I love giant robots, and I love seeing them turned into Soul of Chogokin figures. Here’s the first five of 10 that I think should get that Chogokin Tamashii treatment!
I love giant robots, and I love seeing them turned into Soul of Chogokin figures. Here’s the first five of 10 that I think should get that Chogokin Tamashii treatment!
I finished watching Sengoku Majin Goshogun recently. It’s notable for being an earlier work from the director of the early Pokemon anime, though overall it’s an okay show at best with a kickin’ rad opening. There are, however, a few things about the show that really stand out, and make the show fairly memorable.
Goshogun is abouta mecha-loving boy named Kenta who, along with the crew of the mighty robot Goshogun and their teleporting airship the Good Thunder, fight against an evil organization bent on world domination. While the episodes are often kind of bland and episodic, the ones which explore the pasts of the main characters tend to be quite interesting. It’s one thing when the lead pilot Shingo is a generic do-gooder type, but it’s another when you learn that his past was full of danger and tragedy and that he actively chooses to be the Good Guy in spite of all that.
Actually, the show in general has amusing characters. Remy Shimada is the fiery female character of the series, and while she often talks about not being able to get married and settled down due to her giant robot work, it’s clear that she doesn’t really mean it when she actively chose her path. The villain Prince Bundol is a handsome blond who plays classical music when he goes into battle and cherishes beauty so much that when someone tries to betray the heroes he dismisses the guy and doesn’t follow through on his tip because “betrayal is ugly.” One of the other villains, Kerunaguru (pictured above), a guy whose name basically means “Kick and Punch” and who owns a robot designed specifically to be beat in fits of anger. In one episode, he opens up his own fried chicken joint without any ulterior motives. The guy just wants to sell some good fried chicken on the side while assisting in global domination.
By far the most fascinating reveal of the show however is the secret behind Goshogun’s ultimate attack, the Go-Flasher Special. First, it answers what the “blue button” mentioned in the opening does. Second, as it turns out later in the series, the Go-Flasher works by allowing the normally non-sentient enemy mecha to gain self-will, which causes them to override their controls and then voluntarily explode because they don’t like being used for violence and evil. Basically Goshogun’s greatest weapon is to give the enemy robots an existential crisis which makes them commit suicide. Now that’s an attack.
Oddly enough, the best way to enjoy the character interactions of Goshogun is to watch the movie Goshogun: The Time Étranger, which curiously does not feature the robot at all.
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.
(Warning: This post contains spoilers.)
There are many interesting aspects about the anime Robotics;Notes, but one thing that’s particularly noteworthy is that it is a show about giant robots. That might not sound so impressive on its own, but it’s actually quite rare for a show to be “about” giant robots. Certainly, there are anime which include giant robots, anime which place giant robots in the spotlight, and giant robot anime which are driven by strong themes, all of which can be strong in their own rights. Where Robotics;Notes differs, however, is that it concerns the very thematic concept of giant robots, particularly what they mean to the people who watch and follow them.
Senomiya Akiho, Robotics Club President
In episode 1, we’re introduced to the Central Tanegashima High School Robotics Club and its president, Senomiya Akiho. An energetic girl, Akiho is an avid fan of giant robot anime, particularly the highly influential and hot-blooded series Gunvarrel. Akiho’s primary goal as Robotics Club president is to complete a 1:1 scale functioning robot replica of Gunvarrel called the Guntsuku-1, a task she inherited from her sister Misaki. Akiho, we are shown, has nowhere near the genius of her sister who designed the blueprints for Guntsuku-1 in the first place, and the enormous task before her sets up a couple of important questions. First, is Robotics;Notes the sort of anime that would, after deliberately pointing out how unfeasible it would be to replicate the design of an in-story fictional robot while also providing examples of “realistic” robots in society, allow Guntsuku-1 to be completed? Second, whether it ends up being finished or not, how prominently will Guntsuku-1 figure into the narrative? More specifically, will it actually somehow fulfill the role of a giant robot even with its various setbacks? These two mysteries work together to create a slow-burning sense of anticipation in Robotics;Notes which center upon the idea of “giant robots,” or more specifically the “giant robots of anime.”
Legendary anime Gunvarrel
The “high school kids in a club” setting is not new to anime, but because of its increasing prominence in recent years Robotics;Notes initially gives off the impression that it might stay primarily in the microcosm of the clubroom. Even when factoring in the fact that Robotics;Notes is from the same company which created Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate, two series with grander themes than K-On!, there still exists in the early episodes the possibility that the anime would focus on the everyday of the Robotics Club amidst this greater story, or at most show how small their world is by comparison. While the story of the Robotics Club does eventually begin to tie itself into a greater conspiracy and makes it clear that the show is not so limited in scope, even from the beginning Robotics;Notes creates a strong sense of connection between many of the characters and varying conceptions of robots. This in turn helps to establish that deeper thematic level of the meanings of giant robots.
