For many years, the only impressions I had of the anime Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch were 1) that it has a fantastically beautiful and catchy opening and 2) the vague sense that it’s about a group of adventurers traveling the world in their giant robot. After finally getting the chance to watch the series in full, I find that it simultaneously falls short of and exceeds my expectations.
The premise: Acrobunch follows Rando Tatsuya and his five children on their quest to pursue clues about the legend of “Quaschika,” which is said to be the key to a mysterious treasure. Traveling in their combining giant robot, Acrobunch, they must also contend with the Goblin Society, an ancient underground race that is tens of thousands of years old and seeks the power of Quaschika to take over the surface world and supplant the human race. The characters travel to prominent ancient landmarks/sites (Atlantis, Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines. etc.), get into battles, fall in love, and discover that the secrets they’re after are far beyond what they could have predicted.
Acrobunch is, in a word, inconsistent. From story to animation, the quality swings wildly from meh to marvelous. When you look at the visual presentation, the secondary hero is supposed to be Tatsuya’s youngest son Jun, but he rarely gets plotlines of his own and is often overshadowed by his handsome older brother Hiro. On top of that, he looks anywhere between 10 and 20 years old, depending on who’s drawing him (see also Da Garn). The four Goblin Demon Generals are who the Randos fight the most, and every so often the series reveals a glimpse into their characters, only to hardly build on them further. Examples such as Hiro’s romance/rivalry with the beautiful White General Cera, Black General Groizy’s desire to make Cera his own, or how Blue General Bluzom seems to have a bit of a noble streak all get brought up and then left underexplored. All the storylines involve the search for Quaschika one way or another, but there are definitely some that are more compelling.
Even the robot itself suffers from this, sporting a nice-looking but rather complicated design that results in either Acrobunch looking fantastic (as in the aforementioned opening animated by the endlessly influential Kanada Yoshinori) or terrible (like a Ginguiser reject). That same opening also contributes to the false impression of Hiro’s importance and age. Overall, it’s not even that Acrobunch is too episodic, but just that sometimes there are episodes that hit and sometimes there are ones that miss, regardless of how much each one advances the main story.
Aside from the amazing opening, the main thing about Acrobunch that lingers in the memories of Japanese fans is actually the final episode, and so I think it’s important for me to discuss the big reveal of the series. Stop reading now if you wish to avoid spoilers.
In episode 24, the characters discover that Quaschika is actually the spirits of a civilization that came from beyond our universe, and who are responsible for starting life as we know it. Whenever a planet’s sentient life-forms get too evil overall, the world and/or universe are destroyed, and the “good souls” are taken by Quaschika to start over again. It sounds like the perfect recipe for a true antagonist that could potentially unite the humans and goblins against a common foe—except that Tatsuya actually enables the world’s destruction and reset to happen! Without blinking an eye, he triggers the transformation, and in the end we see our six heroes and even one of the Goblin Demon Generals spirited off to a new universe as the rest of Earth’s inhabitants are wiped out!
Although it’s a hell of a twist, it doesn’t seem like Tatsuya’s actions are meant to be a kind of villainous reveal. Rather, because Acrobunch’s story takes so much from conspiracy theories, the anime’s curveball finale ends up feeling more like a cousin to the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens mixed with the kind of apocalyptic prophecies you get from cults like Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown. In a sense, Acrobunch is like a cousin to the grimmer works of Tomino Yoshiyuki like Ideon and Zambot 3, but with a further touch of paranoia. The abruptness of it might also be the result of the series getting cut short, and it wasn’t that unusual back then to cap off a canceled anime in the most traumatic way possible, as with Baldios.
Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch doesn’t exactly come out of the gate swinging, but it can be an interesting experience that does enough to build on itself. That doesn’t necessarily prepare viewers for the end of the series that basically explodes everything we knew thus far, but at least it means Acrobunch is hard to forget once you know about it. And as always, there’s that irresistible opening to re-watch over and over.