Aside from the story being set in Taiwan, the hero peppering his speech with Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) and his combat moves being named after Taiwanese food items, Deus Ex Baryon (重甲機神) totally rips off every cliche possible from Japanese anime, especially the wildly popular “mecha” genre.
Most Taiwanese undoubtedly grew up familiar with this genre, which usually features human-powered giant robots saving the world, such as Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s pretty cool to finally have one set in Taiwan and have a dialogue so Taiwanese in flavor, but there’s simply nothing else that’s original about Deus Ex Baryon. From the art style to the interaction between the characters to the plot and even the jokes, it’s Japanese through and through. The soundtrack is basically anime music sung in Mandarin lyrics.
The story is quite typical besides the nationalities of the characters, featuring a Taiwanese robot mining operator and Chinese pop star who meet unexpectedly and team up to save the world from a devastating invasion from a mysterious enemy. The two are often engaging in petty arguments, with the pop star constantly accusing the hero of sexual harassment — probably one of the most cliched devices in anime history.
Photo courtesy of atmovies.com
Curiously, despite all the focus on “Taiwanese-ness,” little of Taiwan is actually featured as the bulk of the action takes place in a super-high tech underwater Nautilus City under Taiwanese jurisdiction, run by a mad genius professor whose narcissistic, defiant yet calculated behavior is also highly typical of anime characters of his ilk.
With the increased recent attention and resources given to local comic and animation creators, it’s about time Taiwan developed its own superheroes instead of always looking toward Japan and the US for entertainment. But the eponymous robot hero in this film is highly forgettable, barely differing from its typical Japanese counterparts without any defining or unique characteristics. Replace it with any other robot from a Japanese series and nobody would know the difference. Same goes for the characters — it’s a nice touch that they hail from different countries, but they still look like they were lifted out of any Japanese anime.
One glaring issue is the voiceovers — all but one of the characters speak in perfect Mandarin. The Chinese character hails from Xiamen, which explains her accent, and it’s common for characters from different countries to speak the same language in cartoons for simplicity’s sake. But why does only one character have a very heavy Japanese accent? It seems like she was thrown in there to appeal to anime lovers, as her very Japanese schoolgirl-esque mannerisms and behavior are highlighted way beyond her actual role in the plot.
Photo courtesy of atmovies.com
It turns out that it’s the result of a celebrity guest voiceover by prolific actress, singer and voice-actress Kana Hanazawa, which will surely drive ticket sales among existing anime fans, but it’s still odd.
The bigger problem, however, comes when these characters speak their native tongue. The Hoklo, Japanese and Korean sound fine, but the Americans speak English with a highly noticeable Taiwanese accent. This decision is highly questionable and superfluous since they were speaking Mandarin to begin with anyway, and this only exposes the voiceover team’s weakness.
While it’s understandable to emulate the Japanese since the country’s manga, anime and video game productions are still way more popular in Taiwan than local creations, this film is likely only going to attract people who are already anime fans, and it seems that they are specifically catering to said crowd.
But why are Taiwanese creators trying to beat the Japanese, who have been doing this for more than 50 years, at their own game? Judging from the anime’s excellent quality, the production team at One Punch Creativity is highly capable — it’s even more impressive knowing that their team has less than six people. It’s just a shame that they didn’t try their hand at something just slightly more original. It’s not asking a lot.
Deus Ex Baryon
DIRECTED BY: Chi Tun-chih (紀敦智) and Huang Ying-chou (黃瀛洲)
ANIMATED BY: One Punch Creative Studio
LANGUAGE: Mandarin and Taiwanese with English and Chinese subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 99 Minutes
TAIWAN RELEASE: In theaters
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