Ultimate Dancouga in Super Robot Wars 30 is Quintessential Obari Masami

One of the highlights of any Super Robot Wars game is seeing how awesome mecha look in their attack animations. So when Ultimate Dancouga first performed its ultimate attack in Super Robot Wars 30, I expected the kind of spectacle associated with its designer, Obari Masami. After all, he personally designed this exclusive version of Dancouga for the game, and his penchant for flashy action poses is unmistakable. When I first saw Ultimate Dancouga strike the characteristic warped-perspective sword pose seen above during its Dancou Shinken technique, I could only think “Yep, there it is!”

But then a few other thoughts immediately followed. “Why didn’t I associate this Obari Pose with Dancouga’s finishing moves in SRW?” “Did it even strike the Obari Pose in older titles?” “Did it ever Obari Pose in the original anime?!”

That’s when I remembered: The 1980s anime Super Beast Machine God Dancouga predates the Obari Pose, which emerged in the 1990s with the Brave franchise! In fact it’s sometimes more commonly known as the Brave Perspective and Sunrise Stance, among other things.

Sure, recent toy releases make reference to the Pose, but it’s not the same as having it in the show itself. And while there’s been plenty of creative license with attacks throughout SRW, their desire to capture the flavor of the source material is likely why the Pose never made it in. On top of that, the Dancouga TV anime was Obari’s first credit as mecha designer, so the series holds a special place in his massive body of work.

So Ultimate Dancouga ends up being a kind of “combination” of two aspects of Obari’s legacy: It’s his first professional mecha design striking his signature pose. It’s not technically going full circle, but there’s a wholeness to Dancou Shinken that makes it satisfying.

Super Robot Wars 30, Shinkalion, and Pioneering DLC

The developers of Super Robot Wars 30 have announced a final expansion pack that brings many surprises, the biggest of which are new DLC units.

  • Scopedog, Scopedog TC LRS (Armored Trooper Votoms)
  • 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.

Super Robot Wars 30, Gaogaigar, and J-Decker: The Compromises of a Composite Narrative

Brave Police J-Decker has made its debut appearance in Super Robot Wars, joining its fellow Brave franchise series King of Braves Gaogaigar. However, J-Decker effectively replaces in Super Robot Wars 30 a huge portion of the Gaogaigar cast of characters—specifically the Brave Robots introduced in the novel sequel King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman—and in doing so merges their two plotlines together in a way that defies SRW precedent. It’s something I can appreciate, but I also feel that it comes at the expense of the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach the game franchise is famous for.

While J-Decker precedes Gaogaigar in terms of their air dates (1994 vs. 1997), Super Robot Wars 30 flips things around. The story specifically has the events of the latter take place first, and makes the Brave Police the first Brave Robots since the events of Gaogaigar Final. I find this to be a pretty clever way to tie the two plots together, especially in order to reconcile having an adult Mamoru (the kid character in Gaogaigar) with a young Yuuta from J-Decker

However, the idea that the Brave Police are the latest generation of units doesn’t square with what takes place in the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novels where a new Brave Robot Corps is formed with the likes of NichiRyu, GetsuRyu, ShoRyu, and Porc-Auto. Those robots aren’t even included in Super Robot Wars 30, meaning that their role in the story has been supplanted by the robots of J-Decker. This is highly unusual, if only because SRW games are often about “more is better.” While the franchise over the past decade-and-change has been trying to streamline a lot of the bloat inherent to it (so no excessively redundant attacks, for example), it’s rare to have them omit entire groups of potentially playable units that are an important factor in the source material.

I suspect that there are a number of extenuating circumstances that resulted in this compromise. It wasn’t that long after the conclusion of Gaogaigar vs. Betterman that SRW30 was announced. There are elements of the story, regardless of the mecha, that are skipped over. In addition, most of the new robots introduced in the novels don’t already have voice actors, so it’s not like calling up Hiyama Nobuyuki and telling him to reprise his role as Guy. While there have been cases of SRW assigning voices where there weren’t any before (see the Virtual On units in Alpha 3), that was also over 15 years ago. 

Incidentally, that’s also a case where only a handful of reps are included (as opposed to every Virtuaroid).

So while having Gaogaigar vs. Betterman is one of my favorite parts of SRW30, the changes made mean we still don’t have the might of the full cast of characters from it. Maybe we’ll see it happen in the future. 

