Play Therapy: SSSS.Dynazenon

The first thing to know about SSSS.Dynazenon is that you don’t need to have watched any of the prequels to get into SSSS.Dynazenon. Sure, its name implies a connection to 2018’s SSSS.Gridman, which is itself a sequel of sorts to the 1993 live-action Gridman the Hyper Agent. Even so, SSSS.Dynazenon is an insightful anime that stands on its own merits. 

The story of SSSS.Dynazenon follows a teenage boy named Asanaka Yomogi. After encountering an eccentric guy named Gauma claiming to be a kaiju user, his city is attacked by actual kaiju. Gauma is able to call upon a giant robot named Dynazenon, and Yomogi (as well as a few others) end up becoming Gauma’s copilots. With a different part of Dynazenon in each of their hands in the form of toys, they battle a group known as the Kaiju Eugenicists, who have the ability to control kaiju by bending them to their will. 

One question to ask when looking at many tokusatsu and mecha series is how much the characters’ primary motivations tie into the larger overarching plot and setting. In Gundam, for example, the connection is usually extremely strong—protagonists like Amuro Ray are thrust into the middle of long and painful wars whose physical and mental scars are the primary driving force of these narratives. Evangelion takes a different approach, forefronting the existing psychologies of its characters and using its science fictional setting as a means to explore their traumas. With respect to that dynamic, SSSS.Dynazenon falls a little more towards the Eva side, but goes its own direction.

SSSS.Dynazenon has a grounded feel that highlights both its characters’ personal histories and how their current circumstances as impromptu heroes impacts their views.  As Yomogi and the others battle, they’re forced to confront their own unique fears and values. Yomogi is trying to cope with his parents’ divorce and his mom’s new boyfriend. Minami Yume, one of Yomogi’s classmates, is emotionally distant ever since the mysterious death of her sister. Yamanaka Koyomi is a NEET in his 30s who constantly regrets not making certain decisions in his life (particularly a romantic one) that could have brought him down a different path. Koyomi’s younger cousin, Asukagawa Chise, refuses to attend school. Gauma searches for his past, explaining to the others that he’s actually thousands of years old.

While it can seem as if the fantastical elements are just a flimsy backdrop to the human drama at play, that’s not the case. Rather, one of the key strengths of SSSS.Dynazenon is the way that feeling both the added responsibility and thrill of fighting kaiju reshapes or reinforces their priorities and core beliefs. The fact that they carry around their respective vehicles like toys before growing them to giant size also makes me feel that there’s a link between the childish notion of “playing with toys” as a way to engage with the world and connect with others. In that respect, the antagonists of SSSS.Dynazenon, the Kaiju Eugenicists, seem to also have their own hang-ups but engage with them in less healthy ways.

SSSS.Dynazenon is also different enough from its predecessors that those who didn’t enjoy Gridman the Hyper Agent or SSSS.Gridman might resonate with this series. In particular, its characters are portrayed in a more subdued manner than SSSS.Gridman, where the central female characters, Rikka and Akane, cast a long shadow and often stole the spotlight through their sensual portrayals and powerful yuri energy.

Though I say that knowing the prequels is unnecessary to gain something from SSSS.Dynazenon, that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to have been a fan. Using my personal experience as an example, I came to the series cognizant of the fact that “Dyna” and “Zenon” are references to support robots from the original Gridman due to having watched Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad (the Power Rangers-esque adaptation of Gridman the Hyper Agent), and later found myself excited over some mid-series character arrivals that call back to SSSS.Gridman. The key is that while the series does reward those with prior knowledge, it doesn’t punish those who are new and unfamiliar. 

SSSS.Dynazenon hints at ties to the prior series in everything from the title of the show to the character Gauma himself. However, unlike with SSSS.Gridman, the mystery of what exactly is going on is less of a core element and more an added bonus for existing fans of either one or both previous series. The core story—one of friendship and growth—remains.

Super Robot Wars 30 Thoughts, or “I MUST GET THIS GAME”

Super Robot Wars 30, the latest full game in the famed crossover video game franchise, has revealed its full lineup.

  • Super Electromagnetic Robot Combattler V
  • Mobile Suit Gundam (mecha only)
  • Mobile Suit Z Gundam
  • Z-MSV (mecha only)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack
  • M-MSV (mecha only)
  • Mobile Suit V Gundam
  • Mobile Suit Gundam NT
  • Heavy Metal L-Gaim
  • The Brave Police J-Decker (New)
  • The King of Braves Gaogaigar Final (mecha only)
  • The King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman (New)
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion III – Glorification (New) (mecha only)
  • Shin Getter Robo Armageddon
  • Mazinger Z: Infinity
  • Mazinkaiser Infinitism (New) (mecha only)
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
  • Gun x Sword
  • Majestic Prince
  • Knight’s & Magic (New)
  • SSSS.GRIDMAN (New)

There are some welcome surprises among the returning veterans such as L-Gaim, but the real shockers are in the newest series.

Hell and Heaven!!!

