Correcting Past Failures Through the Super Robot Wars Games

The Super Robot Wars series, which crosses over various mecha anime across history in the form of turn-based strategy video games, is known for trying to make giant robots look their best. One way in which this is accomplished is through the attack animations, which have become increasingly detailed, dynamic, and beautiful as graphics have improved, such that even the less popular and even less good-looking series of yesteryear appear to have a new lease on life.

However, on a few occasions there will be an attack, even an ultimate attack, that will within the context of the source material be followed by failure or tragedy, and I find it pretty funny to see when the makers of the Super Robot Wars games try to compensate for this in some way. Below are a few examples.

(Spoilers for some series below).

The first comes from King of Braves Gaogaigar Final.

The mighty King J-Der, rival and ally to Gaogaigar, launches its strongest attack, the J-Phoenix. In the OVAs, this attack is unsuccessful in taking down the enemy, but of course you can’t have that happen in the video game. I personally interpret that pause at the end of the attack animation in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 to be a vestige of that past failure.

The second example comes from Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen (also known as Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!).

In the final battle, archetypal hero Kabuto Kouji sends a shower of Rocket Punches at Dr. Hell, ending it off with a final blow with a “Big Bang Punch.” However, in the actual anime, while the attack succeeds, the consequences are revealed immediately after to be arguably worse than if Kouji had not defeated Dr. Hell. It turns out that Dr. Hell, while evil, was also trying to prevent an even more evil force from succeeding. While this is acknowledged in the Super Robot Wars Z games through its story, as the games move along you can just keep using the attack mission after mission. The fact that the background doesn’t just suddenly turn red to signal further horrific developments almost feels as if something is missing.

The third comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

When the Angel Zeruel appears, it’s the toughest enemy that Ikari Shinji and the other Evangelion pilots have ever faced. At one point Asuka, desperate to prove herself, launches a non-stop artillery volley at the Angel, only for it to prove utterly ineffective. In the anime, this is one of the stepping stones to Asuka’s total breakdown at the end of the series, but in the video from Super Robot Wars MX below shows it being used to defeat opponents with few problems.

As I mentioned, most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars don’t really have this issue, and generally it’s all about celebrating their successes and having fun with characters from multiple series working together. Though, if most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars were to come from failures in the original anime, that might say something about where mecha anime as a genre has gone.

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On the Use of “Special Attacks” in Shin Mazinger

One of the defining traits of director Imagawa Yasuhiro’s adaptive works is the way in which he takes a large mass of disparate information pertaining to a particular work and organizes it such that the themes and concepts are strengthened and made more vibrant through cohesion and consistency. With Giant Robo, it’s an amplification of the history of legendary manga creator and Tezuka contemporary Yokoyama Mitsuteru. With Tetsujin 28 (also originally by Yokoyama) it’s  about highlighting Tetsujin 28 as a connection between post-war Japan and the militarism which had preceded this period. With G Gundam, in spite of the fighting tournament setting, it’s about the effects of continued conflict on the Earth. Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-Hen takes Mazinger Z’s iconic status as the super robot and shows just how much influence it’s had on the genre as a whole while also providing an argument for how Mazinger as a whole gives much food for thought if only one delves a little deeper.

What I find particular interesting about Shin Mazinger as an adaptation is the way in which Mazinger Z’s attacks themselves have been reorganized to strengthen the image of Mazinger. For example, take the Photon Energy Beam, Mazinger Z’s eye lasers. Generally they’re considered one of its weaker attacks, even often being the first and least-damaging move for Mazinger Z in the Super Robot Wars franchise. In Shin Mazinger, however, it is initially Mazinger’s strongest weapon When taking into consideration what Mazinger Z is supposed to be, a robot whose basic power comes from a combination of its Super Alloy Z (which the bombastic narration is very keen on making the viewer remember by deliberately repeating its name) and its miraculous Photon Energy power source. Tapping directly into the very thing that moves Mazinger Z only makes sense as a highly destructive attack.

When it comes to Mazinger Z’s arsenal and its cultural influence, however, there is nothing in all of the history of super robots with more imitators, successors, and homages than the Rocket Punch. What does Shin Mazinger do? For one, it makes the Rocket Punch the very first attack that Mazinger Z does in the show while giving it a fanfare worthy of the gods, but Imagawa doesn’t even leave it at that. He adds new elements to Mazinger Z so that the Rocket Punch, or a variation of it, is the greatest, most visually striking, and memorable thing that Mazinger Z can do. When Mazinger Z performs the Big Bang Punch, it literally transforms its entire body into a massive fist and becomes one with the Rocket Punch, such that Mazinger Z’s most lasting legacy (outside of the act of actually having someone control the robot from within) is also its most potent weapon.