And maybe what could make it easier is having an actual anime version…

Super Robot Wars 30 and the Two Chizurus

I love the way the Super Robot Wars series combines plots together, and one example is the “connection” between the two Chizurus featured in Super Robot Wars 30.

One of the anime series in Super Robot Wars 30 is the 2000s-era anime Gun x Sword, and among the cast is a veteran robot crew called El Dora Team, who are portrayed as old-fashioned relics of a bygone era who find the spirit to fight again instead of sitting on the sidelines and waxing nostalgic. They’re essentially meant to be 1970s robot anime characters (with a bit of Mexican and spaghetti-Western flair) thrust into a modern context.

One of those 70s elements is they once had a female teammate named Chizuru, possibly as a nod to Nanbara Chizuru, the girl member from Super Electromagnetic Robo Combattler V. However, both Gun x Sword and Combattler V are in Super Robot Wars 30, and the setting is such that El Dora Team are still the old timers and the Battle Team are the upstarts. As a result, they flipped the script and made the Combattler V Chizuru the younger one who reminds the grandpas about their dearly departed friend.

This swapping of ages and influences is a clever maneuver to allow both sets of characters to retain their identities and physical ages within the story. But it also reminds me of someone: Elvis Presley.

Elvis famously wore flashy jumpsuits with collars and sometimes capes, and there’s speculation that he didn’t do it out of the blue. Growing up, he was a big fan of the Fawcett superhero Captain Marvel Jr., and the similarities between the character and Elvis has led to fans of both wondering if Elvis took elements of his famous aesthetic from the comic character. The story doesn’t end there, though.

Over the years, DC had acquired the license to the Captain Marvel (aka Shazam) characters. In one of their many later reboots, they placed Captain Marvel Jr. into their setting as a modern teenager, so rather than being a child of the 1930s, he was now a product of the 1990s. But in a similar twist to how the two Chizurus are connected in SRW30, it was now Captain Marvel Jr. who was the Elvis fan.

It’s a funny kind of geekery that I appreciate, and it reminds me why it’s fun to be a fan.

Shining in the Sea of Stars: “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 3” Novel Review

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.

The Story

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.

Romance

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.

Issues

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.

Favorite Touches

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.

 

The Ongoing Dream of a Truly International Super Robot Wars

In recent years, the Super Robot Wars franchise has been looking hard at international fans, and that has been reflected in part by the mecha that show up in it. In interviews for Super Robot Wars T and Super Robot Wars 30, the game’s director mentions that titles like Gun x Sword and J-Decker were, in part, nods to fans outside Japan. It reminds me of how different Japanese giant robot series became the spark of inspiration in different parts of the world, as well as how I once had my own half-formed idea for an American-fandom-centric SRW. Together, all of this makes me want to entertain the notion of a truly international SRW that puts the entire spotlight on those anime and manga that introduced countries to mecha and maintain that enthusiasm.

Shows like Golion, Grendizer, Transformers, Groizer X, etc. Furthermore, I’d like to see the roster be even broader than that. In that respect, limiting it to things that can connect to anime might even be too narrow. Ideally, a game like this would include Robot Taekwon V and The Iron Giant.

One question that arose as I engaged in this thought exercise is whether series that were heavily localized should come in their original Japanese forms or their adaptations. Should Golion and Dairugger be two separate titles, or should they be joined under the Voltron banner? Then it hit me that Super Robot Wars is all about modifying plot details to make crossovers work. Thus, you could split the difference between the Japanese and the American versions, and just find a way to make Golion and Dairugger connected within the new storyline.

There are giant robot fandoms around the world with their own idiosyncrasies, and I’m actually a bit sad that I don’t know them all. I wish I was an experienced polyglot so I could explore these communities and memories in greater depth. I think the real reason I’d love to see an international SRW is because I want something that celebrates these histories.

Sakura Wars, Super Robot Wars 30, and the DLC Hype Train

Sakura Wars is in Super Robot Wars 30. That means, for the second time in history, a Sega giant robot video game series is debuting in Super Robot Wars as a newcomer—16 years after Virtual On broke new ground in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3. I find this to be an important moment in SRW history, and not only because Sakura Wars has been long anticipated by fans. The other big factor is that Sakura Wars is the first new series to come in as DLC, and the concept of continued hype via shocking entries reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite game franchises: Super Smash Bros.