The entry that sent a bolt of lightning through me is Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, which is the novel-only sequel to Gaogaigar Final that continues and concludes the story that began all the way back in 1997. I’ve been following the story, even having reviewed the first and second novels, but I wonder if fans might be better off not reading the spoilers in them so that they can experience this amazing sequel through the lens of SRW first. This’ll be the first time that Gaogaigo and its allies will be animated, and already it looks incredible. I await the SRW rendition of Gaogaigo’s Hell and Heaven with great anticipation, I hope we get to see and use a certain massive Betterman, and I’m guessing we’ll get the new opening and ending (that currently exist only in audio form) as BGM.

I also want to compliment the English localization team because I think “Hakai-oh” is such a difficult term to translate. Literally, it means “World-Conquering King,” and I think King of Kings captures that feeling nice and succinctly.

Burning Heart to Heart

Speaking of Braves, I honestly didn’t think J-Decker would ever make it in. Out of the entire franchise, I think J-Decker is one of the genuinely best shows, and I’m very happy to see Deckard, Shadowmaru, and the boys get their due. My dream is that there are some combination attacks involving Shadowmaru and Volfogg, but I’ll be content even without that. And If you want to know more of my thoughts on J-Decker as an anime, I appeared on an old podcast review.

Toku Time

Arguably the biggest appearance from out of left field is SSSS.Gridman. While it’ll fit nicely within SRW, the fact that it has its origins as an anime sequel to a tokusatsu series means there are just a lot of odd quirks to consider. In particular, Gridman is basically an Ultraman, and the closest we’ve had to mecha in SRW that move similar to Gridman are the EVAs from Evangelion—a show that is itself inspired by Ultraman. Given how this series ends, I also have to wonder how it’ll fit into the Super Robot Wars 30’s story, but what always comes first is making things look awesome.

X-TREME RADICAL Mazinkaiser 

As far as I can tell, Mazinkaiser Infinitism appears to have its origins as just an action figure of Mazinkaiser with a Mazinger Z: Infinity aesthetic. What’s funny about this version of Kaiser is that while the Mazinger Z in the Infinity film is a nice retro-modern update to a timeless design, even this Infinitism version of Mazinkaiser feels like it’s perpetually stuck in the 1990s—a Rob Liefeldian super robot that screams hypermasculinity. That was the case for its debut appearance (in a Super Robot Wars game!), the Mazinkaiser OVAs, Mazinkaiser SKL, and now this.

…And the Rest

I haven’t seen the recent Code Geass film, but I have fond memories of the near–train wreck that was Code Geass R2. I don’t know if there’s much for me to say here. As for Knight’s & Magic, I don’t know anything about it other than that it’s a mecha-themed isekai light novel. While it’s not the first SRW series with an isekai light novel origin (that honor goes to Aura Battler Dunbine), it’s still the first to be from a modern, post–Sword Art Online light novel. For that reason, I’m rather curious as to how it’ll be, and I might even be tempted to watch the anime.

See You in October

You damn well better believe I’m reviewing this game. 

Back Arrow Never Asks for Too Much

In today’s media landscape, it can feel like everything is about having an obsessive audience. Mobile games incentivize you to try to get every ultra rare and keep following a neverending story. Superhero movies, like their comic counterparts, want you to watch every single sequel and spin-off leading to the next mega film. Manga and anime want you to look into every character’s backstory and all the convoluted history that connects them together. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but they can be exhausting.

Under these circumstances, the anime Back Arrow is like a breath of fresh air because it doesn’t expect your total time and attention. Every episode, I would be entertained and intrigued; I might even have speculated what would happen next. But in a time when my mental space is being bombarded by world-changing events on the regular on top of all the aforementioned fan-forward storytelling, I like having an anime that’s just trying to be a sandwich instead of a 10-course meal.

The premise: Lingalind is a world of constant strife, with countries big and small vying for supremacy. Surrounded by a divine Wall that cannot be crossed, mysterious drop pods called rakuho fall from the sky and provide mysterious armbands known as Bind Warpers. These devices allow people to manifest their convictions and form giant robots called Briheights, and are the primary weapon of war. One day, a group from the tiny village of Edger finds a rather unusual rakuho containing a man with no memory—other than the seemingly insane notion that he comes from beyond the Wall. This man, who comes to take the name Back Arrow, is not only able to manifest a Briheight without having any conviction of his own, but is also able to defeat other Briheights without killing them, which was thought to be impossible. 

Back Arrow is like a cross between Gun x Sword, Star Driver, and Code Geass (even sharing the same director in this last case), only a whole lot less subtle. And given what those three series are like, this means watching Back Arrow is like getting hit over the head by two ham fists. The two major world powers are the Republic of Rekka, a hyper-exaggerated Dynastic China with Three Kingdoms elements, and the Supremacy of Lutoh, essentially pre-Revolution France with a seedy underbelly. Back Arrow and the residents of Edger Village all look like poorly dressed cowboys. But somehow, the anime ends up being really entertaining with endearing characters, lots of twists and turns, and some pretty solid action scenes—all without being bogged down or burdened with an excess of unrealistic ambition.