Robotics Club members (left to right): Senomiya Akiho, Daitoku Junna, Koujiro Frau, Yashio Kaito, Hidaka Subaru
Going by just the club members, the male lead and childhood friend of Akiho, Yashio Kaito, is a slacker who primarily experiences giant robots through a fictional Virtual On-esque game called Kill-Ballad, which is itself inspired by Gunvarrel. The hikikomori fujoshi Koujiro Frau, turns out to be not only the creator of Kill-Ballad,but also the daughter of the producer of the original Gunvarrel anime, making Gunvarrel her tie to her missing mother. Hidaka Subaru, who initially refuses to join, is a champion of small-scale robot battle competitions who is forced to compete in secrecy because of his father’s disapproval. Daitoku Junna’s grandfather specializes in robotics, but an accident at a young age left her with a fear of robots. In each of these examples, Robotics;Notes in some way connects the theme of giant robots to other people.
The completed Guntsuku-1
There are two important developments about halfway through the series. First, the Robotics Club manages to complete Guntsuku-1, but it turns out to have accumulated over time so many compromises and shortcuts in its construction that the final product is a cumbersome and ugly-looking machine. Physically speaking, it is no more a robot than a golf cart with a head grafted on. Second, it is revealed that the final episode of Gunvarrel never aired because it was actually brainwashing propaganda (the broadcast of which was was stopped by Frau’s mother), which creates an extremely negative public opinion of Akiho’s beloved anime. Here, Akiho’s reactions to both events emphasizes the role of giant robots in her life, which in turn foregrounds how giant robots as a fictional concept can be interpreted.
The Gunvarrel conspiracy
In regards to Guntsuku-1 and its lackluster debut, Akiho specifically mentions that they are not abandoning Guntsuku-1. Rather, they are setting it aside so that they can come back to it later, which is indicative of Akiho’s belief in the spirit of the giant robot concept. Even as the Robotics Club moves onto working on a more realistic robot (the Guntsuku-2) for a robotics expo, Akiho not only makes sure not to forget Guntsuku-1, but her influence encourages the other club members to create an augmented reality modification so that people using a technological interface can view Guntsuku-2 as if it actually were Gunvarrel. Similarly, even when the horrible truth of Gunvarrel becomes known and people view it with disdain, Akiho resolves to still love Gunvarrel because she believes that her positive experiences with it trump whatever diabolical authorial intent may have been at the heart of it. At this point, it becomes increasingly clear that what is important to Akiho (and Robotic;Notes) is not the physical component of giant robots as massive titans of power but as symbols and icons of inspiration, existing in the hearts of those who love what it could be, instead of what it was supposed to be.
Akiho’s persistent spirit along with Guntsuku-2
Akiho embodies this “giant robot spirit.” Late in the series, when the conspiracy which underpins the series is in full swing, Akiho falls into a panicked depression, which comes as a shock to Kaito. Throughout the series, Kaito acts like a reluctant accomplice to Akiho’s madness, someone who follows only because he must. In this situation, however, Kai reveals that he was only able to act the role of the slacker because Akiho was there as his beacon of light, with enough motivation to carry the both of them. Kaito always saw in Akiho what Akiho sees in giant robots: something (or someone) who is not the most logical or rational but is an enduring source of motivation.
By the end of the series, the Robotics Club must stop the leader of the conspiracy and prevent the death of millions. In order to do so, they (along with their friends and family) repurpose the Guntsuku-1 using parts of Guntsuku-2, giving it functional modifications that they were simply unable to the first time. Appearance-wise, it’s still more or les the cumbersome hunk of metal it was before, but at this point in the story it’s clear that what makes Guntsuku-1 into a valiant giant robot just like Gunvarrel is not how closely it matches the original design but rather the intent of the people who support it. This includes not just the current Robotics Club and the people they know, but the people who worked on it throughout the years such as Akiho’s sister. As if to reinforce this point, when the antagonists view Guntsuku-1 through the technological interface of their own robot, all they can see is the actual Gunvarrel (via the same augmented reality image used for Guntsuku-2), complete with signature attacks.
The virtual image of Guntsuku-1
In describing Robotics;Notes as an anime about giant robots unlike so many others, this distinction mainly has to do with the fact that Robotics;Notes incorporates into its story how giant robots as cultural artifacts are received and interpreted by the people who engage with them. It is not the only anime to address this on some level, with Martian Successor Nadesico and the 2004 Tetsujin 28 being a couple of examples, but Robotics;Notes does so while putting into question throughout its narrative the very existence of its signature robot. It is not until the conceptual processes for conceiving the effects of “giant robots” are in place that Guntsuku-1 truly takes center stage, which in turn creates a unique and interesting position for Robotics;Notes. If one were to categorize Robotics;Notes, would it be considered a “giant robot anime?” The fact that this can be argued both ways is, rather than being a weakness of Robotics;Notes, one of its greatest strengths.