Super Robot Wars as a whole predates Super Smash Bros. by almost a decade, but they’re built from a similar concept in terms of promotion: Show all the varying franchises that are in each game, and have players freak out over the fact that what was thought to be impossible is, in fact, real. Even on Youtube, Super Robot Wars 30 has been getting the reaction videos common to Smash, albeit on a smaller scale. But SRW has long done it in one giant cannon fire, releasing one massive preview video, as opposed to the drip-drop approach that Smash has utilized since the Brawl website days. While there are only two batches of DLC for Super Robot Wars 30, I like the idea that there are still surprises on the table after we thought things were done. I don’t necessarily feel this way about DLC in general, and the difference is that SRW and Smash alike are generally already filled to the gills with content.

It’s also funny to think about how the series that go into SRW are collectively older than what shows up in Smash. The oldest mecha manga dates all the way back to the 1960s (namely Tetsujin 28), while the Duck Hunt light shooter game (before video games even really existed) came out in 1968. While Nintendo and video games in general are bigger business these days, one could argue that the resources that make up Super Robot Wars are bigger and more legacy-defining in their own way.

Super Robot Wars 30 comes out in a couple of weeks, and I already have my Ultimate Edition pre-order. Unlike previous games, this one is officially available in English in an easy-to-obtain way via Steam, which is where I’ve purchased it. I’ll be eager to try out the Sakura Wars units, and everything else the game has to offer. Most importantly, we’re gonna get some sweet-ass Sakura Wars music.

It might be about time for me to work on another Gattai Girls post too…

The Anime THEY Don’t Want You to Know About: Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch

For many years, the only impressions I had of the anime Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch were 1) that it has a fantastically beautiful and catchy opening and 2) the vague sense that it’s about a group of adventurers traveling the world in their giant robot. After finally getting the chance to watch the series in full, I find that it simultaneously falls short of and exceeds my expectations.

The premise: Acrobunch follows Rando Tatsuya and his five children on their quest to pursue clues about the legend of “Quaschika,” which is said to be the key to a mysterious treasure. Traveling in their combining giant robot, Acrobunch, they must also contend with the Goblin Society, an ancient underground race that is tens of thousands of years old and seeks the power of Quaschika to take over the surface world and supplant the human race. The characters travel to prominent ancient landmarks/sites (Atlantis, Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines. etc.), get into battles, fall in love, and discover that the secrets they’re after are far beyond what they could have predicted.

Acrobunch is, in a word, inconsistent. From story to animation, the quality swings wildly from meh to marvelous. When you look at the visual presentation, the secondary hero is supposed to be Tatsuya’s youngest son Jun, but he rarely gets plotlines of his own and is often overshadowed by his handsome older brother Hiro. On top of that, he looks anywhere between 10 and 20 years old, depending on who’s drawing him (see also Da Garn). The four Goblin Demon Generals are who the Randos fight the most, and every so often the series reveals a glimpse into their characters, only to hardly build on them further. Examples such as Hiro’s romance/rivalry with the beautiful White General Cera, Black General Groizy’s desire to make Cera his own, or how Blue General Bluzom seems to have a bit of a noble streak all get brought up and then left underexplored. All the storylines involve the search for Quaschika one way or another, but there are definitely some that are more compelling.

Even the robot itself suffers from this, sporting a nice-looking but rather complicated design that results in either Acrobunch looking fantastic (as in the aforementioned opening animated by the endlessly influential Kanada Yoshinori) or terrible (like a Ginguiser reject). That same opening also contributes to the false impression of Hiro’s importance and age. Overall, it’s not even that Acrobunch is too episodic, but just that sometimes there are episodes that hit and sometimes there are ones that miss, regardless of how much each one advances the main story.

Aside from the amazing opening, the main thing about Acrobunch that lingers in the memories of Japanese fans is actually the final episode, and so I think it’s important for me to discuss the big reveal of the series. Stop reading now if you wish to avoid spoilers. 

