WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST AND SECOND GAOGAIGAR VS. BETTERMAN NOVELS
Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 3 brings the story of the Gaogaigar universe to a close, and what a journey it’s been. 24 years after the original TV series, we finally know the fates of all our brave heroes, and the tension and excitement never let up through this massive third volume. It truly does feel like the end of a long journey.
(Seriously, this thing is a monster compared to the first two.)
King of Kings
To start, since the release of Part 2, something major has happened to Gaogaigar vs. Betterman: It’s gotten an official name! The novels didn’t get licensed; rather, it became one of the titles in Super Robot Wars 30, where it was announced in English as King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman. The term “Hakai-oh” is quite tricky to translate without sounding awkward and retaining enough of the meaning of the Japanese, and I find this to be an incredibly good compromise that also makes sure to pair well with the classic King of Braves Gaogaigar English title. It also gets translated as Conqueror-King in dialogue. Note that I call it Hakai-oh in the title mainly for consistency with my previous reviews, but I like these translations enough to use them for this review.
Gaogaigar vs. Betterman being in SRW30 also means that’s how most English speakers are likely experiencing the story, but there are a number of notable differences. So this review (as well as the previous two) might be worth checking out just to see how this plotline was originally handled.
Part 3 starts off with some of the Gutsy Galaxy Guard restored to their normal selves, with many dangerous and notable exceptions remaining. These “Conqueror’s Thralls” (previously translated as Hakai Servants) are still under the powerful influence of Triple Zero, which Mamoru, Guy, and the rest now understand to be not only the source of The Power, but the energy produced from a dying universe during a Big Crunch. The Thralls seek to bring everything to “provenance”—a reset to oblivion—leading to some fierce and emotionally difficult battles. Meanwhile, the Somniums still act according to their own beliefs, but their mysterious ties to humanity are tested, and their true motives are revealed. Mamoru and Ikumi’s Gaogaigo, Guy’s Gaofighgar, and more must be braver than ever before if they want to free their friends and ultimately fight against the Conqueror-King Genesisc Gaogaigar. But as they discover in their struggle, courage might just be the antidote to Triple Zero.
A Universe Unto Itself
I’m being something of a broken record at this point, but more than ever, the way in which the novel draws upon the entirety of Gaogaigar lore is still one of my favorite aspects. There’s enough explanation so that those who don’t have a degree in Braveology can still follow along, and it never feels overly reliant on nostalgia or old ideas.
How does Mikoto being part-Zonuda affect her as a Thrall? What does Guy’s evoluder biology say about his potential future? How does the time dilation that impacted the old GGG affect their relationships with their friends and family back on Earth? The Somniums can fuse with each other to form Betterman Cataphract, but how far can they take it? All those questions are asked and answered while never losing sight of the main story, the fight against the King of Kings.
Even the climax towards the end of the novel is a huge nod to the final episode of the original TV series, one that feels like a progression rather than a retread, and builds upon an overall satisfying experience.
The Best Battles Ever?
If there’s one thing that Gaogaigar is known for, it’s amazing fights. Even in pure prose without the benefit of animation, this still applies. I’m even tempted to call these particular fights the best the franchise has ever seen, and it’s largely because of how each one feels unique from the others, the way the stakes keep building up, and the desperate solutions that they need to find. How can they compete with Commander Taiga, whose stalwart leadership provided the backbone of GGG? The Goldion Crusher was their ace in the hole in the conflict with the 11 Planetary Masters of Sol in Gaogaigar FINAL, so what hope do they have when faced with a Silverion Crusher wielded by a terrifyingly powered-up Conqueror King J-Der?
In each case, there’s the exciting push and pull so characteristic of Gaogaigar battles, but there’s also the sense that the characters are doing all they can to strategize, persevere, and fight. There’s a moment in one of the later battles where they creatively utilize the technology that allowed Gaogaigar to upgrade its Protect Shade and Broken Magnum into the Protect Wall and Broken Phantom, and Guy’s uncle Liger contemplates how, unlike most everything else they use, this was a purely human invention by Guy’s father, Leo. In Liger’s view, the Wall Ring and Phantom Ring are representative of humanity building upon and contributing to the boon of alien technology they received from Galeon so long ago—a fusion of Earth and Green-Planet science, not unlike Gaogaigo. It’s a beautiful moment.
And perhaps most importantly, the final volume answers whether “vs.” means “team up” in the Dynamic Pro tradition, or “confrontation” in the more conventional sense. The answer is a creative one.
While there are many couples and would-be couples in the Gaogaigar universe, it’s never been the focus in any real way. Here, though, the topic takes center stage in what feels like a pay-off. Whether it’s Mamoru and Hana as childhood sweethearts, the forged-in-combat bond of Soldat J and Renais, the central romance of Guy and Mikoto, or the more down-to-Earth and relationship of Keita and Hinoki, everything pretty much comes to a head here. All of them are entertaining to read, and I’m especially fond of how J’s versions of care and compassion tie into his warrior ethos—nothing like handing your girl your finishing move so she can wield it herself.