That’s not to say Back Arrow phones it in. The series’ narrative developments aren’t that surprising, but it’s never boring. In many ways, Back Arrow reminds me of really good pro wrestling. It’s ridiculous if you step back, but it’s easy to suspend disbelief thanks to the charisma of its presentation. Moreover, predictability isn’t a four-letter word, and in fact can be the foundation of some of the best stories because they have satisfying payoffs. 

Courage and Experience: “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 2” Novel Review

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST GAOGAIGAR VS. BETTERMAN NOVEL

The Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman web novel series has been a blessing for giant robot fans. Taking place in the Gaogaigar universe ten years after the cliffhanger ending of the Gaogaigar FINAL OVAs, it tells the story of how the world has changed since the Gutsy Galaxy Guard got trapped in another universe, and the new challenges those on Earth must face. A now twenty-year-old Amami Mamoru has gone from plucky kid companion to a seasoned robot pilot in his own right, working alongside his fellow alien adoptee Kaidou Ikumi to control Gaogaigo, a successor to the King of Braves in the fight against the forces that threaten the world. The series is being collected into print novels, and that’s the way in which I’ve been reading it.

The end of Part 1 saw the triumphant return of Shishioh Guy, the original pilot of Gaogaigar. However, his comeback was not without cos,t as the robot lion Galeon nobly sacrificed itself to free Guy from the clutches of their mysterious god-like adversary, Hakai-oh (“World-Conquering King.”) The second novel, Part 2, picks up directly from that point with a new challenge: a reunion with some old and familiar faces, not as allies but as enemies. Guy and Mamoru must fight across the world, respectively as the Mobile Corps Commanders of the Gutsy Galaxy Guard (GGG Green) and the Gutsy Global Guard (GGG Blue).

Genuine Care for Lore and Characterization Alike

When I read Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, I’m always struck by how much attention is paid to its own history and lore. While it can sometimes get a little too into the weeds, the general feeling that comes across is real affection and respect on the part of the creators for the universe they’ve created, as well as the fans who have embraced these stories. From the way fights play out to moments of character introspection, everything and everyone is portrayed with a robust three-dimensionality that rewards readers who remember both Gaogaigar and Betterman

For example, we’re reminded that Neuronoids (the robots of Betterman) are powered by artificial brains based on neurological patterns of actual species. This novel answers the question of what brain is in Gaogaigo: a dolphin from the Gaogaigar video game who was turned into a G-Stone cyborg like Guy, and who ultimately had to pass when the “Invisible Burst” that compromised electronics before the successful establishment of the Global Wall made it impossible to maintain the dolphin’s cybernetics. During a fight, it’s revealed that Gai-go is actually extremely strong in underwater combat—a product of being based on a marine creature.

There’s also a side story at the end of the novel that takes in the space between Part 1 and Part 2, where Guy and Mamoru visit a transit museum to see the original Liner Gao, the bullet train that becomes the shoulders of the original Gaogaigar. As they converse, the topic of the Replicant Mamoru from Gaogaigar FINAL comes up. While Repli-Mamoru ended up being merely a clone of the real Mamoru, Guy still carries a lot of guilt over killing him—especially because Guy hasn’t aged and still remembers that trauma as if it were mere weeks ago. It would have been all too easy to forget that part of the OVAs, especially because of the grandiosity of its later battles, but both the author (former Gaogaigar staff Takeda Yuuicihirou) and supervisor (the original director, Yonetani Yoshitomo) put in that extra mile. 

As a funny little moment during this side story, Guy is less astounded by the giant “Global Wall” defense system that allows wireless communications to work after a previous disaster than he is by Mamoru’s smartphone. When he last left, beepers (like Mamoru’s special GGG version) were still the norm, and to see the progression of human technology (as opposed to G-Stone technology derived from Galeon) puts a smile on Guy’s face.

Spotlight on Betterman 

Because Gaogaigar is the bigger franchise between the two marquee titles, it gets the (robot) lion’s share of the attention overall. However, Part 2 does devote more pages to the Betterman side of things than previously—while the first novel’s Betterman-focused pages are mainly about the Somniums (the titular “Bettermen”) and the question of whether they would help defend the Earth, this novel explores the original main characters, Aono Keita and Sai Hinoki, in greater detail. In particular, Keita was a relatively minimal factor in Part 1, but here, his romantic relationship with Hinoki is front and center for a significant portion of the book. Keita’s portrayal is interesting because of how humble his situation is. Rather than staying in space with Hinoki (who has since become highly educated and is a science officer for GGG Blue), Keita is without a college degree and works at an electronics store, where his otaku knowledge makes him an ideal employee. But Keita also works hard with the dream of providing a home that Hinoki can come back to, especially because Hinoki tragically lost her family as a young child.

