Welcome to a small bit of something called Tomino week. I’ve spent a lot of time watching some Tomino shows this year. Each one of them is fun for their own reasons and I’m glad that I’ve spent a little more time into his work this year. Most of them are very long though with a lot of padding too. There are shorter Tomino shows, but not the ones from the 80’s. Even with Space Runaway Ideon being 39 episodes, it’s still a long show. Xabungle is a show that Tomino created right after Ideon and right before Aura Battler Dunbine. Tomino had a very influential time in the 80’s. I’ve waited such a long time to even start Xabungle. I’ve had its Blu-ray disc from Maiden Japan for multiple years now and I’ve finally jumped into it. I’m so glad that I did because this show is so different from a lot of his works because it’s funnier then even his comedic shows. While there are the usual Tomino-isms in this show, everything else pays off pretty well.
Xabungle takes place on a planet named Zola. A planet where all the citizens have forgotten its name a long time ago. The planet is, as far as we know, a complete desert and people struggle to live their lives day to day much like the wild west. The people don’t care as much anymore. In fact, most of them don’t care so much that a three-day rule is in place. A rule if someone does something bad happens to you, then you better get your revenge in three days or completely forget about it. Most people abide by that rule. There is one person that doesn’t want to. One young boy named Jiron Amos refuses to. Found starving in the desert by a group that calls themselves the Sand Rats lead by a blue haired woman called Rag and her followers being the slightly feminine looking Blume, the manly man Dyke, and the young girl Chill, the five of them eventually work hard together to steal a giant robot. A nice one called the Xabungle.
The world of Xabungle is pretty creative and fun despite it just being a full desert. To play into the cowboy sort of world with mecha that I mentioned recently, this is the world where duels and quick draws are the name of the game itself. Especially since the world is harsh to live in. Those who wish for peace and try to live in peace are laughed at because bad things can happen to anyone at anytime making peace impossible. Every person is mere seconds away from having the worse day in their lives and there are no senses of security in it. The world of trading and bazaars where people meet for goods and trading in very rare instances. There is a lot of scared rules around each of these bazaars that need to be followed to maintain peace between different parties. Rules that are often exploited and broken by framing other people. It’s a very delicate and cruel world sometimes, but there are always hidden layers to it that make it feel so believable. Unfortunately, there is also some bad indigenous representation here too because the show gets its information from older “cowboy and indian” movies.
Stealing that Xabungle is really where the story begins. Same with Jiron chasing after the man who killed his family named Timp. Through his very forceful adventures, Jiron finds himself on the land ship called the Iron Gear during a bazaar in somewhere in a nameless town. Eventually, he becomes a member of that ship led by a very good young woman named Elchie Cargo who wants culture. She is the daughter of Carrie Cargo, the original owner of Iron Gear until he died in an unfortunate accident by the guy who killed Jiron’s parents, Timp. A similar goal puts them together for the moment. In fact, Timp is one of two people that guide the show together during the first half. Timp wanders from ship to ship causing trouble for its inhabitants. That leads them across many different areas across Zola to eventually where the Innocent live. Basically, the elites of this world.
The culture of the Innocent is so fascinating. They are glass people that should be on top of the rubber people. They live the most elite 80’s dream in their own cities that block out the air of the planet around them because they will die if it’s let in. Some even live in these glass shacks out in the open that are just waiting to be destroyed. Some of the Innocent have such large egos or lack of foresight in what is coming to them. They think they are invincible because they know nothing else but being elites. Their population is small compared to the growing number of citizens around them. What do the Innocent have as an advantage? Technology. For a certain price of blue stones or for following the Innocent’s orders, a gift of technology is possible. Advanced walking machines, advanced sand ships, and high-powered lasers. That is their advantage that jumps outside the door as they end up in the hands of citizens. Tomino really puts a lot of thought into his worlds and how they function and you can tell with this story too.
The first half is also about Elchi cargo herself. How is she operating the Iron Gear without her father’s help now? What about Horla who used to be the second in command when Carrie Cargo was still in command? How does she deal with him considering he wants her hand in marriage (a lot like Timp), but she tosses him out the door and he continually tries to come back? How is the crew of the Iron Gear surviving now that both Timp and Horla are trying to ruin Elchi’s business reputation and fortune by blind siding her during different business meetings? What about her meetings with the mysterious Innocent who provide all the tech and the money in the land itself? Elchi is the best character in Xabungle because she is the most layered and has the most going on that makes her great and the first half of the show great because her presence is impossible miss.
Honestly, that whole first half is so much fun. While this entire show has simple characters that do little else then argue each other as they barely get by each day, the interactions in there are so much fun. The cast is full of energy and has this over-the-top comedy bit to all of them. From Elchi to Jiron to the Sand Rats to the crew and group members of the Iron Gear who carry their own since of culture and purpose in them even if they are very singular, it’s a very fun cast that you want to see succeed regardless. Also, the show is very cartoony around these characters on the outside world. If you can imagine these people being apart of the Looney Tunes universe by how rubber and hard to kill they are, then you get the comedy of this show somewhat. Each person in the cast is also a complete dork as well so dorkiness and slapstick make this show just a lot of fun. Especially with the mecha (called walkers) being in that same level of durability and chaos.