Brave Police J-Decker features Transformers-style giant robots acting as Japanese police officers, so they combine into more powerful forms but also each have their own gigantic office desks. It’s a fun series in the Brave franchise, of which Gaogaigar is probably the most well-known and popular. Created in the 1990s, the show can be surprisingly good at times, and has some entertaining characters. Arguably the most entertaining one is the commissioner (or according to Wikipedia, the “superintendent general”), Saejima Juuzou. If you recognize him at all, it’s likely because of the following screenshot:
Saejima is established pretty early on as being a fan of grand poses and cool-sounding (and looking) robots, and at first I thought he was just a cool, eccentric old dude, but my opinion of him changed for the (even) better halfway through the show. In a recap episode, Saejima talks about every robot member of the Brave Police and their various strengths, as well as lamenting the fact that he just can’t come up with an awesome enough name for the next combined robot form. At the end of the episode, he reminisces about his younger days as a police officer. We then get to see the photos on his wall, and one of them in particulr reveals a lot about the kind of person Saejima was in his youth.
That’s right, Saejima was actually once a robot pilot, hailing from the previous generation (or two), back when the mecha were more primitive and hair was more fabulous. Knowing this, it’s clear to me that Saejima’s passion about robots isn’t just because he’s an old guy with a sense for the dramatic, but that it’s actually based on his own experiences fighting crime in his trusty police robot. I wouldn’t be surprised if, rather than the pleasant and heartful melodies of what were at the time more current opening themes, Saejima’s police career sounded more like this.
Though they never touch on it past this episode, I think it does a lot for J-Decker because it connects it to previous decades of robot anime, and on top of that gives a sense that the world of J-Decker has always been amazing in different yet similar ways. Hell, if they decided to make a prequel all about Young Saejima fighting crime, I would be all over it.
This past weekend was the final episode of Sym-Bionic Titan. I wish I didn’t have to say that.
When I first started watching anime, one of the most enticing aspects of it over many of the American cartoons I watched at the time was that, not only did they have on-going stories, but that those stories actually finished. They had conclusions. They weren’t always good conclusions (or good shows), and many times they were so open-ended you weren’t sure what exactly had happened, but you knew that if you started something, chances are you’d get something final out of it by the end.
American cartoons had managed to get some decisive finishes through, such as in Gargoyles or Conan the Adventurer, and I’ll even count the end of the Saturday morning version of Sonic the Hedgehog as a decisive finish despite it setting the stage for another season that never came to be. But for every one of those, you got a Pirates of Darkwater, where the show was set up from the start to reach a certain conclusion, but the show just stops in the middle and all you’re left with is your own imaginative speculation and/or fanfiction. I thought we were past this era, but I was wrong.
Sym-Bionic Titan was the brainchild of Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, and it was his most ambitious and best-looking work to date. Following a trio of aliens (Lance the soldier, Ilana the Princess, Octus the robot) who escaped to Earth as the last hope to save their world of Galaluna from a traitorous general, the show took cues from Japanese super robot cartoons, American action cartoons, teen films, and various other areas and channeled them through some of the most deft usage of flash animation I’d ever seen. Much like Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (and I have drawn comparisons between them before), it poked fun at genre conventions from multiple genres, and did so with style and grace-disguised-as-clumsiness. It was a sign that Genndy had learned a lot since working on Samurai Jack, where the animation was often nice but felt very flat, and he married it with excellent characters and an intriguing plot. There were many mysteries in the show. What was Modula’s true motive? What really happened to Lance’s dad? Who was the mysterious person behind the Galactic Guardian Group? While the show could have easily gone on forever, it was not in its best interest to do so, as there was a real sense of urgency throughout the show, especially when you learned more and more about the characters and where they came from and why, on a personal level, they fight.
But Sym-Bionic Titan ran its initial 20 episodes, and was not renewed for more. Genndy Tartakovsky has moved on from Cartoon Network, possibly frustrated that they never let him finish his works. Samurai Jack never fought his decisive battle with Aku, and it’s unlikely that Lance, Ilana, and Octus will ever be able to return to Galaluna for a showdown with Modula. Was the show not doing well? Was it just not getting the money behind it to continue on?
It turns out that the reason given is that the show was actually doing quite well, but it did not have enough toys connected to it. I can see this being a problem, but I have to point out the fact that the show is ABOUT PEOPLE WHO TRANSFORM INTO ROBOT SUITS WHO COMBINE INTO A GIANT ROBOT THAT FIGHTS GIANT MONSTERS. That they couldn’t figure out how to convert this concept into toys is nothing short of ridiculous, and so the reasoning behind the show’s cancellation feels flimsy at best, an act of malice at worst.
Now there’s a possibility that Genndy pulled a Bill Watterson and specifically forbade merchandise from being made, but I highly doubt that. For one thing, he had hoped for a continuation of the series. This much is obvious based merely on the way the show is set up and how its final episode leaves room for so much more, let alone him actually saying as such. For another, the show’s explicit homage to Japanese giant robot cartoons makes it very likely that Genndy was not ignorant of the genre’s toy-centric origins or the fact that giant robot anime practically grew that merchandise industry in Japan to enormous proportions.
So even with the lack of an ending, is Sym-Bionic Titan worth watching? Yes, very much so. Do it.