three new pilots has so much to them that has and yet hasn’t been brought to the fore front yet and I hope that happens with another season.
So I feel like that is three paragraphs worth of stuff just saying “this show’s cast is too big for it’s run time”. If Gen:Lock had the best directing in the world and knew how to spend it’s time wisely, then each one of the characters that I presented would be given enough time to shine and feel more complete as people. But that isn’t the case here, which is unfortunate. Let’s be real here, nobody even knows why the Union is attacking in the first place. I know that isn’t the point of the Gen:Lock itself and maybe it’s because I’ve watched too much mecha anime to not think about this, but not knowing the motivation behind the Union’s attack really sours the experience a little more for me. It didn’t need to be focused on or complex, but just a sentence or two would have solved that for me. So many things to play with here, and Gen:Lock does and doesn’t know how to. Just a little frustrating.
Still, all of the mecha stuff is pretty cool. First of all, they aren’t actually piloted, each one is controlled like an Avatar in….Avatar except these mechs called Nodals, have their own super sentai colors. The brain network idea has some advantages because each pilot has completely control of their mechs, but that also limits the amount of run time before their minds are stuck into it forever. That might not seem like much, but the fact that each character shares a similar brain space and can join together to improve their combat effectiveness where there is no lag time. That also results in complex strategies in seconds while also causing memory leakage between the five of them. The group literally becomes one.
Then there are all the physical factors to consider. Each Nodal starts out as standard arbalest (from FMP) looking mechs with just different colored under skins, but each mech has two armor changes to where they gain different looks, abilities, and personalities. Kazu pilots a red samurai robot with a cape, Cammie gave her mech bunny legs, Val(entine) has a sniper mech with an invisibility cloak, and yet both Yazamin and Chase has flying mechs. I guess Yazamin was a redundancy for some reason and was shafted once again. Either way, the mecha development thematically works. As they gained confidence in themselves, they become confident with how different they are in a physical sense while they are becoming together mentally. It’s a little on the nose, but I’m glad that was all there. I just wish the actually characterization lived up to the mecha’s characterization.
So in the end, I feel like Gen:Lock was alright. In eight episodes it did quite a bit, but at a cost. While the plot of Gen:Lock season one is completed, we still have a cast of good characters and Chase that have a lot of wiggle room to go somewhere. I feel like if the show shifted a lot of it’s focus to other characters and plot points or just had a smaller cast. It would have been easier to put together and write if their were less things to cut in between. I guess that means there is a lot to look forward to when it comes to the second season? Still more then watchable and worth checking out if you like Rooster Teeth’s animations and/or enjoy different interpretations of mecha series like me. The star studded cast and their great acting was what pushed it over the top for me. What is better is that easier to watch now then it was when it was airing on rooster teeth, because you can watch it right now if you have a crunchyroll account. Here is a link to do that.