Like most Giant Robo fans I was fed-up of waiting for a UK DVD release so I went ahead and imported the excellent boxset released by Media Blasters in the US. It’s not the most lavish of boxsets (a more eye-catching alternative is available which is encased in a scale model of the giant floating eye), but you should be able to pick it up for around £20 which includes all seven episodes and the Gin-rei special. Bargain.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series when it was originally released, Giant Robo is a story about...er...a Giant Robo. In actuality it’s roughly based on a manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama (of Tetsujin 28 fame), although perhaps more famous as a live-action TV series which was released in the US as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot (no, really). And from what I can tell through second-hand info, thankfully this seven-part OVA bares little or no resemblance to it.
The story takes place in the near future, a world in which depleted natural resources have hastened the search for a practical renewable alternative. The solution was found in the Shizuma drive - a glass cylinder-like contraption named after its creator - which has completely taken over every other energy source from nuclear power right down to the batteries used in a torch. But the Shizuma drive holds a dark secret which could spell the end for mankind, and discredited Dr Von Vogler Image 1 of 5. Click to enlarge
Image 1 of 5. Click to enlarge
Everything about Giant Robo is big and brash and without excuses. From the opening sequence in which a booming narrator initiates us in to this world of secret agents with super powers and evil geniuses hellbent on destroying the world, it’s hard not to fall head over heels with Giant Robo’s perfectly tuned sense of aesthetic. I’d go as far as to call it kitsch, but I think the correct term here is ‘retro’. The presentation, the music (which is a perfectly suited orchestral score), the characters and the stories - basically everything about Giant Robo from top to bottom - all pay dutiful homage to the series’ and its creator’s rich lineage in the genre. The designs of the robots, the characters and the world that surrounds them has been updated to conform to modern expectations, yet they never stray too far from their source and break the illusion that you’re watching an anime circa 1960. In other words, Giant Robo is the super robot show as it was in your mind’s eye, a perfect combination of the old without the disappointment of reality. Retro.
Giant Robo was one of the defining modern anime in this respect, and in all honesty there’s been little to better it yet. Mazinkaiser gave it a bloody good go and hit all the right buttons, but there’s just something about Giant Robo that sets it apart. The show’s story may seem suitably hackneyed on paper, but in practice there are enough subtleties in its execution and enough unexpected twists to ward off any niggling complacency. And the whole thing runs at such a pace that the normal plot holes and illogicalities associated with the genre go mostly unnoticed. In Image 2 of 5. Click to enlarge
Image 2 of 5. Click to enlarge
The Giant Robo itself may boast top billing, but it’s the show’s human characters that help give it substance. With the nine Experts of Justice and their opposite number in Big Fire’s Magnificent Ten, it’s quite a large cast for a series of this length. But with names like Alberto the Impact and Chujo the Silent (whose punch has the effect of an atomic bomb!), you’re unlikely to forget them in a hurry. Even those on the periphery of the central storyline manage to grab your attention during their brief spell on-screen thanks to some fantastically over the top character design, and each will leave you wanting more (and in the case of Gin-rei, you get it thanks to the three specials).
These human characters also account for a surprising amount of action in Giant Robo, as their super-human powers see them jumping around in mid-air and blasting holes in each other with laser beams. This is more reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z than anything else, though it should be noted that the production values and direction separate the two. At any rate, it’s an excellent aside that you wouldn’t normally expect from a super robot show.
Of course the action involving Daisuke and his Giant Robot is equally exciting, mostly thanks to a smart decision not to rely on over-used special moves that usually characterise the genre. Of course he has plenty of special moves including a gigantic rocket launcher on his back and missiles that shoot from every side of his body, but we’re rarely subjected to repetitive animation cycles. Giant Robo shows a great deal more imagination (as well as budget!) than this, and each fight sequence feels very different to the last.
Even the out-dated notion of controlling the robot from the outside through radio-control is used smartly to their advantage here, as not only does Robo have to protect Daisuke from Image 3 of 5. Click to enlarge
Image 3 of 5. Click to enlarge
Well, I feel like I’m starting to waffle a bit now, so I’ll wrap this one up. There are of course a few negatives I’ll have to mention here. Obviously the super robot influence won’t suit everyone even if Giant Robo’s creators have done everything they can to make it as appealing as possible. There’s just no escaping that Giant Robo is a very, very silly show. Yet that’s half of the appeal, so it really shouldn’t be an issue for most.
Lastly, and probably most importantly...the ending is a little...uhh..shall we say...unfinished? It comes to and ending of sorts, but there are so many questions left unanswered you’ll be cursing to yourself and crying out for a sequel. But there isn’t one, and there probably never will be. There were other chapters planned, but for one reason or another they never got made. Instead we’ve got a brand-new series starting in 2007, although sadly it bares little or no resemblance to this show.
Still, we should be thankful for what we do have (after all, these seven episodes took over six years to complete!), and despite a few gripes Giant Robo is a fantastic anime. Undoubtedly the finest example of a modern update to a classic anime, and one that deserves pride of place in anyone’s collection.
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