Raishin is the only Japanese student at a magical combat academy in England. The students are highly trained puppeteers, controlling advanced automaton puppets imbued with magical energy in battle. Each year, a 100 night festival is held to determine who will be The Wiseman. The Wiseman no longer needs to abide by any rules of magic. Ideally, they use this to experiment and advance the art and science of magical combat. Raishin uses his puppet Yaya as a potential tool for revenge. His entire family was slaughtered by the young man who is now the top student at the Academy and Raishin will battle for 99 nights straight if he has to in order to avenge his clan.
Unbreakable Machine-Doll has all the makings of a solid Shonen series--anime and manga targeted at boys ages 10-17. The structure of the story is excellent. The series, only twelve episodes long, is broken up into three story arcs. Each arc focuses on a longer mystery for Raishin to solve with Yaya.
The quality of animation is extraordinary. The opening train rescue sequence is one of the most stunning action set pieces I've seen. The combat is fresh and inventive, even as Unbreakable Machine-Doll follows in the footsteps of everything from Pokemon to Zatch Bell with its battle through trained almost-humanoid style. Shoot, it does something different for the sub-genre of battling with dolls/puppets by having an energy link not defined by strings onscreen.
There is a crippling flaw in the series that makes it very hard to get through. The only source of humor comes from the very awkward chemistry between Raishin and Yaya. Yaya is a forbidden doll, meaning one built from human parts, and she acts more human than she should. She tells everyone that she is Raishin's automaton and his wife. That means everyone treats Raishin as a pervert and every young woman who encounters him beats him up for being a pervert.
If the relationship stopped at that, there wouldn't be too big an issue. That accidental pervert is a trope in manga/anime and it's a whole lot better than what Unbreakable Machine-Doll does. See, in Unbreakable Machine-Doll, Yaya is a sexual predator. She constantly tries to force, trick, or coerce Raishin into having sex with her. She has a disconnect with reality. She really thinks they are husband and wife and threatens extreme violence against any other woman who speaks to Raishin. Yaya also attacks Raishin for mentioning any other female character in front of her.
Even if you put aside the creepy underage automaton (a living Real Doll, if you will) demanding sex from her master because she feels obligated to please him, the series has a problem with female characters. It's targeted at young men in the worse way possible. It's all male gaze. You see a woman's breasts before her face every time. The female characters fight over breast size, cupping and bouncing them for effect while their heads are cut from the frame. Every woman wants to sleep with every man, but all women metaphorically castrate any man who even breathes in the same room as another woman.
And it gets worse. There is not one segment of any episode--not even episode, but segment of an episode--where a female character isn't voluntarily flashing her panties onscreen. There is no empowerment or subversion of this perverted style of anime/manga in the series; it's celebrating staring at underage girls in a sexual way at the expense of the plot. Honestly, if they cut out all the Yaya demands sex/every girl is obsessed with breast size/pantie shot scenes, the series would be nine episodes long instead of 12. Just wait until the dog puppets become involved in the second arc; it actually manages to get worse.
I wish I could recommend watching Unbreakable Machine-Girl. The animation is very strong and the action/fighting scenes are spectacular. It just hinges so much on an incredibly misogynistic perspective that it's way too hard to slog through for the good of the show.
This post is part of AniMAY 2014. Read more anime/manga-themed content here.