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Shogun! Shogun! Shogun! Shogun! Shogun! ... What's a shogun?
Several centuries after an almost-failed colony attempt, the planet Terra II is a strange place. Its human population is entirely male, born from recombinant DNA and cloning technology, and its hostile surface is home to six widely-separated city-states, each mimicking an earthly culture ranging from medieval Japan to 20th-Century America. Women have not been forgotten among the men of Terra II, though — simple-minded automatons called "marionettes" are built in exclusively female form, and act as servants, entertainers, concubines — and in some cases, infantry troops.
In the city-state of Japoness, which is modeled after shogun-era Japan, industrious orphan Otaru struggles to make ends meet. Too poor to afford a marionette of his own, he runs back and forth through the city trying to scrape up enough cash to live on with a series of odd jobs. In the wake of a mishap during one such job, Otaru finds and awakens Lime — a marionette who acts more like a real person than an automaton, loaded with emotions, curiosity, and an unfortunate tendency to attract trouble.
Otaru soon finds himself the center of a great deal of attention, including (to his shock) that of the shogun. And two more "unusual" marionettes, Cherry and Bloodberry, soon end up in his possession. As a neighboring city-state modeled after Nazi Germany begins gearing up for war with Japoness, Otaru must guide and teach what amounts to three affectionate and rambunctious teenagers — whom he will discover hold within themselves the keys not only to Japoness' long term survival, but to the secrets behind the failure of the colony mission and to the rescue of the last survivor of the original crew.
The anime starts off as a light comedy, but slowly turns more dramatic as time goes on. It generally has a healthy mix of humor and suspense.
Subsequently followed by several sequel series, including Saber Marionette J Again, Saber Marionette J To X and Saber Marionette R. There's also a videogame for the first Playstation called Battle Sabers. It never was released outside of Japan.
- Abusive Precursors: In the light novels, mankind back on Earth is hinted to be decadently devolving into despotic tyrants and apathetic denizens to the growing problems of overpopulation, environmental pollution, poverty, and so much more. This is emphasized with future civilization going back to practicing slavery and caste systems on a worldwide scale to exploit the growing population, with space colonization being but a mere band aid to a widely ignored crisis that is treated seriously and ethically in the anime, and is further touched upon with the original characterizations of Faust and Lorelei, in where Faust is revealed to be a scientist from a noble family who was thrown out and had his birthright taken from him for helping the poor and needy by stealing from his rich peers, while Lorelei was originally a poor woman who was only able to join the Mesopotamia colonization mission by having her brain implanted into a cyborg to be used as slave labor as a biolgical CPU for the Mesopotamia's main computers. Unsurprisingly, Earth is soon wiped out not immediately after the colonization mission launch.
- Action Marionette: Several of them.
- Adaptation Distillation: Of the originating light novels.
- Affectionate Parody: Planet full of men but not women, good amount of Running Gags, Homosexuality is considered the standard while liking female androids is out of the question, and it doesn't always remain a comedy. Parody of Shonen? You bet.
- Alien Sky: Terra II has about 5 moons.
- Anime Hair
- Apocalypse How: The Earth is said to suffer from overpopulation problems, and it's not definitely clear if there are political tensions or major environmental issues, but the colonization program is said to have been done to remedy this, and the few of the surviving crew of the Mesopotamia held this unpredictability of the volatility of this crisis to heart as they fought and survived the aftermath of the crash for the sake of the human race. The light novels emphasize this even more, with Lorelei replaying a broadcast of what possibly could be Earth's last transmission to the last vestiges of mankind in the universe in the wake of human civilization's self destruction, with little to any chance that other colonizers may have survived outside of Terra-2 in the last 200 years since their landing on the new planet.
- Applied Phlebotinum: Terra II's genetic science, "maiden circuits" and marionettes in general.
- Asskicking Pose: Subverted in one episode where Otaru hits a blade-wielding Ronin.
- A Twinkle in the Sky: The Saber Dolls end this way in the episode where the Japoness marionettes are competing in a worldwide tournament for Otaru's affection.
- Bamboo Technology: What the six castaways accomplished with just the equipment in their shuttle.
- Bittersweet Ending and Heroic Sacrifice: The last minute of both series and the OVA averted this.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In episode 4 of Saber Marionette J Again Otaru says:
"If you guys were any slower to mature... we'd still be doing what we were doing in the last episode."
