The season 1 finale of gen:Lock, the Rooster Teeth anime featuring an impressive cast of voice talent that includes Michael B. Jordan, Maisie Williams, Asia Kate Dillon, Dakota Fanning, and David Tennant, essentially boils down to one massive, extended battle sequence. The decision to focus on spectacle is ultimately a smart move for the animated series, as the central storyline of gen:LOCK has been thin to from the start. And although there have been some surprising developments, like the discover that Jordan’s Julian Chase is also literally his own worst enemy, the show’s skill set lies almost entirely in providing cool visuals of giant robots defying the laws of physics and pummeling one another into the ground.
The season has mostly been building to this point, with the Vanguard crew of gen:LOCK mech pilots discovering that no matter how powerful their robot avatars might be on their own, there’s no substitute for a team effort. It’s as fragile a conceit as the one the rest of the series is based on — a war between a mostly faceless authoritarian regime and the brave soldiers fighting what was a losing war against them — but the show makes the message work in its own plucky way. gen:LOCK also relies on some equally fragile concepts, like the team coming together to share a single mind in order to overcome the seemingly insurmountable force that is Nemesis (i.e., Julian Chase) and his nano-based super robot thingy.
There have been not-so subtle hints of Ghost in the Shell and other popular series, like Gundam and Voltron, floating around the narrative for the past seven episodes, but, for what it’s worth, gen:LOCK has tried to make its mech-based, technologically advanced world into something all its own. By the end of ‘Identity Crisis,’ it’s not quite there, but there are signs that, if the series were to continue, the show might be able to develop its characters and its world into something that isn’t as two-dimensional as its animation.
Much of that has to do with the way the season finale forces Julian to make a choice, one that fundamentally alters who he is as he gives up his only (tentative) physical link to what he believes is his humanity. By breaking the rules of the procedure that allows him and his teammates to embody the giant mechs, Julian ostensibly abandons his already broken body, a move that pushes him closer to becoming the very thing he’s fighting. There is, admittedly, something interesting in the idea, that he is willfully flirting with disaster and courting the same scenario that drove his other self mad and turned him into, well… the team’s nemesis. With less than a half an hour with which to work, it’s understandable that gen:LOCK tends to put an emphasis on action rather than the flimsy existential nature of Julian’s dilemma and, ultimately, his choice, but it’s also possible that the final battle could have been cut short to better explore the nature of the changes Julian was about to undergo.
Despite some of the surface-level problems of the story, gen:LOCK nevertheless managed to take some bold steps in its first season. Those mainly had to do with the twist of who Nemesis really was, and the fact that David Tennant’s Dr. Rufus Weller didn’t survive the late-season attack that nearly crippled the Vanguard. Those sort of moves generate a certain amount of intrigue, and can give the series what seems like very high stakes — which is useful in a world where characters can survive certain death by a variety of means (as Julian proves). But it’s also a technique that is sure to experience diminishing returns if that’s all it relies on. (Just look at the difference between Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead for a good example of how a show needs to have more than just the idea that anyone can die at any time to be successful in the long run.)
gen:LOCK ends its first season by looking to the future, and by hinting at a greater emphasis on the individual characters of the main team, even as they will inevitably toy more with the idea of literally becoming one in order to overcome their greatest obstacles. If the series can strike the right balance between the two, it might also overcome its storytelling obstacles to become something far more compelling.
gen:LOCK season 1 is available in its entirety on Rooster Teeth.