There is also a lot of details in the show that makes Xabungle special. This show is very focused on putting its character and mecha in states that people don’t usually think about. One of them is using flame throwers to heat up the mecha in the cold because otherwise, they don’t start up. There is also the failure in mecha transformation that leaves them incomplete without a head sometimes. Lots of comedy of failure in the show to keep it fresh and interesting. The crew themselves can’t escape the awkwardness and details either. Some meetings happen when the important character of the seen is taking a bath to the other’s embarrassment or when a character tries to act cool inevitably leading to their failure or their lead up to being cool was terrible. That second one happens very often and I love it. That is the comedy which keeps Xabungle grounded because they are really a bunch of dorks.
The second half of the show starts with two things. One of them is very bad and it surprises me that I ended up liking the show despite it all. Elchi Cargo was kidnapped innocent and a lot of time is spent brainwashing her for the Innocent’s purposes. She is sent out to fight against the Iron Gear and the group that joins them to attack the Innocent. It sucks because Elchi’s presence is missing on the Iron Gear bridge during the whole time. I suppose that is the point of that happening, but I wish it could have been just a little shorter like five episodes and then could have been over to defeat the innocent and their control over the world. Otherwise, there is constant fights on the bridge on the Iron Gear now. Much more then usual because Elchi’s voice is gone meaning there is no direction. It makes a lot more sense in Xabungle then other Tomino shows about why there isn’t a large amount of progress sometimes because these are literally characters that barely get along at best and hate each other at worse.
I’ve already spoiled the second thing, but Xabungle’s second half is a long war against the Innocent. There is a smaller faction inside the Innocent that want the citizens to get their strength back, but the majority of them are people who want to maintain their control over the citizens and be top dogs forever. The Iron Gear crew joins with a group called Salt that causes even more power imbalances at first things to the stubborn and completely idiotic Katakam who thinks he’s a leader, but constantly fails at every decision he ever makes. When he is left behind during his funeral that he is still alive to see from the distance, everyone settles behind Jiron as the leader of Salt (though it’s the team doctor Doc who is the real lead) and more and more Innocent bases go down then ever before. They also meet good members of the Innocent who die on the citizen’s behalf to keep them going and give them back their freedom. The Innocent still have Horla and Timp, but they can’t handle the fury of the citizens being held back by so many years.
The creativeness of the world and Xabungle’s writing also appears in the creative presentation of the world itself. The character designs are very representative of a lot of good things. There is the obvious uniformed Innocent who have their military outfits versus the very wild west wearing and diverse clothing of the citizens. Jiron Arnos wears a very unique pilot suit since the beginning and it becomes his personal statement. Every character group has their own style that is very similar to each other so you can tell the difference between the Sand Rats and the crew of the Iron Gear just by looking at them. There is also a large variety of settings in the show as well because there is a lot of traveling. Various towns that exist, mountain ranges, places that surprisingly not deserts, forests, snow ranges, and so on. So many creative places for fights to occur. This crew must have worked to the bone to create this world.
Xabungle does have a lot of creative mecha or walker machines in it. The Xabungle unit itself is rather boring because it’s just a blue gundam with wings on them. They are powerful, but the most basic Tomino unit possible. There are so many creative enemy units that I can’t even name all of them. Probably because I forgot their names. There are some flying saucer units, some smaller units that can bounce around a lot, some with guns where is supposed to be a head, and very mech warrior kinds of designs. I feel like Xabungle really pushed forward the western mecha design as well. The Iron Gear also turns into a giant robot as well which has become pretty clutch during important moments in the show where a huge robot is needed. I also think that the second unit Jiron pilots, the Galier, fits the world of Xabungle better because of how creative and out there the design is for a lead mecha. There is some stock footage because it’s from the 80’s, but the animation in generally really good a showing how each unique mecha moves and fights.
The ending of Xabungle is so good just like how the show is good. It’s honestly my favorite part of this show. I can’t say conclusion, because there is enough going on for the show to have a sequel if it wanted to have one. The best part? Elchi Cargo finally returns to the Iron Gear and pilots a Xabungle unit to great effect in combat. There is also a lot of fourth wall breaking, comedy scenes, impossible things happening, and of course, the complete defeat of the Innocent. Their hand over the citizens is now completely gone and the world is open? What happens now? Like a stage act, all the characters run into the distance with some great music playing. Xabungle is a good show that knows a lot of its problems and issues from its treatment of female characters to its very bad indigenous representation, even with some of them on purpose to make you feel something, but I think the world and the messages are the show are worth watching it for. It’s also very creative. Possibly one of Tomino’s creative works that has everything into it with its cast of one note and fun characters. It’s very much worth watching.