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Review: “Unbreakable Machine-Doll” Is Highly Defective

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Unbreakable Machine Doll

Unbreakable Machine DollHow does one review a show like Unbreakable Machine-Doll? It’s obvious from the moment you see the package that Doll has a built in fan base. And boy oh boy do they get catered to. There is a lot of really creepy stuff in this show. Set in a prototypical steam-punky England, there’s a school where kids with magic powers use robots to fight each other for…some reason. Supposedly, it’s to become the Wise Man of the school and gain access to what seems to be some pretty amazing resources, but it’s all kind of murky and nobody really seems to go to class much. Most of the students seem to use robots that look like robots, but a few don’t. Our central character, Raishin Akabane, uses a humanoid doll made specifically for him. A doll named Yaya that happens to look like a 12 year old girl.

Maybe the producers watched too much Tenchi Muyo when they were younger and got all the wrong ideas, but a lot of the “humor” in Unbreakable Machine-Doll comes from Yaya being very possessive of Raishin and sexually aggressive towards him. No, the fact that she’s a robot doesn’t make it any less creepy. It might actually make it more creepy, since it means she would have been programed in some fashion to act like this. Yaya is also occasionally naked, as are some of the other female characters including Yaya’s “sister” robots from the same designer who show up occasionally. The “M” rating on the back of the box is very well earned. And that doesn’t even include the stuff in the OVA’s that are pretty much just pure creep determined to show all of the female characters naked, even the ones we barely see in the show.

Machine Doll 2The sad part of all of that is that if the show was more than borderline robot porn for creepos there would actually be an almost interesting story to be told. Raishin manages to be an interesting character despite the baggage he’s saddled with. Of course he has a dramatic, tragic past because who doesn’t, but it’s obvious he doesn’t let it define every bit of himself, nor does he let himself simply be a pushover like some many other central characters in harem shows. The elder Belew sister, the school’s reining ice-queen Charlotte and her dragon machine-doll try manage to make things interesting for the initial 2 plot arcs, but they both run aground in the 3rd arc and get replaced by Charlotte’s much less interesting younger sister Henriette, who lugs the Belew family’s rather dull backstory with her. None of the other characters make much of an impression at all beyond providing vaguely useful bits of exposition and/or more creepy moments, especially the criminally misused and mis-drawn Frey. I swear her hair would give a permanent neck strain. The show spends a lot of time with Frey and her even more useless brother Loki, but neither one amount to much of anything interesting. Frey’s machine-doll is actually way more interesting than she is, and it’s a non-verbal dog.

The animation doesn’t compensate for any of the other shortcomings. When the characters are standing still it’s fairly detailed in a dating sim way, but no one really moves very well. The fight scenes mix some very basic CGI with poorly laid-out cel animation, so for the most part the fights are pretty pedestrian and flat. Non-fight animation is even more so. The animators also seem have a weird predilection for having the female characters blush just about every time they speak and it’s distracting, as are the occasional out-of-nowhere jiggle dynamics. Even the character designs are mostly ripped straight out of your average mid-grade dating sim and seem to mostly exist to be titillating rather than interesting. Having most of the female characters at one point or another directly address the camera rather than Raishin only drives the “dating sim” vibe home even more. Both the English and Japanese voice acting are pretty average at best, awful and annoying at worst, so no help there.

Unbreakable Machine DollI suppose in “damning with faint praise” territory, the background plot and most of the things involving Raishin and Charlotte end up being surprisingly interesting. They actually make for a reasonably decent matchup, if only because Raishin’s spine isn’t made from wet paper towels. Each of the three plot arcs hints at interesting things, but they never really carry through very much, and only build off each other a little bit. The roughly pre-World War I timeframe brings in some intriguing bits of global spycraft and espionage, but the interesting elements get buried under the boring and the creepy. Even the menu and box art is creepy. If the show ever goes further, there seemed to be some potential for a real plot to break out between Raishin and a mystery man connected to Raishin’s past, but it goes mostly unexplored in these episodes. If you’re really hard up for a show involving schools and fights, well, I guess it will do, but this machine needs a total overhaul to really go anywhere.

Unbreakable Machine-Doll is bad enough to warrant a deeper dive into potential spoiler territory to fully explain how bad it is. I mentioned the severe amount of “creep” ladled over everything, but what’s been mentioned so far doesn’t even start to plumb the depths of the creep. It’s not just that the obviously underage characters are nude, they’re extremely sexualized too, even when their clothes are somewhat on. Yaya in particular is just so unpleasantly sexualized almost every way. Who thinks this is entertaining? Are there people who dream of being sexually harassed by a 12-year-old? Pretty much everything the show has her doing is somehow focused on trying to get into Raishin’s pants, and it’s played for comedic effect. None of that is funny. It’s disturbing on so many levels.

Of all the female characters in the show, only Charlotte Belew manages to (mostly) escape being a talking doll. One of Frey’s actual lines is “they’re really hard to wash,” referring to her own breasts. I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be funny, or titillating, or what. The show’s brain in clearly it its own pants. Frey and Yaya both also manage to flash Raishin with their underwear repeatedly, whether by accident or on purpose. Whatever meager entertainment value might be found there quickly turns into another of Unbreakable Machine-Doll‘s weird sexual obsessive-compulsive disorders. There’s a big difference between the occasional bit winking “fan service” and having it be the only point of the show. Repeatedly. Frey’s wet dishrag of a personality only makes things worse. She never actually has any desires of her own. At best, she mostly hopes to save her brother Loki or her dog/machine-doll, neither of whom really need saving from anything other than his lame catch phrase. Mostly Frey just exists to be gazed at.

Unbreakable Machine DollThis is true of pretty much all of the female characters, actually. Professor Kimberly is a walking story trope and I honestly don’t know what purpose Raishin’s Japanese Army handler Shouko serves beyond pure, leering fan service. Shouko wanders in to a couple of scenes almost naked, drops a bit of exposition, and then leaves. What’s the point? Again, I have no particular issue with an occasional bit of fan service, but making it the only reason a character exists goes way over board. I know that anime production houses have to do what keeps the lights on, but at what point do we as fans start demanding and supporting shows that don’t just traffic in jiggles per episode? It only compounds the injury that the various expository bits are actually almost interesting.

Even Raishin suffers because everyone assumes he’s some kind of pervert or because everyone inexplicably wants to jump his bones. Both Charlotte and Henriette accuse Raishin of wanting to take indecent liberties with them. Yaya alternates between wanting to take indecent liberties with him and accusing him of taking indecent liberties with her. Yaya’s “younger sister” Komurasaki also wants to get into Raishin’s pants. And Frey’s first actual thought about Raishin sleeping with someone; her thought is itself pretty disturbing, and she keeps saying it. None of that is funny, in the least. It’s anti-funny. Why does this kind of stuff keeping popping up over and over and over and over? Between that and the, “hey, let’s make one of the major supporting characters as annoying as humanly possible” shtick, it’s a wonder more people don’t tune out something as reprehensible as Unbreakable Machine-Doll completely. Maybe if we do, things will actually change.