The color insert at the beginning of the novel also has colored design images of Keita and Hinoki courtesy of the original character designer, Kimura Takahiro. As a huge fan of Kimura’s art (and his work creating Hinoki), it’s a welcome addition.

Intense(ly Clever) Battles and the Value of Experience

The real meat and potatoes of Part 2 are the many fights that take place throughout. Because they’re a pretty major surprise and make up such a huge portion of the story, I’m going to put an extra SPOILER WARNING here.


While there’s a bit of fighting between Guy and Betterman Lamia that makes the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman title technically true, the main thrust of conflict in Part 2 comes in the form of the old Gutsy Galaxy Guard members who have now been taken over by the “Triple Zero” energy that comes from Hakai-oh. Now greatly powered up and known as the “Hakai Nobility,” Brave Robots and human GGG agents alike now fight against the Earth with the goal of bringing “divine providence” to the universe. 

The first character who shows up to oppose the heroes is actually Hakai Mic Sounders, and I will say that “Evil Mic Sounders” is indeed quite a trip. Still using his characteristic mix of English and Japanese, it’s easy to not take a line like “SORRY, but I have to destroy you” seriously—that is, until you’re reminded of how powerful Mic truly is. With the ability to produce sound waves that can break down anything (if given the right information), Mic Sounders is capable of rendering even the toughest armors useless. The only reason they win is because a Betterman who can control sound herself is able to provide a counterbalance.

That battle introduces the recurring idea in the fights against the infected Brave Robots: GGG is a great asset when on the side of humanity, but beyond dangerous when its powers are turned against Earth. Goldymarg’s signature toughness (enough to withstand the power of the Goldion Hammer when in Marg Hand form) makes him able to withstand just about anything, and it takes a “Goldion Double Hammer” weapon wielded by Guy in Gaofighgar to even begin to even the odds. Tenryujin and Big Volfogg make for similarly intimidating opponents with their own unique strengths, Volfogg’s role as guardian of a young Mamoru in the past providing an extra layer of stakes in that particular fight. But it’s also not just the robots who are a threat—the human members have also become Hakai Nobility, and the tactical prowess of Commander Taiga and the genius hacking skills of Entouji provide extra hurdles for GGG Green and GGG Blue. 

Another recurring theme throughout these fights, however, is that the time dilation difference between the old GGG members and the current ones means that Mamoru and the others have ten years of their own experience under their belts. There’s a moment at the beginning of the novel where Mamoru says that he’s willing to relinquish the role of GGG Mobile Corps Commander to Guy, only for Guy to reject his offer and to praise Mamoru for having clearly been through many tough trials of his own, and at this point actually has fought with GGG for longer than he has. He further explains that he was originally just the right man for the moment, having been an astronaut transformed into a G-Stone cyborg to save his life, and wasn’t a born fighter himself.

And so we see that sentiment play out. In the fight against Tenryujin, her younger “sister” Seiryujin, the latter targets Tenryujin’s knees—a seemingly odd move, until one remembers that the individual robots that compromise the “Ryu” series all turn upside down to combine, meaning their chests (and thus their Hakai-infected AI boxes) are located in the legs. When dealing with Entouji’s computer virus, GGG Blue member Inubouzaki Minoru takes center stage. Originally a jealous rival of Entouji’s who became a Zonder in the TV series, and later returned as an ally when the Gutsy Geoid Guard became the Gutsy Galaxy Guard, Inubouzaki shows the progress he’s made the past decade not only in terms of improved skills but also being more at peace with himself and his past.

Just as everything seems to be going Earth’s way, however, the next Hakai Nobility appear: Goryujin and Genryujin (who both have access to THE POWER), as well as Soldat J and King J-Der. The preview of the next (and last!) volume hints at what’s to come with the key to victory: something called “Goldion Armor.”

To the End

The web novel version of Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman has concluded, and the concluding print release is supposed to be out this summer. While I could jump in and start reading it online now, I think I’m going to wait once more. If I could wait close to 15 years before, I can withstand a few months. 

In the meantime, I’ve also been reading the manga adaptation of this series, which provides some of the visual flair that’s inevitably missing from the prose version. I can only hope that we might see an actual anime come out of this someday.

Business as Usual: The Unchallengeable Trider G7

1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam is a milestone in anime history, a show whose evergreen influence as the ancestor of the “real robot” genre has continued across four decades. But like so many innovative and revolutionary works, it’s not as if Gundam changed everything overnight. Nowhere is this clearer than with Gundam’s immediate Sunrise robot anime successor—1980’s The Unchallengeable Trider G7, a series so straightforwardly kid-oriented that it feels like the anime’s goal was to try to turn back the hands of time.

Trider G7 (sometimes written as Tryder G7) is the story of Takeo Watta, an elementary school boy who also happens to be the president of his own business, Takeo General Company. Having inherited it and a powerful giant robot called Trider G7 from his deceased father, Watta has to juggle being a kid who attends school just like everyone else, keeping his company in the green, and defending the Earth from the Robot Empire of Planet Gabarl.

