Attractive portrayals of fat girls are a real rarity in anime and manga, and when they do exist, they tend to have something of a fetish quality (see: Real Driveor Pochamani). It’s less common to see a character with a less conventional appearance featured in a romantic way that doesn’t draw specific attention to her size. But we have one in, of all series, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z.
Ooishi Misaki is an operator for the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute Yokokawa Branch, and is one of a handful of characters who fulfill the role of moving levers and hitting triggers to provide upgrades to the Shinkalion robots. In other words, she fulfills a role akin to Mikoto in Gaogaigar, and receives similar cool moments while working in the command center.
Partway into the series, a female character reveals that she’s actually a member of the enemy forces, and a guy in love with her named Hosokawa Atsuto feels betrayed and upset. Just as he tosses a souvenir he received from the spy into the water, Misaki happens to show up, and the Atsuto sees her in a dazzling new light, and finds himself smitten by her beauty in that moment.
Misaki does not exhibit negative fat stereotypes. She’s not comically eating all the time. She’s not constantly trying to diet. No one draws attention to her size versus other characters in the series. She’s different without any particular focus on that difference, and even Atsuto’s attraction looks like any other in anime and manga. That unremarkable quality is itself noteworthy, and I feel like it goes a step in the right direction.
Ultimate Dancouga (Super Beast Machine God Dancouga)
Red 5+ (Majestic Prince: Genetic Awakening)
Getter 1, Getter 2, Getter 3 (Getter Robo Devolution: The Last 3 Minutes of the Universe)
Shinkalion E5 Hayabusa Mk. II, Shinkalion E5 Mk. II Over Cross ALFA-X (Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie)
Dygenguar with Aussenseiter (Super Robot Wars Alpha 3)
Gan Gan Zudandan
The big news on this list in my opinion is Shinkalion, not because it’s one of my long-desired franchises for SRW or anything, but because it has ties to a major company like Japan Railway. In hindsight, however, it was ridiculous to think that could be a barrier: Shinkalion did already appear in the mobile game Super Robot Wars X-Ω, and the series itself is crossover central. Seeing the series debut is nice, and I enjoy how the originally-3DCG units in this game have a different look and feel to them (see also ULTRAMAN). I’ll also be hoping for DLC missions where train otaku Hayato gets to geek out with all other mega nerds in the cast. Too bad Evangelion isn’t in SRW30 for some truly fun references.
I’m Seeing Double: Four Ryomas!
The other new main-series debut is Getter Robo Devolution, and I’m surprised at its inclusion. While other SRW have taken references from multiple Getter Robo series at the same time (mostly in terms of how Shin Getter Robo presents itself), this is the first time we’re seeing variations of the same characters crossing over—and no, I’m not counting Sanger and evil Sanger in Alpha Garden. Interestingly, they announced voice actors for these characters (and big ones too!), which makes the decision to omit a lot of the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman mecha all the more mysterious.
Incidentally, the manga is actually out in English from Seven Seas, so I plan on picking it up to see what this one’s all about. It’s also from the creators of Linebarrels of Iron.
30th Anniversary Versions
The Scopedog TC LRS and Ultimate Dancouga stand out because the idea of making special versions of robots specifically for SRW is very rare, with Mazinkaiser being the #1 example. Sometimes there are units taken from unused production materials (like Final Dancouga), but this is a step beyond. Moreover, both anniversary robots are from their original mechanical designers—Ookawara Kunio and Obari Masami, respectively—contributing to the epic feel of this collaboration. I’ll be curious to see what animations the Scopedog has, as I do miss Chirico’s amazing final attack from the SRWZ games.
When Will I Use Them?
I’m in a strange position where I’m pretty much at the final stages of SRW30, and I’m trying to figure out if I should just get all the DLC units before proceeding or if I should focus on them in a possible New Game+. Either way, I can’t wait to try them out.
I don’t necessarily feel obligated to write about every crossover character in the Shinkalion franchise, but when she’s a rendition of one of my favorite heroines from one of my most beloved anime, I just have to say something.
Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z has continued the propensity for surprising cameos by introducing a new character based on the mysterious Maetel from Galaxy Express 999. Given that she comes from a manga that prominently features a space vehicle shaped like an old steam locomotive, Maetel is arguably a more sensible guest character than Shinji from Evangelion or Hatsune Miku. However, the fact that she turns out to be a Shinkalion pilot feels like an even bigger (but still welcome) twist.
Maetel, in this case, is not the charming and motherly figure who gives an orphan boy a train pass to go on a never-ending journey to the stars. Rather, she’s an 11-year-old from Hokkaido who has trouble talking in person but likes listening to ham radio and 70s enka. In the story of Shinkalion Z, she learns about Shinkalions through a broadcast by a confused and forlorn antagonist from the first series, and discovers the existence of the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute that commands the Shinkalions. Key to this is someone who’s clearly the commander of the Institute from the first series, thinly disguised. Having made a handful of appearances since Episode 20, she reveals her own Shinkalion in Episode 28: The Shinkalion Z H5 Hayabusa.
It’s pretty much impossible for Shinkalion Z to have kept any of Maetel’s original backstory, so I understand why they went a very different route. Her Shinkalion is also the spiritual successor of Hatsune Miku’s, the latter of whom has a connection to Hokkaido through the annual Snow Miku festival—but I’m not sure if there’s any such relationship this time Somewhat like Miku (who uses a different kanji for Hatsu-ne in this anime), her name is slightly off in Shinkalion Z: Her full name, Tsukino Maetel (“Maetel of the Moon”), is a sideways reference to Hoshino Tetsurou (“Tetsurou of the Stars”), the main character of Galaxy Express 999.
While the aesthetic of Shinkalion is quite different from Galaxy Express 999, I hope they can incorporate the latter somehow. The gimmick of Shinkalion Z is that the bullet-train robots can combine with other trains for upgrades—could the H5 Hayabusa get some steam-locomotive arms?
Shinkalion Z episodes are typically only available for free on YouTube for a week or two, so that’s why I’m posting this now. In a rare moment, Episodes 21 through 27 are available until the 30th of November, so if you want to see more of Tsukino Maetel, now’s your chance.
It’s incredibly strange to go from the finality of the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion movie to seeing Shinji and Gendo characters show up in Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z, the fun-filled sequel anime about kids piloting bullet-train robots. What’s even more bizarre is that there’s a kind of thematic resonance between the two. The portrayals of the Eva characters in 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time and their Shinkalion Z appearances actually feel like they fit together.
Possibly due to its transportation and tourism connections, Shinkalion is famous for its unexpected pop culture cameos. A version of Hatsune Miku is a recurring character in the original Shinkalion. The franchise also makes multiple explicit references to city pop legend Yamashita Tatsuro, has Godzilla in a feature film, and showcases a Hello Kitty Shinkalion. It even just had a tiny Maetel from Galaxy Express 999show up. Evangelion is just one of many pop culture icons to appear, but the sheer tonal difference between it and Shinkalion makes its presence all the more jarring on paper.
Shinkalion already had a crossover with Evangelion in the first series, but whereas the main character back then (Hayasugi Hayato)visited Tokyo-3, here we have Shinji showing up in the world of Shinkalion. What really stands out about Shinji here is how gentle and reassuring he is in this world. The Shinji we see greeting the new protagonist, Arata Shin, has a calming presence that feels closest to the version of him we see towards the end of 3.0+1.01, as if parallel Shinjis arrived at the same place, only one had to go through some of the most dire trauma possible. The next closest would be the Shinji often found in Super Robot Wars after the positive influence of hotblooded pilots has rubbed off on him.
Not only does Shinji come across as a mature ment figure to Shin with the aura of a mentor, but he specifically mentions that he’s met a Shinkalion E5 pilot before. In other words, not only does the series acknowledge the previous Evangelion cameos within the world of the story, but we’re also likely seeing a Shinji who’s a little older. In a previous episode, it’s revealed that Shinkalion Z takes place in the world of the original Shinkalion after its climactic final battle, and reuniting with a Shinji with memories of what has come before actually creates a kind of anticipation for Hayato to return at some point.