In episode 24, the characters discover that Quaschika is actually the spirits of a civilization that came from beyond our universe, and who are responsible for starting life as we know it. Whenever a planet’s sentient life-forms get too evil overall, the world and/or universe are destroyed, and the “good souls” are taken by Quaschika to start over again. It sounds like the perfect recipe for a true antagonist that could potentially unite the humans and goblins against a common foe—except that Tatsuya actually enables the world’s destruction and reset to happen! Without blinking an eye, he triggers the transformation, and in the end we see our six heroes and even one of the Goblin Demon Generals spirited off to a new universe as the rest of Earth’s inhabitants are wiped out!

Although it’s a hell of a twist, it doesn’t seem like Tatsuya’s actions are meant to be a kind of villainous reveal. Rather, because Acrobunch’s story takes so much from conspiracy theories, the anime’s curveball finale ends up feeling more like a cousin to the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens mixed with the kind of apocalyptic prophecies you get from cults like Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown. In a sense, Acrobunch is like a cousin to the grimmer works of Tomino Yoshiyuki like Ideon and Zambot 3, but with a further touch of paranoia. The abruptness of it might also be the result of the series getting cut short, and it wasn’t that unusual back then to cap off a canceled anime in the most traumatic way possible, as with Baldios.


Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch doesn’t exactly come out of the gate swinging, but it can be an interesting experience that does enough to build on itself. That doesn’t necessarily prepare viewers for the end of the series that basically explodes everything we knew thus far, but at least it means Acrobunch is hard to forget once you know about it. And as always, there’s that irresistible opening to re-watch over and over.

It’s a Secret to Everybody: Giant Gorg

Tagami Yuu, a young boy in an explorer outfit and a beret, looks back at Giant Gorg, a large blue robot, in the background

In many ways, 1984’s Giant Gorg feels like an “anti–giant robot” anime. Sure, it has Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu (one of the chief visionaries of Mobile Suit Gundam) as both director and character. And it’s indeed about a boy and his mecha guardian in the middle of a conflict that stands to change the entire world. But where most giant robot series before and after would aim for some combination of bombast, gritty science fictional realism, and/or gripping human melodrama, Giant Gorg often comes across as more concerned with atmosphere and conveying a sense of place in the world.

Giant Gorg follows 13-year-old Tagami Yuu, a Japanese boy who travels to New York City following clues about the death of his father. This takes him on a whirlwind adventure, all the way to the mysterious New Austral Island, where he learns about a mysterious organization named GAIL that seeks to discover the island’s secrets. There, he encounters a massive robot—Gorg—that seems to obey his every command. With a group of allies by his side, as well as the might of Gorg, Yuu works with the natives to push back GAIL, but he may have an even closer connection to the truths of New Austral Island than he realizes.

I enjoyed Giant Gorg for its moody feel, its excellent artwork and animation, and the fact that it feels more like you’re jumping into a specific time and place in world events. On the other hand, I would not call it “riveting.” While I had the ability to watch many episodes in one sitting, I rarely would watch more than two or three because the anime doesn’t really set itself up to compel viewers to keep going. Events that finish a given episode in Giant Gorg feel like the half-way point for an episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. Whereas the latter might leave you off with tears and shouting, the former more often hits the ending credits with the reveal of a hidden cave or something. 

Because of this, Giant Gorg feels unabashedly Yaz. Whether it’s a manga set in the dawn before the Russo-Japanese War or his retelling of the Gundam story in Gundam: The Origin, Yaz tends to focus on giving his stories the same feel as a fascinating but dense historical text. This makes it all the easier to see what he and Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki each brought to that franchise—Yaz’s attention to detail and physical realism contrasts with Tomino’s chaotic energy and far-reaching visions. It’s like Yaz is a master baker who can produce incredibly well-made cakes, but never quite got the hang of how to do amazing icing. Giant Gorg, in turn, can feel both like a distillation of one man’s style and half an anime.

As a final note, I want to end off by recounting a sort of “personal history of Giant Gorg”:

I was studying abroad in Japan in 2005 when I saw a commercial for the upcoming DVD release of Giant Gorg. I had heard of the series before, but was mostly struck by how fantastic the robot itself looked. It’s an aesthetic that stayed with me for a long time.

Ten years later, I found myself sitting near the front of the Sunrise anime studio panel at New York Comic Con 2015, alongside my friend Patz. The presenter was going through a list of Sunrise series available in the US, when Giant Gorg came on-screen. The series had been licensed for US release just months before, and as mecha nerds, both Patz and I began shouting with excitement. We were sitting close enough to the presenter that she noticed and, with a surprised look on her face, asked, “Really?” The two of us responded by shouting, “GOOORG!” in unison. We were just excited for the opportunity to own such an obscure and gorgeous piece of anime and mecha history. While Giant Gorg won’t go down as one of my all-time favorites, its flavor is unmistakable and appreciated.