Titled in Japanese as Muteki Robo Trider G7, the anime is considered a part of the Muteki trilogy along with Muteki Choujin Zambot 3 and Muteki Koujin Daitarn 3. But while Daitarn 3 could get extremely serious at times, and Zambot 3 was consistently brutal, Trider G7 steers clear of that mood, instead presenting itself as a lighthearted fantasy for a young boy audience. Nothing sums this up better than Trider G7’s launch sequence, which involves having the robot emerge from the local playground (of which its head is a centerpiece) while a loudspeaker announcement kindly requests everyone clear the area. Unlike its fellow Muteki anime, Trider G7 is not directed by Tomino Yoshiyuki, instead being under Sasaki Katsutoshi. This likely helps the “not-traumatizing” aspect.

Unlike many series I write final reviews for, I did not watch all 50 episodes of Trider G7. Instead, I used the 10 episodes temporarily uploaded by the Bandai Spirits channel on Youtube as a kind of “essential episodes” list, supplementing it with some reading. (Side note: that project in the link provided never got off the ground). While this does compromise my ability to gauge the complete series from beginning to end, I still think it gave me a good idea overall. My verdict: Trider G7 is a pretty mediocre anime, and it feels intentionally so.

I’m not someone who disparages children’s shows or episodic ones, as I believe both have important places in anime. Some of my favorite works are “incident-of-the-week” and aimed primarily at kids, but what I love to see is when they try to really bring something to challenge their audience while still being fairly conventional. Trider G7 only ever seems to hint at greater potential without ever reaching it. 

The series acknowledges that Watta is still a kid, and that the burden of being a company president is not easy for someone so young, but it’s mostly played for laughs. The Gabarl Empire is run by a super-AI called Mother Computer Sigma, and one of the recurring flaws of the enemy Mega-Robots is their reliance on pre-programmed data in battle, unlike Watta’s human intuition and experience. This is touched upon somewhat often, notably in an episode where we learn that Trider G7 itself was built by the Robot Empire’s top scientist who had defected due to the soulless nature of his designs, but it doesn’t go beyond “rah, rah, human spirit.” It also doesn’t have a whole lot of style points, given that the robot itself is nowhere near as cool as Zambot, Daitarn, or the Gundam; the animation isn’t even off-the-wall enough to make up for a bland design like with Gold Lightan. Trider G7 does have a female character whose popularity is fairly enduring, an attractive OL named Sunabara Ikue (who also provides the aforementioned loudspeaker warning), but that seems to speak more to her status as an early crush for young boys rather than anything related to the anime’s quality. 

I do want to give some praise to the opening and ending themes because of how silly and creative they are. The opening has the amazing line, “Do we fight to protect our company funds? NO! We fight to protect peace on Earth!” The ending, in turn, has lyrics that basically sound like a speech delivered to all employees working at a company, with lines like “The future fate of our company is about 1) guts and 2) effort.” Amazing.
The legacy of The Unchallengeable Trider G7 is mainly in nostalgia through things like Soul of Chogokin toys and appearance in Super Robot Wars, where the aesthetic can be updated just enough that it can give adults some sense of what it’d be like to enjoy the series as a child. This is probably for the best, as it’s where Trider G7 shows its strongest self: as a kind of cool, kind of cheesy return to a more innocent era of kids’ giant robot anime.

A Beam Rifle in Precure?! Z Gundam’s Iconic Sound Effect

Mobile Suit Z Gundam is a classic anime series, a successful sequel and a template for other 80s robot anime. One aspect of it that really sticks in my mind but is less talked about is the sound design. In particular, the sound of beam rifles in Z Gundam is rather iconic, as it’s noticeably different compared to every Gundam anime before and after.

I basically never hear that distinct Z Gundam beam rifle sound anywhere else (that’s not just featuring the Z Gundam itself), with one big exception: the fighting magical girl franchise Precure.

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the use of the Z Gundam beam rifle sound in Precure—I think it might have been in Kira Kira Precure a la Mode—but ever since then, I can’t help noticing it. In Episode 32 of Healin’ Good Precure, the monster of the week makes pretty much that exact sound when firing a blast of energy (see 17:43 in the link).

It’s so strange to me. Of all the places for the beam rifle to show up, why Precure? There’s no studio connection (as Gundam is from Sunrise and Precure is from Toei Animation), so they’re not necessarily working from the same stock library. You won’t even find the sound in other mecha series—though maybe hearing it in a giant robot anime would bring up too many comparisons? I wonder if the sheer genre distance between the two allows Precure to use the SFX? Or could there be some Gundam fans in charge of sound production at Toei who like to incorporate the beam rifle into episodes. For that matter, I think I’ve even heard the classic Newtype flash on occasion while watching Precure.

More broadly, this all makes me want to know why the Z Gundam beam rifle sound just never really went anywhere beyond that one series. Personally, I think it has a great tone that sounds like a powerful yet precise weapon. Perhaps it was too iconic for its own good, but I guess for now, it’ll live on in the battles of modern anime’s most prominent transforming heroines.