As for Gendo (featured in the image at the beginning), he’s mostly played for laughs in terms of how incongruous he is with the relatively lighthearted world of Shinkalion. He says all the things you expect (“Shin, get in the Shinkalion”), but delivers it all with such a straight deadpan that it veers straight into parody territory. At the same time, his presence and demeanor feel reminiscent of a key scene in 3.0+1.01 involving trains, which makes the aforementioned resonance between that film and Shinkalion Z all the more noticeable.
Ultimately, both Shinji and Gendo seem to be in better places in Shinkalion Z. While there’s nothing concretely saying so, I like to believe that the Shinji and Gendo of Shinkalion are better people because they have robots that are also trains—the kind of thing both father and son would probably enjoy, given their personalities and histories.
Episodes are up on the official Youtube only until the following Monday EST, so anyone who wants to check out Shinji and the Shinkalion Z 500 Type EVA should do so as soon as they can. Unlike the last series, this episode actually has “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” for the streaming version.
It’s not uncommon for children’s cartoons to offer something to the parents watching with their kids, yet when it came to Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion: THE ANIMATION, I had believed that there wasn’t much in it for adults beyond those who already have an appreciation for a more classic type of kids’ anime. Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that what Shinkalion offers its older viewers is a dip into nostalgia—not only because of its relatively old-fashioned narrative beats, but also literal callbacks to pop culture moments of yesteryear.
In a recent tweet, fellow mecha enthusiast Tom Aznable points out how Shinkalion actually features near shot-for-shot re-creations of late 1980s Christmas-themed commercials for Japan Railways, complete with 4:3 aspect ratio, a faux-CRT filter, and actual recordings of “Christmas Eve” by the renowned Yamashita Tatsuro. You can see side by side comparisons in the link above, as well as the full commercials below:
I was unfamiliar with that particular song, but it’s apparently considered a Christmas classic in Japan. And, like so many things Japanese, it just oozes nostalgia, and now it’s forever on my playlist.
In the context of the anime itself, the protagonist Hayasugi Hayato is a supreme train otaku, and so he thinks of everything—including other characters’ romantic recollections—in relation to trains. But the show is clearly using these moments to trigger powerful memories in its older viewers. Shinkalion doesn’t even limit it to Christmas commercials, either. Given all this, it becomes clearer that the Evangelion episode of Shinkalion, where Hayato visits Tokyo-3 and Shinji pilots a Shinkalion version of EVA-01, is also meant to play into this nostalgia.
The way that Shinkalion taps into a past zeitgeist makes me further aware of the improbability of the series ever getting licensed in English. The series is already focused primarily on viewers in Japan by virtue of its purpose and subject material. The show wants you to buy bullet train toys from Takara Tomy and encourages you to ride the train more (not exactly unwelcome in the grand scheme of things), and without the merch and the accessibility to the shinkansen—or, for that matter, the familiarity of Japanese high-speed rail—it would remain a weird and foreign thing to most kids in the US and other English-primary countries. When you throw the 80s and 90s Japanese media references on there as well, it becomes an even more difficult sell. Yamashita Tatsuro might be gaining more of an international reputation than ever thanks to his role as the king of city pop, but it’s those commercials just aren’t going to hit nearly as hard as they did with Japanese viewers.
There will always be something lost in cultural translation, but there need to be a lot of moving parts for this to work out, including likely a licensing process involving Japan Railways. And while Shinkalion has managed to reach beyond Japan and to places like Hong Kong, Asia’s relationship with anime is very different from the rest of the world’s due to proximity.
