In N4. Recombination Lunar Commander Lucille leads her army of robot pilots in combining their Zephyrs into a kilometer-tall mech. Their method of combining is a little unusual: instead of each robot being a different limb, a la Voltron, each robot disbands its own limbs to reshape into a single muscle group. The combination’s quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves are each different robots. (My ‘art’ might not reflect this, but cut me some slack, there are only so many colors.)
As far as I know, this is a fresh twist on the established giant-robot formula. It’s also commentary on a common theme of combat fiction: the Bishonen Line. TV Tropes, which is obviously the indisputable arbiter of all fiction, traces the term Bishonen Line to a webcomic by Mark Shallow:
“Leading powerfologists theorize that as you become more powerful, you become more monstrous, and then sharply become humanoid again. They call it the Bishonen Line.”
This notion is present in eastern and western fiction but is perhaps most obvious in an anime like Bleach. (I’m working on vague memories of Bleach from my early teens, but I figure that’s appropriate. Minor spoilers.)
There’s a tendency in fiction for powerful monsters to be big and scary; viewers know the Hollows in Bleach are intimidating because they’re enormous bone-creatures. That’s why it’s impressive when the hero slashes them with his big-ass sword.
Then the hero fights a Hollow who holds a sword bigger than a tree. In an anime about big-ass swords, that means the Hollow must be supremely powerful, right? But the hero’s father reveals that he, too, is a magic-sword-fighty-person, and he defeats the Hollow with a sword of ordinary size. How can this be? Didn’t their bigger sword mean the Hollow was stronger? The hero’s father disagrees: if the size of swords actually represented power, says he, his own sword would be colossal. His restraint keeps his sword from growing unwieldy.
The hero’s father was on the other side of the Bishonen Line. Up to a certain point, characters in fiction become bigger and scarier as they grow more powerful. Then, all of a sudden, an increase in power returns the characters to traditionally humanoid shapes. The same idea applies to the Arrancar, the strongest Hollows in Bleach: as Hollows grow more powerful they grow larger, until they start shrinking. Eventually they look like humans cosplaying as skeleton fuccbois.
TV Tropes says the trope was exemplified by Dragon Ball. The Saiyans, humanoid aliens with monkey tails, can become giant apes of unmatched strength… unmatched, that is, until they discover the Super Saiyan transformation and become powerful while maintaining human size and shape. From there, subsequent transformations increase their power while providing slightly simian facial features, until that goes out the window and the Saiyan returns to their original form with dyed hair.
(I hope it’s alright to use these photos. I got that one from OtakuKart.) The Bishonen Line is less clear in western fiction, but TV Tropes cites Marvel’s Age of Ultron. Ultron, the robot, could take any form but remains merely humanoid. The Vision, a more powerful robot, is just a bald red dude.
There are a few reasons for having the Bishonen Line. It’s easier to conceptualize and animate a fight between two humans than a fight between a human and a giant monster. It’s also a great “oh shit” moment when the bad guy says, “this isn’t even my final form,” and becomes smaller. It’s like their power is compacted.
In Akayama DanJay the Hurricane is a monster the size of the universe made of planet-sized cells. Those Hurricane Planets can make human limbs but prefer tentacles, a typically inhuman appendage.
Meanwhile Lucille’s Zephyrs look like body-parts which combine by color into humanoid robots. In this section they all try to combine into an even bigger humanoid robot, albeit by becoming enormous muscles. Yet the pilots of those muscles are still distinct humans, while the Hurricane’s pilots have had their consciousnesses blended into a pink, homogeneous mass spread across the cosmos.
I hope this enhances the social commentary I introduced the last time I talked about combining robots. The Hurricane is more powerful than the Zephyrs, but at the cost of its pilots’ humanity. Lucille’s army maintains its human shape no matter how powerful it becomes. This portrays the Bishonen Line as a conscious decision: the Hurricane decides to take the most direct route to power, getting bigger; Lucille pursues power through refinement, cooperation, and self-acceptance.
We’ll have to see whose strategy takes them farther. So far the Hurricane seems ahead, but knowing the Bishonen Line, it’s just a matter of time until Lucille catches up.