- Camp Gay: Hanagata highly qualifies as this, mainly because of his obssession with Otaru, which naturally annoys both Otaru himself and the Marionettes. Obviously, he's also used as the series' Comic Relief, among others. The following quote is one of the mildest of his rather loud declarations.
Hanagata: "I'll never let you go! Today is our day of destiny!"
- Then there's him playing "He loves me, he loves me not" with a flower in his room...
- Can't Catch Up: The Saberdolls in SMJ series.
- Clothing Damage: Many times, to different characters.
- Darker and Edgier: The Saber Marionette R OVA.
- Determinator: The Saberdolls, specially Tiger. Too bad it ends with her being impaled, badly damaged, partially amnesiac and shell of herself for the rest of original J series. She gets better in J Again.
- Cherry and Lime in the Saber Marionette R OVA.
- Designer Babies: All the male inhabitants of Terra II except Hess.
- Diesel Punk: The Saber Marionette R OVA.
- Eek! a Mouse!: All marionettes, save Lime, have a fear of mice.
- Excited Episode Title
- Extraordinarily Empowered Girl
- Fan Service
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: The marionettes at times when using one of their battle functions.
- Hollywood Science: Bogus genetics.
- Hotter and Sexier: The manga version, which brought up the question about why bother making them anatomically correct if you're going to make loving them socially taboo... (Bloodberry's pair of Gag Boobs are but two of many unending examples...and Lime is introduced NAKED.)
- Humongous Mecha: The Japoness' Guard and Gartland's Sabbelberg are the main qualifiers.
- Idiot Ball: Possibly every character has one.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes
- Kill Sat: Mesopotamia, the colony ship can function as one.
- Last Of Her Kind: Lorelei is the only female human in the entire series. At least, until Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry turned human at the end of J to X.
- Lethal Chef: In one episode of J, there is a cooking contest involving the Otaru's Marionettes and the Saber Dolls. The only marionette to successfully avoid this trope was Cherry (of course, being a Yamato Nadeshiko and all). Lime's unpredictability and Tiger's fan-service were able to obtain points even though their cooking was obviously less than par.
- Love At First Sight: Marionettes with Maiden Circuits experience this with the first
man personthing they see upon activating.
- Lover Tug of War
- Mordor: Gartland. The fact that it resembles Nazi Germany don't help matters, though.
- One-Gender Race: The human population of Terra II — and arguably, the Marionettes.
- Out of the Inferno
- Parental Abandonment
- Power Trio
- The Psycho Rangers: The Saber Dolls for the J series. The Sexa Dolls for the R OVA.
- The Reveal (Several of them.)
- The first of them, at least in the Anime: Why do you think that Lime, Cherry, Bloodberry and the Saber Dolls have emotions? Answer: they have a maiden circuit.
- Then, several episodes later, again, at least in the Anime, we discover the true purpose behind the Japoness' (and Gartland's) marionettes' construction: to serve as a replacement for Lorelei aboard the Mesopotamia when said circuits reach full maturity.
- And what about Marine? Simple: she was built with an anti-plasma system and plasma manipulation abilities, which were given to her to prevent the menacing disaster towards Terra II... even at the cost of her life. She survives that, though.
- And finally, who the hell was Hess? Answer: the first man in the face of Terra II.
- As for the R OVA, all Romana Viceroys are clones of the original Romana King, including Star Face — except for Junior, who is an actual son of the previous viceroy and born to a human mother. It's enough to drive Star Face into suicide.
- Ridiculously Human Robot
- Robot Girl: The Maiden Circuit marionettes.
- Fembots: Every other marionette.
- Roof Hopping
- Running Gag
- Sensual Spandex
- Slasher Smile: Lime in the R OVA when she's in overdrive.
- Small Girl, Big Gun
- Squeaky Eyes
- Terrible Trio: The Saber Dolls in the original Saber Marionette J, and the Sexadolls in the Saber Marionette R OVA.
- Techno Babble: Anything to do with marionettes, "maiden circuits" and plasma energy.
- Tenchi Solution: Subverted in J to X.
- Theme Naming
- The Three Faces of Eve: The Maiden Circuits are built in this pattern.
- Too Kinky to Torture: The Sexadolls in the R OVA.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Lampshaded and played Straight. In the Broke Episode, Lime spins an elephant on an umbrella to advertise for a burger stand while smiling. Guess what people are paying attention to? The smile.
"Marionettes can't smile!"
- Apparently only a handful of people can recognise the main cast, who save the entire planet and bring the only woman back to Terra II.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?
- Yaoi Guys