Martian Successor Nadesico

Today’s word is “baka.” It’s a general-purpose insult in Japanese, meaning something like “fool,” “moron” or “idiot.” It’s the favorite word of ten-year-old Ruri, the coolly precocious youngster who runs the computer system on the space battleship Nadesico. She has frequent occasion to mutter it; most of the other crew members are indeed wackos. Yurika, the captain of the ship, is perhaps a tactical genius, but she is otherwise a hopeless ditz. She’s had a lifelong crush on Akito, a pilot who’d rather be a cook and who emphatically does not want Yurika’s attentions, and who never wanted to be on the warship, anyway. Other women on board also are obsessed with Akito, to his consternation, and many of the crew members are serious otaku.
Martian Successor Nadesico is difficult to summarize. Earth is under attack by an enemy called the “Jovian Lizards.” Mars, where both Yurika and Akito were born, fell to the enemy some years before. Toward the end of the 26 episodes the nature of the enemy is revealed and some questions are answered, but the story takes some strange turns along the way. Humor is the primary emphasis; there’s even an anime within the anime. But the show can abruptly turn quite serious, even tragic, and there’s occasionally more action than I really care for. No two episodes are alike. In the eighteenth episode, for instance, Ruri learns who her parents were and what happened during her earliest years. It involves in-vitro fertilization, genetic manipulation and infancy in a Skinner box; there are very few laughs here. The nineteenth episode is purely silly, featuring a beauty pageant involving most of the female crew members. The twentieth is a tense space battle. And so on.
Somehow, all the disparate elements work together. Martian Successor Nadesico, while not high art, is good and occasionally thoughtful entertainment. If you have any interest in science fiction, it’s worth a rental. (There’s also a Nadesico movie, which, I gather, is a botch and is not recommended.)