What Rooster Teeth has done for modern animation cannot be overstated. From their first series, the machinima animated Red Vs Blue, to the anime-esque RWBY being exported to Japan, their work is nothing short of revolutionary. Now, their new project gen:LOCK takes a step into a popular staple of the medium: mechas.
Written and directed by Gray Haddock, this show is one of the most anticipated projects of 2019. In the months leading up to the release of gen:LOCK, Rooster Teeth have promoted the hell out of it: most of their videos start off with a clip from the trailer, and while it can be annoying at points, it’s easy to see why. Gen:LOCK is also the most ambitious project the production company has done to date, from putting years of previous animation experience in full effect to casting A-list actors in the title roles, it’s easy to get lost in the hype. However, with the first episodes release on the 26th, fans were far from disappointed.
Though the episode is a pilot, the episode naming itself ‘The Pilot’ carries a second meaning, as it focuses predominantly on Julian Chase (Michael B. Jordan), a pilot in a military force called the Vanguard, he is introducing his girlfriend/ fellow solider Miranda Worth, played by Dakota Fanning, to his family when New York suddenly comes under attack by a force simply known as the Union. The fighting tactics of each side are interesting to note: while the good guys use old-fashioned military might to put up a fight, the villains are a lot more nefarious, hiding behind masked armour suits, using nanotech/ hacking devices to deal damage from afar. Though the Vanguard do put up a good struggle, they are eventually forced to retreat along with the civilians, but not before Julian asks Miranda to find his family and sacrificing himself to give The Vanguard more time.
Fast forward to four years later: Miranda is tasked with introducing Dr Weller, played by David Tennant, to showing him around the base she is stationed at when she is suddenly tasked to accompany a rescue mission to recover refugees from the Union’s border. The mission very quickly goes south, and it looks like the Vanguard may suffer another defeat when unidentified mechas come out of nowhere and help them fight against the enemy forces before returning home and somewhat successfully completing their mission. Back at the debriefing, the pilots angrily demand their commanding officer Colonel Raquel Marin, played by Monica Rial, what happened. The episode concludes with Julian, assumed dead, appearing on stage to the shock of his comrades.
The animation in gen:LOCK is stunning. Even from the trailers, the effort that has been put into making the show look wonderful is easy to see. While the movement of the characters may come off as a bit rigid at first, this is quickly overshadowed by the rest of the show. Everything has been painstakingly crafted and polished, the sets ranging from futuristic New York to military bases hidden in the wilds. The mecha designs themselves are pretty cool as well, especially those belonging to the antagonists. The enemy designs are very insect-like and menacing, the smaller spider tanks look like a robot arachnid with a cannon stuck on its back, and the giant walkers that end up devasting New York looking massive armoured scorpions. On the other hand, the walkers that make up the meat of The Vanguard’s army look like something plucked from the game War Machines and the starring mechas look like the smaller cousins of Evangelions. Gray himself has commented on animes like Gundam and Ghost in the Shell inspiring him, but some of the designs may look a little too familiar.
The characters are well drawn out, both on screen and in terms of writing. A lot of their development is explored in the relationships they share with each other, the most obvious example being Julian and Miranda. The tone fluctuates well between emotions, flowing from moments of light-hearted comedy, most notably in the dialogue provided by Dr Weller, and moments of seriousness, when the Vanguard forces bitterly remind themselves that they are doing little more than holding the line against the Union.
Music plays an important role in the episode as well, opening up to Ray Charles’s Let the Good Times Roll. Julian describes it to Miranda as his dad’s favourite song and throughout, the characters are often quoting the lyrics of it, like ‘you only live but once, and when you’re dead you’re done, so let the good times roll’. This song is reflective of one of the episode’s most prominent themes: sacrifice. The same can be said of the song used in the intro, Belgrade by Battle Tapes. While the electronic sound goes along with the visuals of mechas duking it out in the show’s intro, it could also be observed that the song itself is about sacrifice – ‘let me be the fool…who will live and die for you.’ Outside of the songs, a lot of work has been put into the soundtrack. While full orchestral pieces have been written for the grand battles, the pieces that stand out the most are the atmospheric piano pieces: a private moment between Julian and his girlfriend, Julian sacrificing himself while his friends retreat, him reuniting with his comrades after being assumed dead for four years. It is here that the music shines through, mirroring the tone of the scenes perfectly.
The first episode is available to the general public on Rooster Teeth’s website. Episode two and future releases episodes will be available on through the Rooster Teeth First paid service. Episodes will air every Saturday with the final episode due on March 9th.
An interesting addition to the mecha genre and a strong beginning to one of the most anticipated projects of 2019.