God Mars and the Legacy of BL Fan Shipping

There are two success stories to tell about the 1981 giant robot anime Six God Combination God Mars. The first is about a combining giant robot that was better as a toy than as an animated figure in motion: toy sales were strong enough to extend the series beyond its first year, but the awkward stiffness of the titular God Mars itself is something of a running gag (as seen in the YouTube comments here). The second, and I think the one that should get more attention among English-speaking anime fans, is about the tremendous influence of God Mars on Japan’s female anime fandom and doujinshi scene. In a time when pairing same-sex characters from your favorite series was not yet the full-on cottage industry it is today, God Mars was a cornerstone title alongside Captain Tsubasa.

I personally came to know about God Mars twenty years ago, although knowledge about the two aspects of the series came at different times. It was a collection of giant robot anime openings around 2001 that introduced me to the show and its impressive-looking mecha, but it was actually 2004’s Genshiken Official Data Book (of all things) that first brought to my attention God Mars’s popularity with women. Years later at Otakon 2010, voice actor Mitsuya Yuji mentioned among his most popular roles a character from God Mars named Marg. Now, I have the entire series on physical media thanks to Discotek (with 25 episodes up for free on TMS’s Youtube channel), and I’ve finally come to understand what made God Mars one of the granddaddies of fandom pairing in Japan.

Simply put, it’s Marg. Once you know about him, it becomes crystal clear why a female fandom around God Mars developed.

Marg is not the main character. That honor goes to Myoujin Takeru, a guy with psychic powers who discovers that he is actually an alien named Mars sent from the planet Gishin to destroy Earth. However, Takeru manages to defy the evil Emperor Zul and use the very weapon originally meant to eliminate Earth to instead form God Mars and beat back the Gishin Empire. Along the way, he discovers many truths about his original home world, including that he has a long lost brother—Marg—in Zul’s clutches. The dramas that emerge from their familial relationship include attempts to reunite, the pain of separation, and even the crossing of swords due to various plot contrivances. 

Marg is ridiculously beautiful both inside and out. He has lush locks of long green hair, and eyes that can express the deepest kindness but also the most fervent passion. His voice is gentle yet powerful, and his forlorn communications with Takeru express a longing and desire to see Takeru—unless he’s being brainwashed into being the enemy, of course, at which point his anger is spine-tingling. Whenever Marg shows up, he becomes the most captivating figure on screen.

Given that we’re talking about shipping and coupling, it’s not entirely accurate to pin it all on Marg. The popularity of a series among female fans traditionally hinges on the relationships between characters rather than singular personalities, and Takeru himself is no slouch. Not only does he look like a more handsome version of many a 70s robot protagonist, but he is perhaps the angstiest hero ever to grace a giant robot anime. Sure, Shinji from Evangelion is traumatized and depressed, and Heero Yuy from Gundam W is dark and brooding, but they don’t angst the way Takeru does. Naturally, more often than not, that anguish has something to do with Marg. And yes, they’re brothers by blood. Whether that was an additional awakening for fans in 1981, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Even before God Mars, there were plenty of good-looking and charismatic secondary characters in mecha anime. Between directors Tomino Yoshiyuki and Nagahama Tadao, they all but cornered the market: Prince Sharkin (Reideen), Garuda (Combattler V), Prince Heinel (Voltes V), Richter (Daimos), and both Char Aznable and Garma Zabi (Gundam). The key difference between these major rivals and Marg is that the latter is so many things in one. He’s an adversary at some times, but at other times he’s basically a damsel in distress.

There is something I need to make clear: Unlike so many later anime, which could be constructed from head to toe with a female audience in mind (or at least pay regular lip service to that side of fandom), God Mars is still built on the foundation of a toy-shilling kids’ anime. It is 65 episodes long, and not every episode is exactly compelling. There’s an unsurprising inconsistency in terms of the show’s quality with respect to storytelling and animation quality. In addition to the notorious stiffness of God Mars the robot, the anime is rife with fights between characters with psychic powers that revolve around dramatic poses in still shots in lieu of actual movement—a style of action scene the book Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga mocks for its laziness. And dashing canon hopes of brotherly love, the series pairs Takeru with a female character, albeit one with a connection to Marg. In other words, back in 1981, fujoshi had to walk uphill both ways to get their BL shipping fix. 

Even so, a girls’ fandom emerged out of God Mars, and plenty of evidence exists that the creators became aware of this audience eventually. The TV series keeps finding ways to bring him back in different forms. A 1982 movie recap of the first 26 or so episodes reduces the screen time of other supporting characters in favor of more Marg, and the poster advertising the film even features him prominently (see above). A later OVA released in 1988—well after God Mars’s heyday—centers around Marg entirely. A look at God Mars merchandise reveals both official and unofficial works where Marg takes up a lot of real estate.