One criticism I have is that the series is 100% heteronormative in its romances. I’m not saying that they needed to reveal that Ikumi or some other character was gay or anything, and I understand that all of the above relationships are basically tying up loose ends from Gaogaigar and Betterman, but it’s still nevertheless something missing that could show that time has truly moved forward. I don’t think this omission makes Gaogaigar vs. Betterman bad or unenjoyable, but I find it’s worth pointing out.
I also think that the Betterman parts are significantly more confusing than the Gaogaigar sections. This might be because that series is less fresh in my mind, but one big difference is that most of the Gaogaigar-side characters come from the TV series and OVA. In contrast, while the human side of Betterman sees a large number of returning faces, the Somniums (the titular Bettermen) are for the most part new characters, and so it feels like there’s less to latch onto.
The last thing I’ll mention here is that the series has kind of a complex relationship with its portrayal of characters with disabilities. There’s great emphasis on how the scientific and technological efforts made have given those with disabilities the opportunity to lead lives they might not have been able to otherwise, and that what fuels this is largely love and compassion. At the same time, you have characters like Guy who, even in his previous cyborg form, comes across more as a “supercrip.” I’m not an expert in this subject, so I’d be interested in hearing others’ takes on this matter.
This is where the SPOILERS abound, so I’m putting a WARNING right here.
I’ve already touched on a number of things that stick out in my mind, but I want to elaborate a bit more on them here. It’s mostly the battles.
The aesthetic of the Silverion Crusher is nothing short of magnificent, with the Crusher resembling a giant flaming King J-Der head like it’s the most terrifying dullahan ever. The battle against it also has many moving parts that feel necessary because of what an overwhelming adversary it is. Gaogaigar fans know the sheer destructive force that is the Goldion Crusher, and the way they have to basically attack the units that spread out to create the hammerhead in order to prevent it from fully deploying, or else it’s game over. The way the fight comes down to Guy and Ikumi battling J and Renais in order to purify them also has a feeling somewhat akin to the final battle in Gurren-Lagann.
The struggle against Conqueror-King Genesic is chock full of astounding elements, such as the fact that the fight is led by Gaogaigar (Guy), Gaogaigo (Mamoru and Ikumi), and Gaofighgar (now controlled by Renais) working together to take it on, with King J-Der and Kakuseijin V2 for support. In other words, it’s triple Gaogaigar vs. Genesic. As they fight, they manage to break apart Genesic’s Final Fusion, but then have to fight the separated but individually sentient Genesic Gao MAchines all at once, resulting in an additional challenge.
You may be wondering how it’s possible that vanilla Gaogaigar is part of this fight, but its core is actually the original Galeon pulled from the past by the Somniums. What’s more this Gaogaigar ends up combining with Betterman Cataphract to form Musou Gaogaigar, or Dream Armor Gaogaigar. The narration mentions that you could alternately call this Gaogaigar’s “Great Gattai,” making a reference to other Brave series combinations like Great Exkaiser and Great Might Gaine.
Then, in that same struggle, we see the aforementioned use of Phantom Ring technology. More specifically, it’s actually about turning the “Global Wall” that helped restore electronic communications back to the Earth and switching it to a “Phantom Mode.” The very fact that the Global Wall was sitting there as a pseudo-Chekhov’s gun filled me with a kind of fiery joy—it had already played a role, but here was a second and even bigger one that feels both out of nowhere and logically consistent. That’s actually kind of this whole novel series in a nutshell.
In a similar vein, King J-Der ends up combining with Earth’s technology to form the amazing-sounding Dimension Ten-TImes Pliers, which is King J-Der with Dimension Pliers for fingers. I want to see this in an actual animation so badly.
And during the climax, when it’s time to form Final Gaogaigar for the last battle, it’s not just Guy fusing with Genesic Galeon, but all the Genesic Gao Machines having fusions with other characters. It’s a lot like the finale of the TV series, where the Brave Robots have their AIs installed into the regular Gao Machines because they’ve been disabled by Mikoto-as-Zonuda. Goldion Armor and the Goldion Finger attack (essentially a giant hand consisting of Goldion Hammers for fingers) is amazing, but the thematic full-circle from the fully fused Final Gaogaigar stands out even more.
After all the fighting, we’re treated to an epilogue and an extra story. In them, we see how Mamoru and Hana have a child named Tsubasa (gender unknown), but also that Guy and Mikoto will accompany Galeon and the J-Ark crew to explore the universe. In other words, Guy is going back to his original dream of being an astronaut, and I think it’s such a beautiful way to end his story.
The “FINAL” Word
I love that these novels exist. While I wish this could have been animated from the start and given the treatment it truly deserves, the story told in these pages soars in ways that make me smile and have pride in being a Gaogaigar fan. If Gaogaigar vs. Betterman is a love letter, then it’s one that turns a romance into a marriage, and embodies everything great about the universe of its characters and heroes. In the afterword, both the original director who supervised these novels, Yonetani Yoshitomo, and the series author (who actually wrote for the TV anime way back), Takeda Yuichiro, approached these novels with the sense that they would cap off the story of Gaogaigar as a whole. I would never be against a sequel, but the fact that we the fans even got a conclusion is more than I could have hoped for, let alone having it end so well.