Shin Mazinger takes Mazinger Z’s attacks and asks, “Why are these moves fun and exciting?” In doing so, it is able to play around with Mazinger Z as a cultural object and bring attention to not only what made it conceptually interesting to its fans in the first place, but also what potential still lies within it.

My Dream Spinoff: Boss Borot the Animation

On the most recent Speakeasy Podcast, the Reverse Thieves discussed spinoffs/re-imaginings/sequels of series we love, with the caveat that they had to have definite endings, and asked listeners to come up with their own examples. It was actually a difficult question for me at first because what would have been my top two choices, Genshiken and Eureka Seven, are now currently enjoying sequels themselves. Obviously fortunate for me, but still a monkey wrench into the question at hand.

Then I remembered another idea I had some years ago: an anime starring Boss, the bumbling side character from Mazinger Z and his eponymous mecha, the Boss Borot. Sure, we got Shin Mazinger with its more charitable portrayal of Boss wherein he showed some competence and a fair amount of courage, but he was still ultimately on the sidelines. What I would like instead is a show where Boss and his Borot are in the spotlight, and a villain appears that he has to deal with more or less all by himself.

The way I picture it, the villain would be this diabolical mastermind who would always envision the mysterious pilot of that “round menace” to be some genius tactician who can read five moves ahead, when in fact Boss probably defeated him accidentally. It would be a relationship similar to Inspector Gadget and Dr. Claw, or if we want to just stick to anime examples, Boss would be like Yurika from Nadesico or Captain Tylor (though I’ve never actually seen The Irresponsible Captain Tylor so I’m hesitant to make that comparison only on what I know from listening to others).

I’m not really sure if there should be a Penny to provide competent support, though. Maybe his henchmen Nuke and Mucha would be help enough.

In any case, I even thought of the main hook for the opening theme.

“BORO BORO BORO BORO BOROTTOOOO

-Kageyama Hironobu (in my imagination)

Yes I Am Quoting Myself

For the Reverse Thieves’ second Speakeasy Podcast they compared Gurren-Lagann and Shin Mazinger, discussing why the former has a much more universal appeal among current anime fans than the latter. One of the topics that interested me was the false assumption that if a person likes Gurren-Lagann then the next step is Shin Mazinger, or similarly that if a person likes Gundam W that they will like the original Gundam as well. I thought of an analogous situation which I think sums up this problem quite well, and I wanted to have it on-hand and on-blog.

So consider, if you will, the following hypothetical conversation.

“Hey, what’s your favorite cereal?”

“Frosted Flakes!”

“Well if you like Frosted Flakes, I think you’ll enjoy CORN FLAKES! It’s the ORIGIN of Frosted Flakes!”

The person recommending Corn Flakes has his heart in the right place, but doesn’t realize that the reason why the other person likes Frosted Flakes so much might be mainly because of the sugar frosting, i.e. everything that Frosted Flakes have that Corn Flakes do not.

Reducing things down is not the answer for everyone, and just like Frosted Flakes vs Corn Flakes, I think people enjoy the total package of Gurren-Lagann, making it difficult to sell some fans on the idea of Gurren-Lagann stripped down to its bare essentials.

Four Kings Meet in a Room to Discuss the Meaning of a Punch Made out of Rocket

If you were to ask someone informed what the most influential giant robot series of all time were, they’d probably give the following answer: Mazinger Z, Mobile Suit Gundam, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Isn’t it amazing then, when you realize that all four of these series have had recent revivals, as if the Forces of Anime have deemed this period of time to be the celebration of all things humanoid and mechanical?

Mazinger Z has the new Imagawa-directed Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-Hen, which takes elements of the entirety of Mazinger lore and its remakes (as well as much of Nagai’s works) and incorporates them into a single cohesive story that explores and brings to light the thematic elements which make Mazinger Z itself such a prominent part of anime’s history. As the first Super Robot to be piloted from within, and the first to declare its attacks with passionate yells, and then in 2009 to make such a show feel fresh and original, I think we’re all the better for knowing it exists.

Gundam received a new series set in our timeline (AD) in the form of Gundam 00, as well as a return to the Universal Century timeline that few expected after all these years in the form of Gundam Unicorn and Ring of Gundam. There’s also the massive celebration of its 30th anniversary in real life, which includes life-size Gundams, weddings on life-size Gundams, and musical concerts. Whichevery way you prefer your Gundam, whether you’re an old-school curmudgeon or someone who came in from Wing or SEED, there’s a message for you, and that message is “Gundam is Amazing!”

Macross Frontier meanwhile celebrated the franchise’s 25th anniversary. Unlike Gundam, Macross doesn’t just get animated series updates every year, so to have a full series emerge and capture much of the energy of the original Macross while still being true to its current era of anime made Frontier a joy to follow. The most interesting departures, so to speak, were the extremely current-era character designs (in contrast with the classic 80’s Mikimoto ones), and the ways in which the concept of  the “pop idol” has morphed over the course of two or three decades.