When I was going over my own prior history with God Mars, I omitted one thing: the game Super Robot Wars D for the Gameboy Advance. God Mars is one of the titles included, and in the game, you can manage to not only recruit Marg to your side but also have him pilot an alternate God Mars from that 1988 OVA in which he’s the star. Once together, Takeru and Marg can perform combination attacks like the “Double Final God Mars.” I can’t help but wonder if there were both kinds of God Mars fans working on this game, bringing together the hopes and dreams of those whose lives were changed in some part by God Mars and its two successes.

Getter Robo Arc and the True Ishikawa Style?

When I was first really getting into anime, it seemed as if the classic 1970s giant robot franchise Getter Robo was in the middle of some sustained renaissance. Whether it was 1999’s Change! Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon, 2000’s Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, or 2005’s New Getter Robo, it felt as if another anime was always just around the corner. But then the well dried up (albeit not necessarily for other popular classic robots), and it’s been 16 years since. But finally, in 2021, we’ll be seeing a new entry: Getter Robo Arc, based on the manga by Nagai Go and Ishikawa Ken. Notably, this might also end up being the first fairly straightforward adaptation of a Getter Robo manga, and the first to try and really get close to Ishikawa’s art style.

The funny thing about the various Getter Robo anime is that there has never been a straight adaptation of any of the manga. You might be thinking of a long shounen fighting series ending up with a filler arc or three, but I’m not even talking about that. Rather, since the original inception of Getter Robo, the relationship between the many manga and anime have been an odd one. The first Getter Robo manga and the first Getter Robo anime debuted around the same time in 1974, but whereas the former depicted its heroes as virtual psychopaths, the latter portrayed them as relatively kid-friendly good guys. 1991’s Getter Robo Go took similar diverging paths with Ishikawa’s drawings being relatively unchanged and the anime adapting its character designs to a late 80s/early 90s look. 

The later works were not much different. Change! Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon and Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo both take elements from throughout the franchise’s history and try to show a more action-packed style reminiscent of Ishikawa’s art, but neither quite goes all the way, balancing 21st-century anime designs with a throwback feel. What’s more, the two aren’t even meant to be connected to each other. New Getter Robo is in a similar boat, being a reboot of sorts that brings some of the insane personalities from that original 1974 manga, but changing just about everything else. This trend is par for the course with Dynamic Pro properties, be it Devilman, Mazinger, Cutie Honey, or anything else. “Canon” and “faithfulness” are distant concepts in this arena.

However, that’s also what makes the initial images for the Getter Robo Arc anime stand out all the more. Both the promo image and the trailer seem to exude a roughness that immediately calls to mind Ishikawa’s aesthetic, where trying to create eye-pleasing shots comes second to pushing a kind of gritty intensity. It’s understandable that anime want to try to grab audiences with more appealing character designs, but here we have Gou, the guy on the promo image, feeling like he almost fell straight out of the manga and onto a poster. If the animators at Studio Bee can really pull off making the anime adaptation look Ishikawa as hell, I will give them all the props in the world.

PS: Kageyama Hironobu was a guest at Anime NYC 2018, and during the Lantis Matsuri concert he actually sang “HEATS,” the opening to Change! Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. Now, the Getter Robo Arc anime is bringing the song back as “HEATS 2021,” and I have to wonder if Kageyama knew back then that he would be called upon to revive that old banger.

Gold Lightan Is Bananas

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard of the 1981 anime Golden Warrior Gold Lightan. I think it might have been one of those English-language anime magazines, like Animerica or Newtype USA, where a writer imagined the bizarre board meeting that would allow a sentient Zippo lighter to be the star of a children’s TV show like some tobacco ad gone horribly wrong. But it was during my study abroad in Japan that I had the opportunity to check out the series firsthand, thanks to my college’s extensive anime DVD library. Unwilling to devote my entire time in another country to just watching Gold Lightan of all things, I watched a smattering of episodes just to get an idea of the series a whole: the first few episodes, some from the middle point, and the very end.

Gold Lightan turned out to be far wilder than I had imagined, as it could easily swing from boring “monster of the week” fare to intense melodrama at the drop of a hat. Its backstory alone is ridiculous but played straight: the narrator explains how villains from the “mecha dimension” aim to conquer our third dimension, as if they go in order from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, to “mecha” in the most natural way. The titular robot transforms itself from palm-sized lighter to metallic titan by shouting “RAINBOW ROOOOAAAD!” and emerging from a massive wormhole after being sent through a prism. Despite being just a chunky yellow block with arms and legs, Gold Lightan animates surprisingly well in combat. Intense fight scenes end with a brutal finisher that would make Kano from Mortal Kombat proud—the “Gold Finger Crash” involves thrusting a hand into the enemy robot’s chest to pull its mechanical heart out. The anime concludes with a finale that looks closer to the trauma of a Tomino-directed Gundam.

Against all odds, Gold Lightan is currently licensed and streaming legally in the US thanks to HiDive under the name Golden Lightan. It’s already been almost a year since the announcement, and in this time, I’ve taken to re-visiting the series every so often with the hopes of doing what I hadn’t in Japan: watching the entire series. Now, fifteen years after I first laid eyes on this bizarre anime, I’ve come to the conclusion that Gold Lightan just has an absurd amount of effort put into it by everyone involved. It’s as if the studio behind the series, Tatsunoko Pro, saw the inherently weak premise as an opportunity to just flex on everyone with their animation chops.