PS: There’s an antagonistic group in the show called the Cougar Connection led by Lady Lynx. The jokes are silly and obvious, but I can’t help chuckling every time it comes up.

Play Therapy: SSSS.Dynazenon

The first thing to know about SSSS.Dynazenon is that you don’t need to have watched any of the prequels to get into SSSS.Dynazenon. Sure, its name implies a connection to 2018’s SSSS.Gridman, which is itself a sequel of sorts to the 1993 live-action Gridman the Hyper Agent. Even so, SSSS.Dynazenon is an insightful anime that stands on its own merits. 

The story of SSSS.Dynazenon follows a teenage boy named Asanaka Yomogi. After encountering an eccentric guy named Gauma claiming to be a kaiju user, his city is attacked by actual kaiju. Gauma is able to call upon a giant robot named Dynazenon, and Yomogi (as well as a few others) end up becoming Gauma’s copilots. With a different part of Dynazenon in each of their hands in the form of toys, they battle a group known as the Kaiju Eugenicists, who have the ability to control kaiju by bending them to their will. 

One question to ask when looking at many tokusatsu and mecha series is how much the characters’ primary motivations tie into the larger overarching plot and setting. In Gundam, for example, the connection is usually extremely strong—protagonists like Amuro Ray are thrust into the middle of long and painful wars whose physical and mental scars are the primary driving force of these narratives. Evangelion takes a different approach, forefronting the existing psychologies of its characters and using its science fictional setting as a means to explore their traumas. With respect to that dynamic, SSSS.Dynazenon falls a little more towards the Eva side, but goes its own direction.

SSSS.Dynazenon has a grounded feel that highlights both its characters’ personal histories and how their current circumstances as impromptu heroes impacts their views.  As Yomogi and the others battle, they’re forced to confront their own unique fears and values. Yomogi is trying to cope with his parents’ divorce and his mom’s new boyfriend. Minami Yume, one of Yomogi’s classmates, is emotionally distant ever since the mysterious death of her sister. Yamanaka Koyomi is a NEET in his 30s who constantly regrets not making certain decisions in his life (particularly a romantic one) that could have brought him down a different path. Koyomi’s younger cousin, Asukagawa Chise, refuses to attend school. Gauma searches for his past, explaining to the others that he’s actually thousands of years old.

While it can seem as if the fantastical elements are just a flimsy backdrop to the human drama at play, that’s not the case. Rather, one of the key strengths of SSSS.Dynazenon is the way that feeling both the added responsibility and thrill of fighting kaiju reshapes or reinforces their priorities and core beliefs. The fact that they carry around their respective vehicles like toys before growing them to giant size also makes me feel that there’s a link between the childish notion of “playing with toys” as a way to engage with the world and connect with others. In that respect, the antagonists of SSSS.Dynazenon, the Kaiju Eugenicists, seem to also have their own hang-ups but engage with them in less healthy ways.

SSSS.Dynazenon is also different enough from its predecessors that those who didn’t enjoy Gridman the Hyper Agent or SSSS.Gridman might resonate with this series. In particular, its characters are portrayed in a more subdued manner than SSSS.Gridman, where the central female characters, Rikka and Akane, cast a long shadow and often stole the spotlight through their sensual portrayals and powerful yuri energy.

Though I say that knowing the prequels is unnecessary to gain something from SSSS.Dynazenon, that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to have been a fan. Using my personal experience as an example, I came to the series cognizant of the fact that “Dyna” and “Zenon” are references to support robots from the original Gridman due to having watched Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad (the Power Rangers-esque adaptation of Gridman the Hyper Agent), and later found myself excited over some mid-series character arrivals that call back to SSSS.Gridman. The key is that while the series does reward those with prior knowledge, it doesn’t punish those who are new and unfamiliar. 

SSSS.Dynazenon hints at ties to the prior series in everything from the title of the show to the character Gauma himself. However, unlike with SSSS.Gridman, the mystery of what exactly is going on is less of a core element and more an added bonus for existing fans of either one or both previous series. The core story—one of friendship and growth—remains.