Shounen protagonist loving and raising his harem of cyber women to save the world? Sounds like a plan.
By: Nicole S. Castro on March 31, 2022 at 14:05 PHT
It's time for a very, very major throwback.
When you realize that romcom, sci-fi anime Saber Marionette J first aired in 1996 and was already imagining space colonization and cloning humans then, you know it's been a long, long time.
Let the nostalgia begin!
Saber Marionette J began in April 1995 as a light novel series written by Satoru Akahori and illustrated by Tsukasa Kotobuki, serialized under the Fujimi Fantasia Bunko imprint. While the light novel was ongoing, the series branched off into a manga adaptation, also written by Akahori, but with illustrations by Yumisuke Kotoyoshi, serialized in Kadokawa Shoten's Monthly Dragon Age magazine.
From Oct. 1, 1996 to Mar. 25, 1997, Season 1 of the TV anime produced by Studio Junio aired in Japan on TV Tokyo with a total of 25 episodes. This would be followed by a six-episode OVA in 1997 (Saber Marionette J Again) and a 26-episode season 2 called Saber Marionette J to X from 1998 to 1999.
A PlayStation game called Saber Marionette J: Battle Sabers was developed by Tom Create, Co. and published by Bandai Visual in March 1997.
(Wow, we feel old. NONE of those years were in the 2000s. But, international fans are excused as the anime aired in Animax in the early 2000s)
Plot (Season 1)
The late 1990s up to the early 2000s was an era preoccupied with imagining how the rapid rise of technology and space exploration would change the fate of humankind. And Saber Marionette J definitely drew from that, coupled with the timeless romcom and harem formula that we all know and love.
Okay, cue in the first opening song, Successful Mission by Megumi Hayashibara (who also voices leading lady Lime!)
Saber Marionette J is set sometime in the 22nd century, a distant future with an overpopulated earth that has forced humanity to find other planets to live in. The space ship Mesopotamia, carrying a crew of humans out on a terraform mission, malfunctions and only six of its member survive. The six members seek refuge on a nearby planned called Terra ll, but they are all male and therefore unable to reproduce. To compensate for the lack of women, they reproduce themselves through cloning and genetic engineering. However, the lack of women remained unresolved, so to compensate, they built lifelike female androids (without emotions) called Marionettes who do work and everyday chores.
And now comes our protagonist Otaru Mamiya (CV: Yuka Imai). He is an ordinary 18-year-old on Terra II in the fictional city-state of Japoness (modeled after feudal Japan). One day stumbles into three advanced Marionettes named Lime (CV: Megumi Hayashibara), Cherry (CV: Yuri Shiratori), and Bloodberry (CV: Akiko Hiramatsu). Unlike most marionettes, Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry are capable of human emotions due to a "Maiden Circuit" embedded in them.
Otaru and the marionettes' lives are disrupted by the antagonist Gailhart von Faust (CV: Hikaru Midorikawa) from the neighboring city-state of Gartland (modeled after Nazi Germany). He and his own trio of marionettes (known as the Saber Dolls), Tiger (CV: Urara Takano), Luchs (CV: Yuko Mizutani), and Panther (CV: Kikuko Inoue) are on a quest to invade the entirety of Terra II.
It is later revealed that there was a female survivor from the original crew of the Mesopotamia: Lorelei (CV: Yuri Amano), but that she was taken hostage by Mesopotamia's main computer and put into a state of suspended animation. In an act of self-sacrifice, Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry, now with mature maiden circuits thanks to Otaru's love and care, combine their maiden circuits to duplicate Lorelei's personality, convincing the Mesopotamia to release Lorelei and stop its attack against Tera II.
Lorelei's descent to Terra II provides the necessary genetic material for females to be produced, marking the apparent end of the age of the marionettes. However, Lorelei reminds the world to honor them for their sacrifice.
But not to worry, fans. Otaru still got his happy ending after the Mesopotamia returned Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry safe and sound (yes, convenient, we know). Faust also starts a new life with his Saber Dolls after realizing the error of his ways and almost losing Tiger. He also abandoned his position as leader of Gartland and became Otaru's ally.
Plot (Saber Marionette J Again and Saber Marionette J to X)
The OVA Saber Marionette J Again follows the events directly after season 1, with more slice-of-life moments featuring the newly returned Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry bonding with Otaru. Their lives are made more interesting with the Saber Dolls staying over at Otaru's so they can learn how to be more human.
Season 2 (Saber Marionette J to X) features Otaru and company going against a new antagonist named Dr. Hess (CV: Tomohiro Nishimura), a 400-year-old human-turned-cyborg who had been living on Tera II long before the Mesopotamia's arrival. He was part of an even earlier scouting mission called the Frontier Project, and was the first to land on Terra II but could not be rescued by his crewmates due to the violent plasma storms. He vowed revenge against humanity for abandoning him by returning to Earth with his new ship, the Neo Mesopotamia.
Lime is lured into Dr. Hess' plot with the promise of making her human, but Cherry and Bloodberry stop her. Otaru clears the misunderstanding by saying he loves them as they are, after which the three marionettes go stop Dr. Hess. The girls' bodies are destroyed by the explosion of the Neo Mesopotamia, but their memories are preserved into the bodies of the first female clones from Lorelei's genes, effectively restarting their lives as human children.
We give this series a 4/5 stars on the 2000s anime rating scale. Despite some convenient plot devices (i.e. the marionettes somehow making it back alive one way or another), Saber Marionette J as a whole presented a solid plot with interesting sci-fi concepts that were ahead of its time (can you believe this was in the 90s???). Lime, Cherry, Bloodberry, and the three Saber Dolls made for memorable characters, each with their distinct personality that made sure they weren't just some cheap copies of Lorelei.
Also, we do think it's poetic that their hearts always survived to be reunited with Otaru, giving this romcom harem anime just a little bit more depth.
Digest by AniradioPlus
NICOLE S. CASTRO
Nicole is based in the Philippines and works as a freelance Japanese Translator/Interpreter and copywriter (English). She is a JLPT N2 passer who watches anime to "study" for N1. She has a long career history on LinkedIn (with primary focus on media and translation), but her anime watchlist is much, much longer.