But that’s what Tatsunoko has always been known for: a high level of detail when it comes to animating action. Its animators pioneered elaborate explosion effects and particle animations, and the studio as a whole as a history of sleek and stylized works ranging from Speed Racer to Gatchaman to KARAS and on. What’s bizarre to me is how moments of intensely beautiful animation can show up in Gold Lightan at seemingly innocuous moments. In one episode, one of the kid characters powers up his little go-kart for a ride, and just watching the engine roar to life and the exhaust pipes bellow and shift tells me that someone had to have dedicated themselves fully to getting this throwaway go-kart scene juuuust right. 

I think the modern equivalent of Gold Lightan’s attention to quality is when an anime about some free-to-play, wallet-draining mobile game turns out to be one of the big hits of the season. The difference is simply that times have changed, trends have shifted, and these mobile game anime are a mere 13 episodes instead of a whopping 52. I’d recommend Golden Warrior Gold Lightan to those who want to check out the more obscure side of giant robot anime, to those who want a show where effort overcomes a paper-thin concept, and (I’m not kidding) to sakuga fans who just revel in seeing things lovingly animated with skill and grace. It’s a ridiculous and wonderful time.

Gattai Girls 11: “Granbelm” and Kohinata Mangetsu

Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.

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Granbelm is a series that feels both modern and retro at the same time. The cute all-female cast is standard for current anime. Its premise, which pits these girls against each other in a Highlander-esque scenario to inherit the Earth’s magic, screams “early 2010s anime.” The story is straight-up early 2000s sekai-kei, a genre where the relationship between two characters determines the fate of the world. The mecha designs come straight out of a tradition of cutely proportioned robots from the late 1980s to early 1990s. Yet, while Granbelm isn’t shy about making its influences known, it’s also not ruled by them.

Female mecha protagonists are uncommon, which is why the lack of men in the series stands out all the more. That being said, this is not all that unusual, as there was an industry realization at some point in the industry that the total or near-total absence of male figures in anime could be a selling point to male and female audiences alike. In this sense, Granbelm follows in the footsteps of franchises like Love Live! and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, with the general mood of the show being more towards the darkness of the latter.

While having a predominantly female cast and thus passing the Bechdel test practically by default is by no means a mark of inherent feminism, these characters are varied in their personalities, motivations, strengths, and flaws in ways that emphasize their sheer presence on the screen. Whether it’s Anna (above) and her obsession with living up to her family reputation or Shingetsu and her guilt over her own power, the characters are convincing in their convictions. All the more impressive is the portrayal of the heroine, Kohinata Mangetsu (below). Although she comes across initially as a very generic protagonist, the series takes her naivete and exuberance and juxtaposes them against the others so as to highlight essential truths about her character in a manner most reminiscent of Selector Infected Wixoss

Moreover, it’s Mangetsu’s relationship with Shingetsu—their names meaning “full moon” and “new moon,” respectively—that is central to Granbelm. The way it plays out, similar yet profoundly different to Madoka and Homura’s in Madoka Magica, could only work with such strongly defined characters.

Given the general angle of Granbelm, the mecha might initially seem like an afterthought, but the series’s staff have worked hard to make them a vital part of the show in ways I appreciate a lot. Not only does the series wear its influences on its sleeve, with visual references to Gundam and even Space Runaway Ideon, but the way that characters argue with each other over heated personal and philosophical issues is right out of the playbook of Tomino Yoshiyuki, director of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Ideon. Each robot—or “ARMANOX” in the anime’s parlance—reflects in form and function the personalities and fighting styles of each contestant. Whether it’s stealth, agility, or even emotional manipulation, you can sense through how they fight just what kinds of individuals they are. Mangetsu’s unit, White Lily, is fueled by her enthusiasm at the notion that she can be special in ways that elude her self-perception of mediocrity, and it comes across in the limit-shattering power and energy White Lily can generate.

Aesthetically, the ARMANOX draw from a very specific genre of giant robots: the chibi-fied robot tradition that began with SD Gundam and came into prominence in the 1980s to early 1990s anime thanks to titles like Mashin Hero Wataru, Mado King Granzort, and NG Knight & Lamune 40. Currently, the only modern anime that shares this look is the current 20th anniversary sequel to Wataru, which actively draws upon that visual nostalgia and carries a more straightforward good vs. evil story common to its original’s peers. The use of these mecha, with their squat and rounded appearances not only makes the visuals of Granbelm memorable against the backdrop of current anime, but also helps contribute to the cute yet foreboding feel of the anime as a whole. 

Granbelm takes cues from many anime trends over many decades, but it ends up synthesizing them all in an emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking manner. Vital to this success is the series’s portrayal of both its female characters and the giant robots they use to fight as reflections of each other and of the world they occupy.