Still, I wouldn’t mind a Christmas miracle whereby Shinkalion gets licensed in some form—even a streaming-only release. There would likely be some music rights limitations that would alter the experience, as even the Japanese official Youtube versions of Shinkalion episodes had to replace “Christmas Eve” and “Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” but it would be a relatively small price to pay. As the line from the Japan Railways Christmas commercials puts it, “Getting to see you is the ultimate present.”
Giant robot anime began very squarely in the domain of children. Loud, boldly colored robots appeared on TV (at least, once color TV became common), and the toys based on them came full of fun gimmicks and gizmos. Over time, there was a maturing of the genre in many ways, both in terms of themes presented and the aging of fans, so by the time we got into the 2000s, things changed. Between Pokemon, card games, and more, giant robots have just not been the ticket to big toy sales among kids. Thus, most giant robot anime of the last fifteen years rely more on adult tastes and nostalgia, or at the very least have been aimed at young adults. However, every so often, you’ll see moves to try to reclaim giant robots for kids, and they communicate a reality that mecha alone tend not to capture kids’ hearts in this day and age.
One of the more significant attempts to capture that younger audience was 2011’s Gundam AGE, because of how Gundam is what arguably kicked off the move toward mature audiences all those years ago and because it’s traditionally been such a sales juggernaut. Although keeping the traditional “robots in war” staples, Gundam AGE was a concerted effort to target kids, right down to more toyetic robot and weapon designs. Unfortunately, the series pleased pretty much no one, including me, despite my initially high hopes. The story was a mess, and the model kits failed to attract older and younger customers alike, to the extent that a kitbash of Madoka from Madoka Magica with beefy Gundam arms became more of a sales point than the actual merch. Later Gundam overtures towards kid audiences were more successful via the Gundam Build Fightersand Gundam Build Diversspin-offs, but both treat the mecha as collectible items utilized in virtual environments—closer to the popular style of Japanese kids’ shows.
Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter
Another instance is 2012’s Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, though this one is odd in that what it ultimately tried to promote was not toys or model kits, though some did come out. Rather, like Aikatsu! and Pripara, the bread and butter of Gyrozetter was the card-based arcade game. Ultimately, it was called a major mistake on the part of Square-Enix. Personally, I think the show is very enjoyable, but it’s also arguably better known for its attractive older characters than anything else—so not exactly kid’s stuff.
While hitting the mark seems difficult, there is one company that seems intent on making giant robot anime work for kids: toy maker Takara Tomy, the originator of Transformers. In addition to that long-standing international cultural staple (whose success has so many external factors that it’s hard to gauge in terms of success as “anime”), it’s Takara Tomy that keeps taking swings, down to even pushing the ZOIDS franchise as their “third pillar” along with Transformers and Beyblade.
2018’s ZOIDS Wild anime is a continuation of the ZOIDS franchise, which has been receiving animated adaptations since 1999’s ZOIDS: Chaotic Century. Given its longevity, it would be easy to assume that they’re doing something right with their use and portrayal of giant robots, but I think there’s a key factor that keeps ZOIDS relatively popular: the use of animal-shaped robots as opposed to humanoid ones. The more universal appeal of dinosaurs and cool beasts does a lot of the heavy lifting.
Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner
Along this vein, Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head (2017) and Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner (2020) both involve motor vehicles that can transform into robots—and, unlike Gyrozetter, have the many toys to show. The Tomica line is primarily more about cars than mechs, and the toys have enormous success in Asia. Again, the robots are not the main popularity factor, acting instead as an additional flourish to push it over the edge. Transformers, in a sense, combines both ZOIDS and Tomica’s appeals together, while also banking on brand recognition. Moreover, while giant robots are still a staple of tokusatsu, they’re more a secondary component to the color-coded-hero fantasy that defines these live-action series. The previous Tomica tokusatsu series use cars in a similar manner.
Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion
The strangest case might very well be 2018’s Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion THE ANIMATION is a series about bullet train (“Shinkansen”) robots sponsored by the East Japan Railway Company. Somewhat like Gyrozetter, there’s an unconventional ultimate goal—promoting Japan’s high-speed rail system—but unlike Gyrozetter, the toy and merchandise line is definitely there. In addition, while ZOIDS Wild, Drive Head, and Earth Granner all target boys ages 10-12, I can’t help but notice how aggressively kid-friendly Shinkalion’s aesthetics are, from the character designs to the story. What really makes Shinkalion an oddity, however, is that its success isn’t measured solely in toy sales, but also the degree to which it creates good PR for Japan’s public transportation.
It does sadden me that mecha don’t appear to carry an inherent appeal for kids these days, but I do think that sprinkling in robots can potentially push these franchises into becoming more memorable and enjoyable. Also, I’d like to think that Takara Tomy is laying down a foundation for it to happen in the future, and much like how adults who grew up with super robots in the 1970s grew attached to them, perhaps in a couple of decades we’ll see nostalgia for the Shinkalions and Earth Granners of the world.
Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion is the most blatant advertisement in cartoon form that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s so upfront with its true purpose—promoting Japan Railways’ shinkansen (aka bullet train) system—that it’s right in the title. But I actually don’t mind the extreme shilling of Shinkalion all that much, and it’s for one simple reason: the Japanese train system, including its shinkansen, is astoundingly good.
The hero of Shinkalion is a young boy named Hayasugi Hayato, a total train otaku. Hayato discovers that his dad, ostensible a Japan Railways (JR) employee, works for a secret division dedicated to fending off monsters attacking Earth. In an emergency, Hayato becomes the pilot of a Shinkalion, a super-advanced train that can transform into a giant robo, and helps his dad in their fight against the forces of evil. Naturally, all Shinkalions are based on actual, real-world shinkansen trains. Incidentally, one recurring gag among Japanese Shinkalion viewers is referring to the series as a reverse-Evangelion because it’s about a young pilot who can’t wait to support his dad on his mission to fight off monstrous invaders.
It’s not just the Shinkalions themselves that are selling Japanese trains to the audience, as nearly everything about the anime talks up the country’s rail service. Hayato’s family name, Hayasugi, is a homophone for “way too fast” in Japanese—a reference to the high speeds of the shinkansen. His catchphrase, “I’m Hayasugi Hayato, the guy who always makes it on time!”, is based on the fact that the Japan rail system is famously on-schedule. Whereas other train systems around the world might see a 10-minute delay as “reasonable,” a five-minute difference is considered “extreme” in Japan. This is part of why train otaku exist, as it’s not just the mechanical aspects of the trains themselves that hold appeal. The precision and complexity allows enthusiasts to imagine riding from one part of Japan to another while planning the most perfectly efficient route possible.
While Shinkalion is indeed mainly about high-speed trains, it also advertises for a few other things. There’s tourism, the natural extension for a show about trains, with the ending theme showing various famous landmarks across Japan. While I haven’t researched it, I’m confident that all locales presented are reachable by shinkansen. Then there’s the Google product placement. Not only is one of the characters a popular Youtuber, they even use the term Youtube and show it off. The strangest promotion is the fact that the Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku (or a convenient alternate version of her), is a pilot in the show—and she’s actually voiced by the Hatsune Miku software! In this instance, it might be JR that’s benefiting from the association instead of the other way around. The result is that Shinkalion is a kind of marketing black matter. The characters would have to be plastered with logos like NASCAR racers for it to go any further.
I’ve taken bullet trains, and they’re an amazingly comfortable experience. I’ve taken regular trains, and they’re so reliable it makes coming back to New York City’s subway system almost feel like culture shock. If this fairly generic giant robot cartoon wants to sell me on shinkansen, it can do that all day long. That said, I would be wary of Shinkalion becoming propaganda for JR as this perfect entity, because there’s evidence that it isn’t. Glancing at reviews on Glassdoor, there are multiple negative comments about the companies being extremely conservative businesses and thus stifling its own growth. Perhaps the efficiency of the system comes at a (human) price.
Still, I can enjoy Shinkalion for what it is. This 500-yen Shinkalion model kit I bought is a testament to that.