In a nutshell, you have the complete run of Martian Successor Nadesico as it appeared on TV, plus a follow-on movie production, and OVA. The movie was a tie-in to the Saturn (again, only a reference point for those over 30) game inspired by the series, "The Prince of Darkness." The OVA was a compilation of "Gekigangar III," a mecha show that aired only inside of Martian Successor Nadesico, and was reminiscent of the kind of Japanese shows making their way across the water when those of us in our 30s or 40s were growing up. Add in some special content and you’ve got a real bonanza for fans of the show. This "complete collection" is also the best possible way for new fans to discover what made Martian Successor Nadesico worth watching.
The storyline (greatly clipped and absent of spoilers) is a bit like Battlestar Galactica. You have the human race pitted against alien invaders, named the Jovians. Mars is a focal point because its where the action starts, and where humans try to draw the line. When the human army seems to be losing ground, a special contingent of fighters armed with a cutting edge weapon, the Starship Nadesico, set out against the Jovian army. What could have been done in a completely serious and dramatic style is instead very tongue-in-cheek from the beginning. The skilled mecha pilot in Martian Successor Nadesico insists he’s more interested in being the ship’s cook, while the beautiful young captain Yurika dreams about reigniting their childhood love. Said love may only have existed in Yurika’s imagination, by the way... Before you can fall into completely sappy territory, Martian Successor Nadesico surprises you by killing off one of the show’s more colorful characters.
Episodes like "A Goodbye That Came Too Soon" make it clear that Martian Successor Nadesico is aiming for more tender emotional territory than one might first suspect by reading the blurb on the back of the box. Others like "The Dangers of Femininity" contain both serious messages about relationships and love, plus ogling swimsuits. Many typical anime themes are touched on, but the way Martian Successor Nadesico takes a self-referential twist is probably our favorite touch. Without spoiling it, the fictional series "Gekigangar III" becomes the center of the universe for many characters throughout the show, at first for Akito after his friend is murdered. Later the show becomes pivotal in the battle against the Jovians. "Gekigangar III" is always walking that fine line between being ridiculous (Akito’s fascination with the show is openly mocked on several occasions) and being amazing (as in "The Significant Other From A Star Far Away"). You can read this as the show’s creators realizing they were treading on familiar ground with Martian Successor Nadesico, while attempting to make something special.
The series winds up too soon, but in a satisfying conclusion. The movie and OVA are fan-service, but quite good. The animation style has aged well, and it’s funny how perfectly the animators captured the look of classic Japanese style in the "Gekigangar III" snippets. Whether you click with Martian Successor Nadesico depends on how much anime you watch, and whether you appreciate the lighter, comedic stuff. We would compare this favorably to funny series like Sgt. Frog, with even less of the over-the-top antics. If you want pure drama and space operas, you can find other series like Macross, Gundam, or Evangelion that throw less bubblegum at you. For our money, Martian Successor Nadesico was probably a bit ahead of its time, considering how much of its content is self-referential, and might have been more inside jokes at the time. Now that we’re surrounded by easy-to-access anime content, it’s easier to get the jokes and appreciate Martian Successor Nadesico for all that it accomplished. Recommended!