Evangelion is in the process of having its story entirely re-animated and retold in a series of movies which seek to do more than just cash in on an already perpetually marketable franchise, though that’s not to say that they don’t do so at all, and instead also transform the story in dramatic ways, from adding entirely new characters to subtle changes in the characters’ personalities and actions, everything is moving towards the idea that things will Not Be the Same. It’s also the newest series of the bunch, and thus the “freshest” in the public consciousness.

What’s also interesting about this is that when you step back and look, you’ll see that each of these series has influenced the one after it in very powerful ways, whether indirectly or otherwise. Mazinger Z set the stage for the super robot formula, which led to a young Tomino Yoshiyuki working on super robot series, then getting tired of them, eventually leading to Gundam, the first series to really push the idea of giant robots as tools, and to advance the concept of a war with no real winners that existed in series such as Daimos and Zambot 3. Macross is an evolution of this “real robot” concept thanks to a staff that fell in love with Gundam years ago, and now includes real-world vehicles transforming directly into robots, a much greater emphasis on character relationships, and an optimistic spin with the idea that the power of songs can influence two warring cultures and bring them closer to one another. Evangelion’s director Anno Hideaki worked on Macross, and the influence of both it and Gundam and even Mazinger Z permeate throughout its episodes and general design. The “Monster of the Week” formula made popular by Mazinger Z finds its revival in the form of the mysterious “Angels” in Evangelion, but the story and the monsters are merely part of a philosophical backdrop. Characters are entirely the focus of the series, and these children are so intrinsically flawed that some do not enjoy them as characters.

And now it’s like all of these series are sitting in the same room, feeling the weight of their years of fame, and standing shoulder to shoulder, eager to see what happens next in the world of giant robot anime. And then sitting in the same room is Tetsujin 28, which nods its head in approval.

Are giant robots still capable of capturing imagination and transforming world-views after all this time? I think so, and I think it’s happening as you read this.

Bokura no Garadoubla

One of the most amazing and shocking reveals in the world of giant robot villainy was the discovery that Mazinger Z’s infamous first two adversaries, Garada K7 and Doublas M2, were actually once a single sentient entity known as Garadoubla. Garadoubla turns out to be a heroic figure to the Mycenae and also a warrior of honor and pride (and also three heads). In fact, he was so beloved that they referred to him as the Hero Garadoubla. Thanks to extensive research, I have unraveled more information on this god of the Mycenae.

Archaeological evidence shows that Garadoubla was to the Mycenaeans what Mazinger Z is to the modern Japanese. Children would play with clay dolls fashioned after Garadoubla’s visage. Musicians would sing about the strength, size, and reliability of Garadoubla when he unites the power of justice, love, and friendship. The most famous of the songs celebrating Garadoubla began with the following opening chorus:

Ga Ra Ra! Ga Ra Ra! Garadoubla! Ga Ra Ra! Ga Ra Ra Ra Garadoubla!

According to records, the heroic tales of Garadoubla, the honorable warrior of the Mycenae, were recorded on ancient illustrated stone tablets by a well-regarded artisan known as Gonagacles. Sadly most of his work was destroyed in the great fire that exterminated the Mycenae Empire, but the memories of his adventures would remain in the Greek consciousness and would eventually be retold as Garadoubkaisar and Etumos Garadoubla.

Tomino vs Imagawa, NYC vs Atlanta

Anime Weekend Atlanta has announced that one of their guests of honor will be Imagawa Yasuhiro, acclaimed director of the Giant Robo OVA and the currently-running Shin Mazinger TV series. AWA is running this year from September 18-20.

Meanwhile, New York Anime Festival, running September 25-27, has already announced famed Gundam creator and director Tomino Yoshiyuki as its guest of honor. If you’re a fan of giant robots and you don’t have the time or resources to go to both, this can be a very painful decision to make.

To help you with your dilemma, try asking yourself the following two questions.

Question 1: Do you love Gundam?

Question 2: Do you love G Gundam even more?

Did You Listen to Me the First Time? I Said, “Watch Shin Mazinger”

Back when Shin Mazinger first began, I told everyone to go check it out based purely on the strength of its first episode. I assume some of you followed my advice, but there are probably many readers who were still unsure. Maybe they checked out the first episode (which acts like a final episode), and got too confused. Well, with over half of the series finished at this point I am back to tell you once again and emphatically to take some time out to watch Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen.

The director Imagawa, famous for Giant Robo and G Gundam, among others, does not make the story unwatchable for those who are unfamiliar with the Mazinger series of classic and pivotal giant robot anime. Every character that matters is introduced as if you’ve never seen them at all, and many of the characters weren’t even originally in the Mazinger Z manga or anime! Now, Imagawa has a tendency to pull characters from other works loosely related to the source material in question, but it’s never done in a Marvel comics kind of way where they refer you back to a previous comic book release to get all the details. No worries there.

