Giant Robo

June 26, 2005 on 8:33 pm | In Giant Robo | Comments Off on Giant Robo

“Crush them! Giant Robo!”

In a “future to come”, the world has entered the third energy phase. The Shizuma drive has replaced all forms of power, and against this backdrop the International Police Organisation, led by the Experts of Justice, and terrorist organisation Big Fire battle over matters of global importance.
In Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Big Fire is leading a strike to recreate the tragedy of Bashtarle via the Giant Sphere, by disabling all Shizuma drives. The world would come to a horrible stand still, and many people would die. Naturally, the Experts of Justice, specifically the Celestial Nine, are opposed to this plan. They and their giant robot, the aptly named Giant Robo, take on villainy in all its forms.

Over seven episodes and five years of production(!), Giant Robo tells this epic story. There are at least 25 major characters, some more major than others. To detail any of them short of twelve year old Kusama Daisaku and his father’s legacy, Giant Robo, would be to spoil a good deal of its appeal; surprises are a key ingredient in the entertainment. The amount of times I slapped my knee in glee at plot developments was so great that I had to give my leg a break and start hitting the arms of my chair instead.

Giant Robo is an intense love letter to the anime industry, specifically the works of Yokoyama Mitsuteru; practically every character from his (then) 37 year career show up during the course of this extravaganza. With his Tetsujin 28 (AKA Gigantor) as one of the first manga to anime adaptations, this is a sizeable body of work.

Yokoyama was a genius: not only did he make a hefty contribution to the giant robot genre, he almost certainly created the magical girl genre with Little Witch Sally (Sally shows up as Alberto’s daughter, Sonny, in Giant Robo). Giant Robo is a traditionally misnamed OVA, but what else could it be called? Giant Robo is but a tiny portion of the adventure, crammed as it is with ninja, super powered people, finger snappers, Taoists, “blue beasts”’ The best phrase to describe it would be “a cavalcade of delights”.

The aesthetic is deliciously fifties, sixties and seventies; a lot of it is very much like Lupin III. What does this mean for the giant robots? They are beautifully ugly! Back in the day, ugly robots were en vogue. A revival was in order for parts of the nineties (see The Big O); they’re all unquestionably cool, so … this is just about the one field in anime where ugliness doesn’t matter: only poor design does.

Amano Masamichi’s score, as played by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, is wonderfully evocative: you listen to it and hear the destruction of France. Giant Robo’s score is one of adventure, international intrigue and intense personal drama.
The cast is similarly good, with one of my personal favourites, Shimamoto Sumi, stepping out as Ginrei. Yamaguchi Kappei voice Daisaku, and it is really weird to hear a Japanese man playing a twelve year old boy; it’s not that Yamaguchi can’t do it, it’s just that I’m so used to hearing women play these sorts of roles.

All of this would mean a lot more to someone who has travelled through time and watched all of these programs: I fancy myself something of an anime historian but I really have not seen much predating Secret of Mamo. Giant Robo works as a big encyclopedia for people who missed the entire history of anime, but will do nothing to appease the people who enjoy only loud modern things.

Unfortunately, the ending suggests that in this world the Celestial Nine and Magnificent Ten still have their jobs to do, and we will never see them (except for Ginrei Special, which I am almost certain does not count). Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still is an almost uniformly excellent OVA, the likes of which had not been seen before or since; it literally has everything.

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