A Tribute of Violence and Reverence: Getter Robo Arc

Getter Robo Arc is one of the most unusual Getter Robo anime ever, doing what none of its predecessors even bothered to try: Be a generally faithful adaptation of the manga. This choice is all the more unusual because 1) the manga never finished, and 2) watching any (or even all) of the previous Getter Robo anime only prepares you to a certain degree. But Getter Robo Arc has different priorities than many anime, including its predecessors, and that’s to be a letter of love and gratitude to the original creator of Getter Robo, the late Ishikawa Ken.

Getter Robo Arc is the story of Nagare Takuma, son of the original head pilot of Getter Robo, Nagare Ryouma. Having experienced tragedy and now filled with a desire for revenge, he travels to the Saotome Research Institute (the home of Getter Robo) to get some answers. However, heading the Institute is his father’s old co-pilot, Jin Hayato, and the old scientist recognizes in Takuma the same fiery spirit as Ryouma. Hayato draws Takuma into piloting the mighty Getter Robo Arc against a mysterious force from beyond the cosmos bent on wiping out humanity known as the Andromeda Stellaration, and joining him are Takuma’s friend Yamagishi Baku, a psychically gifted monk whose older brother also has ties to Getter Robo, and Shou Kamui, a half-dinosaur descended from the first Getter Robo’s enemies. As they battle, their struggle takes them to the core truths of what the mysterious “Getter Energy” is.

It’s difficult to exaggerate how varied the Getter Robo anime prior to Arc have been. Sometimes they’re approximate counterparts to manga versions with the edges shaved off a little, like with Getter Robo, Getter Robo G, and Getter Robo Go. Sometimes they’re heavily reimagined sequels and reboots that play with elements of the franchise like Lego blocks, as is the case with Shin Getter Robo Armageddon, Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, and New Getter Robo. So while Getter Robo Arc is supposed to be the last manga entry and the direct sequel to every manga version before it, watching literally every anime that has come out before will give you a rough preparation for what’s going on, but there will inevitably be a lot of blank spaces to fill out in terms of understanding. Someone coming in with this as their very first Getter Robo anime may feel lost for at least two or three episodes.

Yet, even with this confusing aspect of the series and animation that comes across in the best of times as desperately trying to make the best of limited talent and resources, I really enjoyed the ride that Getter Robo provides. Even if Takuma, Kamui, and Baku can never stay on-model from scene to scene, the anime conveys their intensity in spades. Though the story feels like a rickety minecart, the franchise’s general emphasis on the positives and negatives of limitless human potential ring loudly here in a way that shows the original manga’s undeniable influence on works like Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. And while the battles aren’t quite as gorgeous as the ones found in the 2000s OVAs like Armageddon, they’re still impressive and exciting. 

I didn’t go into this show knowing what I’m about to mention, but I think it can be important for fans to know an important SPOILER about the Arc manga:

It never finished.

Similar to Miura Kentaro’s recent passing and Berserk, Getter Robo Arc and Getter Robo as a whole are in a state of limbo because of Ishikawa’s death in 2006. While the question of whether Berserk will continue is still unknown, the anime version of Arc barely adds anything extra to the cliffhanger that greets viewers by the end. I can’t say I’m entirely satisfied with that approach, as I think it wouldn’t have been a terrible idea to at least try—the manga’s still there, after all. But much like with Miura and Berserk, it might not have felt appropriate to take a generally faithful manga adaptation to a conclusion not envisioned by an author like Ishikawa, who clearly had an entire universe of Getter in his mind.

Overall, Getter Robo Arc comes across as crude and inconsistent in execution, yet filled with love and passion. In a way, it perfectly encapsulates the Getter spirit. It does make me wonder if we’ll ever see more Getter Robo anime, but I think that’s, in a way, an inevitability.

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.

Flexibility of Ingredients in Giant Robot Anime

On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?

From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited.  Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?

The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much  that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.

I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.

Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.

Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.

Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.