Unlike what many would expect, there isn’t a giant robot fight scene every episode, which I know disappoints some, but know that what’s really happening is a buildup to an even better fight later on in the series. This happens again, and again, and again. On top of that, each fight is choreographed and animated surprisingly well, especially when it seems like the show was (and possibly still is) operating on a very limited budget. No matter what’s going on, you can expect a certain degree of high quality.

As for the story itself, Shin Mazinger plays out like a children’s story as one might expect based on its source material, but it’s done with a strong sense of sophistication and respect for what it means to be a children’s story, with enough twists to make it watchable for its new intended audience of older viewers. It’s not like Alan Moore who is all, “Well what if we took superheroes and made them crazy and grim and realistic?” If Imagawa were to do super hero comics, he would ask, “Well what if we took real life, and made it more like super hero comics?” That’s pretty much where Shin Mazinger comes from.

If you’re still hesitant about watching Shin Mazinger, you should maybe check out the episode reviews of it over at Subatomic Brainfreeze, as Sub is all about HYPING it up.

Imagawa and the Pile of Money in Eternity Island – A Dilemma in Anime Direction

Imagawa Yasuhiro does not have very many works tied to his name in a directorial capacity, but mention the ones that he has worked on and you will tend to get very positive reactions from some very loyal fans. His most prestigious work is probably the Giant Robo: The Animation OVA series, an intense labor of love that took many years and many more delays to complete, while his most famous work in America is probably Mobile Fighter G Gundam. And in my personal opinion, he is an astounding director. Possibly more than any other director, he has the ability to take the endless dreams of childhood and translate them into something mature and complex while still remaining faithful to those childhood notions. So why does he get so little work?

We have his latest work, Shin Mazinger. You look at this series, and see a lot of areas that seem to suffer budget-wise. The opening consists entirely of reused footage. Scenes are repeated over and over, and a lot of shortcuts are used. However, the show is still amazing, and still coming out without too many hitches. Sub suggested to me that Imagawa is so much of a perfectionist that the more money you give him, the more likely your anime will never see the light of day because he’ll be too busy making his animators re-do everything to get that one moment just right. As mentioned above, he took practically forever to finish Giant Robo OVA, but he was also kicked off of Shin Getter Robo Armageddon for taking too long. But with Shin Mazinger, where his spending power is limited, Imagawa is forced to make decisions and the result is something that is both Great and On Time.

Imagawa is thus the kind of director to whom you could give 25 cents and he would make the most astounding animation ever that will challenge your very ways of thinking. Imagawa would take those 25 cents, create GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE LEGENDARY EAGLE, and when the show reveals that WASHINGTON AND THE EAGLE WERE THE SAME FIGURE ALL ALONG (like two sides of the same coin one might say!!), you will notice that your ass is no longer in your chair.

Money is to Imagawa as Time is to Tomino Yoshiyuki and No Editors is to Kawamori Shouji.

The False Decline

The new anime season’s gotten off to an excellent start. From Basquash!, a rare international collaboration basketball-robot-themed anime created by Kawamori Shouji (Macross, Aquarion), and Thomas Romain (Oban Star Racers), to celebrations of anime’s history with shows such as Shin Mazinger and Before Green Gables, I’m finding this batch of Japan cartoons to be really fun and varied and imaginitive, just like last season’s. And the season before that, too. And so on.

As always, there are naysayers who will point out how once again the new shows are proof that anime has been on a decline and that it needs to capture the glory days of when anime was good. However, you might notice that the people who talk about anime’s golden days of quality are not all talking about the same period of anime, and begin to realize that anime has never hit some horrible slump no matter how much some would want you to believe.

Budget allotments may rise and fall, the economy may see dark times and periods of prosperity, and old staff may die or retire while new blood replaces them, but I feel like there are constants, such as the desire to succeed and the desire to express an idea, that make it so that there is always something to hope for with anime.

It’s one thing to be saddened that the types of shows you like are no longer being made. I for one sometimes wish that we would get more bad 80s OVAs and good 70s-style ultra-melodramatic shoujo, but I understand that this is just a preference, and I can appreciate every new anime that comes out and know that as a collective whole the anime industry does not want to fail. Yes, there are shows that are not good at all, and others that cater to niche audiences, but even within those shows and genres that are criticized as being vapid or devoid of content, progress is still being made. It might be the case that the popular shows are overshadowing the better ones, but this doesn’t stop the good shows from being good, and it certainly doesn’t mean popular show can’t be good either.

Criticism is necessary, as is discourse, as is the ability to express one’s opinions on shows and how the industry is doing. However, anime does not need doom and gloom, nor does it ever actually invite such a mindset when you look at it as a whole.